As a person who has been obsessed with the ideas of personal development and self growth for a long time, I have espoused many times the usual mantras of hard work, putting in the time, waking up early, and so on.
In my life experience however, I’ve noticed that even though a lot of these things are useful and definitely do have their place in the pursuit of excellence and fulfilment, sometimes, doing the opposite can also have positive effects.
In my last post, I briefly highlighted how you can actually break the rules if you respect core truths. Here are some of the ‘bad’ things you can do that could actually help you succeed.
This piece was inspired by this article by Jessica Wildfire. So if this intrigues you, definitely check that out as well.
So without further ado, here are 8 bad habits that could help you succeed.
Wake up whenever you want
Shout out to the 5am club. I am just not one of ya’ll. At least not yet. At least not all the time. A little caveat. Of course this would not work for you if you have a job, or a routine that demands that things happen at a certain time. But if you are unmarried and without kids, and also working remote or for yourself, then you could indulge yourself by waking up whenever you like.
For the past couple years, I have had the most erratic sleep and wake up times. But more often than not, I am awake till very late at night. These days, I am up until noon the very next day when my body starts to shut down, and then my day would begin around 8pm. It is admitted weird, but those all night work sessions are some of the most focused and productive I ever have. It doesn’t matter so much when you wake up or go to sleep. What matters is the quality of your sleep and what you do when you are awake.
Hard work is key. I believe in pushing hard. I believe in being obsessive. I believe in putting it all on the line. The work is the work, and the work must be done. However, too many times, we are working furiously climbing up the wrong ladder, trying to scale the wrong wall. Sometimes when we feel the urge to be lazy, the lack of desire to engage with work, it is because we really do not want to, it is because we are misaligned. This is a good time to be lazy, to ease up. To do the bare minimum, to recover and refocus. To discover what we really want to do, what will excite us, what will drive us. Be lazy long enough and you can discover a better way. Often, our obsession with working hard is just an excuse to not apply ourselves in working smart. It can be much easier to do what we normally do, instead of putting in the effort to allocate our time effectively.
Disappear from the world
A big part of success is being engaged and connected with the world. No one lives in a vacuum and the more tapped into your network, the more opportunities come your way. There are times we must do the opposite, times we must withdraw. In times of overwhelm and burnout. When we have given all and we are empty. Pulling away can give us that much needed rest and perspective to make the changes we need to make and come back stronger.
Follow your obsessions
In the midst of being lazy and withdrawing from the world, you might start to feel something well up within you, a new interest, an old obsession. Nurture it and indulge in it. For a long time, I was completely over watching or listening to anything growth related. I suddenly grew a deep interest in political systems, long breakdowns and analysis of modern media, and video games. None of them have been directly useful to my business yet, but they have enriched my mind, my life experience, my thinking and the way I engage with the world around and indirectly affected my creative output and connection to the people around me.
All work, and no play makes Jack dull af. Life is short. Enjoy it. Sure, this is an area where you can overdo it. But it is okay to go out, to be social, to see and be seen. It might be vain and futile sometimes, and even a waste of time and money. But it can also be a great time to connect with friends, to make new memories, to bond, and sometimes, even to network.
Play video games/Have hobbies
Some people say you shouldn’t play games at all. And I used to be in that camp. I always wondered what the point of engaging in virtual worlds was, when you could simply just engage with life itself. Life is the biggest open world RPG you could play. But video games as a whole are an incredible achievement, a mix of art, science, technology, design and storytelling to give you some of the most immersive and engaging experiences every created by man. So play if you like. Play helps us see things in new ways, helps us grow, process trauma, and grow and learn. I for one have learned a lot about life playing video games. Sometimes when I’m facing something tough in life, I think about bashing my head repeatedly against a particularly hard boss, and I think to myself, if I could do that, then I can do this.
There is nothing like a good binge. Whether that is partying, watching that new show on Netflix or spending 12 hours straight at your desk working. the idea is dive completely into whatever you are doing. It would be a bit intense, but you will come out of that session better for it. You would have scratched the itch you needed to, and come out relaxed and chilled enough to get back to work. Or if you were bingeing work, you would have let it all on the court and come off exhausted ready to rest. The point is, sometimes it is good to binge.
