Last week I ran a giveaway in which I asked you guys to tell me your best productivity tips, as well as the things that throw you off course. I’ll be announcing the winner at the end of this post, but right now I want to share your best productivity tips. First let’s look at the problems you (and me, and everyone else trying to run a freelance writing business) struggle with:
Your Worst Productivity Problems
Procrastination and Distractions
Two things stood out to me as a I read through your responses, and they’re closely related. Kissing cousins, you might say. They’re also both things I can totally relate to: procrastination and distractions. You can’t have one without the other. Because when we want to procrastinate (well, ‘want’ is probably the wrong word), we grab onto any distraction we can.
Some distractions are obviously bad: TV, the vortex we know as the internet, social media, the internet, notifications pinging every five seconds, checking your email, and the internet. And these are all distractions we willingly let into our lives. The internet doesn’t come to you, people! And you chose to have those notifications on your phone. You know that, right?
But some distractions are unwelcome and unexpected, like the friend who ‘pops by for tea’ because she knows you’ll be home and because she doesn’t expect it will matter since you can take time off whenever you want. Or maybe you still work at your full-time job and tedious meetings fill your day — another distraction you can’t control.
And some distractions even prance about disguised as productivity. Like, how clean is your house when you’ve got a deadline looming? It just makes sense to have a quick tidy up, maybe hoover the whole house, and you might as well empty the dishwasher while you’re at it — then you can really get started with your work. Or perhaps you feel you should get your workout in now so you don’t have to worry about it later. Or maybe you’ll just read up on this fabulous new productivity hack and figure out a way to implement it into your workflow before beginning. Oh shit, it’s 10pm and you’ve done nothing. (Your house looks marvellous though, darling.)
Something else is also evident: the sooner you begin procrastinating and indulging your distractions, the less likely you are to get anything productive done that day. Start your day with a pot of coffee and the newspaper? Or by reading your emails in bed? Welcome to Failtown, where nothing gets done ever, except maybe the dishes.
This is something I hadn’t thought much about, but it’s so true: negative feelings make it seem impossible to do what you need to do, especially if what you need to do is something creative like writing. It’s as though your brain is filled with anguish and there simply isn’t enough room for anything else. You cannot summon the power to think about anything other than what’s bothering you. And thinking is kind of important when it comes to writing.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
This is something that cropped up a couple of times, too. It is hands down my biggest productivity killer. If I don’t get enough sleep, I will do fuck all, and it seems I’m not the only one. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep compounds pretty much all the other problems. You’re more likely to have negative feelings, and you’re more likely to procrastinate, because you just cannot get your shit together.
This falls outside the realm of the other things we’ve talked about, although it’s a very real problem — and it could probably be lumped with ‘procrastination’ if we’re being honest. Does it really need to be perfect before you can ship it and move on to the next thing? (Answer: hell no. It does not.)
Your Productivity Boosters
Alright, so now that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the things you guys do to blitz these problems and boost your productivity:
Christina’s right: knowing somebody is going to check in on you can be a huge motivator, and weekly check-ins can help keep you on track. This is only works if both partners take it seriously though — and for that reason, it can be more effective to have more than one person in your accountability group, because it’s all too easy to ‘let each other off’ when there’s just the two of you. But when there’s three of you? Nobody wants to be the one to let the side down.
Another way to kick things up a notch is to raise the stakes: could you fork over some cash to your accountability buddy if you don’t meet your goals?
Similar to having a private accountability partner, announcing your goals publicly can work wonders for your productivity, as Stephanie can attest:
This is one of my favourite productivity boosters, and it looks like I’m not the only one. This was the most popular tip in the comments, and it’s something I talked about pretty extensively in my post about my best productivity tips (although I called it ‘planning’). Having a list of what you’re going to do each day makes it so much easier to keep on track, and there’s something motivational about checking things off a list. It just makes you want to keep going until you’re done, doesn’t it?
I love Charles’s idea of using a big old white board. Might have to get me one o’ them.
