October 11, 2016 9:30 AM EDT
Brian Tracy is the author of Master Your Time, Master Your Life

How many times in the past week or two have you thought or said some version of the following: “I want to do x but I don’t have the time!”

For the majority of us, the answer would be “more than once”—and for many, I’d guess, it’d be “too many times to count.” It’s sadly ironic that Americans, arguably some of the most productive and efficient people in the world, also seem to be the most time-deprived.

We have more opportunities to achieve far more and far greater things we ever have in human history, and yet we find ourselves trapped by a familiar and constant complaint: too much to do and too little time! We work longer and later hours than most other countries’ populations, we sleep less than ever in order to “get more done,” and we have replaced our quality of life with the quantity of stuff we’ve “done” during it. And the worst part? The majority of what we do is not the creative, fulfilling work or activities or hobbies we’d like to be pursuing. Between emailing, tweeting, posting, texting, binge-watching, YouTubing and Snapchatting, most of our days are consumed with busy work.

It’s time to reclaim our time. Especially our creative time.

By identifying and focusing on the right time management priority in a situation, you can significantly increase your effectiveness and accomplish much more much faster and more easily than you ever thought possible.

Creativity is at the root of many of the best changes—and the biggest successes—you will experience. One idea can change your life and vastly improve your happiness, make you rich or fill you with a deep sense of purpose. But creativity requires a different form of thinking and organizing yourself and your time than anything else does. It starts with taking a step back and asking the four following questions repeatedly. Each of these will expand your thinking, clarify your creative vision and help you find solutions to even the biggest obstacles facing your creative endeavors.

1. What are you trying to do?

Ask this question especially when you are experiencing resistance or not getting the results that you want or expect. As you do this, be absolutely clear about what you are trying to accomplish and be honest if your goal has changed.

2. How are you trying to do it?

There are so many ways to achieve a creative goal, and it’s very likely you may not be going about it the best way. Another way to ask this is, “Is my current method working, and if not, why?” The key is to be clear and firm about your goal but flexible about the method you’re using to achieve it.

3. What are my assumptions about my goal?

This is especially important to ask if you are experiencing any frustration, resistance or temporary failure to achieve what you want. In other words, how did you expect it to play out?

4. What would you do if your assumptions were wrong?

Be prepared to consider that your most cherished assumptions about yourself or your creative endeavor could be utterly wrong. It’s an incredibly difficult possibility for most people to even think about, let alone face head-on. But whenever you’re struggling to make progress or facing a seemingly unsolvable problem, take a step back and ask yourself, “What if…?” (What if I am completely wrong in what I am trying to do? What if our current approach is incorrect? Or what if there’s a different way to realize my idea? What if we could do something that has never been done before?)

The words “What if?” are probably responsible for more creative breakthroughs in history than any other words. They force you to ponder whether there could be a better way, because the fact is, there is always a better way for you to tackle your creative passion, solve any problem, produce/sell/deliver any product or service, or accomplish your loftiest goals.

Once you’ve put yourself through the hardest part of your “creative time,” practice reinvention. Imagine that you are starting your business, career, art, skill or pastime all over again, with everything you know now. Imagine you could start again with absolutely no baggage from the past, nothing to influence you or make you assume something about your creative pursuit. What would you do differently?

The most successful people in the world take “creative time” every day to conjure up new ideas and solutions. If you want to find more time to pursue a creative endeavor, solve a creative problem, or simply momentarily step off the flying hamster wheel that is modern life, take some creative time for yourself. Sit for a moment with a piece of paper and ask yourself these four questions, challenge your assumptions, and practice reinvention. This exercise will free you up to solve any problem, make any change or achieve any goal. Most of all, they will continually cultivate your mental capabilities and unlock your creative potential, opening you and your life to all kinds of new possibilities and more important, to having the time to pursue them.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

Read More From TIME
You May Also Like