Work when you feel like it
Some people think you should show up every single day, whether you feel like it or not. There is surely a place for that. Sometimes you just have to show up. The muse should find you waiting and ready. Other times though, the inspiration just isn’t there. If you aren’t feeling it, the best thing to do might be to just not do it. Do something else. Go hangout with friends, go play 6 hours of your favourite video game. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left the work to do something else, and then inspiration hits me at the weirdest time and I’m good to go.
Even typing this right now is a good example. The whole day yesterday, I was in the dumps, so I did nothing but sleep really. Today, I’ve been been at my desk since 4:30am. C’est la vie.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of “Relaxed Productivity”. The past few weeks have been a bit manic. I’ve been juggling multiple projects, chasing new business, creating new products and producing more content than I usually do. It has been a bit crazy.
So last week, I wanted to try a different tact. Or at least, I could afford to try. See, I always have the experienced of being almost at the edge of overwhelm. My fingers are always in a lot of different projects, I’m always doing a lot of work. But that comes with its cost. Eventually things devolve. The work gets a bit sloppy, projects are rushed and I slip into extreme fatigue. Something has to give. I spent most of the other week in a sleep deprived state. I got stuff done and done very well, but it left me exhausted.
In 2018 or so I came across the concept of ‘Working to Live’ and it started to change the way i approached work. The thing as a freelancer, one man band, mercenary, is that it is very easy to get overwhelmed with work. There are always requests coming your way, projects to be finished, projects that were finished coming back with more stuff or edits or changes. There is always more work.
You can also be incentivised to take on more work. Because the more you work, the more you earn. At the same time, it can be difficult to charge as high as is needed, because otherwise then you don’t close the deal, and sometimes you need the cashflow however small so you take the hit. Plus, people almost never pay when they say they will, projects get stuck in limbo or fall off completely. And when they do pay, they want things yesterday. So you get stuck in a loop, taking a lot of work to make the money you desire and then bumping up against time and energy constraints. You end up working ridiculous hours and crashing and burning repeatedly.
Is there another way?
Is what I’ve been wondering.
I have come across local creatives talking about how they are fully booked for months. So I’d imagine they are simply spending the next few months only working on what’s already on their plate. That seems nice, like they already have enough in the bank, or charged high enough to be able to maintain such a schedule. Also it means that they have enough time to really dig into the project and get things done to a high standard.
Must be nice, I want in also.
To Work to Live means to schedule ones life around life as much as possible, instead of work. It means scheduling the things that are important first – like rest, like exercise, and eating, or chores, and then scheduling work around that. Now sure, this is a very privileged place to be in. But if you already have control of your time as an entrepreneur or freelancer then this is a worthy goal to strive for.
What principles would have to be in place?
If your bills and needs are high, then you will always need to be generating income. And if you generate income from your work/labour, then you are going to have to work a lot. Reducing your footprint and reconsidering your lifestyle can give you the space you need to position yourself better and work more sustainably.
Plan at least a week ahead
To have a more relaxed and productive workflow, you need to have clarity over your time, resources and tasks and set things up accordingly. You would need to plan your life at least a week a time and front load it with the right amount of work. Know what needs to be done each week and really be honest about how much time things will take. Any other tasks that come up would have to compete against the already assigned task or move to the next week.
That means probably no rush projects, if you can help it.
Strive to be as effective as possible
If you only have limited time to work, then you have to make sure you are working on the most important things. Prioritise the important things and the things that will give the biggest results. Then you can get around to all the other stuff. Make the time you spend working count.
Be more valuable
To enjoy more relaxed productivity, you are probably going to need to increase your income. And you can do that by increasing your value, improving your skills, and selling your value to the clients who can afford it. You are going to raise those prices to attract and service the right market.
Innovate your business model
To be able to strive to a more relaxed level of productivity, you would need to work differently. Make your business or setup less dependent on you and built upon systems that can run without you. That could mean selling products, hiring people, or leveraging digital platforms. Position yourself for scalable exponential growth and that could earn you your freedom
Enjoy the time off
It can be easy to fall back into old patterns of toxic hustle culture. And there’s a time and place for that. Sometimes you do have to go all out and work like crazy, but when we in relaxed mode, we want to allow ourselves to actually enjoy the time off. For a workaholics like me, it can be hard to turn the brain off and just do something else. But invest the time in yourself, in your experiences, in your relationships and funny enough, it might just make you even better at your work.
