Self Development

Productivity Secrets: How to Be More Productive and Happy as a Creative

February 3, 2022


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Article and Video by Colette Nichol, Solo Filmmaker and Story Strategist

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

Productivity for Creatives
To be productive, you must know where you want to go!

In this video and post, you’ll find out the top 3 secrets to being more productive as a creative, so you can start achieving your most treasured goals or dreams. Finishing important projects can be difficult. But it’s critical if you want to feel motivated and inspired in your creative life. Productivity isn’t about being a machine—it’s about managing your motivation, energy, and time so that you can do more of what you love and less of what you don’t love.

First, watch the video to discover three super simple but utterly critical productivity tips that are essential for everyone, but particularly for creatives.

3 Secrets to Productivity for Creatives (and Everyone Else)

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Table of Contents:

1 VIDEO | The 3 Secrets to Productivity for Creatives

2 What Does Productivity Mean to You?

3 The Ultimate Secret to Productivity

4 The 2nd Best Secret of Productivity

5 How to Be More Productive

6 Does productivity hacking work?

7 Top 10 Productivity Hacks

8 Three Productivity Habits That’ll Change Your Life

9 Work From Home Hacks for Creatives

10 Hacking Your Brain to Boost Productivity

What Are You Making with Your Productivity
Productivity can be harnessed for good and evil. Make sure you’re making stuff that matters to YOU!

What does productivity mean to you?

For me, productivity means completing the work that matters most to me.

It’s not just about “getting things done.” It’s about getting the RIGHT things done.

What’s the point of being productive if the stuff you’re making doesn’t matter to you?

I’ve had times in my life when I was very productive, but the work I was doing wasn’t satisfying. This was horrible! And it’s a recipe for burnout. So before you try to solve any happiness woes by being more productive, be very sure that the work you’re doing matters to you.

Now, after being a full-time creative for five years, I’ve learned a lot about how to be productive in a way that feels good and leads to more happiness.

So now, let’s define productivity.

Productivity is the act of producing a final product. The word comes from the Latin productivus which means “fit for production.” It relates to the French word P productif, which means “serving to produce.”

When you’re productive, you’re bringing forth new works into the world. You’re a producer. As humans, we’re born to produce. You may not think that you get very much done in a day, but you probably do. Even if you lay around on the floor for half the day, you’re still probably producing more in a single day than the average bear or rabbit does in a week.

Our opposable thumbs have made us very proficient at producing!

The Ultimate Secret to Productivity

Before you go any further, I’d like you to clarify what you plan on producing.

This is actually the ultimate secret to productivity. Before you become productive, decide what you’re going to produce. Be very clear about that and make sure this aligns with your values.

This productivity hack is short and sweet because it’s really so simple. Start with the end in mind. Don’t use your productivity hacks to produce more work that doesn’t matter to you.

Delete to Be More Productive

The 2nd Best Secret of Productivity

The next secret of productivity is to delete, delete, delete.

Sometimes in work and life, you keep trying to do more and more. But that’s usually not the answer. We all have about 15 hours in a day. However, we still need to eat, move our bodies, and enjoy time with friends and family. So there isn’t an endless supply of hours in the day. That said, we all have the same amount of time. And we all get to decide how to use that time.

If you want to be more productive, you need to delete everything that drains you mentally and emotionally.

People who say negative and toxic things can be the biggest drains of productivity you can imagine. Try to avoid those people.

Next, doing activities that you’re not well-suited to doing or that you truly can’t stand is a big drain mentally. We only have the ability to operate at peak cognitive capacity for 4-5 hours per day. So don’t waste that peak mental acuity on stuff that you absolutely suck at doing well.

Hand that stuff off to someone else or delete it altogether.

If it’s something you enjoy and are learning, that’s different. By all means, keep going until you’re good at the activity. But if it’s not in your zone of excellence and you never want it to be, it’s probably costing you more than it’s giving back.

Productivity is born from not trying to do too much. Keep it simple!

How to Be More Productive

To be more productive, try out this 10 step process to organize your day, week, month, and year.

These steps are what I use to get a ton of things done. It’s how I’m able to manage client deadlines while also working on passion projects. These tips combine learnings from Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics and the Start Finishing book with my own practice.

