So, you’re looking to accomplish more as a creative or creator.
But you wake up late, check your phone first thing in the morning, and end up watching videos on YouTube before even getting your day started.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But motivation is an inside job, and unless you have a reason to get up and do what you know you should be – and want to be – doing, you either won’t do it or won’t give it the attention it deserves.
One productivity hack that has worked for me, and that goes against conventional wisdom, is addition.
Doing More is Doing More
I’ve shared much about focus and doing less, but the ugly truth is, the main reason I get so much done is because I have deadlines to meet, and because I keep adding new to-do items to my list.
What!? How does that work?
Look, I’m not saying I don’t cull my list periodically. Whether it’s things that don’t bring me joy, don’t help me create an income, or simply aren’t effective, I actively eliminate, automate, or delegate what shouldn’t be on my docket anymore.
But before I ever reach that point, I just keep adding new items to my to-do list. Currently, my weekly list is up to 18 items (with some representing three to five tasks each). I’m due for a serious culling.
But if I’m looking to get things done, this is the way to do it.
As they say, if you want something done, ask someone who’s busy.
And I’m busy (although not in the sense that I’m out of control).
Both Positive & Negative Motivation Produce Results
There are plenty of pieces on Medium about writing a certain number of blog posts per week, or how to set up your writing processes to support the creation of new content regularly.
Look, I’m all for maintaining a library of swipe files, templates, and references. Processes are great to have.
But here’s the thing – you’re not going to do the work unless you have a reason to. It doesn’t matter how nice your keyboard is unless you start putting those fingers to work!
A deadline, however unsexy, is highly motivating (even if it’s what some would call “negative” motivation).
So, in four days, I wrote 8,000+ words, edited, and formatted a brand-new eBook. Just in time for April 1.
I was clear on what I needed to do, and when it needed to be done by. I got to work, and any creative challenges I encountered, I solved along the way (instead of planning for millennia before even beginning).
Can You Handle Organized Chaos?
If you’ve been at this for a while, then you might know what organized chaos looks like.
In fall 2014, I started ghostwriting blog posts from home, teaching guitar at nights, and working at the University as a theater tech on the weekends. I even tech hosted community gatherings, played gigs, recorded music, and maintained my own websites and blogs. I kept up that pace until summer 2016, when I started working completely from home.
But if you haven’t been to that point yet, then I’m sorry (not sorry), you still have no idea how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
If you’ve been through organized chaos, I would give you a pat on the back and congratulate you on emerging victorious through the smoke of battle.
Otherwise, you’ve got to keep stretching. You will not write or create more just because. You will write or create more if you have non-negotiable deadlines to meet and clients you’re accountable to.
People on Medium often talk about earning $1,000, $4,000, or $6,000 per month writing. Trust me, it’s easy to earn at that level when you’re disciplined and have a solid work ethic.
Don’t Forget to Cull
I couldn’t handle organized chaos forever. Unless your name is Gary Vee, I suspect you won’t be able to either.
It’s all well and good to push yourself, at least within the limits of what’s healthy. But that line can get mighty blurry when you start waking up in a fog every morning (could be an early warning sign).
So, if you’re going to increase productivity through addition, please remember to purge from time to time. Discard tasks and projects that no longer serve you. Replace them with better ones. Or begin to cultivate more discipline and focus for the projects that matter to you.
Use addition as a tool to get things done, not as a strategy for freelancing, business, or life.
You could achieve more if you were in a position where you had no other choice.
If you get too comfortable, and have no reason to stretch, you’re not going to do more.
It’s as simple as that.
If you have a lot of free time in your day to stop and think, it might be time to start adding more to your to-do list.
Because you will begin to see just how much you can accomplish in a day or week.
In the digital age, our reliance on digital tools grows.
But there can still be tremendous value in paper-based tools like notebooks, yellow legal pads, index cards, and of course, desktop calendar pads.
I have been using a desktop calendar pad to organize my life since 2016, and when I don’t have it, I almost feel naked.
