How to Get Stuff Done (When You’re a Creative Dreamer)
I love talking about big things. Big dreams, big ideas, big plans.
But I’ve noticed that the majority of these conversations tend to peter out the same way.
With something to the effect of ‘Ahh but I just don’t have the time.’
Or ‘I’ve tried in the past but gave up because it took up too much time.’
And before I pull out the quote ‘Beyonce has the same number of hours in a day to you’ which is true but not helpful — I just want to preface this podcast with letting you know I was THE laziest kid in the world.
Really: I remember being asked in school how many hours of TV I watched a day — and my answer came out 2 hours above the majority of the class.
My mum had to stop taking me to ballet classes because I refused to give up my Saturday morning cartoons — specifically, I believe it clashed with Rocko’s Modern Life.
Anyway, getting sh*t done does NOT come easily to me: it’s something I’ve tried really hard over the years to master and I still struggle with it today.
But because I’m so bloody lazy, I’ve managed to — over the years — devise crafty ways to make tackling the to-do list as easy as humanly possible.
Part of my success I believe, involves knowing as much as I can about my personality type; my preferences, my tendencies — and using that knowledge to shape how I tackle any task.
I really think this is key: and as I go through these five tips I’ll keep referring to ways you can use your own knowledge about yourself, whether it’s your introversion, extroversion, whether you’re an early bird or a night owl; to really tailor these strategies to you — and ultimately, get stuff done.
Ok so let’s stop the waffling and begin at the beginning…
Tip 1: Start Right
I’ve been an early bird for as long as I can remember — I was never a big fan of sleep as a kid, and nowadays I fully embrace my early bird nature. I think part of it is just having a chunk of the day that’s just mine: it’s the most quiet, peaceful time and when I miss out on it, I feel wonky for the rest of the day — like I’ve somehow been cheated on an hour or two of ‘me’ time.
But the point of this is actually to say: early starts are overrated IF you’re not an early bird! Know thyself. If you know — as in, you’ve tried it out for a period of at least a week — if you know you feel like crap in the morning and don’t come alive until 11am — then you can totally work with that.
I have several friends who do their best creative work past midnight!
However: starting the day right — at whatever time you choose — really is key to having a productive day.
Ok so: the obsession with morning routines and rituals is probably not new to you, and if you haven’t read Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals I highly highly recommend it. Truly fascinating little insights into the sheer breadth of routines and rituals that some of the worlds greatest creatives, thinkers, doers have had.
But the question is: what is the best morning routine?
Ok you’ve probably guessed what my thoughts are here.
It 100% depends on your personality, your preferences, your circumstance.
Just try it out for a limited period of time (though they do say it takes at least 21 days to form a habit) and see how you feel. If you don’t feel energised, more calm, and organised? Don’t do it!
Tip 2: Eliminate distractions
So this is assuming you’ve made it to your workspace wherever that is and you’re ready to tackle the to-do list.
It still surprises me just how affected we are by our environment. As I’m writing this, there is a package I’m planning to send to my aunt this afternoon, and it’s bugging me because I know it means a trip to the post office which quite frankly seems like a total waste of time and an incredibly outdated way to send mail.
Anyway, that in itself is enough to distract me. So having a clear working space, or at least one that brings you joy is key — see Marie Kondo’s eccentric but helpful approach.
So that’s physical distractions, but what about online?
I’ve had to create times in my day where I’m simply not allowed to check email or social media. None. I also have my phone on silent and screen all calls from strange numbers. I figure — and I’m sure there are plenty of introverts out there who do this exact thing — I figure that if they really need to reach me? They can leave a voicemail or email me.
I’m also very sensitive to noise: so what the noise level is in my environment. I know some people who love the background noise of cafes and coffee shops, and while I have found some with the right noise level for me, I do know I can’t rely on them because there’s always a chance a screaming baby is going to break the calm and leave my nerves on edge. Not so condcuive to good work.
If you’re in an office, god help you — no seriously, I was lucky enough when I was in an open plan office space with BBC 6 music playing — could be worse but it ended up getting on my nerves if I’m honest — I could opt to wear headphones and some of my colleagues did this — developers got away with it easily.
But if your boss isn’t cool with that, AND you’re in a noisy office — I’d consider bringing it up . May be ask some colleagues if they struggle with it to, there are more introverts and highly sensitive people out there than you may think — and then raise the issue with your boss or the HR department if you have one.
Tip 3: Deal with Incoming tasks
I’ll admit when I had been recommended the best selling bible of productivity: David Allens’ Getting Things Done — I was more than a little disappointed by the book.
For one, I felt like I knew many of the processes anyway: it was common sense to me.
On the upside, it made me grateful that I didn’t get thousands of requests a day to filter through: my main task manager was the nagging creative brain I have that likes to provoke me with a new idea — a new shiny object every 15 minutes or so on a morning walk.
As much as I appreciate my buzzy little brain, I do not find it helpful when I’m trying to get shit done: it isn’t easy to focus on my ONE thing when new ideas are flooding in to distract me.
So, returning to the David Allen book, the one tip I did get from it, which I do refer back and likely will for a long time: is the GTD Processing Workflow.
This workflow is what I use twice a day: once when sitting down to my emails. And once in the evening when I’m filtering through the notes I’ve made on my phone throughout the day.
Yes, on my morning walks you bet I’m making notes of all my mini brainwaves — some of which turn into podcast episodes.
Anyway, the GTD workflow takes you through a really neat — and almost fun — system that sorts each individual task into various ‘buckets’ or action steps.
Tip 4: Take Time Out
Arguably the toughest step for many of us: taking time out.
It’s so counterintuitive I simply could not believe it until I started experimenting with it myself.
If you’re a type-A overachiever, and I’ve also found INTJ’s in particular — you might struggle with this, as I did, but the following mindset shift should help:
One of the problems many of us have is that taking a break or doing anything other than what we consider work feels like it’s time wasting.
Confession: I admitted to a friend — actually, I said proudly to a friend — that I watch no TV, not even Netflix, that I only watch documentaries and read non-fiction and at that time, I was only listening to podcasts, no music.
Appalled, was the emotion I sensed from him.
It did make me take a step back and look at my life. What am I really going to be regretting when I’m lying on my deathbed? I sincerely doubt it’ll be not working hard enough or long enough.
But things that bring me joy like music are things that I want to be in my life: they make it richer and provide creative juice: which I can use at a later date.
I see downtime as an athlete might see recovery: they can’t train every waking hour.
One of the most effective ways to train for fitness in general is HIIT: high intensity interval training.
In summary: start viewing downtime as recovery, VITAL if we want to get the most out of life and make space for more creativity to flow in.
Tip 5: Set Aside Time to Plan
This one might not be everyone’s idea of fun: but I know for a fact that some of us absolutely LOVE planning.
In fact… we can get lost in planning. So much planning that we don’t actually get the plans done.
OR we delay planning and put it off so much that we have no plans and again, nothing gets done. Or if it does it’s a mess.
So my solution: set aside time each day, week, month to plan.
I reverse engineer this process so I have my quarterly goals, which I set at the start of the year — they’re quite lofty and vague at this point — and then each month I assess them and start breaking them down further.
What are the microgoals I need to hit? What habits or routines would make hitting these goals easier?
I make a list from these and refer back to this each week.
Each week, Sunday night, I sit down to plan that weeks goals. I ask what experiments I’m running and what my goals are with them. I make sure my week is front loaded so I have leeway at the end of the week for unexpected/fun things to pop up.
I usually do this using Asana’s calendar view and make everything all pretty and tidy.
And finally every morning I check over Asana once more, and make sure everything is arranged properly — I task stack like I talked about earlier and tackle my number one goal first.
Anyway — that’s my OCD planning system — give it a go if it appeals to you.