Creatives can’t be productive. It’s what they tell us and what we’ve somehow come to believe ourselves. Over the last couple of months, I’ve experimented a lot with different techniques. I’ve read all the tips and tricks I could find. Pomodoro, batching, time blocking. You name it I’ve tried it. And you might have done so yourself. On your own quest to productivity.
Productivity, if you look up the definition on Google, means “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input”. The problem is often not the input. We don’t have a scarcity of things we need to do. Always busy, always hustling. The real problem is the output. As creatives, and tell me if you feel the same, we often put a huge amount of our time into preparation. Before we actually start, we write down lists, do some research, gather inspiration. And while this is all necessary, it can also keep us from doing and creating. We wait to be ready, to get into the flow or to come up with this brilliant idea. We’re standing in our own way if we let this preparation phase take over.
At the same time, we also need space to create. This might not always look like productive work. We know that ideas don’t always come straight to us. Especially not if we try to force them. More often our ideas come from our surroundings and the creative input we get. It’s the moment you step away from a project that you’ll finally find the solution. While flipping through a magazine or preparing lunch you’ll see the pieces come together. You have to give yourself permission to do these things. Even if they might not directly relate to your work. Give yourself time to play.
Creatives might not fit into a standard process. I am sure I don’t. But it’s not something to feel bad about. During my quest to be more productive I’ve realized something. The more I try to force myself into the concepts and techniques I was trying out the less I felt productive. Only because the Pomodoro method works for many doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Eventually, you have to find your own way. Create your own process.
Related post: How to find your creative flow
3 productivity tips for creatives
As creatives, we’re dealing with many things which keep us from being productive. Perfectionism. Taking on more than we can handle. Doing things which make us feel busy but are actually not moving us further. Decision fatigue from having too many ideas. Procrastination. If this sounds familiar, know that you’re not alone. You can take this into your own hands. Make some changes to your work routine. Use the following tips as a starting point to create a process which works for you.
Prioritize and plan
Prioritizing is a crucial point in increasing productivity. As creatives, we often have so many ideas and projects. If you’re not able to identify what’s most important at the moment you’ll get hung up. And a plan isn’t worth anything if you aimlessly work on something here and there. Check your to-do list. Not everything is urgent. A lot of the pressure we put on ourselves comes from wanting to do too much. We often put too much on our plate. We’re working long hours to finish our projects and still feel like we’re running behind. We burn ourselves out.
If you want to be more productive you have to learn to cut out the crap and focus only on important tasks. Setting specific goals is one part of it. But also knowing yourself and how you work best. This can feel a bit limiting at first but it’s actually freeing. Because, in a way, you give yourself permission to concentrate on what’s most important to you.
So how does this look like for me? I don’t write endless to-do lists anymore. Every day I have 3 things on my list. These tasks are a high priority for me. Sometimes it’s 4 and sometimes only one. But I limit myself to be sure I can finish all tasks. Ask yourself, “If I could only do 3 things today what would these be?”.
Look at all the things you have on your list right now. I bet there is a task which you’re dragging with you for some time already and it never seems to get done. Are those actually important? There might be lots of tasks on your list which aren’t worth your time. Things which don’t bring you closer to your goals. Once I started to look at my tasks from this perspective I discovered a lot of things I can cut out. To give you an example, I don’t spend time on Twitter or Facebook anymore. It doesn’t give me the return I want. So it’s not worth my time. I rather put my efforts into a different platform.
When it comes to tools I use to plan and prioritize I was a pen and paper gal for a long time. Now I’ve finally found an app which works for me. Any.do makes it easy to write down your daily tasks. You can connect it to your calendar to see upcoming deadlines or work-related events.
Related post: How to finish your to-do list every day
It’s a real disaster what our phones have done to our work routine. Distraction always lurks on us because we carry our phones with us everywhere. If your phone lights up or buzzes with a new notification you’ll look at it. It’s a reflex. And if this happens every 5 minutes how much work will you actually get done? Turning off my notifications was the best thing I ever did. It puts me in control of my time rather than letting me be operated by my phone.
This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to scroll through Instagram or answer your messages. It only means that you decide when to check your phone and how much of your time you want to spend on it. Be aware that not everybody will understand if you don’t write back immediately. But I’ve come to the conclusion that if I want to get things done, I can’t switch between emails, messages, updates and my actual task all the time.
Related post: How to stay productive when working from home
If being productive is first and foremost being in control of your time it’s up to you to get the best out of it. A timer can help you to focus and stop procrastination. You can use a timer all throughout the day. Look at the tasks on your to-do list. Estimate how much time it’ll take to finish one task and set yourself a timer. It makes it easier to focus on one thing at a time. Because all other tasks are in a different time block and you can deal with them later.
It also creates some form of urgency. You only have this specific amount of time. Better get something done before time runs out. I used a timer when I started to write this blog post. It helps me to push past the blank page fear and actually write something. Without a timer, it takes me 20 minutes to get the first sentence down. Or I give into procrastination thinking I should do some more research. Does this sound familiar?
Try it out yourself. You can set a timer on your phone or use an app called Focus Keeper. This app lets you set work blocks but also pauses. We all know that those pauses are important but often don’t take them. The app will remind you.
For me, it’s still a work in progress but I am more and more finding my own rhythm and getting more things done. I’ll keep you updated.
What about you? What hacks do you have to be productive? And what do you think, can creatives be productive?