How many times has someone asked you that question this year?
It feels like I’m into the hundreds already, and we’re not even halfway through 2019 yet.
It’s like entrepreneurial shorthand for “tell me about what you’re working on” – which is fine as a conversation topic, but isn’t it weird how we default to “are you busy?” or “do you have lots of work on?”
Because there’s BUSY… and there’s PRODUCTIVE.
And they’re not the same thing.
The ‘badge of busy’ is becoming dangerously overvalued in today’s hustle & fuss of bizniz – nowhere more so than in the increasingly-weird, wired world of Silicon Valley and its global tech-hub offspring.
But an anxiety-inducing ‘Always On’ digital working culture + a macho desire to appear constantly in-demand = what I call ‘Bro-verwork’.
“Busy for busy’s sake” is clearly not a good thing. It’s unhealthy, and it will drive you NUTS.
And personally I’m no fan of ‘busy’ as a measure of success…
Sure, some very smart people like to feel busy a lot of the time, and work long days crammed with mysteriously-defined Stuff That Must Be Done.
I admire them, as long as it makes them happy.
It’s not for me, though I’m rarely idle. It’s about knowing what works for you, and establishing boundaries.
(Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less by Greg McKeown is a great book for helping figure out what’s right for you.)
Even my man Charles Dickens, one of the greatest and most prolific authors who ever lived, apparently put in just 5 hours of creative work a day.
He was ‘productive’ for that core period of time, around which he made time for all the admin, research (mostly walking around London, which made sense for his work), networking etc.
Dickens was fiercely protective of his work time though. He even turned down a meeting with Queen Victoria…
Now that’s dedication to protecting your own routine!
I talk with fellow creatives and biz-owners about daily routines a lot, and one thing’s clear: we’re all different.
We all have different rhythms, different appetites, different ideas of “a good day’s work”.
I liked John Carlton’s definition in one of his emails a while back:
Know yourself as deeply as possible.
I always knew I was basically a lazy bastard… but with a strong need to produce good work.
And I’ve been stunningly productive throughout my career. I just take off a lot of time.
For you, it’s critical to find the right goal.”
That resonated with me, because I’m also someone who finds it easier than many of my friends to make time to relax.
(I was even complemented on this a couple of times recently, which was weird but kinda cool once I realised it wasn’t meant as an insult.)
As biz-owners and creatives, here’s why our work routine matters more than most:
When your work depends on your unique value, the moments that make the minutes that make the hours that make the days that produce your work are all part what make you YOU.
When you’re ‘in the zone’, you do better work, which makes your customers, clients, and hopefully you happier.
Which is a much better metric for success than ‘busy’, in my book at least.
So what does it take to get there?
What habits and boundaries do YOU need to do your best work and be happy?
Hit up the comments below to tell me.
I’m interested. And kinda nosy 😉
Since a few people recently have asked about my routine, habits, restrictions and practices – and since I’m always fascinated by how others plan their days – I decided to pull back the curtain a bit on what “a good day’s work” looks like for me.
(Actually, since every day’s a little different, it’s more of “a good week’s work”…)
Read on to find out what I can’t do without, and how I stave off the Monday Morning Blues every week without fail.
Routine is important…
It’s one of the least-sexy words in the English language, but routine is crucial for doing good work.
(Even the musician and songwriter Nick Cave, who deals almost exclusively in sexy of one kind or another, applies himself to a strict workday routine.
If it’s good enough for Nick Cave, it’s good enough for me.)
I wrote an in-depth piece for Copy Chief a while back about how copywriters and other creative freelancers can unleash their own ‘inner lazy bastard’ and get more done by working less.
It takes a while to find your own ideal routine, but once you do, you should be protective of it.
People will always want more of your time – and especially if you’re a ‘company of one’, you can find yourself pulled in a million different directions.
I find that restrictions help.
I write in 33-minute sessions, with a short break between each, and then a longer break after each group of 3 sessions.
(It’s my version of the Pomodoro Technique, and I know a lot of other writers do something similar. I don’t think there’s any ‘magic number’ for everyone, it’s all about trial and error for finding your sweet spot.)
I use focus@will for this, which has ambient, focus-enabling music you can choose for your particular personality and work style, plus a timer you can set.
