Funny story… I worked as a freelance writer for more than four years before I started to think about it as a creative profession (and even then, that realization only happened because a friend asked me, “Is it hard to have to be creative all the time?”).
For a long time, I thought of writing as something that you just “do” – like eating meals, sleeping at night or doing any kind of rote work. But the reality is that writing is an inherently creative process, and that means that it comes with its own set of challenges and demands that must be balanced to ensure continuous productivity.
There are days when I feel like my creative juices have run out and days when I feel like I have absolutely nothing left to say about the topics I typically write on. I’m sure anyone else working as a writer has experienced this type of burnout before – and while I don’t have a solution for the larger overall issue of managing creative energy sustainably, I have found a way to trick myself into being productive when it feels like I couldn’t possibly write another word.
Basically, this trick relies on the Pomodoro method. If you aren’t familiar with the technique, it involves alternating brief work periods with even shorter breaks. In its classic implementation, the system involves working for 25 minutes and then taking a break for five minutes (although, when I’m feeling really burned out, I’ll often dial this back to 20 minutes of work followed by 10 minutes of break time), with longer rest periods scheduled after every few hours of productive work.
I’ve found this system to be a great way to break larger, much scarier looking projects down into doable chunks. However, anyone who’s ever tried this technique knows that the biggest hurdle to overcome is simply starting the clock and launching in to that first period – no matter how short it may be. In some situations, the thought of doing 20 or 25 minutes of work can seem as daunting as tackling your entire workload at once, which is why I realized I had to change things up a bit.
Here’s my twist on the system…
During my Pomodoro rest periods, I like to play my computer’s Mahjongg game. I have a (not so) secret passion for browsing celebrity gossip websites as well, but I’ve found that jumping into that type of web browsing opens wormholes that make it super-difficult to jump back into my work periods once my breaks are over.
As a result, I’ve conditioned myself to automatically switch from Mahjongg to writing when the buzzer on my phone goes off. Knowing that this is how I’ll react, I’ve started to flip things around so that I actually start with a 5- or 10-minute rest period – as it’s a much smaller mental hurdle to jump over to get myself to play a game for a few minutes than it is to launch into a work session when I’m feeling burned out.
Then, once this initial rest period is over, I flip back over into writing-mode out of habit – effectively tricking myself into being productive without having to overcome my initial hesitation to work.
Pretty cool, right? I know I was pretty excited when I first figured out this little productivity hack, although I have no idea how long it’ll continue to be effective (given that it’s hard to fool myself when I consciously know the mechanism by which my work is getting done).
Do you have any similar tricks for jumping into a seemingly-endless workload? If so, share your own tips in the comments section below and then take a second to share this article on Facebook or Twitter so that everyone can benefit from this advice!
I try to switch offices (which means changing between my flat and coffee shops:D), do more mindless/automated stuff when my brain shuts down and funnily enough, I get a kick out of squeezing in writing when I’m supposed to be doing other things. Like 10 minutes on the road, 10 minutes before my friends arrive at the place we are supposed to meet…Shorter amounts of time work better when I am technically out to do something else:)
I do like your buzzer trick. I’m trying focusbooster, but I end up working through its breaks when I’m inspired. 😀
Ooh, good idea – a change of scenery can definitely help break up the monotony. And as for the Pomodoro technique, if you’re inspired enough to work through your breaks, I think that’s a great thing!
I don’t follow the Pomodoro method, but I have adopted the concept of rest in a very broad sense. When I start to lose focus and productivity, I move onto another project that is as different as is possible. Examples:
Writing a report – push ups
Reading the news – breakfast
Meeting – spreadsheet
When I move onto something that’s different in form and function, I can focus again. Sometimes, I switch just for a break (eg. push ups) and other types I move onto something else for an extended period of time (eg. spreadsheet) and both have similar benefits.
Ben – That sounds like a great plan! I try to switch things up between projects when I can, but sometimes there’s no escaping the fact that plenty of words have to be written 🙂