If you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.
Writing has taught me more about productivity and creating good habits than I ever imagined. You may never intend to write a book or a blog post, but these lessons can be applied to your craft, whether that’s finance, marketing, coding, creating, or anything in between.
Value unmade work.
To feel productive, you want a return on the moment. It’s easy to justify the time spent on work-related tasks like a strategy document or a sales report because there is a direct outcome to work.
You will carve out space in your calendar to complete it even when it feels like there are more pressing priorities with zero guilt.
When it comes to a more creative project, it becomes harder to justify it to yourself. Especially when the idea exists in your imagination, and you have to spend time on it to make it a reality.
Have you ever wanted to make time to plan and felt like you have too much work to do? You have to value the time spent on creating clarity. You must value time spent experimenting with new ideas if you’re a strategist, coder, artist, designer, editor, musician, etc.
I am embarking on a new book project and have to block out time in my calendar to make it a reality. I have lots of ‘real work’ projects on the go, but unless I value this unmade work, I won’t allocate space to work on it, and it will remain an idea in my head.
The only way you will allow yourself to work on your craft with a clear headspace is to value the project—value unmade work. I always project to my future self and know she will be so grateful I made time to work on it today. In the words of Peter Bregman:
‘Here’s the key: you need to spend time on the future even when there are more important things to do in the present and even when there is no immediate and apparent return to your efforts. In other words – and this is the hard part – if you want to be productive, you need to spend time doing things that feel ridiculously unproductive.’
Distraction is the enemy of progress, not writer’s block.
I teach and train on time management, productivity and habits. Even when you know this stuff, it’s amazing how you find ways to distract yourself.
The most successful people are those that master distraction. It’s so easy to get distracted that no wonder we land up scrolling the socials, clicking one more YouTube video or researching one more article.
The truth is that you can invent any reason to be distracted and justify it to yourself.
To manage the environment of distraction, manage your devices. Turn off email alerts and notifications. Put your phone on silent or at least mute your social WhatsApp chats. Say what you like, but when you hear the WhatsApp notification, you stop what you’re doing ‘just in case it’s urgent’. Most of the time, it’s another joke or a parent complaining on the school WhatsApp group.
The trick to mastering distraction is noticing you’re being distracted. This is why scheduling is the most powerful way to manage distraction. When you allocate a task in a time slot, that’s your focus. Anything you’re doing apart from the allocated time slot means you’re being distracted.
If I’m meant to start the next blog, but I’m researching ideas for a talk, I’m being distracted and way off course. Don’t throw away the whole session, notice you’re distracted or procrastinating, forgive yourself and then get back onto it.
Expect The Resistance.
Taking on a book project brings out all your biggest fears and insecurities, and they all shout at once. The commentary sounds something like, ‘Who are you to do this? Why would anyone want to read this? You’re wasting your time’. Fortunately, this is not my first book rodeo, so I know to expect this and understand it’s part of the journey.
Stephen Pressfield calls this self-loathing voice in our heads, The Resistance. When you know it’s coming, you can prepare for it. Here is how Stephen Pressfield talks about The Resistance:
“So the next time you hear that self-loathing voice in your head, remember two things:
One, that voice is not you. It’s not your thoughts. It’s Resistance.
And two, it’s a good sign because it tells you there is a powerful, original Dream close by.
The answer? Identify that dream and act to bring it into realisation.
Here’s the final tricky part. Even when we recognise the voice of self-loathing as false, our challenge-to-work doesn’t get any easier. Resistance doesn’t go away. Self-sabotage does not disappear. We still have to face them and we still have to overcome them.
What we have done, however, is to strip off their masks and to see the positive beneath them.
All we have to do now is sit down and do our work.”
Moving past The Resistance is easier said than done.
You have to back yourself up and remind yourself why you’re doing it. You’ll give up if you buy into the voices and take them seriously.
Choose a ridiculous reason and stick with it. When I hear the ramblings of self-doubt, I keep a few clients in mind and remind myself I’m writing it for them.
It’s not self-indulgent but a test to see if you’re willing to back yourself. If you can’t back yourself, no one else will.
Schedule your time and block it like a warrior.
Scheduling has two aspects: the physical blocking of time and the more important realisation that if you commit to this, you are saying no to everything else!
If someone would like a meeting or a coffee in the same block you allocated to work on your craft or particular project, please tell them you’re already committed and suggest an alternative time and date. If you genuinely had a prior work-related commitment, you would feel nothing to request an alternative time.
Because the time slot is dedicated to yourself on something that matters to you, you may tend to give up this time because you’re valuing someone else above your work, or you need to place more value on why you are doing it.
How often do you wish you could spend time planning your week, the next quarter or even the next year? How do you work ON the business? This is how you do it – value the unmade work, schedule time and say no!