For admin and less ‘deep work’ I don’t keep to such strict times, and often allow myself some music I actually enjoy and engage with. Discovering new music makes me happy, and I’ll take that feeling while working as a trade-off for being less focused while I’m doing duller tasks.
Another restriction is notifications. I’m ruthless with them.
On holiday in Vienna in 2015 I turned all my phone notifications off for a week.
It was GREAT. (I never turned the email alerts back on.)
Now I do the same thing during my workday, so I’m not distracted. My phone goes on ‘Do Not Disturb’ (I don’t keep it on my desk either), and I check it at lunch and for an afternoon coffee break. That’s it.
Same with my computer – NO email pings, NO Twitter flashes, and I’m not on Facebook so I don’t have to worry about that.
The only exception is during a couple of days a month when I work closely with a couple of regular clients on time-sensitive collaboration, and I turn on Slack so we can communicate ‘live’ when needed. For the rest of the time, any Slack channels I’m in are set to AWAY, and I check email 2-3 times a day so I can pickup anything important there.
Depending on your work, that approach may not work for everyone – but I’m willing to bet 90% of us can cut out some notification or other and improve our focus.
Because I like variety and find a change of scene from day to day helps my productivity (and weirdly, my focus), I work from home 2/3 days a week, interspersed with 2/3 days a week at a co-work space here in Berlin.
My co-work place is big enough to have dedicated quite space where I can work intently and focus with headphones on, but also can hang out and be sociable in communal work areas, chat over coffee with other entrepreneurs and go to networking events.
I don’t believe everyone needs all those things, but they’re nice-to-haves, so I’m pretty pleased with how it’s worked out since I became a member a year ago.
When I have client calls booked I tend to work from home, since it’s quieter there. I find I get good work done if I know I’m not stuck in the same place for more than a couple of days at a time. I’ve never been someone who enjoys working 5 days in a row in the same chair at the same desk.
Again, some people need the same place every day, others need more variety than I do – it’s about trial and error really.
My working week has a rhythm to it, also:
I generally work from 9.30 or 10am to 6 or 6.30pm, rarely finishing later. I’ve never been an early riser, and my peak creative hours seem to be from around 11am to 5pm, so this schedule fits me well.
It’s a little later than many people start and finish, but apart from it being the way my body clock likes to work, my timezone here in Germany means I’m between 5 and 9 hours ahead of my US clients, so it helps for my day to overlap a bit with theirs so we can get on calls.
(I don’t work weekends, ever, although I do use Saturday mornings to file my weekly accounts. In a past life I worked weekend shifts for many years, and now that I no longer have to do that, I enjoy 2 full days off each weekend.)
On Mondays I work almost exclusively on my own business – no client work or meetings, that’s for Tues-Fri – so I’m just writing my weekly post to y’all, prospecting, marketing, accounting and all the other fun stuff that keeps things ticking over.
If you ever get a case of the Monday Morning Blues, I recommend starting the week with some creative writing.
Even if it’s just journaling that won’t be published. It works a treat for me, and I’ve not had the Monday blues for a looooooong time.
From Tuesday to Friday I work mainly on client projects, with a few hours of business development and learning thrown in so I’m getting better at my work both in practice and in theory.
I typically have one business book I’m reading at any one time, which I’ll dip into for up to an hour a day when I can, or if I need a change of subject for a bit.
If I’m taking a course I try to schedule some time on Monday and Friday afternoons to do that, though it depends if there’s ‘live’ components like meetings or webinars etc.
And on Friday afternoon I like to finish my week off with a 2-hour wind-down session where I can either catch up on any outstanding edits, emails or coursework, while chilling out to a weekly psych-rock radio show called (brilliantly) Sunrise Ocean Bender.
It’s my little reminder to myself that I’m fortunate enough to be my own boss and set my own schedule, and a nice way to head into the weekend.
So there ya go. That’s my own personal working routine (as of May 2019 anyway).
It works for me, and I hope there’s a couple of insights you can try out in your own practice.
I truly believe that everyone has their own ideal working rhythm they need to find…
If you feel like something’s not right in yours, try different things until you feel more purposeful, relaxed and productive. Not ‘busy’ (at least not all the time).
So, how do YOU stay productive rather than just ‘busy’?
Hit me up in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’m interested in what works for you!