A couple months ago, I found myself “working” from morning until bed time, nearly everyday. It wasn’t because I had hideous piles of projects to tend to, nor because of excessive deadlines or work-related burdens. The reason? I was unproductive. I’d spend an hour on a client project and then get lost in The Black Hole of Facebook for an internet eternity. Or I’d research something for a blog post and then click around Buzzfeed or Instagram or Twitter and completely forget what the hell I was trying to do in the first place. Friends would coo about how lucky I was to have a flexible schedule and I was just over here like, “if getting shit done were a sport, I’d be picked last.”
So I changed things. A lot of things, actually.
On the bright side, most of the things I shook up were easy fixes. I didn’t have to buy expensive software or completely restructure my day. The toughest part was just acclimating myself to a new routine. Not bad, right? Here are a few things that have really helped me in my quest to drastically increase my productivity. Because getting shit done is actually kind of awesome. Who’da thunk?
1. Have one desk for technology and one desk for everything else.
I actually remember reading this tip in Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Arist a couple years ago, but only recently put it into practice. Let me tell you: it kicks ass. This especially works well for creative-type jobs where you deal with both physical and digital elements. In my case, I do sketches and lettering at one desk and designing and blogging at another. By the way, my “other desk” is actually just my kitchen table…no need to be fancy! It really helps to have sectioned-off areas for specific tasks. It also means that I don’t get sidetracked by my phone when I’m working on ideas for a logo.
2. Turn off social media notifications on your phone.
In fact, I recommend just deleting the apps altogether. I used to check Facebook and Twitter on my phone 900 times a day. I wouldn’t retain anything I read. It was like those moments in college when I tried opening my science textbooks — my brain just fell asleep. Now, instead of immediately checking Facebook at the first buzz of my phone, I open it in my web browser when I plan to spend a few intentional minutes on it, mostly seeing what my friends are up to.
3. Make priority lists, not to do lists.
I used to make to do lists — you know, the kind with 97 items on them with no listed deadlines or level of importance. Writing out my to do lists made me feel productive, but at the end of the day, when I found only 30% completed, I realized I was doing them all wrong. Now, I make priority lists, and I’ve been using an app called Clear that makes them really easy (and almost kind of fun in a Type A kind of way). You basically just make your to do lists in separate, organized lists, and then order each item by importance and urgency, so that “doing laundry” isn’t listed as highly as “install client website.” You can set reminders, and I always write the deadline next to each listed item as well. It’s been massively helpful!
4. Spend mornings getting things done.
I’m not particularly a morning person, so every morning, I used to coax myself out of bed by scrolling through Instagram and responding to emails. But I found that waking up this way always killed my productivity (and creativity). By the time I was finished, it was nearly afternoon and I was cross-eyed with trying to reach inbox zero and desired taking a nap more than finishing anything else on my to do list. Now, I try not to check my email or any social media accounts until after lunch. Instead, when I wake up, I immediately start working on my big items for the day, according to what is highest on my Clear schedule. Not only does it feel awesome to have accomplished so much by noon, but it also means that I can relax with emails and social media after lunch, when I’m tired anyways.
5. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
You know what I’d do when I’d spend too long doing nothing when I should have been doing a whole lot of somethings? I’d get a little angry with myself. Being mad at myself certainly didn’t make me want to accomplish more. In fact, it probably made me want to do even less. Now, when I realize I’ve been lazing around for too long, I forgive myself and move on.