Just let’s not call these ‘productivity tips’

Because honestly, that term scares me.

As if we’re robots. As if we’re all striving to Produce! Produce! Produce!

Whilst I’m totally happy with the concept of a ‘productive day’ I find the online hunger for ’10 things productive people do before breakfast’ and apps and life hacks and listicles to suddenly make you become this machine for churning out awesome bestselling works…incredibly depressing.

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Though I do have this awesome system involving post its and wall planners.

My life doesn’t work like that.

If I’m not going to do a thing, I doubt a $1.99 app is going to make it happen. If my heart’s not in something or there’s a reason I’m avoiding it, doing 10 things before feeding my rumbling tummy probably won’t help. And treating my entire life as a never-ending to-do list is a pretty quick way to make me dive under my bed and hide (check out this terrifying video – argh, make it stop!)

BUT.

But.

As self-employed people, freelancers, activists, business owners, side-hustlers, volunteers, students, general participants in life or whatever we are that means we have to work on our own volition, sometimes we all need encouragement to stop procrastinating and do the thing.

I don’t have any productivity tips for you. Instead, let’s call this…

How to do your ideas.

Yes you. Yes, your ideas.

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In the past year I’ve designed and launched an online tarot course, created a social network for tarot geeks, written over 100 blog posts, designed a jewellery range and I’m just finishing up my first little e-book. Alongside this, I’ve built 12 client websites, delivered countless tarot readings, written 24 articles for Autostraddle, held down a relationship with the most awesome woman in the entire world and renovated, sailed and sold my narrowboat.

Seth Godin I am not. But I do get things done. Is it because I am magic?

Yes! But also:

I have a secret formula.

  1. Clean my desk.
  2. Get very excited and totally obsessed about my ideas.
  3. Do the things until the idea is done.

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But that was mean of me. You clicked here because you wanted productivity tips (even though I specifically told you I didn’t have any.) So let me break it down a little more.

Here’s how I get shit done:

  1. Clean desk. Internet off. Phone away. Phone away. Coffee. This is about setting intent. Caring about yourself enough to take yourself seriously. Don’t set yourself up for failure by keeping Twitter open in your browser or sending a bunch of texts before you begin. Give yourself space. Whatever you need. Don’t drink coffee? Get a herbal tea. Don’t have a desk? Clear the sofa, or the floor. Whatever. Take yourself seriously.
  2. Sketch out your idea. Lists, mind-maps, planning, excitement. It’s a free-for-all! There’s no pressure, only an awesome idea to explore. What does it look like in completion? Start there. Maybe that’s overwhelming! But at least you’re visualising it. Then break it down. What are the component parts of this finished idea? Can these be broken down into do-able tasks?
  3. Do the first thing. Yes you. Yes now. Don’t wait. Don’t put up barriers. Do the first thing.
  4. Get obsessed. Cancel all your plans. Bury yourself in your project. Be a total nerd about it. Forget about work-life balance, this is life. All that matters is your project.
  5. Do the next thing. 
  6. Carry on until its done. Launched, sold, made, presented, gifted. Feel incredible. Well done! You are **totes amaze!** I knew you could do it!!!!
  7. REST. Party. Walk. Have sex. Go for dinner. Watch Netflix. Get drunk. Do exercise. Chill the heck out.
  8. Repeat steps 1-7.

I don’t complete every project I start.

For every project I complete, every blog post I publish, every product I launch, another ends up in the bin, languishes in drafts or simply fades away. I’m not a productivity machine. I’m not a robot. You don’t just programme in an idea and the result comes out the other end. Sometimes an idea turns out to be boring. Sometimes I get distracted.

Who cares? Not me. I only care about the ones I’m going to complete. You can carry the weight of an unfinished idea around with you for several years, the way we carry unfinished knitting projects, unread books, half-written letters. Ditch them. They’re sapping your energy.

Focus on the stuff that lights you up, turns you on, makes you wanna do…and do…and do, till it’s done.

In summary:

Set intent. Get obsessed. Do things.

At least, that’s what works for me. What about you?

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Further reading on self-motivation:

Sarah J Bray recently published this thoughtful piece about creating strategies that are self-perpetuating. As someone who has written extensively about struggles with motivation and procrastination, yet has achieved a great deal, Sarah is one of my favourite writers on freelance topics.

CLEAN YOUR DESK! This video makes me extremely, extremely happy.