The calendar pad gives me a bird’s eye view of what’s to come this month (as well as the months ahead). I have used this function to plan meetings, gigs, social gatherings, vacations, and even social media posts.
Although most digital calendars do have monthly views, they are often cluttered and harder to make out. I like the immediacy of the calendar pad.
Step #1 – Log All Upcoming Events
You won’t necessarily be using your calendar pad to plan your routine or what you’ll be doing hour to hour. This is something digital calendars do better.
But all calls, meetings, interviews, social events, and other activities and commitments should go in your calendar, along with the times at which they are to occur.
Don’t forget to keep adding to your calendar as new events are booked.
This is the most obvious use of the calendar pad, but the benefits that come from planning out in this manner might be unexpected.
For instance, twice per month, I have an early call on Wednesdays. But on Wednesdays when I don’t have these calls, I can work on something else. Or maybe even sleep in.
When you have a bird’s eye view of your month, you can easily make snap decisions about your day. Although I have a high degree of flexibility in my life already, I have always found this freedom exhilarating.
Pro tip: Plan your vacations well in advance and put them in your calendar. Otherwise, something will always come up and you’ll never be able to get away. You’ve got to prioritize yourself.
Step #2 – Log Income Sources
This is optional. In saying that, anything beyond the first step is optional.
On my calendar pad, there is a substantial “memo” section on the right side. Sometimes, I use this for ideas. But most of the time, I just log my income sources.
And that’s my system for creating an income ledger. I may transfer the data to a spreadsheet later (for income tax purposes), but I like to keep things simple, and this works for me.
I have all my calendar pads saved from 2016 onward.
Step #3 – Log What Matters to You
It’s possible to use your desktop calendar pad in a variety of other ways.
Earlier, I mentioned that you could use it to track your social media posts. Well, that’s where I got the idea to use a calendar pad in the first place. I’d read about someone who was using theirs to track their digital marketing activity.
Obviously, I use mine in a different way, but it still ended up becoming an invaluable tool.
Anyway, there’s nothing saying your calendar pad can’t be multi-purpose, and I will sometimes use it to track my scheduled posts (for my blog, Instagram, etc.).
It’s always nice to be able to work ahead and knowing when something is scheduled saves me the guesswork of having to log into WordPress or Instagram Creator Studio to try to figure out when my last post was scheduled.
Whatever you need to track, you can put it in your calendar to make your life easier.
The desktop calendar pad is most useful when used in connection with other tools (like a yellow legal pad for notes and to-do lists).
The best book on setting up a paper-based productivity system is David Allen’s Getting Things Done (affiliate link). Although I do not subscribe to the entire methodology, I have applied it piecemeal to my processes, and the habits have stuck with me ever since.
There may not be anything especially enticing about a desktop calendar pad, but as I’ve found, it can be a useful tool in helping you organize your life and boost your productivity.
I don’t know whether you do more meetings now than you did pre-lockdown. Personally, I have had far fewer commitments overall.
I still feel naked without my desktop calendar, so I keep one around regardless.
But the more you have to keep track of, the more you will likely benefit from incorporating a desktop calendar into your productivity routine.
One of the reasons we even worry about productivity is because we have things on our to-do lists, we don’t even want to touch.
Go ahead, look over your to-do list. How many items do you actually feel motivated to tackle? Chances are, there are only one to three items that give you any sense of excitement.
Invoicing your clients is essential. It’s always nice to get paid. Answering your emails might give you a tiny dopamine fix. Having to call your bank can probably wait. And the fetch quest tasks (research options and submit to client, partner, boss, etc.), well, they don’t exactly make the fires of passion well up in your belly.
Maybe the way we’ve been thinking about productivity has been wrong all along.
Because if we just focused on the things that excited us, we’d have a hard time peeling ourselves away from our desk or lab. We wouldn’t be watching the clock, waiting for it to turn 5 or 6. We’d be so deep in flow, we’d have to be deliberate about having a hard stop.