Work is an interesting thing. For most of us, it takes up most of our lives. At least 60% of our time is spent at work, either at an office, or more so these days, working from home. And depending on how engaged you are with what you do, how much you love or tolerate it, you might be looking for ways to make work more effective and efficient. Ways to squeeze more out of the time you spend working, etc.
This is the essence of productivity. Finding ways to produce more.
If you work for a company or business, you might be able to skirt away by doing the least amount of work you can get away with. Since your labour is paid for on a fixed monthly basis, that might make sense. Or you might want to push harder to get noticed and promoted. If you work on commission or you work for yourself, then your income is probably tied more directly to your labour. So the more you work, the more you earn.
At this point, it gets very tempting to maximise the amount of time you spend working. After all, if you can work more, you can make more. But the human body is not a machine, and the amount of energy and attention we have is finite. We still have to do pesky things like eat and sleep.
If you push and try to work as many hours as possible, you will quickly come against your upper limits. And that is a limit you need to get very familiar with, and respect accordingly.
In the early days of my career, as a whip-smart youngling, I would work almost all the time. From the moment I woke up, to the moment I went to bed, every day of the week. Understandably I burnt out often. Sure I was much younger and able to put in insane hours without too much of a strain. Also, I love what I do, still do. But overtime, I have come to respect the productivity decimating power of a burnout, and I’ve changed the way I think about work.
It is not use burning the candle at both ends for weeks on end to be completely wiped out and unable to work for days or even a month at a time. The better way is to find your rhythm and optimise it at both ends – your work, and your play.
The case against overwork
Because human energy and attention is finite, putting in more hours at work than you need to actually starts to become detrimental. The work you do 4 days into a work stretch will not be as good as the work you do right at the start or midway through. Plus, bad work can lead to even more work down the line, where you have to backtrack and make changes or fix the bad work you did.
You probably don’t need to work as much or as long as you think.
Especially in the creative space. It might do you better to focus on writing for 2 hours every day, than to try bang out an entire book in 9hour daily sessions. But everyone is different, the point is to find the rhythm that works for you.
Personally I am able to give about 3-4 solid days to my design work in a week. On day one, I can do an easy 12 hour stretch. On day 3, I can average out at 8hrs of work. By the 5th day, I am barely functional. If I push further than that, which I certainly could, I would definitely pay for it by the next week. In this state, no matter what I do, I simply cannot work. My brain and body are far too tired to do anything creative or productive.
Find your balance
As I’ve grown and refined the way I work, I have learned to institute a couple of things like respecting the weekend, respecting how long tasks actually take, and communicating clearly to people when I’m available and when I’m not.
These days I am able to strike a balance, knowing that once Monday rolls in, I am completely focused on the grind, and by Thursday, Friday, I am easing off, and when it’s the weekend, I do not think about work at all. Whether I am at work or leisure, I am able to give my all to it, knowing that I am doing the right thing at the right time. I rest and bum out when I need to, and I get on the grind when I need to.
Make your work time more efficient
Striking a balance also helps us do one other important thing, which is focus on the efficacy of the time we actually spend working. If I can only work for a limited time, then I have to make sure that it is time well spent. I have to ensure that I am working on the right things – the things that actually move me forward, on the projects that excite and teach me, on the ideas that could give exponential return.
By respecting the time off, we can become even more deliberate and intentional about the work we do.
Which is why if you are someone who works for yourself, you have to be strict with your hours and your time. It is far too easy for something to come in to encroach on that. Clients need things last minute. People are disorganised, everything is urgent. It is okay to throw on the cape and save the day from time to time. But acquiescing constantly to such demands will just throw you off course and into chaos.
And that isn’t what we want.
We want a life by design. A life where everything is at the appropriate level at the appropriate time.
