Five ways to squeeze more creative work out of the day

I figure that, at best, I’m good for four or five focused hours of writing or other creative work each day. After that, I might as well as sharpen pencils or something.

Nonetheless, there are days when I need to get in more than four or five hours because I’m on deadline for a big project or trying to finish something before I go on vacation.
In those cases, I’ve developed a few techniques to coerce my brain into cranking out a few hundred more words that day. Maybe they’ll be helpful to you.

Pencils, coffee, computer. Image via Pexels.

1. Change the scenery. Sometimes simply relocating — from my office to a coffee shop, say — is enough to rev-up the brain’s creative engine again.

2. Pour a glass of vino. Or beer, or liquor, or whatever your alcohol of choice is. A late afternoon drink (often at a wine bar, so I get the “change of scenery,” too) takes off just enough of the edge to allow me to get back into the creative groove for another hour or two. Note: If you have a history of substance abuse, stay away from this. It’s not worth it.

3. Run creative sprints. One of my go-to productivity techniques is the pomodoro (that’s Italian for tomato, by the way). Pomodoros are short bursts — usually 25 minutes — of focused work with 5-minute breaks in between. The idea is that for 25 minutes you focus on nothing but your chosen project. Even if your brain doesn’t want to focus, a 25-minute work period knowing there’s a break soon is doable. (Read more about pomodoros here. I use an app called Tomato One on my MacBook instead of a mechanical timer.)

4. Crank up the tunes. A certain amount of background noise — whether it’s instrumental music or the buzz of espresso machines and conversation in a coffee shop — helps me concentrate. That part of my brain that wants to do something else gets absorbed in the music, allowing me to concentrate (at least that’s what it feels like).

5. Focus on sh*itty first drafts. Sometimes what holds you back is not knowing how to start or a fear of putting something down that’s not good enough. When you feel that way, the solution is to double down on a sh*tty first draft (writer and writing teaching Anne Lamott is often given credit for this term, but she’s certainly not the first one to use it). Just accept that whatever you produce for the next hour won’t be any good. It will still be better than nothing, and it will put you one step (maybe more) down the path to producing something palatable.

These are my go-to techniques for getting more creative work done in a day. If you have tips on squeezing more creativity out of your day, I’d love to hear about them.

P.S.: This was first published in Words by Mark, a weekly email newsletter devoted to productivity, creativity and designing a life. If you liked this, consider subscribing.

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