“But I still have things I need to do that I don’t want to do, David” you say. “What you’re suggesting is highly impractical.”
True, you can’t outsource exercise. If you want to maintain your health and fitness, you’ve got to put in the work. There is no other way. It’s the same way with invoicing, emails, calling the bank, and so on.
And we can’t very well escape communication, whatever form it may take. Even ruthless time manager and author Dan Kennedy accepts faxes.
But if we’re serious about productivity, we can’t just think in terms of getting things done. Because that’s not where the important work happens. The truth is the important work only happens when we prioritize and schedule it. Otherwise, it has a way of getting swallowed up in the deluge of urgent tasks that force productivity instead of inspiring it.
If you want to inspire productivity, you’ve got to work on something you love.
Just yesterday, I completed a new 8,000+ word eBook. I wrote it in three days, and I happen to think of it as a timely, important work.
I had my reasons for wanting to get it done, mostly because I plan to release it by tomorrow (April 1, 2021), and because it’s replacing a legacy product.
If I were tasked with writing an 8,000-word listicle, unless I was especially excited about the subject matter or had a hard and fast deadline for the piece, I would probably needlessly stretch it out over the course of four or five days.
“It’s so boring,” I would whine. “I just want to be working on my own stuff.”
Now, I’m not saying that you will love everything you work on, even the things you call your passion.
It’s funny – on some level, I actually hate my new eBook. But I got into flow as I was working on it, and I didn’t want to peel myself away from it until it was done. And in this case, I took hating it as a sign that I was engaging in important work.
The point is that we all need work in our life we can’t help but engage in. And, if possible, our lives should revolve around it. Usually, “must do” tasks can be batched on one evening or maybe a couple hours during the weekend. We can create our businesses around the things we love, and not doing so is robbing you and your audience of something amazing.
What is one small change you could make in your life to do more of what you love?
Then, I decided I wanted to create a three-tier offer based on the book. So, I developed bonus content and started putting together what I called Pro Packs.
I wanted the offer to have some urgency, so I put a hard deadline on it. The sales page had a countdown timer too.
But this deadline wasn’t just for my prospects and buyers. It was also for me.
This deadline quickly moved me to action because it meant I would need to create the bonus content, set up the sales page and offers, and promote it in the timeframe I’d set for myself. After that date, the offer was going to go away. So, I needed to act with urgency.
This constraint helped me come up with a lot of great marketing ideas.
Screenwriter Martin Villeneuve said:
Problems are hidden opportunities, and constraints can actually boost creativity.
In total, there weren’t many takers for the most expensive tier in my offer. But because of these efforts, my book ended up having one of its best months.
Why Are Deadlines Effective?
Effectiviology says “deadlines can help reduce the likelihood that you will procrastinate both when they are self-imposed as well as when they are external.”
Basically, deadlines work just as well for personal projects and product creation as they do for client work or work in general.
Further, deadlines are effective because:
They can make your goals feel more concrete. When you don’t have deadlines, you don’t have to show up or do something by a specific date. But if you know you’re going to be running a marathon next month, you’ll spend time preparing because you must.
They can help you throw your hat over the fence. Which means to make a commitment in advance of the action or result. You’ll be less likely to procrastinate, because now you’ve got to chase that hat down.
They can inspire structure. As seen in the personal example I shared earlier, deadlines can inspire innovation and action. When you don’t have deadlines, your next actions can be murky and uncertain. Basically, without a deadline, you let yourself off the hook and allow yourself to be wishy-washy in its completion.
Are Deadlines Always Beneficial?
No, not always.
What matters most is that you use them to your advantage. Not try to create a reality distortion field a la Steve Jobs (unless you want to work yourself to the bone…).
Research has already shown that deadlines don’t always work. And to be honest, no one likes to live in deadline hell. You can set too many deadlines.
So, how can we avoid these pitfalls?