It is okay to go all out and have hectic head-down work sessions. Some seasons call for it. But it is also doubly important to make sure you get some down time, that you take care of yourself, that you have other things in your life other than work. The chance to pursue curiosity, the time to rest and relax and play, the time to have experiences, the time to nurture relationships.
The time to live.
That is paradoxically, how we become more productive in the long run.
I picked up this lovely little yellow book the other day – Brief Lessons in Creativity by Frances Ambler. And it is quite the gem, helping to inspire and nudge me deeper down a path that has been on my mind on-and-off for years now.
See, I work in the creative industry. I genuinely create something almost every single day whether it is content, or client work, whatever. I am always making something. However, it can become quite mechanical. You have your set of tools, your set of trusty techniques and ways of doing things. You can competently create on demand. But it is also very easy to stagnate and get stuck doing the same things over and over again.
It is difficult to grow and break ruts, to grow new skills and ways of looking at the world, and yet we must. To keep fresh, to honour the muse, to have longevity in the game. It is important to keep exercising the muscle of creativity and stretching it to new places.
I’ve always wanted to live a more artistic existence, and I suppose this has always been an underlying reasoning behind my life path. Working for yourself gives you control of your time. It then becomes up to you to optimise that time and be able to spend it how you want to. But it is very easy to get stuck in the day to day business of commerce, and not having enough time or energy to explore the possibilities.
Yet, if you want it, if you want to become better, to experience a new level, to maybe even become great, then somehow the price must be paid. We must incorporate practices and rituals, spaces and times to nurture the soil of creativity, to improve how we see, how we process, and the techniques of creation. To become better creators and artists.
Here are some ideas inspired by Frances’ book.
Just start/Begin anywhere
The blank canvas can be very intimidating, especially if we have not created in a long time. We might hold some romantic notion of how we ought to be as creatives, of how good the artwork has to be, or of how good we should be. We should throw all of those concerns away and just begin from anywhere. Just start. Take a piece of paper and make a scribble. Write a few random words in a notepad. Record a couple random melodies. Make a mess. Do something.
Doing this will shake out the cobwebs so to speak, limber up those stiff limbs and get you back in the groove of creating.
Follow your curiosity
What interests you? Put some time aside and do a real deep dive into it. What ever piques your curiosity. Maybe you always wondered about UFOs, or medieval weaponry, or knitting. Whether it is something mundane or something outlandish, allow yourself the space and time to dig into it. Do some research, go down an internet rabbit hole, visit sites, connect with people. Follow your curiosity, you will find new things, good, bad, boring, interesting, and it will fill your tank with new ideas and new references.
I have blogged at length about the need to create and protect creative space. To be able to cultivate and nurture your creativity, you need to have the space and time to devote to it. You need a place to make your art, whatever that is. This space needs to stimulate or support you as needed. It has to be sacred and set apart. This is an important time of enquiry, of experimentation, of worship.
Collect stuff. In your travels, in your movements around the world, you will come across things – signs, images, discarded objects, places. Bring something back with you, take a picture, make a film. Build and curate a storehouse of inspiration, of little odds and ends that you can come back to, study in more detail or tap into for ideas and direction. You are only as good as your references.
Try different things. Start your process from the opposite end, or start from the middle. Create in a different medium or work with a different technique. Try creating with your less dominant hand, or in a different environment. Keep pushing the boundaries of what you create and how you create it. Shake things up to unleash new skills, new perspective and fresh takes.
Move around, it could be as close as a walk around the neighbourhood, or as far as moving across continents. But exposure to new places breaks up monotony and allows us to see things with fresh eyes. And it brings us in contact with new people, ways of living, and ideas.
We could all gain wonderfully from cultivating an artist’s eye and mind. Beyond the boons to creativity, the work of creating pushes one into a deeper state of being. A space where one must be still, and observe, really look, or really dig in and think and draw from the depths to birth something new. It is in these spaces that we learn about ourselves, that we tap into our powers, that we create something tangible, something truly us. It is here we meditate and connect to the sublime. It is here that we discover, that we learn, that we break through.
It is through the way of the artist, that we can become even more ourselves.
In a previous post, I shared my experience with upgrading my living space, and as I mentioned then, the experience has inspired me to take a closer look at productivity as a whole. Although I am already fairly organized, I know there is still plenty room for improvement.
