Your mornings start with the best intentions. But then, there’s the washing up. Afterwards, it makes sense to give the kitchen surfaces a good scrub down doesn’t it? Then there’s that cupboard that just won’t shut properly; obviously, its contents have to be entirely emptied and painstakingly rearranged…
You know the drill.
We’re never short of ‘busy’ work to stop us from getting down to business.
Once you’re in the zone, tapping away at the keyboard in a haze of rapturous wonderment, ideas oozing out of your incredibly beautiful mind, you never want to leave. Getting to that place of transcendence, however, can oft be a long and arduous journey. At the latest Cultural Agency Collective workshop, we looked at how creatives can increase their productivity. Partial to an hour or two of procrastination? Read on for some essential mindset shifting tips and productivity hacks.
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right”
– Dale Carnegie
According to Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art, those who procrastinate are battling something called “resistance”. Our clever little minds come up with an assortment of excuses to rationalise why we’re not ready to make progress with a task. This resistance is usually rooted in a feeling of overwhelm. We know what we want, we can visualise how awesome it will be when we achieve it, but the “how to get there’ bit remains elusive. Our workshop’s featured speaker: content curator, publicist, writer – general portfolio career queen Stephanie Stepan outlined 3 key principles for kicking the procrastinator habit and ramping up productivity.
1) Self Awareness – know what works for your working style and avoid what doesn’t.
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Should you make space to tackle those pressing tasks first thing in the morning; or conserve your energy and get other smaller tasks out the way so you can go late into the night with your main project?
Are you a reader or a listener? Do you process information by taking written notes or creating visual graphics of your ideas? Make sure you have highlighters, post-it notes or blank sheets of paper to hand – ready for doodles and notes to transfer those swirling thoughts into tangible ideas to take forward.
Are you a sprinter or a marathon runner? Do you like to go hard for 2-hour stints with no distractions or breaks; or do you prefer a paced approach throughout the day littered with several breaks? If you’re of the latter persuasion, check out the Pomodoro Technique. According to research from Professor K Anders Ericsson in this New York Times article we work at best in 1.5-hour stints with short breaks. The Pomodoro timer allows you to break down your work time into 25 minute chunks with a 5 minute break. 4 sets of discplined ‘pomodoro-ing’ will help break those distracting must check email/facebook/kitchen cupboard habits.
Employee, freelancer or business owner, inevitably you will have to work with others. In order for that working relationship to prosper smoothly; communicating how you like to work is key. Steph highlights the benefits of setting out processes of what’s expected from both sides from the start to ensure fluid communication and meeting expectations on time and on budget.
2) Keep it simple – create a simple system to track your tasks and stick to it.
To do lists, emails to follow up on, interesting articles to read, deadlines to meet – trying to keep on top of everything can get overwhelming in a world that thrives on information overload. Steph champions Trello, a productivity app that allows to you to track your list of tasks alongside deadlines and rate of completion. Not only can you keep you your creative projects organized here, you can also plan your personal life enabling you to maintain that all important work-life balance by scheduling work rest and play.
“Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organisation, preparation and action”
– David Allen
Unchecked “to-dos” at the end of the day can leave you feeling deflated and defeated. Steph recommends being honest with yourself by being accountable for completing only 2 items on your list each day.
Inspiration can strike at the most random and inconvenient times. Steven Johnson, author of 9 books, coined the term “Spark File” to describe a working document that holds all the ideas you discover or create at their most fetal stage.
This could be an Evernote file, a google doc, an event a board on your Trello dashboard (or even something as revolutionary as a notebook!). Johnson encourages you to review this working document in full periodically to see if any of the ideas have developed or to spot trends or connections between them.
More tips like this can be found in David Allen’s, Getting Things Done – a book dedicated to a systematic approach to getting organized and staying productive. I’ve read it. You should too. It’s a game changer.
3) Good design aid’s healthy work habits.
We all know the scene of the impoverished artists studio, or the writers office cluttered with tools and books and ‘creative inspiration’. As glamorously bohemian as this scene seems, Tracy Emin’s bed does not lend itself to the idea structured productivity. Steph highlight’s the value of good design; whether expressed through your visual plan, organisational tools or your workspace.
Good organisational design inadvertently works to: reduce the stress associated not being able to find that document; remove the tendency to arrive late or unprepared and; overcome procrastination that comes without a step by step breakdown of how to achieve your goal.
Simply designed templates for everyday tasks, from blog post layouts and social media calendar to client project briefs, can make filling in the steps of the process much easier than starting with a blank canvas each time. Whatever your creative process, systemizing its elements guarantees continuous improvement and consistent productivity without compromising on originality and innovation.
To summarise, remember these 3 key takeaways:
- Know what works for you and avoid what doesn’t
- Keep things simple, break down large tasks into small actionable steps
- Use functional design in tools and your environment to reduce stress and save time.
“Celebrate any progress. Don’t wait to get perfect”
– Ann McGee Cooper
What’s the first step you’ll take to increasing your productivity today? Share in the comments below.