Herbert Lui’s article on The Freelance Creative offers some clues. These are my main takeaways:
Set aside adequate time to work on the deadline. Ensure that you aren’t scrambling to meet a deadline at the last minute. Allocate time to the project in your schedule. And if necessary, set aside the entire week leading up to the deadline just to work on it.
Set tighter deadlines. It’s altogether too easy to let yourself off the hook, work extra buffer time into your deadline, and make it too easy on yourself so there’s no need to innovate. Moving up deadlines can force inspired action.
Minimize unrealistic deadlines. Finishing too soon can end up creating a problem, especially for freelancers. Because if you meet one unrealistic deadline, you will often be rewarded with another unrealistic deadline. You can only pull so many all-nighters, so this is unsustainable. Know when to say “uncle.” Too much can be too much.
Experiment and have fun. You can set deadlines just for fun. See how it feels to set deadlines. Notice how it sharpens your thinking and how it has a way of clarifying your purpose and eliminating distractions.
If you’re looking to increase your productivity, you should try batch processing.
It can help you focus on similar tasks for longer without the need to constantly switch tasks and lose productivity.
But in my experience, batch processing can be a little shortsighted if you aren’t doing things the right way. It can even leave you scrambling at the last minute if you aren’t looking ahead.
Here’s how to use Weekflow to improve your batch processing.
What is Batch Processing?
Batch processing is where you group similar tasks together to reduce the productivity loss resulting from task switching.
Let’s say your week looks a little like mine. Most of your time is spent on writing, but aside from that, you also format and schedule posts in WordPress, record podcast content, schedule social media posts, syndicate and distribute content, edit images and videos, and so on.
So, as much as possible, you’d try to group similar tasks on the same day. This is a crude example, but since I do a lot of writing, I’d probably want to batch my writing on Monday through Wednesday. I could make Thursday social media day. And I could make Friday multimedia day (graphics, audio, and video). Finally, I would work on my all my newsletters on Saturday (which is what I already do).
But why would you do things this way?
Jory MacKay, editor of the RescueTime blog found that context switching can affect your overall productivity by 20 to 80%, depending on how many tasks you’re switching between. The more context switching you’re doing, the less productive you are!
If you’ve ever wondered whether there’s a trick to getting more done in your day, it’s this – batch processing.
What is Weekflow?
It’s a concept I came up with a while back (no relation to the app of the same name).
I like batch processing a lot. The main issue I often ran into was accounting for days where task switching was inevitable unless I planned for it far in advance.
Blog posts would sometimes need to be written and scheduled the same day. Which meant I would need to spend time inside Microsoft Word writing the piece, in Photoshop designing a header graphic, and in WordPress formatting and scheduling the post.
I’m used to having to do things that way, but it sort of defeats the purpose of batch processing, because you find yourself having to task switch regardless.
Basically, it’s not enough to think in terms of tasks. You must match up your tasks with your schedule and deadlines to be effective.
That’s why I came up with Weekflow. It’s the process of thinking about what needs to be done by when, and ensuring minimal task switching while engaging in batch processing.
Getting Started with Weekflow – Task & Deadline Breakdown
First, we need to think about the tasks we’re engaged in as well as their respective deadlines.
I’m going to use myself as an example here. Here’s what’s usually on my calendar each week:
I publish a new blog post daily on DavidAndrewWiebe.com and syndicate it to Medium.
I record a new podcast episode every week and publish on Thursday. I usually send out an email letting my audience know about the new episode as well.
I publish at least one new post per week on News Break (usually on Friday).
Schedule video for publishing in Creator Studio (Facebook and Instagram)
My weekly digests get repurposed as weekly newsletters (though I do some minor editing). Here’s what’s involved.
Copy and paste content into Mailchimp
Edit (based on audience)
Rinse and repeat
Social Media Posts
Although I’m experimenting with a variety of social networks, my focus this year is Twitter. So, here’s what I need to do to ensure I’m on top of it:
Make a list of tweets to model
Rewrite tweets and put them into my own voice
Batch Processing + Weekflow = Effectiveness
Looking at the above, you may feel as I do, that trying to avoid task switching would be a near impossibility.
