Let’s make the tools we need more accessible. Do we want to draw or write more? Let’s put a sketch or notebook in our back pocket. Do we want to jog more? Let’s put our running shoes by the front door. Do we want to read more? Let’s put it on our nightstand.
If we have to search for the tools first, we’ll quickly lose motivation. The trick is to keep our future self away from as much resistance as possible. Going home after work to pack the gym bag requires a lot of self-discipline and motivation. After all, the couch and the remote are already in sight. However, if we prepare the bag already in the morning and put it in the trunk, the way to the gym will already be easier later.
Bookkeeping, answering emails, and doing household tasks, have something treacherous about them. Once we get them done, it feels good. They make us feel like we’ve been diligent. Giving these tasks a high priority and doing them first thing is tempting. After all, we can usually finish them quickly and without any particular effort. In addition, we see the results immediately: the inbox shows no new emails or our office finally looks tidy again.
However, each of us has a period during the day when we are particularly productive. For many, it’s the first hours of the morning. This is definitely true for me. That’s why I tackle the most critical tasks in the morning. These are tasks that require my total concentration and creative thinking.
It has turned out for me that spending these precious hours on “simple” tasks is counterproductive. Instead, I schedule them for the afternoon, when my energy starts to wane. That’s the ideal time to answer emails, write bills, and clean the dishwasher.
These mundane tasks also have a nice side effect. We can consciously use them as a little motivational boost. If our concentration is at its lowest point for the day, it’s best to pause the important work and go for the things that don’t demand much of us. Usually, we feel good, relieved, and full of energy afterward. Finally, these tasks are off the list, and we can use this inner boost for our essential tasks again.
When I decided to go the freelance illustrator route, I quickly noticed the differences between permanent employment. We usually have a commute in a permanent position that we do every morning and after work. This one we can find annoying and a waste of time. But the commute home has a valuable advantage. It makes a clear cut between our work and our free time, which helps us structure our daily lives.
As freelancers, this physical cut is often missing. Often, the place where we work and create is the same place where we eat, watch movies, and go to sleep. As a result, we quickly tend to lose track of time and merge our free time with our work time. In short, we lose piece by piece our life outside work. In the times of Covid, many permanent employees are in home offices, so they have experienced the same thing.
There are simple methods to create physical cuts if we can’t or don’t want to go to an external place, such as a co-working space. A fundamentally important one is to dress for work as if we are going to the office. Maybe not in a suit and patent leather shoes, but not in sweatpants or pajamas. This daily routine affects our attitude during work hours. Then, after work is done, slipping into sweatpants is not only a signal to us that we can leave work behind for the day. It can also feel good and earned, and there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying it.
To have important emails quickly at hand later, we can include keywords that we can then enter into the search. For example, in price negotiations, we often send several versions of the offer until we have agreed on a fee and the rights of use with the customer. Keywords such as “clientname-finalestimate” help here. Other possibilities are “projectname–hiresfiles” if the print data has been sent or “database” if the contact is to be entered in the database later.
These keywords can stand below the signature in light gray or in white font if they should not be visible to the contact.
In the post „Using time pressure as a motivational power-up“, I wrote that time pressure can be an excellent incentive to get a lot done in a short time. With the help of little tricks, we can also create this positive pressure consciously and literally fly over our to-do list.
For example, one day, I worked on my laptop in a coffee store when I realized I had forgotten the charging cable at home. I got annoyed with myself and started working. After a short while, I noticed that I had worked off more than usual. I was focused and didn’t waste a minute.
The battery indicator on my laptop was my hourglass. It drove me on like a boss standing behind my back, nagging me. But it was a positive pressure. I accomplished everything I set out to do and still had time for a coffee with friends afterward.
Since then, I’ve left the charging cable at home more often. If you have found such hacks that increase your productivity, please feel free to share them with me.
In video games, a power-up temporarily strengthens the player. The most famous one is the mushroom in Super Mario. Time pressure can be our power-up.
Let’s say we have an appointment at the bank in 45 minutes. If we subtract 15 minutes for the trip, we have 30 minutes left. We often fritter away this precious time until the appointment. We say, “It’s not worth it to start something new now,” and bang goes Youtube. But that short time can be our mushroom. We can accomplish so much in 30 minutes, whether it’s work or personal activities like exercise or household chores.
The best part is that we always keep an eye on the clock, which boosts our concentration. I am often amazed that I can accomplish something in an intense 30 minutes that usually takes much more time, like writing this post, for example.