Maya Elious: Three reasons you haven’t started your dream business.

Esme Wang on how to be productive while living with chronic illness (or any sort of unpredictable life situation).

Alexandra Franzen on 10 slow and difficult steps to moderate success. Really though. This.

Michelle Nickolaisen on 5 ways to increase your freelance productivity. My favourite? Write first.

For business folks who don’t like business planning: Regina Anaejionu on creating a creative action plan you’ll actually want to follow.

“I could never…”. Paul Jarvis puts it simply:

If you’re a person who likes reading about those things but personally “could never” do them, then you’re right. You won’t. Our desire for being right is so strong that chances are if we convince ourselves of something, we’ll stop questioning it.

Stop doing shit you don’t like. Another from Paul Jarvis.


Got any tips to help folks to get shit done? Share them below!

PS If you’re really struggling with procrastination, you may also enjoy this fun tarot spread… :)

 

22 comments

  1. Love this! You’re so candid! I want to add 2 more non-tips if you don’t mind:

    Pretend that you aren’t going to work on it. Take a break. Walk away. Be determined that you are going to not work on your project…this works for me sometimes as it seems on the days I schedule down time are the days I have the BIG IDEAS of how to do the hard task that was frustrating me before or I have an Epiphany on what what stumping me hours ago.

    Quit Information Hoarding. I developed a bad habit in that I will read articles and books and posts and websites and journals and…on HOW and WHY and WHERE and WHEN to do a project but I will spend all my time reading and none of the time doing. I hoard up the information like a lil pack-rat as if that will somehow magickally turn into my actual project on its own. I acknowledged I have a problem this year, gave it a name, and now recognize it when it happens and take steps to break it.

    Thought I would share.
    mucho tarot & biz love
    December

  2. Stephanie says:

    I read an article about productivity the other day (and maybe I found it via your twitter?) that made me SO mad, because it was yet another blog post telling people to over-schedule their days and be productive practically every waking moment. I started talking about this with my partner-in-crime and we came to the conclusion that the projects that get done, we don’t actually have to think about doing them, we just do them because we’re excited about them. Productivity tips make me angry, because people don’t need to spend every waking second productive. And they shouldn’t. But maybe less time spent watching TV or playing mindless games, and more time spent pursuing things obsessively because you love it are better ways to spend your time.

    tl;dr: Thanks for writing a NOT productivity post. :)

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Glad you liked it Stephanie! For me there’s a big difference between this idea of productivity that’s everywhere right now, and just *getting on with your thing*. I feel like all these productivity apps are just adding to the ‘I’m so so so so busy’ noise, and thus totally distracting from the joy of focused, exciting work on the stuff we truly care about.

  3. Beth, we are literally on the same wavelength right now. I was just writing out a new moon ritual to overcome procrastination, and I am going to publish it today. I am including a link to this blog post as Recommended Reading. <3 You are awesome! Thank you for the extra-oomph of inspiration!

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Aww, thanks Hilary! Look forward to seeing your spread (in the UK, our new moon is actually tonight – we have it a day later than you!)

  4. Monica says:

    Good stuff–thank you! If you ever have a chance and don’t mind, I’m super curious about your calendar/wall planner/post-it system. As a proud procrastinator, I am an adherent to both the Seinfeld Method and the Pomodoro technique myself. Cheers!!

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Hey Monica!

      It’s a simple system – the horizontal planner is for scheduling my web design work, and the post-its underneath are client payments, then the portrait planner is for writing work, and the four colour coded headings are for different publications. Each post it is an article idea, pitch or project. When they’re in progress, I move them over to my desk.

      I have a regular paper journal where I put to-dos for each week, block out days to work on specific projects etc.

      Works for me!

  5. This. I love this. And I love you! And sometimes I hate that I have a full time job…..I feel like I can’t actually do this because I can’t call into work when I obsess over my latest tarot idea. Oh, how I wish I could! But I really love this!!! And will implement them o my day off.

  6. What a great post. I am always hoarding info too and then I freak myself out/overload myself/confuse everything and don’t get anything done. I always tell myself ‘I’m a thinker, an ideas person, not a doer’ but that’s bullshit because as a creative person, I have to DO.

    Another problem is, I will happily work away on making something that ISN’T on my to do list (procras-creating?) because I just hate feeling like I HAVE to do something, but if I look at it the way you do, it seems less scary.

