Is it still acceptable to say Happy New Year? Probably not now that it’s February (already?!) and many resolutions have started to fizzle out, but the year still feels pretty new to me so I shall wish you a happy one anyway! Speaking of fizzling resolutions, where has all that buzzing motivation and shiny productivity that January promised us for 2016 gone? It all seemed so achievable and exciting back then, but how to keep that new year momentum going… Well, for a while now I’ve been working on a to-do list of sorts to tackle just that.
Some days I use the list as a routine for my day, attempting to fit in everything on here as a way to keep my work day flowing. Other days, I’ll just refer back to the list when I hit a wall or find myself procrastinating, and pick out one or two elements to kick me back into productivity. Yet other days, I forget the list entirely and spiral into a pit of procrastination and apathy… here’s hoping turning it into an officially blogged list will make such days less frequent and perhaps help a few others along the way!
- Do one work related thing every day that you love.
Remind yourself why you started (and why you’re persevering!) by spending a set minimum amount of time doing your favourite bit of your work. I’m a photographer who loves capturing the moment so if I can I will take my camera and shoot something (a friend, a walk in the park, the neighbour’s cat…) for a set amount of time. Or I’ll edit the photos I took on another day, as editing is something I really enjoy (in small chunks), particularly with a good soundtrack to sing along to.
- Do one non-work related thing every day that you enjoy.
Use this as a reward and/or break from work at some point in your day. Love playing games on whichever console you favour? Complete a task or level of your latest game. Attempting to watch a series on Netflix without bingeing all in one go? Watch one episode over lunch. Can’t stop baking? Treat yourself to a mid-afternoon baking sesh (then eat your creations once you’ve done some more work!). I’m really into sewing at the moment so I make sure I give myself some sewing time at the end of my day to get some more of my latest creation done.
- Make lists.
An obvious one but a useful one if done right. The key is to make sure you’re breaking down your to-dos into manageable tasks. Writing ‘tidy workspace’ on a to-do list will only make the task seem bigger and less achievable. Break it down into steps: clear desk space, file papers, reorganise shelves etc. This also means you get to tick more off, which will make you feel extra productive! But…don’t spend forever on them. It can be helpful to colour co-ordinate your tasks but don’t make it a work of art or you’ll never actually tick anything off! I speak from experience, prettifying to-do lists is a procrastination specialty of mine.
- Use your lunchtime as an actual lunch break
Take time over meals. This has the benefit of giving your mind a break from work and making you conscious of the fact that you are eating a meal. Eating at your desk or on the go means your focus is elsewhere and your brain is more likely to think of snacking later as it wasn’t really paying attention to the food going in at lunch. You’ll also get a fresh look at whatever you were working on before lunch when you sit down to start work again.
- Change it up.
Recognise when your concentration is waning and move on to a new task, preferably something quite different in style. So if I was editing and I hit a wall, I might do something that requires leaving my desk and my computer for a little while. Or simply check my emails for a bit and do an inbox clear out. Trying to force yourself to stay focused can be a losing battle and will only make you resent the task at hand. Switching to an alternative (yet still productive) task keeps you working but gives you a chance to refresh your enthusiasm for the original task.
- Dance break
This is a bit of a silly one. But I find it works wonders when I’m on a roll with work but my back is starting to complain and I’m fidgeting at my desk. This only really works if you have your own private space (or you’re super confident!). First, put on some music that never fails to get your feet tapping, the sort of music you might listen to before a night out or just when you’re in a really, really good mood. (My go to is Taylor’s 1989 album.) Next, stand up and start moving to the music. If you’re not a natural dancer or you’re stuck for moves try starting out aerobics style (elbow to knee, that sort of thing). Hopefully by the second song you’ll have shaken off a bit of self-consciousness and started moving more freely. I usually end up doing some bizarre combination of interpretive dance, yoga and dad dancing. Good thing no-one’s watching. You can dance break for as long or short as you like but try going for a couple of songs at least. The idea is just to get your blood pumping, your muscles stretching and your endorphins flowing. Hmmm sounds suspiciously like exercise…
- Do something with a clear and tangible end outcome.
This is particularly helpful if you’ve hit a wall and even switching tasks isn’t bringing back your focus. Washing up is a great one, or cleaning of any kind really. This just fulfills something in us that craves the satisfaction of physically completing something. Especially if your work isn’t very physical (so for me this applies more to an edit day than a shoot day). It also means you’ll have clean dishes so it’s a win win.
- Get out more.
At least once a day, leave the house (or office). Even if it’s just to sit in the back garden and call a friend. Or pop to the shops to buy some food. Break things up with more than just a different room. Human interaction helps, especially if you’re working alone, hence calling a friend (this could be a good opportunity to speak to that relative you’re always forgetting to call, which reminds me…).
- Learn something new every day.
Doesn’t have to be huge, just something you didn’t know before, related to your work. So for me it could be learning a new skill in Photoshop. Or mastering a camera setting I’m not used to. Youtube is a great place to start if you’re stuck for ideas, try searching ‘x’ tutorial (‘x’ being anything related to your work). This can also be great to use as a ‘change it up’ task and it keeps you on an upward learning curve so your work never gets stale.
- Stick to it.
Try to get used to fitting all these things into each working day so that it becomes part of your routine and habits. If you’re looking at this list and wondering whether this’ll be eating into your work time, remember that the idea is that in doing these things you’ll be maximizing your motivation and therefore your productivity. You may find yourself spending less time sat at your desk, but within that time you should actually be getting more done than you were before!
Now go forth and bathe in motivation! …or something… One final quote, and one I often find most helpful in times of motivational drought: