6 Productivity Hacks I’ve Told to GTFO of My Life (and Why)

Brittany Berger

I have a lot of evidence proving I’m a pretty productive person. Not quite Beyoncé-level productivity, but it’s impressive.

At my most intense point, I had a day job, a freelance business, two blogs, an online course, weekly dance classes, and plenty of time for Netflix binges.

I also still slept plenty then, both at night and the occasional catnap (because you can be both productive and lazy 💁🏻).

Juggling all that and surviving as long as I have…has to mean I’m getting sh*t done, right?

And these days, I manage to run my business without a team supporting me. I’m not “six figuring” or “10xing,” but I make what I used to make at my full-time job while working 1/3 of the hours, so I can get the rest I need and manage my chronic illness.

But lemme tell you something.

I don’t do many (any?) of the popular productivity hacks for entrepreneurs you see out there. 🤔

A lot of the techniques that are touted as oooooh-so life-changing by productivity gurus do nothing for me.

I’ll almost always give an interesting “productivity tip” a shot — after all, I love a good experiment!

But in the end, I *almost always* go back to what feels right for me.

And what feels right usually isn’t a “productivity best practice,” it’s a uniquely personal routine.

This because…say it with me, friends… productivity 👏 is 👏 personal! 👏

(And hacks don’t exist! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Work brighter, not smarter

A lot of people ask me where “work brighter,” the name of my newsletter and business, came from. It was actually a motto I’d already used for myself to replace the saying “work smarter.”

Why?

It’s not necessarily bad to work smarter, and in so many ways, I already do it.

But…

Working smarter feels boring and rigid.

Working smarter has turned into following strict frameworks and calendars and sprints. It’s a whole lotta rules created by other people with other personalities, other habits, other strengths, other weaknesses…

And they all have their place, but productivity is more than that.

Happiness impacts your productivity. Mindset impacts your productivity. Self-care (which can include Netflix!) impacts your productivity.

Happiness impacts your productivity. Mindset impacts your productivity. Self-care (which can include Netflix!) impacts your productivity.

So they all need to be part of the discussion too.

Productivity isn’t cut and dry.

I have actual Toggl time tracking data to prove I write faster listening to Hamilton than ambient noise or music with no lyrics.

It shouldn’t make sense according to productivity gurus, but they don’t take into account that I’m happier and more inspired when The Schuyler Sisters are telling me to “Work!!”

So instead of working smarter, take it one step further. Work brighter! 🦄

Learn when to listen to productivity tips and when not to. Make happiness part of the productivity equation.

Define what YOUR version of productivity is.

Here are the productivity tips I tried with an open mind. But since then, I’ve told them to GTFO for the sake of working brighter:

1. I never wake up early to have a “miracle morning”

Ugh, mornings. I’m sorry, I know I’m supposed to like them. I know it’s also the “adult” thing to do to suck it up and tolerate things I don’t like.

But I don’t do either of those things when it comes to mornings.

I hate them and actively ignore them as much as possible.

When I was growing my old book blog, I’d try SO hard to wake up early before work to get ahead on book reviews. There were also times earlier in my life when I tried to wake up early to work out, blog, or even just eat a more relaxed breakfast.

It…never worked out.

The writing were nonsensical. The workouts were sluggish. The breakfasts burned when I was too tired to use the toaster properly.

So when I started my freelancing business and then Work Brighter, I knew it’d be smarter to take advantage of different times of day instead.

I’ve always been a night owl, and realized a few years ago that late nights are also when most of my best writing happens. So when I started my business, I made sure I was able to work late at night.

When I side hustled, I wouldn’t come home from my day job and get to work. I took a nap as soon as I got home from work, just so I could work later at night instead.

Instead of scheduling my work when best practices told me to or when it made the most sense to, I shifted my schedule so I could write when *I* write best. 🙌

(Also, for every article you can find about how rich and successful people wake up early, you can also find one about how creative and smart people stay up late. I’m just saying. 😉 This one in particular makes me feel awesome!)

🐴 Working smarter: waking up early and doing a morning routine from a book

🦄 Working brighter: waking up when it feels good and practicing energy management to work at my own peak hours

2. I don’t eat the frog

So we’ve established I don’t do early mornings. To add onto that “bad habit,” I also definitely don’t jump into my hardest task for the day as soon as I do get started on work.

Whatever happened to warming up?!

We do it with exercising our bodies, we should do it with exercising our minds too.

Whatever happened to warming up?! We do it with exercising our bodies, we should do it with exercising our minds too.

I like to start small and build momentum, then dive into my hardest task when I’m at peak creativity and energy. That means doing my deep work like content creation either mid-afternoon, or around midnight.

The concept behind “eating frogs” makes complete sense to me…in a perfect world. “Get the hard stuff over with.” Duh, right?

But it gets more complicated in reality. What happens when your biggest/hardest task is a creative one, and your peak creative hour isn’t your first working hour of the day?

Sure, I could still do it first thing just to get it done. But I’ll do the work better (and often faster) if I just wait another two hours.

That seems pretty sweet, so that’s what I do. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

🐴 Working smarter: doing hard work first thing in the morning regardless of your peak hours

🦄 Working brighter: using the “first pancake productivity method,” where the first hour is a throwaway anyway 🙃

Productive Unicorns Who Agree:

My friend Alaura Weaver takes the same “get warmed up” approach to her work as a writer too:

“Here’s a productivity rule I often break: the Pomodoro Method. Getting into the creative flow state when I write takes at least a half hour of “warm up.”

The Pomodoro Method of working in 25-minute spurts just breaks me out of that zone where the world disappears and it’s just me and the words. Instead, I try to eliminate all distractions by listening to white noise/trance music, closing the door to my office, and doing a five-minute mindfulness breathing session before diving into writing.

That said, I love using Pomodoro timers for work I dread doing, like expense reports and organizing my inbox. It helps me feel less overwhelmed when I know I’ve got a little rest break 25 minutes away.” — Alaura Weaver, Copywriter and Content Strategist

3. I check email first thing

You now know that I don’t start working early, and that when I do start, I start with something easy.

And 99% of the time, that “something easy” is the #1 thing we’re told NOT to start our day with.

That’s right friends, the first thing I do when I start my workday is usually (gaaaasp!) to check my email! :O

Oops? I’m not sorry.

Nope, not sorry at all. Overall, my email habits are great.

I feel in control of all of my inboxes. They don’t stress me out, they don’t contain a bunch of “noise,” and it’s not full of people trying to distract me.

But while I don’t have email anxiety, I have pretty much EVERY other type of anxiety. 🙈

So the popular thinking that checking your email gives you things to worry about?

I ALREADY HAVE A MILLION, BOO BOO!

What’s a few more?! 😂

*However,* checking my email has the opportunity to abate and prevent some of those non-email worries and anxieties.

So really, a quick 5-minute check into my inbox is the best way to start my day. It’s an easy thing to cross off my to-do list. A quick win that motivates me to take on something harder and more important. 💪

It works for me at the moment, so I’m letting it be. When it stops working, I’ll reconsider.

🐴 Working smarter: waiting to check email until afternoon, even if there’s important info there

🦄 Working brighter: checking email within the first hour of my day (see above pancake productivity explanation)

Productive Unicorns Who Agree:

When I asked my friends, SO MANY of them felt the same way about this email rule:

“I check my email first thing in the morning — before I get out of bed. I’m not on a US time zone, so my by the time I wake up, most of my emailers expect a response.

I also tackle non-urgent tasks (but important) first because I get consumed with with urgent tasks. Knowing I have something more pressing, helps me overcome paralysis analysis for non-urgent tasks.” — Rae Targos, Productive Co.

“I also check my email first thing, but that’s because I get too stressed thinking about what awaits otherwise!

I like to get that out of the way by spending my first hour or so time blocking “email and catch up” time before launching into everything I need to do that day.” — Ashley Hoffman, Branding & Content Strategist

4. I don’t outsource on the reg

Okay, to be fair, this is one that I’d love, love, love to change. But I’m also fine the way things are.

I don’t have a long-term VA and that’s probably not going to change anytime soon.

No argument that teamwork makes the dream work. 🌈

I’ve hired out one-off projects like graphic design, branding, business coaching, and migrating email marketing systems. But there’s no one helping me out on a regular basis.

Even though I teach outsourcing to be one of the best time management techniques for entrepreneurs, right now, the rest of the “staple” techniques pick up the slack.

I batch, template, and automate the hell out of my business, so it doesn’t hurt too, too much to not have help.

For example, one thing that would be awesome to outsource is Pinterest management. Instead, I’ve created a system combining batching and automation that allows me to be so hands-off that I only need to log in once or twice a month to curate and schedule content from other people.

(And you do know I have an entire course about creating automated systems like these right? Yup, Build Your Own VA is all about getting by without a human to streamline things *for you*.)

🐴 Working smarter: paying other people to clean up your messed up, complicated systems for you before they can grow your business

🦄 Working brighter: streamlining and automating systems BEFORE outsourcing them so your team gets more done

5. I don’t sprint

Okay, technically, this should be “I don’t sprint in my own business.” Part of the reason I don’t is because my clients and day jobs have always worked in sprints, and it was confusing and frustrating when I tried juggling too many sprints in my brain at the same time.

But part of me feels like I wouldn’t anyway.

If you haven’t noticed, I thrive off of having a few things going on. Working on more than one project at a time and switching between them is one way I prevent getting bored or burnt out with my biz.

I think this is really important for side hustlers: do what you need to do to keep the work enjoyable. 🙌

This is work we’re doing in our free time, and there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it fun.

Keeping things interesting — in whatever way works for you — will help you sustain the momentum you need to grow long-term.

It’s like Mary Poppins says — a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

My medicine is having several things to get excited about and work on, and being able to switch between those throughout the week/month.

🐴 Working smarter: working in 2 week sprints based on a book

🦄 Working brighter: customizing the sprint model to timeframes and processes that work for you and your own team

6. I don’t work in peace and quiet

Finally, let’s talk about all the productivity hacks about what type of noise you should work with. All the advice is to listen to stuff like coffee shop sounds, classical music, and nature.

NO. NO. NO.

Those are ALL things I find super annoying! How is working with them going to help?!

Instead, let’s look at the root of that advice: it’s all about creating peaceful surroundings. THAT ADVICE I can get behind.

It’s just that, coffee shops and nature aren’t as peaceful for me and they are for the people who say everyone should listen to them.

You know what IS peaceful for me?

Hamilton. Beyonce. Parks & Rec. Will & Grace. The Good Place!

And I’m familiar enough with all of those things that they’re essentially background noise. They’re for sure more familiar and calming to me than a coffee shop, where I get tempted to eavesdrop on everyone. Or nature, where in reality, I’d be having some sort of allergic reaction.

I’m an indoor cat who likes her sitcoms and showtunes, so that’s my background noise during the day.

Productive Unicorns Who Agree:

Two members of the Work Brighter Clubhouse have also found their own version of peaceful background noise:

“I often work in really busy coffee shops, with loads going on around me. I know that others would find this a total nightmare, but something about really noisy places actually makes me focus more!

I think it’s because it all just blends into one wall of background noise, which I prefer to silence. It’s only when I’m writing something long and complex that noise distracts me. Even if I’m working from home, I always have music or a podcast on the go.” — Lucia Fontaina-Powell, Community Marketing Manager at Quuu

“One productivity hack I hear a lot of people mention is avoiding music with lyrics when they’re working on a project. I tried that for a while — even strictly listening to piano music when writing my novel — but it just didn’t stick.

I found it ended up draining my energy, which made it harder to focus, not easier!

Now, I pretty much strictly listen to classic rock. A little bit of AC/DC goes a long way to giving me the energy I need to rock out a long-form blog post or get my creative social media juices flowing.” — Ash Hoffman, Branding & Content Strategist

Ditch the productivity hacks and set your own rules

These are the rules and best practices that I ignore, and that’s okay. Does that mean they’re not worthwhile for you? Of course not.

What I want to get through to you today is that it’s okay to break the rules and best practices — ESPECIALLY if you’ve given it a try and are making your decision based on personal experience.

It’s all about knowing when to break them, and doing so strategically. In a way that helps you work brighter.

And if you need help, I have help.

I wrote The Productivity Power-Up Workbook to help people take a step back, look at their tools, techniques, and systems, and figure out what’s working and what’s not.

The insights you get from it aren’t based on best practices or even my own experiences. They come from looking at yourself and your own habits to create the best solution for your unicorn self.

So what guru tips and best practices have you thrown out the window? Share your story in the comments!

If you liked this, you’ll love:

This post was originally published on BrittanyBerger.com (my personal website) in May 2017 and has been updated and made way more awesome over time. 😀


Originally published at workbrighter.co on October 29, 2018.

Brittany Berger

Written by

B2B content unicorn 🦄, founder of Work Brighter community, highly ridiculous human

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