Self-generated time pressure can be a productivity booster

I’ve been writing about creativity, freelancing, and illustration daily for over four months. Last Wednesday was a jam-packed day, and I only got around to sitting down at the laptop to write around 11:30pm. I was tired and didn’t know what to write about at all.

The motivation was fragile. I almost broke the streak and just went to bed. Then I saw that the laptop battery was showing 7%. I decided not to plug in the charging cable. The time to write something was thus limited, and so now all decisions fell quickly. In the end, there were two sentences beside the headline. But that was perfectly fine, and I got to bed before midnight.

Without the time pressure, I probably would have worked on the post for a long time, or maybe I wouldn’t have written it. Instead of trying to adapt to the situation, we can try to adapt to it every now and then.

As freelancers, we need a daily cut, or we are not free at all

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.

The first hour of the day is gold

I used to feel that the evening and night hours were when I was most creative and worked best. This is not the case.

Over the years, I’ve found that the time right after I get up is when I’m the most productive. I am concentrated, work faster, and hardly get distracted. I also find it easier to come up with ideas. The tank of thoughts is relatively empty in the morning. They don’t jump around yet.

As the day goes on, the tasks on the to-do list pop up and stick stubbornly because I still want to wash the car, write the bill and go grocery shopping.

Meanwhile, I put the most critical tasks in the first hour of the day. That means no meetings, appointments, and no social media, or news.

The first hour is sacred to me and belongs to me alone.