For a long time, I’ve believed that I really operate on only two modes. The first mode is when I feel totally on fire, like I am the most productive person on earth. I’m pumping out stories, hitting deadlines, and crossing off items on my to-do list with wild abandon. I’m feeling creative, energized, and generally unstoppable. The second mode is the exact opposite. It’s a state of mind when even just sending a single email feels like a Herculean task. It’s when I somehow convince myself that, yes, watching 12 hours of Below Deck on a Monday is the only thing I can accomplish today. It’s when I believe, in my core, that I may never feel productive again. Granted, the latter type of day is less common than the former, but they still happen quite a bit. And when I have a particularly long streak of the most-productive-human-on-earth days, the second type of day pops up even more often. I think this is something that the experts call burnout, but alas… we’ll explore that another time.
What I am here to talk about are the things that often get me out of these productivity slumps — the things that I do when I can’t fathom writing another word, or finding the energy to come up with another story idea. These are the things that I fall back on when all else fails, when I’m losing confidence in my ability as a writer or someone who wears pants and showers before 1 p.m. Usually, they work. Not always, but usually. They’re particularly helpful if you’re a writer, too, but I’d imagine they’d help just about anyone who works in a job that sometimes feels impossible.
Throwing My Phone Across The Room
If you’re reading this and are a human being living in 2021 (if you’re not, I have some questions), then you’re probably pretty keenly aware that phones and social media can affect productivity negatively. I mean, I certainly am. One minute I’m on a roll putting together a freelance story, and the next I am on my phone watching a blogger take me on a virtual tour of her laundry room which is the size of a state convention center (but, like, cuter). Every time this happens, I glance up from my phone 15 minutes later and have no idea how I got there. I find myself asking questions like: Wait, how did this happen? Wasn’t I on airplane mode? Why don’t I, too, have a laundry room in which I could park a Chevrolet Suburban comfortably? Needless to say, at this point of things, I’m no longer on a roll.
It is at this point that I know it’s time for the number one productivity hack I swear by: Literally throwing my phone across the room. Again, I mean this literally. Of course, I make sure it has a soft spot to land, but still, when I’m feeling like I need to be productive and just can’t, I launch that sucker into the abyss (alright, it’s more of a toss, but whatever). Ideally, this is a place out of my line of sight when I’m working, but honestly any location works. The key here is the act of throwing it and hearing it plop down elsewhere. Something about that, in particular, sticks in my brain and makes me that much less likely to pick it up. Placing it down face down on my desk on airplane mode where I can simply reach down and grab it without even thinking about it? Not good enough. You might be skeptical, but try it sometime. I want you to watch your phone fly through the air and then try to convince yourself that you really need to go check it. It’s weird, but it works.
Listening To Non-English Rap
Whenever I want to go into deep focus mode, my first instinct is to listen to hip hop because it energizes me. It’s what I listen to while I workout, and when I’m excited about something. When it comes to work, though, I’ve realized that music with words (well, words I can understand) tends to distract me more than anything else. But music without words, like classical? It’s even worse for me. Something about the lack of lyrics makes my mind wander in a way that just isn’t conducive to focused, heads-down work.
If I’m doing emails or something a little more mindless than writing, I’ll turn on NPR’s Live Jazz station, which I find to be a good balance for feeling calm, creative, and productive. But if I really need to get down to work and pump out thousands of words in the span of a few hours? Then I listen to non-English-speaking rap. Literally any type of it. I couldn’t even really recommend specific artists to you, I usually just search random playlists on Spotify and turn on whatever pops up. If you Google and search around yourself, you’ll find plenty of playlists and yes, some of it is a little odd (looking at you, Russian rap), but it does the trick every time.
Not Thinking About It
As a freelance writer, I work on a lot of different types of content, both assigned and pitched. Sometimes, this means I’m writing about something that’s deep and meaningful, like a personal essay. Other times, it means I am writing about 35 deliciously irresistible taco recipes. Almost always, I have weeks where there is one particular story or project that I am dreading — something that I have built up in my mind to be the most annoying article of all time to put together, for one reason or another. I am, of course, always being dramatic about it, but still, I avoid writing the story for as long as possible. For weeks, it hangs in my mind as “the annoying project” and gives me anxiety. But when the time does come to write the story, when I cannot possibly avoid it anymore, I always tell myself one thing, repeatedly: Don’t think about it. Just do it.
I open a blank page, I start typing, and I let whatever happens after that happen. I don’t think about how hard it is or how annoying it is or how much I’ve dreaded writing it. In fact, I don’t let myself think about it at all. I just get on with it, imagining I am a robot. Often times, the story is not even a fraction of how difficult as I thought it would be and even more often, my lack of overthinking improves my writing.
Do these productivity hacks work every time? No. Do I sometimes still end up watching 12 hours of Below Deck instead of working on the things that I know I should be working on? Of course. Still, I like having them in my back pocket. When you work for yourself, as amazing as it is, it also means motivating yourself again and again and again. And, hey, if throwing my phone across the room is what it takes for me to finish a story and make the money for that story, then I’m going to do it every time.
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