So we've all read articles about how to have a productive day. But how people actually implement those tips on a day-to-day basis?
It all sounds great. Get up at 5am and go for a run and then come back for a nutritious breakfast of prosciutto, eggs and a spinach smoothie. Then you'll magically have a really productive day. Well I'm sure that works. But let's get real, how many of us are ever going to do it?
Of course, I'm not dismissing the benefits of being more active and eating healthily diet. But there are a few other things that have worked for me in making me more productive - and they don't require any willpower at all...
01. Actually plan your day
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. You've heard this before but it's so true. How can you have a productive day if you don't have a plan, a schedule and an order of what to do next?
Whatever industry you're in, deadlines and schedules can become overwhelming and it's sometimes difficult to stay on top of things. It can get to the point when you're panicking about finishing something before you've even read the brief.
So before I leave every night, I set up a list of tasks in order of priority ready for the next morning.
It's a common misconception is that multitasking will make you more efficient but in truth, multitasking is the enemy of productivity and focus is its friend.
Focus on one task at a time and you're more likely to complete that task sooner but deliver something of much better quality. You just have to clearly list your to-dos in order or priority, and everything else will follow.
02. Use Post-its
Some people use a fancy application to plan their day - there are so many note apps and organizer apps. But I like to use Post-its. Not so high tech but who cares?
A bright pink or yellow rectangle stuck to the front of my machine when I come in in the morning definitely does the trick. It's in my face and pretty difficult to ignore. I cross off tasks as they are completed and anything that I don't get around too, moves on to the Post-it for the following day.
It provides a clear structure for the day and a sense of fulfilment when you're able to mark them off as completed, one by one. Sure, I use a diary and calendar too but it can easily be hidden behind browser windows and quickly get lost in a pile of work.
Moreover, a digital note isn't quite as satisfying to delete. The physical act of crossing off a task on paper, with a pen (you all still use those, right?) is extremely therapeutic and as I said, fulfilling and satisfying.
Setting up your tasks in order is a great exercise to do before you leave for the day. By organising your tasks, you're organising your mind as well as offloading some worry and stress. It acts as a kind of closure for the day and will really help you switch off for the evening, something I'm sure we've all had trouble doing.
03. Take regular breaks
Sitting in front of your screen for eight to 10 hours a day, sometimes more in our industry, is definitely not healthy or good for productivity. There are so many articles out there advocating regular breaks and explaining why it's a must if you're a desk-sitter so I'm not going to bore you with statistics and quotes. I agree with all of them and I'm all for taking regular breaks to reboot your brain but I don't believe they can't be as productive as the work routine.
If you're in the creative industry, it can be helpful to boost your creative juices in between jobs and give you a kick-start when you go back to the project so what better way to do that than by reading some articles for some inspiration or reading a couple of pages of that book you can't put down.
Granted, for some of you, using digital versions of magazines, these can still involve sitting in front of your screen but I still like to buy the printed editions of my favourite design magazines so that's where I get my screen break mostly. It will feel like a break but really your soaking up tons of inspiration and you'll be refuelled and ready to rock!
04. Do some doodling
If you're one of those people who have adopted the digital age and sided against the printed work, there is another activity for a quick break that I call a ‘super quick daily doodle'.
It's pretty self-explanatory but give yourself 30 seconds or so to doodle something that's on your mind. Or, think of the most ridiculous thing you can and draw it. Here are some of mine:
Doodling is great exercise for thinking outside the box and can help with your idea generation later in the day. It might be a sketch of yourself pulling your hair out because you're having a really bad day or a doodle of a cake because you're craving icing.
Whatever it is, it's the creative equivalent of going to use a punch bag. Let's out all the frustration and you never know, you might come up with a masterpiece.
05. Don't let people drag you down
The one thing that stands in the way of all of us living up to our potential is the horrible, shoulder crushing oppression of the people I call The Negatives.
We all know at least one person who is always moaning, blaming the world for their problems and generally being a massive party pooper.
When you come in contact with these notorious beings, we can feel drained and not in the mood at all to be creative and positive about achieving something that day. In fact, they will probably make you want to go home and eat an entire tub of Ben and Jerry's.
The fact is you need to ditch these people dragging you down. Now of course I'm not saying that you should refuse to spend any time with them ever again, that could be quite difficult if they're a regular client for example, but try to be a little selfish and keep those times to a minimum and only when you can afford to end up feeling a little bummed out for a few hours afterwards. Or, if this just isn't possible try not to engage in the negativity.
That might take practice but it can be done. Another tip is to try and meet with them within a group; someone else sharing the negative energy will lessen the effect on you.
