With all that informational noise around us nowadays it’s pretty hard to stay organized, focused and productive. E-mails, social media, Netflix, books… The list of all possible distractions goes on forever. Moreover, on top of being occupied with our everyday job we also have many other tasks to attend to on a daily basis. Sometimes it can become exhausting and there is not enough energy left. So how do you keep the productivity levels high and remain a happy creative?
In this article I am sharing my Top 9 Tips based on personal working experience on how to stay productive as a creative and get your work done on time. I did try many things and these methods actually work the best.
I currently work full-time in advertising agency, take freelance commissions, work on my passion projects and side businesses. It took me quite some time to find the right balance between my actual work, illustration projects, communication with clients, being there for my family and what not. I hope that my experience will help you.
Before we get to the tips themselves, I’d like to point out the importance of keeping your productivity energies high. By following these 9 tips you will:
- prevent eventual burn-out
- feel better about yourself and not blame yourself constantly for not doing enough
- be a professional who doesn’t miss deadlines and can be relied on by the clients
Now let’s see what you should do to make it happen.
1. Plan your tasks smart
There are plenty of digital planners and popular time-saving systems out there these days. Try a couple different options to see what meets your preferences. These planners will be very useful for many people for sure.
However, for me personally they are not that optimal. I installed and uninstalled productivity apps, made online to-do lists, then simply forgot about them, tried another ones etc. A good old notebook still works best for me. Maybe it’s because I already use a lot of apps and creative software for my work. Therefore, a tangible notebook balances that out. But making a plan no matter what platform or planner you end up using is a must.
The system that really works is rather simple:
- Make a rough plan of tasks for the upcoming week on Sunday.
- Highlight the most important tasks that must be done no matter what.
- Stay realistic about amount of work you are planning to accomplish. If you plan much more than you can handle you’ll feel like a failure at the end of the week. Guaranteed.
- Check with your planner on a daily basis to see the progression.
2. Avoid excessive perfectionism
We usually set very high standards for our work and being short of time can find ourselves overwhelmed. While self-perfection is a good thing time is usually a factor that cannot be ignored in a work process. Time usually means money especially for freelancers and you must seek opportunities to optimize your processes.
I like a metaphor of an airplane when speaking about perfectionism. Imagine that your project is an aircraft. Ask yourself if it’s currently ready to take off? Even without this cool painting on the wings that you can spend additional 3 hours on. If the answer is yes – then it’s done, move on to the next task on your list.
3. Schedule specific time for the most unpleasant tasks
Do you hate writing e-mails? Or maybe dealing with documents? I definitely do. If you are like me or have your own “Top hated tasks list” it’s a good practice to do it all at once in the beginning of your day and forget about it for good.
You’ll feel a huge relief once you deal with them, trust me. Now you can proceed with stuff that you enjoy and there is nothing draining you mentally, no feeling of unfinished business. On the contrary, you will have a feeling of a well-earned accomplishment and that actually boosts your energy and increases your productivity.
4. Use your most productive time wisely
Whether you are an early bird or like to work at nights when the world is dark and calm – you can schedule your most important and time-consuming tasks to these hours.
There is no use in trying to finish your project at 3 a.m. falling asleep on a keyboard if you know you can get up early in the morning and complete it with flying colors.
I personally prefer early Saturday and Sunday mornings to any other time of the week. That’s when I feel most effective and the majority of administrative work is done. Do not underestimate this simple organizing tip. Knowing your body’s optimal working times and effectively using them directly will influence your productive potential.
5. Realize you Priorities and use them as motivation.
This tip is not about choosing the most important work tasks you need to accomplish. It’s about your life priorities.
Think about what things you love doing most, what makes you really happy, what you’d like to spend more time doing. It can be spending certain amount of time with your loved ones or maybe you absolutely love taking long bicycle rides. Maybe it’s cooking your favorite meals or watching documentaries. Everyone has something to look forward to.
Think about those life priorities of yours before starting your work. The sooner you finish your tasks – the more time you’ll have for all the things that make you happy. Think about ‘em when you make a coffee break. Let those positive images and feelings be your ultimate motivation.
Having something to look for makes it so much easier to just sit and complete what you have planned. So get it done and enjoy your life doing what you love.
6. Take a Break
In creative industry it’s vital to have a fresh perspective on what you are doing. Sometimes you just have to take a break – have a dinner, go for a walk or even go to sleep to look at your work with a fresh set of eyes in the morning.
Resetting your brain helps you to boost your creativity. And your work will only benefit from the constructive distraction. You can look at it this way. Just like an athlete needs a break to catch a breath and replenish some energy to come back and continue performing strong, our brain need the same kind of breaks to reset for maximum efficiency.
It doesn’t mean though that you should take long walks to the kitchen every 5 minutes J Just do as much as you can and when you’re really stuck allow yourself a break.
7. Be kind to Yourself
We live in a fast unpredictable world, and sometimes things can go off schedule. We all have gone through urgent projects that must be done overnight, unexpected difficulties with clients and extra working hours during a day. You cannot change these things but you can choose how to reward yourself after such force-major situations.
If you feel burnt-out, allow yourself a bigger break. An unplanned and unexpected amount of work that takes a toll on you means you can allow yourself an unplanned break as well. Extra energy consumed requires extra rest received. There is always going to be a next task and another day at work. But if you want to stay productive, you need to tend to your wellbeing, it’s the basis for everything else.
8. Take care of your health.
Feeling healthy and rested will help you to accomplish your tasks faster, feel more inspired and find pleasure in what you are doing. Remember – you are in control of your daily routine. Organize it in the way you can spend some time taking care of your health. Doing sports, yoga or simple exercises is always beneficial to your productivity. Combining physical and mental tasks will help you a lot.
It is completely in your hands to:
- have a good night sleep
- drink enough water
- spend some time on fresh air
Be mindful of your body as your health affects every aspects of your life including your work.
9. Set up your working space
If you are used to working in one particular place, let’s say an office or home you might want to organize your personal working space, make it your own creative bubble. Be it a table or a couch – whatever suits you.
I like to draw many of my illustrations on the iPad Pro with Procreate, but when it comes to giving the project a finishing touch or doing some heavy design tasks (anything that requires the use of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator) my table is my best friend. I set it up so it is most comfortable to sit for long periods of time and it has everything I need in close reach. At the same time I removed all possible distractions. As a result, my table only has a keyboard, my Wacom tablet, and a monitor. I do have a small plant and a lava-lamp, but I rarely turn it on while working. The idea is to avoid hording various cool but distracting things that can steal my attention from the work.
We all are not the same and different approaches work well for different people. These are practices that work best for me and help staying productive and I hope you’ll find here something useful for yourself as well.
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