We’re in a cultural moment of compulsive solopreneurship, gigging, and freelancing, and this makes the current national obsession with Productivity and its many tools, hacks, and schools pretty unsurprising.
Work faster! Work smarter! Work better! Work harder! Those are the ascendant goals for every independent contractor, creatively inclined or not, and, really, when you’re paying your own way through the world without the cushion of a salary or benefits or sick leave, it’s wise to pay close attention to how much you’re getting done and how efficiently you’re doing it.
I personally adore productivity hacks. My obsession began when I was editor of a small bi-monthly newspaper. I worked long hours. Like, really, really long hours. Like 70-hours-per-week, long. Divide that by a lamentable annual salary of $30,000, and you start to see why I suddenly got so interested in improving my productivity.
After I struck out as a freelancer, the obsession intensified, mainly because I swore upon leaving newspapers that I’d do all in my power to never work another night or weekend.
That was in 2011, and I’ve made good on the resolution, thanks in large part to strict adherence to a collection of productivity-enhancing habits. Because I like other creative people, and because I want to help their lives suck less despite the difficulties creative pursuits entail, I’m going to start sharing them here on the blog, beginning with a perpetual favorite:
TC Productivity Tip #1: THE BIG BITE
This is a hack you designed to be employed very first thing in the morning. Common wisdom holds that you should start your day in a relaxing manner. With a leisurely breakfast and a glance at the day’s headlines, or with a run, or with a bit of meditation, or with some earnest and intentional goal-setting for the day. Those things are wonderful, but personally, I’d rather start my days with a bit of a bang. I’ve found, otherwise, that that languorous pace tend to persist well into mid-morning, and then half the day’s shot. I’d much rather knock out my work efficiently and then be done by mid-afternoon. If that appeals to you, too, here’s what I suggest.
Do not sleep late. It is a colossal waste of time. Get up by 8-ish, then make your breakfast and bring it to your desk. As you eat, give your emails the briefest glance, but if there are no major trashcan fires to contend with, don’t respond to any of them just yet. Don’t start constructing or amending you To-Do List, either. Instead, take a quick minute to identify a task that meets the following criteria:
- It does not require high-order thinking or idea generation or intense creativity
- It does not require interacting with anyone
- you can reasonably take a respectable chunk out of it within an hour or less
Don’t overthink it. Just pick something that needs doing and looks doable. Then, go at it. This is The Big Bite, and here’s what I dig about it:
- It primes the brain for success. The day’s more daunting and demanding tasks instantly feel less overwhelming when you start the day by reminding your brain of its innate competence and capability. And getting straight to work instead of farting around on social media for 30 minute is a powerful tool for short-circuiting mental resistance (AKA, the “Don’t wannas”).
- It sets a productive, positive tone. Completing your Big Bite gives you a small, easily won victory to celebrate early on. This success will boost your mood and incline you from the get-go to feel more positive about being at your desk instead of in bed or swimming or shopping or whatever.
- It’s a solo act. You don’t have to talk to anybody to get it done, which gives your brain a few warm-up laps to prep it for the socialization and interaction that may be necessary later in the day. (This introvert learned long ago that scheduling a conversation of any sort first thing in the a.m. is a great way to preemptively exhaust yourself, beginning at bedtime the evening before.)
It’s the eve of Thanksgiving as I write this. Or, the eve of Thanksgiving as I finish this at least. I actually wrote this blog post in stolen little snippets of time throughout the day of the eve of Thanksgiving, when I was waiting on calls back and coffee orders and napping babies. Partly on my phone and partly on my laptop and partly in my head. It’s been a busy and productive day, and I credit that to this morning’s Big Bite, which consisted of a final read-through on a document I finished editing last night, which I then posted it onto my client’s Google doc. Easy, simple, one-and-done.
Happy Turkey Day. Are you working Friday? If so, I hope amidst all the feasting and carousing and day-drinking of tomorrow that you remember to save room in your gullet for a Big Bite of creative work the morning after.
It’s rich. It’s satisfying. And it won’t even give you gout.