It’s kind of a cliché quotation, but I really love this one by Thomas Edison. In fourth grade, my math/science class went on a field trip to the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers. It was one of those field trips that we ALL looked forward to (and not just for the charted buses either). The tours we took were so great and I vividly remember thinking how insane (in a good way) Edison seemed. He worked all the time, taking short little naps throughout the day as opposed to sleeping throughout the night. While that’s not something I recommend, Edison was really all about productivity– and perseverance.
My class during the field trip!
(One more thing I like about Edison, he said something along the lines of all his failures not being failures, but instead just ways of how not to invent a lightbulb. Talk about the glass being full.)
Now that summer is coming to a close, I thought I’d share my tips for increased productivity. Studying is a very solitary act. And it’s easy to get distracted… or worse, not even doing it. I’m (thankfully) no longer going to be studying, but a lot of the work I do requires self-discipline and lots of focus.
If you feel like you’re in a rut while working, try some– or all – of these tips:
1. Find Your Groove | This sound super dorky, but the fact of the matter is that people work differently. You may already know that you work best in the morning or that you need to start projects three weeks in advance… or that you need a little pressure to really gain momentum. Whatever floats your boat, figure it out and stick to it! Personally, I work really well in the morning if I’m working on things that aren’t that fun and I work best in the middle of the night when I’m feeling SUPER inspired on fun projects.
2. Make a Routine | Once you know what your groove is, set a routine. You may end up having three or four (or more) routines depending on the types of things you’d be working on. The great thing about a routine is that you train your body to snap into “working mode.” An example of a good Sunday morning routine might be this: Wake up at 9am, 30 minute run, light breakfast, shower, work-work-work, break for a light lunch, work-work-work, dinner, enjoy the night! After a few Sundays, you’re body will KNOW that after that shower you’re going to be sitting down for a few hours.
3. Take Small Breaks | I just touched on this in this week’s Prep Talk, but I’d like to reiterate the importance of taking breaks. Taking a (small) break can rejuvenate you and will allow you to get a lot more work done in the long run. It’s also a great idea to take a break when you’re frustrated. Do something that keeps your mind active, but let’s you step aside from your work. Watching a 23 minute episode of television is okay, but doing something like a crossword puzzle… or reading a chapter of a pleasure reading book is much better! You’ll stay in “working mode,” but you’ll also get a nice little break.
4. Break Tasks Up | A giant list of important things that you absolutely have to do can be extremely overwhelming. Sometimes I see these giant lists I’ve created in only one morning and I feel like putting on pajamas, crawling into bed, and never moving. No one wants to feel like this!!! Big tasks should be broken up into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and sense of direction in your work.
5. Begin with a Brainstorm | Sometimes half the battle is just knowing what to do. I will confess this to you… in eighth grade, our Language Arts teacher used to MAKE us turn in our “brainstorms” and outlines with the papers we wrote. Well, I was oh so above brainstorming and would write my paper and THEN build my brainstorm and outline based on what I wrote. I had this SO backwards…. Brainstorms really are important because you will have flushed out a bunch of ideas and will have generally better understanding of what exactly you want to accomplish.
6. Bounce Ideas Around | There’s pretty much nothing worse than feeling “stuck.” Writer’s block is something that happens to me hourly and this is terrible because I write a LOT between this blog, Sweet Lemon, and the freelance work I have. When I’m feeling uninspired or I’m not sure where I want to “go with it,” (and my brainstorming sessions come up short), I’ll hop on the phone with my mom. Just bouncing ideas around for a little bit will almost always get my creative juices flowing again!
7. Set the Mood | Similar to “Finding your Groove,” figure out what kind of environment you work best in! I suggest steering clear of comfortable beds and soft couches… Personally, working at a table is the BEST place for me. I like to be able to s p r e a d things out so I have a giant space to work with. (If I’m really tired, but need to get stuff done, I work on the floor!) I love listening to Pandora while I work at a very low volume, of course. Here’s a post of what my desk looks like while I’m studying.
8. Make a List | Pretty self explanatory. Make a list so that you a) know what you have to do, b) can track progress, and c) don’t forget about anything!
9. Establish a Time Limit | This may not apply to everyone, but I get SO into the “zone” that sometimes I completely lose track of time. I will even forget to eat! This may sound super productive, but I get SO fatigued when I finally “snap out of it” (usually six to nine hours later). The rest of the day is a bust! I work much better in two or three hour increments with breaks in between. To prevent nine hour zombie sessions, I set my phone alarm to remind me to take a break.
10. REWARD Appropriately | Be reasonable and smart with your reward system. Buying a new pair of shoes for completing a homework assignment isn’t reasonable…. save the shoe reward for completing a senior thesis! I like to do the “Swedish Fish” reward system. I pull out a handful and slowly work my way through. Grab a piece or two after filling a page of notes or completing a chapter. It takes a bit to get through the handful, but once they’re gone I know it’s probably time to take a little break and get up from my desk.
What are your productivity tips?