Do you work at a desk all day, doing work that requires (at least some) creative thought? Whether you’re a designer or a developer, there are challenges that you have in common with most other creatives. Chief among them: getting stuff done when you’d rather be doing almost anything else but work.
When you hit the motivation doldrums, sometimes the best course of action is to turn to your peers in similar jobs. Recently, we put out a call on social media asking professionals to share their best productivity tips. Some of them were what you might expect — setting a timer, for example, or committing to accountability check-ins.
But other productivity tips were downright weird, in the best way. (Think: ‘80s dance parties and working in your jammies until you’ve earned a shower.) Here’s what we learned.
12 Creative Professionals Share Their Best Productivity Tips
1. Sometimes, You Gotta Dance
Timed sessions with “rewards” of reading a book I’m into, having a phone call with a friend or creating a piece of jewelry for my shop. I usually do my sessions in three-hour increments and rewards will be anywhere between 10-30 minutes. (Can you tell I was a teacher and behavior therapist?)
If it’s something I really do not want to do, I’ll do much shorter work sessions and longer reward sessions. Other times, I need to treat myself to a solo ‘80s dance party to get everything flowing. – Mia, Jewelry Designer
2. “Anyone Can Do Anything for 10 Seconds.”
1. Use a timer. I use the timer app on my phone to set a small amount of time (something between 17 and 47 minutes usually, and yes, always an odd amount of time because it’s better that way) to get myself started on the project. Sometimes when it’s really hard, I mentally replay that scene from Kimmy Schmidt where she’s like, “anyone can do anything for 10 seconds.”
2. Change location. I almost always thrive on working in same location and same set up, but sometimes if I’m really resistant, going to a new location, such as a coffee shop, my couch, or the library, can help.
3. Sometimes I repeat to myself a phrase (like, “you love to write, remember”) when I’m struggling. Because usually once I get going, I really do enjoy. It’s the “getting into the bath” part that I resist, the actual bath is delightful! – Madeleine, Editor
3. The Lure of Some Zzzs
Nap reward. – Meghan, Education Advocate
4. Scratch That: Nap First, Work After
Usually when I’m not feeling productive it is because I’m exhausted. When this happens, I allow myself to lay down and take a nap, or just be horizontal for 30 mins. I remove all guilt from the downtime and remind myself that I’ll be way more productive when I get up. – Elise, Director of Web Content
5. Reframe the Problem
I think about unpleasantness in terms of time and how long it will take, which isn’t usually lengthy. I hate to clean the shower. If I reframe and think, “in a mere 15 minutes the shower will be clean” that helps me get it done. – Jo, Project Manager
6. Accountability Check-Ins
I haven’t done this in a while… but when my stepdaughter was in college and had studying to do, we’d agree that we’d each work for 45 min or 60 min or whatever, and then call each other to check in. This was very effective for both of us. – Nancy, Editor
7. Talk Yourself Into It, Literally
I get into a conversation with myself:
I don’t want to.
Don’t want to what?
Which part of that?
The whole thing.
OK, which part of the whole thing?
Fine let me demonstrate.
(To show my reasonable side what I don’t like about it I end up doing it.) – Tyler, Librarian
8. Turn to Tomatoes
I turn to the Pomodoro Technique. 25 minutes of work and a short break. I actually got my walk-in closet cleared out in one afternoon. I used to use it when I worked for one of the country’s largest furniture retailers writing online copy. It’s the only way I could see a clear path through the tedious work. – Linda, Book and Theater Reviewer
9. Get Something Done Around the House
I work from home, so I’ll either take a walk or do other errands/chores around the house for a limited/pre-determined amount of time (30 to 45 minutes or so). This allows me to step away from work and reset my brain, but also be productive in another way, so I’m still checking things off of my to-do list.
For some reason, this helps me feel accomplished and gives me some momentum to carry back to my desk to get work done efficiently after that break. – Andrea, Healthcare Media & Communications Executive
10. Give Yourself a Break
I tell myself I’ll let up in some other area. I’ll just wear pajamas, I’ll splurge on a mocha, I’ll play music and make it all as “not work” as possible. A change of venue also helps. I’ve also allowed myself a night at a hotel to REALLY get deep thinking stuff done. – Nancy, Online Marketing Consultant
11. Showers Are for Closers
I may be a weirdo, but I do the thing where I sit down and write X words or 1 chapter early in the morning in my sweat clothes and my reward to myself is taking a shower. (I love taking showers. I think better in water.) – Amanda, Author
12. Pick a Soundtrack
When I wrote about Vegas, I would play Katy Perry’s Waking up in Vegas, I’m not a Perry fan, but it worked. Now that I focus on sailing, I play Jack Johnson and watch videos by SV Delos. Now, the biggest motivation comes from working out. If I can’t write I force myself to go and workout. I hate working out, so it nudges me to try to write. – Zeke, Digital Media Manager
How to Find the Best Productivity Tips for You:
Everyone works differently. One professional’s never-fail productivity strategy is another’s big old waste of time. You’ll probably have to try a few tricks before you hit on one that works.
It helps if you know how you work best. First and foremost, that means not comparing yourself to anyone else – not strangers on the internet, not your super-productive colleague, not even yourself in a different job or stage of life.
To figure out your own best productivity tips:
1. Know Whether You’re a Morning Person or Not (and Don’t Judge Yourself)
How many articles have you read about CEOs and business gurus who wake up at 4 a.m., read three newspapers on the treadmill and then put in 12-hour workday? Since the days of Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack, we’ve believed that “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
And that may be true – if that man or woman is naturally a morning person. If they’re not, forcing an early schedule could actually make them less productive.
“If people are left to their naturally preferred times, they feel much better. They say that they are much more productive. The mental capacity they have is much broader,” says Katharina Wulff, an Oxford University biologist who studies chronobiology and sleep, in an interview with the BBC.
In fact, Wulff says, being pushed outside your optimal schedule can have harmful health effects, as well as a negative impact on your productivity. She says that when night owls are forced to rise early, they’re still producing melatonin while sitting down to work.
“Then you disrupt it and push the body to be in the daytime mode. That can have lots of negative physiological consequences,” Wulff says, including weight gain.
3. Choose Rewards That Are Meaningful to You
Planning on giving yourself a treat when you hit a goal or deadline? Make sure it’s something you really want. That might sound obvious, but anyone who’s ever overloaded themselves on New Year’s resolutions can attest to the fact that there’s such a thing as too much virtue. You’re not going to plow through those reports if a dish of carrot sticks is all that’s waiting for you at the other end (unless you really love carrot sticks, and then go for it).
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3. Be Willing to Try Something Brand-New
Even if you’re highly motivated and effective at work, there will come a time when the usual stuff isn’t working. When it does, it pays to be flexible and open to new things. A change in scenery or a tweak to your schedule might help you to see your work in an entirely new way. And that could help you enjoy your work more, as well as get more done.
Stories have been lightly edited for style and clarity. Some names have been changed.
Tell Us What You Think
What are your best productivity tips? We want to hear from you! Share your advice in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.