  1. Decide what your 5 most important projects are for the moment.
  2. Put the rest of the projects on a pending list. Only work on the 5 most important projects.
  3. When one project is done, you can add a new one. But always keep the current projects to a limit of 5.
  4. Look at the next 12 months and make deadlines for each of the 5 projects.
  5. Keep that 12-month overview handy, so when you’re about to go off track you can remind yourself of what matters.
  6. Plan one month at a time allocating space for 1 big thing, 1 medium thing, and 1 small thing. These are the three most important things you need to get done in the month.
  7. When scheduling your month, leave one week free to account for the fact that there are always things that disrupt a plan.
  8. When scheduling your week, leave one day free of meetings, deadlines, and commitments. This is to account for things that disrupt your week.
  9. Use your agenda for hard meeting times and deadlines, nothing else. This way you can see your hard commitments at a glance. It reduces mental clutter.
  10. Only try to achieve one main thing and a couple of small things in one day. Don’t try to be a hero. It always backfires.

As you can see, this step-by-step list isn’t really about hacking.

It’s about flourishing. It’s about using the power of strategy to be way better at getting things done. Try it out, and see if it works for you!

Does productivity hacking work?

Well, yes and no.

Things like the Pomodoro technique can help, but they don’t change your life. They don’t turn you into a productivity genius or allow getting things done to become easeful. Productivity is usually due to good habits, good systems, clarity about what matters, and the willingness to tweak. These things aren’t really hacks.

That said, there are DEFINITELY some hacks that will help you be more productive once you’ve got a good system in place.

Some people swear by super substances when it comes to productivity. Don’t forget that productivity is personal.

Top 10 Productivity Hacks

Productivity Hack #1: Delete Distractions

This includes putting your phone on airplane mode, closing out your inbox, using feed eradicators if your work requires that you be on YouTube or Facebook.

Anything that you can do to delete distractions will have a HUGE impact on your productivity. Here’s the list of things that I do to delete distractions:

  1. Work with headphones on and calm sounds if there are noises aplenty.
  2. Always keep social and email closed when working.
  3. Take important notes from email and put them into a Google Doc so that I never use email as a reference.
  4. Do my most important work with nobody around to distract me.
  5. Keep desk free of stuff that isn’t work-related.
  6. Never put anything but hard deadlines or meeting times on my agenda.

Productivity Hack #2: Use Your Chronotype to Your Advantage

Being a night owl is a real thing.

According to the book The Power of When, there are Lions, Dolphins, Wolves, and Bears. These are the four main chronotypes. Now, you’ll have to read the book to get the full picture. But here’s the basic idea: figure out when your off hours are and use that time to do your creative work. Fun fact: we’re more creative when we’re a little out of it. So a morning person should do their creative work later in the day. While a night owl can actually be super creative early in the morning when they’re not fully awake yet. There’s less mental resistance to creativity when we work during off-peak hours.

But, don’t try and get detail-oriented, highly process-oriented work done in your off-peak hours.

Use the time of day and how it aligns with your personal energy levels to make getting things done quicker and easier.

Productivity Hack #3: Intermittent Fasting

If you’ve been wondering about this trendy new topic, it’s the real deal.

When you practice IF (Intermittent Fasting) you can find your productivity skyrocketing. This is something that I’ve found true for myself and have heard many other IF practitioners discuss as well. Of course, you first have to get over the 30 to the 90-day hump of getting used to IF. So this is a hack that does require a lot of commitment!

Productivity Hack #4: Wim Hoff Breathing

This is a fun productivity hack because it’s so easy to do and it really does provide good results.

When I was doing Wim Hoff’s bubble breathing daily, found that it was easier for me to stay clear all day long. I had about 1-2 hours of additional useful energy. I’ve just started doing the breathing again because I want to build breathing back into my morning habits. If you want to give it a try, I recommend using the app. You’ll find it for apple and android.

Productivity Hack #5: Meditation

It seems kind of horrible to call meditation a hack.

It’s only one of our greatest human traditions. But, hell, this is a blog post, so I’m calling it a hack! Seinfeld swears that his transcendental meditation practice, every day at 5 pm, is why he was able to create so many successful episodes. Try adding as little as 5 to 15 minutes of guided meditation at a time during the day when you usually lose your energy. If you get a 2 pm dip, try out meditation instead of going to the coffee machine again.

Productivity Hack #6: Magic Mushrooms…If It’s Legal In Your Country

Since I can’t very well tell you to go do something illegal as a way to get things done, this is a funny tip.

But it does have the potential to help many people. The research is ongoing and fascinating. If depression is something that’s slowing you down, microdosing could be very helpful for you.

Microdosing means taking 0.1 to 0.5 grams of a psilocybin mushroom. This is enough to generate positive feelings but not get you “high.” There have been many studies of psilocybin mushrooms over the past sixty years. What many people who practice microdosing find is that productivity is increased because you are calmer and find decision-making to be easier.

Productivity Hack #7: Strategic Sound

Use audio to help you stay calm and focused during the day.

This is one of the most important strategies in my arsenal. If I really need to complete a task I will listen to a repetitive and calming multi-hour track to block out the sounds of my neighbors or husband puttering around. It also keeps me in a flow state.

