I manage a company in Zwelly, I'm also the animation director and animator on most projects. 2.5 years ago I started a creative community in Columbus called Making Midwest. That has since grown to a 2 day annual festival. I teach a motion graphics course at the Columbus College of Art and Design and also write and record these videos every week. That's just my professional life, I also have a wife and 2 kids that I make sure to spend time with everyday and my entire weekends. On top of all that, I go to the gym or run at least a couple times a week.
One of my most common questions I'm asked is how I'm able to do so much. Well in this article, I'm going to give some of my secrets in what I like to call “the art of getting shit done.”
There are a lot of videos and articles out there that will tell you exactly what you need to do to be more productive. The most important thing to understand though is that everyone has a different optimum workflow. It’s really just a matter of trying stuff to see what works for you. Over the last 10 years I’ve tried a lot of things to be more productive, but here’s 7 things I do that might help you be more productive.
- Find your sweet spot
Everyone has a certain time of day where they’re most productive. It might only last an hour, or it could be 3 hours long. The only thing I know for sure is that it doesn’t last for 8 hours every day. Finding your sweet spot shouldn’t be too hard if you work every day. Just pay attention to when your focus is untouchable to distractions and you’re getting a lot of work done.
Once you find this sweet spot, make this time frame off limits to other people, that includes meetings, emails, social media or other distractions. This is essentially a door closed period. For me, that’s between 8am-10am everyday. More often than not, I get most of my work done for the whole day in just that time period.
Some days you’ll find that you’re past your planned sweet spot and still getting stuff done, if that’s the case keep rolling with it. It’s pretty likely those emails can wait another hour or 2.
- Use Lists
Every night I sit down and write down everything I need/want to get done the next day. The key here is that I never waste time in between tasks that need to be done. Once I’m done with a task, I simply glance to my left, check the box and move on to the next thing.
Something that I normally do in my lists is add about 20% more items than I’m comfortable with completing. More often than not, I’m still able to get everything done on my list in the same amount of time, but at a faster pace. I’ve found that being uncomfortable with how much I have to do everyday makes me quite productive. If you watched my last video than you know how I feel about competing against myself. This is a good example as I think of everyday almost like a race.
I actually have 2 lists that I look at everyday, one is short term (a day or week) and the other is long term, (about a month). For a long term list, you might be thinking a month is a bit short, but I’ve found that if you have something that you want to do that doesn’t need to be done within a month, it’s not a priority and probably won’t get done anyway. I rarely think beyond a month about the things I want or need to get done.
If something comes up one day that’s not on my list, I simply push it off until the next day. I’m very strict about what I do and don’t do every day and my list is my guide or personal assistant. Things might seem like they’re immediate priorities, but unless you’re saving lives, it’s probably not. Oddly, I’ve found this is actually a good tool to get people to respect your time and establish manageable expectations.
- Keep time
Over the last 3 years, one of the best productivity tools I use is a timer. This does a lot of things, but most importantly it keeps me less distracted. When you know a clock is running on a certain task, you’re much less likely to find yourself researching how combustion engines work on Wikipedia… you know what i’m talking about.
Sometimes, on days where I want to be ultra productive, I put start and end times on my to-do list. Be careful if you do that though, It will feel like a sprint and you will absolutely be mentally exhausted at the end of the day. Do that too many days in a row and it will be easy to get burned out. Think about any approaching major deadline days you have, this is essentially a tool to treat a normal day like a deadline day.
- Don’t email all day
Again, we’re not saving lives. Sure, quick communication is important, but it’s rarely, maybe even never required to respond to emails immediately. In most situations, responding within the same day an email was sent is fast enough. While knowing your sweet spot is important, knowing you non-sweet spot can be as well. During this non-sweet spot is a good time to do tasks like email since it usually doesn’t take as much thinking power as more important tasks. For me, that's between 2-4pm everyday. I save up my emails until then and respond to all of them at the same time.
- Stop procrastinating
I’m sure you figured this one would be on the list, but it’s incredibly important to get things done before it’s due to reduce stress while you’re working. Procrastinating leads to long hours and an overall unhappy environment. I’m rarely stressed by all the work I do because I try to make as much progress as I can as early on as possible.
- Don’t work long hours
When people see the amount of stuff I’m working on their immediate response is that I work crazy hours and never sleep. That’s not even close to true though. I usually only work 8am - 5pm Mon - Fri and sleep 6-8 hours every night. Getting a lot done doesn’t always mean you have to work long hours, it’s more about finding efficiency in a normal day. I’m not going to say i’m 100% efficient every day, but I’m pretty happy if I’m somewhere in the range of 90-95%.
The other thing is sleep. I’m a big believer that you can’t be productive or creative without enough rest. There’s this “hero” mentality when it comes to sleep that makes people proud to say they only got 2 hours of sleep because they were working on a big project. That’s just stupid. Working instead of sleeping only happens for one of 3 reasons:
- They put their work off until the end.
- They planned a project horribly.
- They agreed to a timeline that wasn’t realistic.
Whatever the reason is, it’s their fault for not getting sleep and not a reason to feel like a hero.
- Take time off
The last thing is to take time off as often as you can. Nothing is more inspiring and recharging than a change of scenery or a change of a normal day. There’s several days every month where I get my todo lists done before 3pm. If that’s the case, I don’t find more stuff to do, I simply quit early for the day. My todo lists are challenging, If I can get it all done before 5pm, I’m proud of the work I did that day and reward myself with extra time to do something else.
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