Are you struggling to make the most of your day?
Do you often hit creative roadblocks that wreak havoc on your productivity?
There’s no use denying it.
As freelance creatives, we have a good life. We can work from wherever we want and get paid to think outside the box. Life can be pretty sweet.
There’s also a downside, though.
Let’s face it. Creating on a deadline is really stressful, and stress is a tried and tested creativity killer.
Unfortunately, those deadlines aren’t going to hit themselves. Sometimes you have to get your ass into gear, whether you’re feeling it or not.
Thankfully, achieving a consistently productive routine is far from impossible. It’s quite doable, in fact.
Here are five unexpected productivity hacks that have worked for me.
1. Lay Off The Coffee
You’re probably scoffing right now, huh?
And in a way you’re right, this does sound counter-intuitive. After all, how can you work if you’re unable to focus or, even worse, you’re still half asleep?
But if a guy who’s nursed a 6-a-day habit (strong, black, no sugar please!) for the last ten years tells you this works, there must be at least something to it.
Well, hear me out.
The thing is this.
Coffee does boost your energy levels and help you focus more. And since we tend to associate focus and energy with productivity, we assume coffee will do the trick and help us get work done.
Creativity, however, isn’t just about being productive. It’s about the ability to link ideas and concepts in ways that were previously unthought of. And – you guessed it – your mind is better at making these connections when it’s unfocused.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that focus is downright bad for creativity. Which kind of explains why you always seem to get your best ideas in the shower, or when you’re just about to drift off to sleep.
Well, at least that’s what happens to me.
But let’s not get bogged down in scientific mumbo jumbo. Just try it for yourself. Call it an experiment.
I know it’s worked for me. In the month or so I’ve switched from coffee to to herbal tea, I’ve started banging out copy in half the time.
Worth a shot, don’t you think?
2. Work In Short Bursts
I must confess I was really sceptical about this at first, but it really works.
The idea was pioneered in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo, of Pomodoro Technique fame.
Cirillo found that the brain works in cycles, which means you can only concentrate for so long. His solution was to break up a task into sections, which you work on in short bursts.
According to his Pomodoro Technique, you should work uninterruptedly for 25 minutes and then take a five minute break.
Personally, I find 25 minutes to be a bit too short, so I use a variation of the technique which I learned here.
This version works like this:
50 minutes of work
10 minute break
50 minutes of work
30 minute break
Rinse and repeat
The second time round, though, I finish with an hour-long break. This gives me time to cook some lunch, clean up (yeah I’m sort of a neat freak) and go for a walk in the park before it’s time to get down to business again.
Which brings me to my third point.
3. Get Out Of The House
When I first started working as a freelance writer full time, I was filled with romantic images of working from a café whilst sipping my regular black americano and stuffing my face with cookies.
Little did I know. Ha!
First, it was the weather.
I’d wake up in the morning only to get discouraged from going out as soon as I looked out the window. (I live in London, where the Sun is wont to make itself scarce.)
Then, I got busy. It became harder to justify the 30 minute walk to and from my favourite café when I could jump right into it as soon as I got out of bed.
Finally, I got comfortable.
Why go out when I can stay home in my pyjamas, drink as much coffee as I want and hang out with my awesome cat?
Well, that did work out for a while, but soon I started to get cabin fever. As you can imagine, this put a damper both on my motivation and my productivity.
Nowadays, I make it a point to go out for a walk in the park every day, rain or shine. I also try and work out of a café at least once a week.
Try it. It’s incredible what a simple change of scenery does to your productivity. And your sanity.
4. Stop Trying To Be Perfect
I’ve never considered myself a perfectionist. Quite far from it, actually.
Then, I read this, and I started noticing a pattern.
Sometimes it takes me ages to write, simply because I get stuck Googling the perfect idiom or making sure I don’t use the same word twice (true story).
Or, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, I’ll spend all morning taking out a comma and all afternoon putting it back in. Seriously.
Woops, there I am, in fact. I just spent 10 minutes re-wording the previous paragraph.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having high standards. But you also have to be realistic.
Even the best of the best churn out stinkers sometimes (Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers, anyone?). You just have to accept it and move on.
Besides, constantly second guessing yourself frustrates the creative process and blocks your ideas from flowing freely.
When you start working on an idea, try getting on with it as fast as possible. You can always go back and change it later. That’s sure to silence your inner critic.
5. When All Else Fails, Give It A Rest
Sometimes, there’s just no point in forcing it.
Watch some Netflix, play Candy Crush or do whatever it is you do to relax. This will give you time to clear your head, so you can come back at it fresh the next day.
Besides, personally, I firmly believe that you should always sleep on it before delivering a final draft.
When you’re completely absorbed in a task, you tend to lose perspective. Before you know it, you’re editing perfectly good copy or, at the other end of the spectrum, missing out on glaring errors.
Taking time away from what you’ve done will restore some semblance of objectivity and good judgement, which will help you cross the finish line more quickly.
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