This is what I’m listening to right now:

Productivity Hack #8: The One Sheet

I got this from Marie Forleo.

The idea is simple. If you’re hard-core procrastinating on something, grab a single sheet of paper. Write in big letters on the paper the ONE thing you’re doing. Stick it in front of you. And don’t allow yourself to do anything but that one thing until it’s done. This is something I use very occasionally when for some reason I’m really stuck in distraction mode!

Productivity Hack #9: The Not Pomodoro Technique

Frankly, I can’t stand the Pomodoro Technique.

I’ve done it when desperate. But I don’t recommend it. That said, some people swear by the Pomodoro technique. For me, it’s not long enough. If I’m in a flow state, you better not send a timer blazing off into my earballs right at the height of a new idea or phrase.

Instead, I recommend the simple hack of doing one thing at a time for as long as feels pleasurable. If you’re writing, give yourself a minimum time limit (say, 25 minutes) with the acknowledgment that you can go longer. While you’re writing, you only write. You don’t answer the phone or messages or email or whatever. One thing at a time for as long as you can go. That’s the hack!

For most of us, 75-minutes is our max.

Then we need a break. But the most important part of learning how to be productive in a way that generates happiness not suffering is to KNOW THYSELF. Don’t just blindly follow a tip if it feels awful for you.

Productivity Hack #10: Get Outside and Walk It Off

If your energy and creative ability are dwindling you probably need to walk it off.

The book Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang talks a lot about walking. Apparently, it’s a productivity hack that Lincoln, yes that Lincoln, swore by. Pretty sure he didn’t call it a hack back then. But it’s something I’ve embraced and found really works. If you’re stuck, burning out, getting tired, pack up your stuff and go for a walk!

You’ll often find yourself solving a problem or getting new creative energy while you’re moving your body.

3 Productivity Habits That’ll Change Your Life

These three habits have the potential to change your entire life.

1) Eating the Frog First

2) The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins

3) The 5 Minute Rule

Let’s go through them one by one.

Eating the frog first simply means to do the thing that you’re really not looking forward to doing first.

Why does this work? Because it clears away mental resistance so you’re free to think clearly all day long. Give it a try and see if it helps you have a clear mind through the rest of the day.

Eating the frog first is a classic productivity technique.

The 5-second rule is simple and can really get things moving for you.

If you think of something that could have a positive benefit to your work or life, you have five seconds to take action. If you wait longer than that the ego-mind kicks in and you’ll start procrastinating. So if you think of something and it sounds awesome, take action within 5 seconds.

The 5-minute rule prevents your mind from being cluttered with easy-to-complete tasks that you’ve been procrastinating on for months.

If something will take you less than 5-minutes to do, then do it the moment it pops into your head. If you’re busy doing something more important, just add the 5-minute task to an ongoing list and tackle it at the end of the day. Knock off those micro-tasks daily rather than letting them stack up.

Work From Home Hacks for Creatives

Working from home is the best!

I’ve been doing it for years. These are my top tips for making sure your working-from-home life feels good.

Here’s what matters:

  1. Delete distractions.
  2. Have your own permanent space.
  3. Get a desk that goes up and down. Ikea has good ones. Sometimes you need to stand!
  4. Make your desk space awesome!
  5. If you’re using a cheap keyboard and mouse, you must upgrade. This is huge.
  6. If you’re using a laptop and getting eye strain, you need an external screen.
  7. Put inspiring images above your desk or have your desk in front of a window.
  8. Aways have a plant near your desk as it helps improve the energy of the space.
The brain will help you get where you want to go if you master the art of ending negative thinking.

Hacking Your Brain to Boost Productivity

The number one way to hack your brain so that you’re more productive is to end negative thinking, self-criticism, and complaining.

Every time you complain, gossip, or dwell in the negative you drain yourself of creative energy. It’s hard to get important work done when there’s a Negative Nancy draining you dry like a vampire. Make a commitment to simply stop complaining and stop negating or arguing. Put all that energy into the work you care about instead.

Complaining is just resisting what is. And it’s pointless because it changes nothing.

Being negative is also resisting what is. And it won’t change anything either, except potentially bringing about more crappy things.

Self-criticism doesn’t make you do a better job. So try to let it go and just focus on the process and constructive criticism. You improve when you focus on better processes, strategies, and solutions.

And talking about people behind their backs is just toxic. It doesn’t make you better, and it won’t make them better. So stay in your lane!

This one set of positivity tips could mean a huge boost in energy, which in turn will result in greater productivity.

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About the Author

Hi! I’m Colette Nichol. I’m a solo filmmaker and story strategist based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been making videos and micro films for small businesses and global brands since 2014.

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