In the first part I talked about how gaining clarity about my life has helped me establish healthier habits, such as working with my natural rhythm and planning the creative work first in the morning (if you haven’t read the first part yet, you can find it here). Other techniques that helped me make better use of my time and energy are as follows.
I use exercising as a means to an end (actually two!): to stay fit and healthy and to stretch the productive daily period for a little longer. I reach the first goal by showing up every day and the second one by scheduling the workout in the right moment of the day. For me, that is between 12.30 and 1 pm every day, after which I eat a high protein lunch. The result is that I benefit from a boost of energy for another two hours in which I can still tackle tasks that require a fair amount of concentration.
Taming my inner chronic precrastinator
If precrastination is a new concept, don’t worry, you can check details about it in this article. Long story short, a precrastinator is a person who gets things done (or at least starts) way before the deadline. While it might not look like a bad thing from the outside, precrastination is detrimental mostly for the person who does it. Like procrastination it is a self-regulatory issue that stems from the inability of the prefrontal cortex to regulate the level of anxiety that the limbic system “feels” when new tasks appear. Thus, a chronic precrastinator lives with the constant pressure to get things done and finds it really hard to pause and relax. If you wonder how does it feel like, I will invite you to imagine yourselves at the beginning of a corridor, facing the shiny door at the end that says “inner peace and wellbeing”. That’s your goal. But in order to get there you have to cross the hallway that is full of side open doors. Each time you stand in front of one, a strong air current sucks you in the room. It’s so strong that you cannot resist it. Once you’ve finished visiting the room, the current stops and you can continue your trip toward your goal. After you’re done with the first two doors it becomes clear that the only way to reach the shiny one is to visit all other rooms first. So you end up either developing your speed considerably or reducing the number of side doors on your corridor.
I did both. Speed was something I trained ever since I was little (I would finish all my homework quickly even if it was due two or three days after just to be able to get it out of my mind and play as much as I wanted to). More recently: I reduced the number of distraction sources (by deleting some of my social media accounts), the number of tasks on the plate (one of the benefits of freelancing), and I started scheduling my fun and relaxation time (usually in the second part of the day).
The last technique I started using for taming my inner precrastinator was working with the concept of MVP (minimum viable product) for my creative projects. The downside of getting things done too early is that you may lose the benefit of valuable information that is made available later on in the project. So by focusing on releasing first a minimum set of requirements and then working on improvements, it decreases my pressure of getting things done and also the risk of major rework. Plus, it helps me empty my working memory so that I can tackle different other tasks. That is how I managed to launch this website in a month. 🙂
Bringing structure to procrastination
Did you know that you can be a structured procrastinator? Well, I didn’t. Not until I found Professor’s John Perry article, that has even won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2011. You can find it at www.structuredprocrastination.com. He defines a structured procrastinator as “a person who gets a lot of things done by not doing something else”. Which means that structured procrastinators are actually very industrious people. Although, because they have a lot of overdue deadlines in their plate, many of them tend to avoid taking on new projects and limit their workflow. And that goes against the very nature of the procrastinator’s brain, says the author. Instead, he suggests that, by simply reorganizing the tasks on the To-Do list to exploit the habit of postponing important tasks will help procrastinators be more productive and meet deadlines more often. If you feel that you are structured procrastinator, try the following technique: Write all your tasks on the To Do list and organize them in order of their importance (make sure that on the top of the list you have the most important task, while continuing with the ones that are fairly important) This way, you will trick yourself to still work on important tasks, while avoiding the most important one. Chances are that, if you keep saying yes to new projects or activities, something even more important than what is now your no. 1 priority will come up. And so the list of done things will continue to increase. The trick is to make sure you always pick the right projects for the top of the list. They “seem to have clear deadlines (but really don’t) and seem awfully important (but really aren’t)” says the author. Although I am not procrastinating that much these days, there was a time in my life when I was a master at it. But after applying professor’s Perry technique I started procrastinating productively. It can be a great starting point for any procrastinator who wants to exploit this habit positively.
In my “become more productive” journey I struggled a lot with taking breaks. Which I still do. I needed help with it so I started using Awareness, a desktop app that reminds me to take a five minutes break after each hour of work. When the time comes, the app plays the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl loud enough so that I am unable to ignore it. I am still skipping it from time to time, mostly if I am in the middle of writing something important, but try to take that 5 min break after I finish the idea (btw, it just reminded me to take a break!). Give it a try if you feel like it, it might work for you too.
Organizing everything with Notion
The final piece of this productivity journey is the app. I discovered Notion only recently (thanks Ali for that) and it was love at first sight. Why? Well, it is perfect for writing, taking notes, embedding links, organizing tasks, planning, status monitoring, habit tracking…you name it. I used to have different notebooks for different kind of notes which was really counterproductive. I use now Notion for writing down ideas and transforming them into projects. I am using it for journaling, for writing my articles and blog posts, my daily To-Do lists, for saving important links that I want to revisit after, books I am currently reading or plan to (with personal notes), for writing my course materials…. it’s all in one place and I can easily link items between them when I need to. And the best part of it is that you can invite people to your workspace. It has multiple views (table, board, gallery) and built in templates which you can easily customize. The free version lets you synchronize your data between two devices, which makes it perfect for when I am not at my laptop to write down my ideas. I simply take the note on the mobile app. I really encourage you to give it a try, it might actually ease your creative and productive life.
These were some of the tricks that worked for me. I do hope they were helpful and I wish you a very productive life ahead!