You already know what needs to happen. You say it all the time: “I need to be more productive with my time.”
But often – too often – it feels just about impossible. Certain times of day you’re a steam train mowing down anything which gets in-between your work and you. Other hours, maybe when you’d rather be sleeping, the brainstorming commences – and doesn’t end. Then there are the dead hours – those hours where no matter how hard you try, you know you’ll find myself wasting as much time as possible, in whatever way makes itself available.
When what you’ve got is competing demands – whether that’s in your schedule or in your interests – feeling those ebbs and flows of energy can derail your productivity and your creative process. So what do you do about it?
Different hour = different possibilities. When you’re out of energy, you’re out of energy. And that can make itself known in distraction or procrastination. It’s not that you are wasting time, or aren’t committed to what you’re doing – it’s that you can’t really do any better given your energy levels. When you’re focused and able to get a lot done – don’t ignore that impulse to keep going, but pay attention to it, and take note. If it’s a trend, it might be valuable to schedule any executive tasks for that time of day. And when your brain goes into brainstorm mode, don’t let that phase you. That is your creativity working for you. Grab a notebook or journal and let it – channel the energy towards any creative work you could be doing, instead of wasting it chastising yourself for not spending more time executing.
There’s an endless debate surrounding whether “early birds” or “night owls” are more productive. Odds are, you likely aren’t just one kind of productive (or one kind of bird, for that matter). Sometimes you brainstorm, plan, draft. Other times you edit, assemble, execute. Distinguish between these types of productivity – creative productivity through writing, brainstorming, planning, etc., and executive productivity through copying, revising, editing, etc. Where your energy lends itself to spending can differ by the time of day.
Once you understand that, know how you work – whether it’s in periodic bursts or over long, dedicated slogs, or somewhere in-between. Take the time to notice whether it works differently when you are writing creatively to when you are writing a report, or between planning and execution. And once you are clear on the different ways you can be productive, start to take notice of the times they coincide with.
Test yourself. Over the span of about a week, chart out when you are the most creative, and when the muses won’t sing. Record when you get the most actual execution – the hands-on, make-the-creative-vision-happen work – accomplished. Finally, and most importantly, note down when you are the most likely to distract yourself or feel a slump in energy. Record the time of day, and whether it differs depending on other factors, like your diet or the day of the week or your sleep pattern. Understand the trend in your waking hours, and what you are and aren’t able to put out in the meantime.
Just understanding those hours – and working with them, rather than against them – can stave off a whole lot of frustration, procrastination and writer’s block.
Rather than exhausting yourself by trying to push through those lapses in energy or focus, organize your schedule with those hours in mind. This might look like:
1. Creative work in the early morning/late night (6am – 10am; 8pm onwards)
2. Productive Work in the late morning through early afternoon (10am – 2pm)
3. “Useless” Netflix/Facebook/Catch up with an old friend hours (3pm – about 8pm)
The key is to guide yourself. To learn the unique ways in which your energy flows and lapses throughout the day, then taking note of the time of day those changes correspond to. Figuring it out – exactly how this looks for you – can make you that much more productive.
So if you’ve got a chapter to finish, a topic to revise, a blog post to write, or a whole lot of procrastinating to do – try testing yourself, and finding out when your creative juices are flowing, and when they aren’t. When it’s easy to focus, and when it isn’t. Try organizing your time around your energy – not the other way around – and see how it works for you.
Pedro is a student of life, lover of people, and life coach. He’s the host of the podcast How To Talk To Anyone, and the founder of clootzlife.com, where he helps driven and passionate young people build a life out of what’s important to them.