    I have been a bit more successful this year and gotten a few bits done by using a tweaked version of a bullet journal. Still don’t have my etsy shop up though, so terrified that it will be a failure. Which is stupid because it won’t even have the chance to fail if I don’t even try.
    Stupid anxiety disorder and imposter complex!

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Oh gosh – you know I really do that ‘do something that’s not on the to-do list’ thing sometimes. But if that’s what you wanna be doing then hey, go with it! (Does not apply to cleaning out under the stairs when you should be revising for an exam tomorrow or generally meeting deadlines!). LIFE HACK: sneakily write it on your to-do list as you’re doing it :P

  7. Johoanna says:

    Great blog post! I love that you don’t finish some projects. It shows that some ideas seem okay but then when you start working on them you realise that they’re basically dumb. Thanks for sharing that. I don’t feel so bad about dropping some projects now. :-)

  8. Joanne says:

    Yes, great post and links at end (follow some of these folks already). I get stuck on the ‘get obsessive’ bit of your process. I am so easily distracted, both by the Internet (I’m extroverted but rather isolated in the physical world at the moment) and by hubby’s need for help with taking care of his mom (his own mental illness makes it a bit of challenge for him).

    Really need to figure out how to get more obsessive so I can finish a task sooner and have a clean break and an invoice before going on to the next thing. I do notice that certain types of tasks that I really love are easy to get lost in until they are done, but I haven’t gotten them monetized yet. I realize the ‘get obsessive’ bit is probably ingrained, but any tips on how to fit in starting new things you really love while still paying the rent with something you want to move away from?

    • Beth
      Beth says:

      Hey Joanne! Glad you enjoyed the post. I can’t help with the ‘obsessive’ bit as that’s just how I personally get about my projects (well, half of them.)

      BUT you did kinda answer your own question with that ‘I am so easily distracted by the internet’ thing. There’s your problem. Switch it off, be disciplined.

      Also, do things immediately and set yourself timers (I do this all the time). In that post about the 4-Hour Work Week, one of the few useful takeaways was the ‘Parkinson’s Law’ thing – tasks swell to fill the time you allow them…and then you totally loose ’em. So don’t allow them much time. If you wanna do something then just BEGIN. Put on a timer for 1hr. Turn off the internet for that hour (seriously do). Choose a time when your husband won’t disturb you. Imagine you only have that hour. You might surprise yourself! I often do.

      I do this with things I’ve been putting off for ages because they feel like like they will take a long time (interviews that require a lot of pre-reading, posts where I need to do a photo-shoot, web projects where I need to do a lot of graphic design work) – amazingly, when I set that timer (making sure I have a fresh cuppa beforehand!) and turn the wifi off, it magically gets done in an hour – or if not, I make so much headway that I’m either totally into it and happy to continue, or I’ve made a decent amount of progress and know it’s no biggie to finish it up first thing tomorrow.

      • Joanne says:

        Excellent advice. My challenge will be managing the staying power for what is often a 20+ hour job to index a book (my current moneymaker) when I’m trying to retire from that biz and start three other ones instead. Turning off email in particular should be very useful, though. Thanks for the reminder. :)

        • Beth
          Beth says:

          Oh WOW. That’s a biggie Joanne!! I would seriously look at how to break things down (obvs choosing one of the three businesses to focus on first). If your current job is 20hrs, could you set aside one day a week (I recommend choosing Monday – it’s cheeky if you have clients, but it’s damn empowering!) where you don’t do any indexing at all? Set up a different email address and use a different mail client so you don’t have to open that work inbox at all?

          • Joanne says:

            Totally reading my mind, Beth. I live in your equivalent of a coastal resort town, although Corpus Christi is also big enough to have a military (naval) facility and oil industry-related stuff going on. Weekends are for the tourists, so those are work days for me.

            Friday is date day/night, often on the beach, and I have made Mondays into my admin day, but yes, perhaps that’s a good way to focus on the new businesses since they aren’t paying yet. I do like the cheekiness of taking Monday off from billable work, though. ;)

            I do really need to focus on one of the three new things at a time. One is developmental editing, which will create income soonest, then Tarot reading, then tweaking website designs in WordPress (not at your skill level, Little Red, just helping folks who don’t want to do anything in WP themselves but want customizations).

            You’ve definitely given me further inspiration to narrow, focus, and get obsessive, as you call it. Thanks so much!

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