The Art of Staying Productive
We’ve all been there. You want to work, but for some reason or another, you just can’t bring yourself to put pen to paper, to open up Photoshop, to send that email, to do any number of things that we know we need to do.
I’m no stranger to this. For the longest time, I struggled hugely with “forcing” myself to be productive. I put “forcing” in quote marks there because I think, when you get down to it, forcing yourself to get to work, whilst it may work, is detrimental in the long run.
So ... you’re stuck in a constant loop of “one more YouTube video and then I get to work.” But, judging by the fact that you’re reading this, that last video never ends.
This might sound odd, but in the same way that people say that creativity is a muscle, look at productivity the same way. You need to train yourself. How do you do that?
There a number of different tools and techniques that I use in order to keep me productive, so they may work for you! I should use this little paragraph here to emphasize might work for you. I cannot be sued if they do not, because I can’t afford a lawyer. These are things that I find help me in being productive, so hopefully they might help you too!
Notepad / Productivity Journal
This is probably the number one thing that I can recommend to you. Get yourself a notepad. At the end of each day, write down a list of things that you want to achieve tomorrow. Try not to flood yourself with endless tasks. I tend to limit myself to 3-4 big tasks, and 5-7 smaller, simple tasks.
At the same time, go over the list of things that you wrote down for today, and review yourself. Did you get everything done? Were there some things that you started, but didn’t finish? Or where there some things that you ignored completely?
You don’t have to write huge chunks of text for the review. Just a line or two for each item in the list, saying if you completed, or if you need to work on it tomorrow. At the very bottom, give yourself a rating out of ten. Be honest with yourself. If you feel like you didn’t do so good, reflect that in the rating. Remember, nobody else is going to see this notebook, so you don’t need to impress anyone but yourself.
Also, at the start of the year, I write down some of the larger goals that I have, and things that I want to achieve in the coming weeks and months. This is a simple, bullet pointed list of various things that I want to do. I then, on the next few pages, expand on each item, breaking them down into what needs to be done in order to achieve the goal.
For example, one of the goals that I have for this year is to progress my skills in different creative fields. Then, broken down, the things that I’m going to do to achieve this include:
Research theory of various subjects.
Actively seek out tutorials and guides to learning something new.
Do something each week that removes me from my comfort zone, and makes me work in a medium, or with a tool, that I don’t usually.
I find listing goals like this extremely helpful in visualizing what I want to do in the year. It’s also handy to look on these pages when you’re struggling with coming up with things to do in a day, or if you have nothing to do, but don’t want to waste the day, you can look through the lists and pick something out.
One more thing, get yourself an expensive notebook. This might be something that only works for me, but spending a good amount of money (good for a notebook) almost forced me to keep working at it. The thought of wasting money can be a huge motivator sometimes. The notebook I went for was this - https://www.dingbats-notebooks.com/collections/a5-wildlife/products/dingbats-wildlife-red-kangaroo-notebook.
It’s super sturdy, high quality AND good for the environment. What’s not to love?
There are SO many apps on the market right now that claim to help boost your productivity. There are some that say they help you build a habit, by tracking whether or not you did something each day. There are some that attempt to generate to do lists based on a goal that you set.
But, to this day, I’ve found none better than Any.do.
Any.do is a simple app that lets you have a to do list in your phone (and sync to laptop, or wherever else.) For me, the simplicity of this is what makes it more effective than any of the other apps on the market.
Recurring tasks, cross-platform synchronicity and minimalist design are just some of the features that this app has. There is a paid plan option, but from my personal experience in using Any.do, the free plan is more than enough to help organize everything and get you being more productive.
Any.do can be found here - https://www.any.do/
I think it’s super important that you set specific times that you’re going to get things done. For example, say to yourself that between the hours of 9am and 5pm, I’m going to work, and after that, I’m going to rest. If, like me, you’re freelance, or if you work from home, setting times for work and rest like this is essential.
In sticking to this schedule, you’ll start to rewire your brain into understanding that between X and X time, you need to work. It will eventually become second nature, and will get easier and easier the longer you do it.
Specific Days for Specific Things
Something that I’ve played around with is dedication days of the week for specific tasks. Say, for example, that you have a client that needs a branding package and some other bits and bobs. You could split each of these tasks down, focusing on one aspect each day.
Monday: Logo. Sketching out ideas.
Tuesday: Stationary & colour combinations.
Wednesday: Flyer & Poster designs.
Breaking down tasks like this help you to focus on just certain aspects of the overall task, stopping you from becoming too overwhelmed, trying to think about and work on multiple things at once.
We’ve spoken a lot about how to be as productive as possible. We’d all love to just work straight through the day, non-stop for 15 hours, but that’s just not going to happen. Not only is that unrealistic, but it’s also stupid to attempt. You could probably do it once, maybe twice at a push, but eventually, your body will burn out. You’ll notice yourself beginning to slow, you’ll make more mistakes, and you’ll be miserable.
Something that I like to do is listen to a lot of music whilst I work. A way in which I determine when I should take a break is when an album ends. So, for example, I work for the whole duration of an album, but once it ends, I take a break. Usually 10-15 minutes or so. That might sound like an odd way of doing things, but I really helps for me. Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes!
Like I said at the very top, these are some of the things that I do in order to help me be more productive. Hopefully, they’ll be able to help you, but there’s a chance that they won’t. I think the absolute, number one tip would be to try a whole bunch of different things. Research as much as you can. Eventually, you’ll find something that works best for you!
If you do have another method that you use to help you stay productive, I’d love to hear about it!