Or, this always works; make sure you have the willpower afterwards (if you're not feeling suicidal) to go back to a more positive atmosphere, whether it's in the office or a quick phone call to one of your most insanely positive mates to bring you out of that negative space.
If you can, just avoid those people altogether, it's not just a work thing, it's a life thing! Pessimism and negativity are always a barrier between you and your goals. A phone call to a whiny mate during your lunch hour isn't going to put you in a great mood for the rest of the day or make you very productive, so keep your duty for an evening or weekend.
Basically what I'm saying is, surround yourself with positive, up beat, ambitious people and you're sure to feel motivated and more likely to achieve those goals.
Oh, and if you are one of those Negatives, sort yourself out! You make your own luck in this world so go out and make a plan and stop dragging people down with you!
06. Use time tracking (it really works)
Procrastinators: this one's for you. After you've made sure your to-do list is actually achievable and not completely out of reach, it's really useful to time track everything. This is beneficial on a day-to-day basis but the pros are definitely great for your long-term productivity.
When I first started out, my estimates were really inaccurate and I ended up not being paid what I should have for a job because I didn't realise how long something would take. After time tracking various jobs, I had a better idea of time and was able to give estimates to clients that weren't going to screw my bank balance.
There are loads of tracker apps that are really easy to use and allow you to input different tasks for one project so use them. Not only will you see how much time you're spending on specific tasks, allowing you to give better estimates, you can see where you could be faster and more productive on others.
Here's another tip though, which is great for giving yourself a reality check. The time you spend checking things like Facebook while you're in the middle of a job can be really deceiving.
How much time do you really spend procrastinating? Any ideas? I set you all a challenge, time track all of your procrastination time and detours around the Internet (no cheating!) and add it up at the end of the week!
Wowzer! That'll give you an insight into how much of that to-do list you could have worked through if you hadn't been wandering about the Internet like a hobo. Be disciplined! You won't do that again next week!
07. Give yourself rewards
Fact: we are but mammals. This means that it's natural to want to be more productive and do a job well if you are going to be rewarded, even if it is yourself doing the rewarding. So it's a no brainer! Now, that doesn't mean go and buy yourself a new box set or Xbox game every time you sign off on a task, you'd be pretty broke for one thing and they'd be slightly longer breaks than suggested, but small rewards that you can look forward to are great incentives.
It's the little things. Anything from making yourself a nice cup of tea to looking up a new recipe for dinner. A favourite in the studio is to watch an parody trailer from Screen Junkies and make myself a really good, strong coffee. A good laugh at something that will take your mind off that deadline, just for 5 five minutes can be a great re-boost. Try it.
As well as being a great motivation, these little rewards can result in you working that much harder. You're more likely to focus on your task 100% for that period of time because you know that you will have a reward and a break at the end of it. This also discourages random social network checks and text messages to mates about what you're going to do Friday night.
08. Put your pens away in a drawer
Tidy desk, tidy mind. You've heard that one right? This applies to your desktop tool. It's difficult to focus on one task at a time if your desktop and desk are completely buried in paper, notes, sketches, drinks, plates of half eaten food and whatever else you've lost in the mess. So sort yourself out and get organised.
Put away any paperwork that's hanging about on your desk that you don't need for that particular task, out of sight and out of mind. For your desktop, using some organizational tools like Pocket to store articles that you want to read later so they're not always open in your browser, distracting you, or just close everything. It's the Internet; you'll be able to find it again.
In your browser, close your emails and turn off email notification. You don't need that distracting you throughout the task. If you are like I was you probably check your emails a gazillion times a day and as soon as a new one comes in you have an uncontrollable urge to check it in case it's something important.
Well, it probably is something important but if you don't set specific times to check your emails, you're not going to get anything done, you'll just spend all day replying to them. So close that email client. All you should have open are the tools you need for that task and your trusty time tracker tool! Downloaded one yet?
It's difficult in this age of ours to contemplate turning our phones off. After all, what is the silent function for? But if it's on and your notifications are active it can be difficult to ignore a chat thread that's going crazy or your other social media notification. So if you can't switch off, at least turn it over or put it in a drawer out of the way!
So there you have it, tips for a productive day. Be warned, it can take a while for these things to become a habit but fear not, power through and you can be a super productive creative with a cheerful disposition and who is much more likely to achieve the goals you set out for yourself. Go get 'em, tiger!
Words: Jessica Draws (opens in new tab)
Jessica Draws is an experienced designer with a love of beautiful, creative visual work. She has produced infographics, illustrations, graphics and digital artwork for brands including Sainsbury's, Go Compare, IKEA, and London Women’s Clinic.