“You are worth so much more than your productivity.” I screen-grabbed this quote on Instagram a while ago. I want to believe it but I enjoy ticking off my list too much. If you get more gratification from getting things done than drinking beer on the beach, I hope the tips below helps to sharpen up your game.
I keep hearing that you’re supposed to do “real” work first thing in the morning, before you tend to your email, which you then get to later in the day. What? I am in awe of people who are daring enough / calm enough / who live on a farm and are able to do this. My anxiety levels are not nearly healthy enough. I have to take care of email first thing, before starting real work mid-morning. I also hear that a lot of creatives do their best work at night. But I’m useless after 7PM. My point: if you have the luxury of creating your own schedule, be strategic. When do you function at your best, and how can you structure your day accordingly? Should you really be sending that important email at 8AM if you’re more alert at 8PM? Ignore that “life hacks of successful people” list you read and build your day around what works for you.
I am guilty of getting caught up in the small stuff. As Sunny Bates says, “If you’re someone who doesn’t want to tackle difficult choices, over-commitment is a perfect way of avoiding them.” If you’re someone who spends all day trying getting to inbox 0 when you should be focusing on bigger tasks, you might find this analogy helpful:
“A lion is fully capable of capturing, killing, and eating a field mouse. But it turns out that the energy required to do so exceeds the caloric content of the mouse itself. So a lion that spent its day hunting and eating field mice would slowly starve to death. A lion can’t live on field mice. A lion needs antelope. Antelope are big animals. They take more speed and strength to capture and kill, and once killed, they provide a feast for the lion and her pride. A lion can live a long and happy life on a diet of antelope. The distinction is important. Are you spending all your time and exhausting all your energy catching field mice? In the short term it might give you a nice, rewarding feeling. But in the long run you’re going to die. So ask yourself at the end of the day, “Did I spend today chasing mice or hunting antelope?” —Newt Gingrich via Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss
While we’re on the topic of procrastination, you don’t need 10 thousand apps. I download them all of course, for the virtuous thrill, but fussing around with time management apps is a super fun way to not do actual work. Find one and stick with it. I use Any.do. This allows you to keep lists according to: Today, Tomorrow, Someday. I dump everything into the Today list which now has 500 things, but whatever.
Something I learned quickly upon entering the working world is that if you do not set your boundaries, someone else will set them for you. Now that I run my own business, I am even worse at this. I learn the hard way, again and again, that I have limits. A while back I tried to write an anti-burnout guide, realized I had no idea what that was, so I wrote a burnout guide instead. If you can’t stop yourself from running yourself into the ground, at least try and recognize what your warning signs are, and what you need to restore your sanity. Sometimes it’s the smallest things—going to bed an hour earlier and taking a few nights off your regular glass of wine can make a huge difference. I’m also a big believer in having at least one non-negotiable—something that you make happen, regardless of circumstances. Mine is that I travel to New Zealand once a year to see my family. This was actually easier when I was completely broke. As my business grows, this becomes harder to do, because I’m passing up on opportunities and have more responsibility. But then I think—the whole reason I work so hard is so I CAN do things like this. Know what you’re working for—it should be bigger than ticking off your to-do list.