When I was a kid, my Dad used to scold me for wasting time and for not “being productive.” During the summer, I had to figure out how to keep myself busy. At one point, my Dad made me write a daily 2 page essay since whatever it was I was doing was deemed “bad” from his point of view.
He was my first productivity teacher. Playing and blobbing out were considered “bad.” Drawing, practicing the piano, reading or writing were considered “good” or “productive.”
Today I find I have similar views. However, I notice I get some of my biggest breakthroughs when I’m doing stuff in the “bad” category. For instance, I’ve had many creative breakthroughs while napping, blobbing out, walking or being on vacation.
For context, I’m a web designer. So, when talking about breakthroughs, I’m referring to design concepts and such. Like the time I spent 2 hours thinking about a new color palette while walking through a river basin in Nepal.
So what’s my point? It’s one that countless people have made before me. We all get creatively stuck sometimes and doing something in the “bad” category is often the best remedy.
No time to blob!
However, this happy idea that we can get inspired by napping butts up against the reality that many of us have deadlines. So what do we do? We practice the art of being productive.
My friend Dave Plotkin says “practice is all about improving how you do on your worst day." We all have our moments of glory, but being good at something means you're good even when you’re at your worst. So this is my list of things I do to try to be productive, even if I'm feeling crappy.
Tips for when you can’t blob
If you have 4 hours to complete a task, spend 50% of that time planning. In my case that would mean 2 hours sketching, and 2 hours designing.
- Time it
When super unmotivated, I tell myself that I only have to work for one single hour. I set a 1 hour timer on my phone, turn off all internets, and set to work. By the time the hour is up, I’m often the zone, and can keep going.
- List it
Scientist have proven that you get a mental boost when crossing something off a list. I include the most mundane things when listing, like “drink water.” Every time I cross something off, I feel great. Write now I’m crossing off “typing words.”
If inspiration strikes, harness it, even if it’s not what you’re suppose to be working on. As creatives, our ability to survives rests on our ability to show value. Value which comes in little bursts of brilliance interspersed with long periods of repeating past greatness. Should genius strike, just go with it. Unless you’re going to get fired, then maybe just do your job. Typically, good ideas from genuine inspiration pay off later.
Are you working on some crappy slow thing that takes forever to load? Do you have some brainless production task you can be doing at the same time? Bingo! Productivity bonus points. Maybe even add this sweet podcast to the mix.
- Create fake deadlines
This is due tomorrow! No, really. It is! This only works if you’re really good at lying to yourself.
- Know your work rhythm
Are you a night owl? A morning person? Do you secretly nap in the bathroom after lunch? If you have the luxury to control your schedule, honor your natural work rhythms, and work when you are at your best.
- Make a playlist
Music helps me get in the zone. If you’re able to listen to music while working, why not make a custom soundtrack for your mood? Here’s a recent playlist I made that you can follow.
- Creative hobbies
Creative hobbies can help you build skills and stay inspired. For example, I paint on the side and sell my art on society6. This provides a low risk space to experiment and often leads to new skills that can get adapted to my day job.
- Drink crap tons of water
This has got to be the most annoying tip, right? But it does help. Water helps your cognitive abilities. If your brain is healthy, it’s easier to be productive. I measure my water intake with this app. It helps. 12 glasses a day people. Lubricate your brain.
What are yours productivity tips?
That’s what I do. I’d love to hear how you practice the art of being productive. Hit me up on twitter to share.