And as I dive down the rabbit hole and nerd out on productivity tools and frameworks over the next couple of weeks, I will share ideas on how to improve how we get stuff done and stay on track with all our concerns.
I find myself asking questions like. What does my workflow look like now? How do I stay on top of everything? How do I become more effective and efficient? How do I ensure I do the things that usually tend to fall through the cracks? What systems do I have in place to capture all the ideas, tasks, requests I have and be able process them well?
How do I read more and retain information? How do I gather my notes in such a way that it is easy to access and apply those insights? How do I keep up to date with all my projects and make sure they are moving forward?
A lot of questions I’m sure I will have a lot of fun trying to answer. But even now, there are some quick ideas I can think of to help take your productivity to the next level, and make yourself even more effective.
Have a prep/planning day
If you don’t already do this, then you need to set a day and a time to plan your week. Every week.
If you are able to build the habit of checking in with your goals, intentions, tasks and priorities weekly, you stand a much better chance of staying aligned to it over the long term.
This is the time that you take to review the week that has passed and look over the one coming. You can do this on a Sunday before the week officially starts, or on Monday morning, or whenever really. As long as it happens every week.
In this time you get to empty your mind of all the reminders, and tasks and requests that have been swirling up there and objectively sift through them to prioritise the most important things to get done in the coming week.
This is absolutely crucial if you want to keep your plates properly juggled.
Make your calendar your best friend
I’m not yet great at this, but in my research, I have seen quite a few people swear by having a calendar. It is a vital component to your productivity and time management.
The idea is to make sure that every appointment, call to make, birthday, event to attend, you want to make sure all of that is captured in your calendar so you don’t forget. Instead of having to keep all of that in your head, all you need to do is pull up the calendar and be reminded of what you need to do by when.
Another powerful use of the calendar is to use it to time block. You can actively plan your day hour by hour the day before according to your prioritised todo list, and actually block off time for each task. So when you start the day, you have a clear game plan, and at any point in the day, you know what you should be working on.
Obviously you can move things around as you need them, but having a plan in the first place is invaluable in putting you in control of your day. It eliminates distractions and keeps you focused and accountable.
Organized productivity boils down to a few main principles
When trying to be organised and productive, people often worry about the details – what tools to use, what apps to download, what is the best notebook, etc. But truth is, the tools are less important than the underlying system and principles.
There are a few main principles to getting things done, those boil down to – capturing, filtering, scheduling, evaluating. You want to be able to reliably and consistently data dump all requests, tasks and ideas into appropriate apps and notes. You want to be able to filter and prioritise all that stuff. Then you need to be able to schedule the most important tasks or steps of your ongoing projects. And you also want a system where you can monitor what you are doing and review and adjust as needed.
Once you have these main things in place, it doesn’t matter exactly what tools you use, just that they work for you.
Invest in your tools
Whatever you do for work or creativity, there are the tools of your trade that you use regularly. You probably use a computer, you might need a camera, or a ring light, or some notepads and pencils. Evaluate what you do, and what you need to get it done. Invest in improving your tools from time to time. Get things that are durable, as top of the line as you can afford, as nice as you can afford. If you enjoy using your tools, you will enjoy your work.
The day I switched from a PC based set up to Mac was a game-changer for me personally and I haven’t looked back since. Getting an extra screen boosted my workflow and productivity. The Logitech MX3 mouse I started using this weekend is already having quite the impact on the way I work and design.
Invest in your tools and leverage them to become better at what you do.
It is all about reducing friction
I mentioned this already in my post about upgrading your environment, but it bears repeating here. What being organized and improving productivity is all about is making it easier and more fun to do what we need to get done.
Having a neat and clearly define place for everything allows you to easily find what you need when you need it. Using your calendar allows you to free up mental space to actually be creative or problem solve with the peace of mind that nothing is falling through the cracks. Having a proper note taking system allows you to access the information you need when you need it. Designing and fine-tuning your workstation to your needs make its easier to plug in and get things done.
Keep evolving your productivity practice and finding ways to reduce friction and you will find it easier to breeze through your work and reclaim the time and space you deserve to enjoy life.