Starting the Day Off Right
As we discussed at the start of this post, the sooner you start procrastinating, the less shit you’ll get done throughout the day. So it makes sense that starting the day off right is the best thing you can do for your productivity. This manifested itself in several ways in the comments, so I’m going to share a few people’s preferences below:
Having a Routine
Essentially what starting your day off right means is having a routine. If you spend the morning flitting about, wondering what you should do, you’re going to fall into that blasted procrastination trap. Building a strong morning routine is a great way to combat this: by doing the same things every morning, you can teach yourself to get started on your work ASAP. John totally gets it:
Begin the Day Writing
Another way to start your day right is to begin writing almost immediately. Maybe you make some coffee first, get dressed, brush your teeth, whatever — but before you so much as glance at your phone, your TV, your email, any of those others distractions we talked about, you sit your ass down and you write. Morning pages are a big hit among you guys:
And I couldn’t agree more. Not only does writing clear out your mind, it also sharpens your focus and gets you thinking, which is awesome for getting your brain into work mode.
Exercise First Thing
A lot of people love to get their exercise first thing. Sometimes I toy with the idea — probably will do again in the future — but right now I prefer to get my exercise after I’ve been sat at my desk for several hours, so I can stretch out my back. Lynn, however, swears by exercising first thing:
Even if you don’t want to exercise first thing in the morning, making sure you get some form of exercise every day — even if it’s just a brisk walk around the block — is a very very very good idea. Your brain needs a rest after you’ve been concentrating for a couple of hours anyway, and, well, exercise is just obviously a good idea. And also very easy to avoid when you don’t ever actually have to leave your home.
Get Enough Sleep
You knew this was coming, right? Whether it’s making sure you get to bed by a certain hour so you can catch all your zeds (yeah, we say ‘zed’ in the UK, in case you didn’t know that. We do not, however, actually use the phrase ‘catch your zeds’), or simply shutting off your electronics an hour before bed, it’s imperative to get enough sleep if you want to do a good day’s work. I’ve written a lot about how to get a good night’s kip here.
Now, this won’t work for everyone, but there’s just something awesome about getting an early start on your day. You feel like a fucking boss when you’ve gotten a crapload done before most people have even arrived at the office. Rob put it beautifully:
But never — ever ever ever — sacrifice sleep to rise early. Instead, get thyself to bed earlier.
Productivity Hacks and Apps
A few of you mentioned using apps and hacks to help you stay on track. Focus@Will got a mention, which is an app that plays music that’s optimised to boost your concentration and focus. Cold Turkey, an app that allows you to block distracting websites for a specific period of time, also received a shoutout. And both of those apps can be used in conjunction with The Pomodoro Technique, which is essentially working in timed 25 minute bursts. You can learn more about The Pomodoro Technique in this great article by Joel over the Impossible blog.
Here’s what Victoria had to say about Cold Turkey:
Deadlines and Working Under Pressure
This is definitely not advisable for everyone, unless you particularly enjoy stress. I’m hesitant to include it as a productivity tip, because as far as I’m concerned it’s something that’s done out of necessity rather than to aid your productivity, but Dan says it works for him, so here it is:
Having said all that, setting yourself artificial deadlines and sharing them with your accountability partner or announcing them publicly can be a good way to keep yourself on track and use that ‘under pressure’ feeling to your advantage.
Essentially what it all comes down to is this: setting yourself up for success. Make sure you get enough sleep by getting to bed on time. Then you can wake up nice and early and get started on your day. Plan out what you’re going to do, then sit your ass down as soon as possible and just start. Make it automatic, so you don’t even think to yourself, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll just watch a bit of Jeremy Kyle while I drink my tea’. NO. As soon as you’ve done that, you’ve lost. You’ll struggle to get your brain into gear, and you’ll keep telling yourself that you’ll just do this first, you’ll just do that — until at the end of the day, you haven’t really done anything.
And the lucky winner who’ll receive a copy of Manage Your Day-to-Day by 99u, picked by random.org, is:
Charles Riffenburg! Here’s Charles’s comment in full:
Congrats, Charles! I’ll be in touch via email.