So, is batch processing even worth the effort? What benefits am I tapping into if I can’t possibly get away from task switching?
Now you’re starting to see the essence of why Weekflow is necessary.
It’s not enough to batch, or even to make the commitment to batch. You must think about how you can effectively set yourself up, each day, for the next. That’s Weekflow.
So, it’s not just a matter of saying I will write on Monday through Wednesday. Each day is about teeing yourself up for the next. It’s about looking ahead and being sure you’re not scrambling on Tuesday because you didn’t spend enough time preparing for it on Monday.
If you do this well, your batching efforts will begin to pay off in droves.
Okay, so now you understand how to get started with Weekflow, as well as why it’s necessary.
Now we need to talk about how you can optimize your schedule with Weekflow.
This process isn’t difficult. But it can take some time.
By the way, if you don’t have a weekly planning session, good luck trying to optimize your Weekflow. It’s just not going to happen.
But let’s say, for instance, that I wanted to batch my header graphics for the week. Monday would be a relatively good time to do this, as I typically try to ease into my week on Monday and start to wind down on Friday.
During my #StrategySunday session, I would have thought about the content I want to publish throughout the week. It’s entirely possible I’ve brainstormed titles already.
I would take a moment to review these titles and spend some time revising. After all, titles are kind of everything when it comes to getting clicks.
After committing to a set of titles, I would go into Photoshop and make all my header graphics for the week. I would do the same for all my other publishing efforts, identifying in advance what graphics I need to edit and ready for my posts.
It sounds easy, but I’m also publishing on Monday. So, I would have had to thought of that in advance too.
But now you see the problem.
Altogether, it may seem daunting, but Weekflow is simply a process of gradual improvement – Kaizen.
You can only act on the information available. And if you haven’t been batch processing or optimizing your Weekflow yet, then you have no experience to derive from. You need to gain some experience, and when you find something to that doesn’t work, return to the drawing board.
Your Weekflow may never be perfect, and that’s okay. Keep thinking strategically and you will get better at it.
It’s not enough to identify the enemy of productivity, which in this case is task switching. You must also come up with an elegant solution.
Batch processing isn’t the solution. It’s just the starting point.
You must execute and know what it feels like. Then you must commit to the process.
Then comes optimization, which in my view, requires Weekflow. I don’t know how else you’re going to make the most of batch processing.
You must have a clear view of what’s coming and be able to tee yourself up, each day, for the next thing, and then the next.
Did you find this helpful? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Others stop every hour, review what they’ve been working on, and ask themselves whether what they’ve been working on is building their vision.
I spend every Sunday planning my week and thinking about whether what I’m doing is bringing me closer to my vision.
There aren’t any one size fits all anchors. You could meditate, go for a walk, take a shower, go for a drive, read a book, or otherwise. You could even spend time in your journal reflecting if that’s where you do your best thinking. It mostly depends on what works for you.
There is one rule, though – your anchors aren’t anchors unless you set them consistently.
They don’t necessarily need to occur at the same time. But you need to keep these appointments. Otherwise, you will lose sight of your direction and get carried off course by the tides of distractions.
I’ve talked about shiny object syndrome before. The reason we are so easily derailed is because we aren’t anchored.
You can easily get knocked off course by what people say – vlogging is the new blogging, it’s hard to build an audience for your podcast, selling eBooks in 2021 is like selling CDs in 2021, Clubhouse is the new Voxer, and so on.
Ultimately, it’s all just opinion disguised as memes and catchphrases. I know people that would disagree with all the above. They are thriving in their respective fields.
But if you aren’t focused, and don’t have a clear vision for your future, you will dabble endlessly and find yourself in the same position as when you started.
A routine is much easier to figure out when you know what your purpose and mission is.
And when you have anchors in a routine that supports your vision, you have a formula for success.