Morning coffee. Caught it just when it started to flow.
When Alex Duloz asked me on January 1st this year, if I want to write a piece for “The Human In The Machine” on his new collective blogging platform SuperYesMore, I somehow directly agreed to do it. I knew of Alex because of his past project called The Pastry Box Project and I thought it might be nice to add something. I thought I might think about productivity and what it means to me, how I define the term productivity for me. First I thought it might be easy going, but then it dawned on me that it would not be as easy as I thought.
First of all I wasn’t even sure what productivity and being productive really means. Sure, I could have had a look in the dictionary and have a definition in general, but for me and my work, what does it mean in this relation.
While I was sitting at my desk, checking and reading several sources on how other people think about productivity and what it means to them, it more and more got clear to me, how much two other terms are connected to productivity for me:
Let’s focus on the motivation part for a moment. I have no idea how your day looks and how you motivate yourself to get up and work. I myself am totally not a morning person, but since I have a family and kids going to school and kindergarten every day, I – if I don’t want to live a parallel life – have to somehow adapt to their daily rhythm. I write this, as this is a first big step to get productive everyday. To motivate myself to get out of bed early and not live a life, sleeping until 10am or 11am to get up into my studio around noon and work until late in the night.
When this first step is taken, a day usually does not look like a constant stream of productivity, efficiency and certainly not motivation. So, I was wondering and asked how other people motivate themselves, if they have these moments of disencourage. I read a lot about how people try to structure their workday with lists, GTD tools and techniques like The Pomodoro Technique and alike. What I did not find too often was something about how people motivate themselves.
To sum-up, what I heard from other people and what also my way of motivating myself is and therefore how they/I get productive again:
- get unproductive and completely de-focus from work
- distract with other activities
- get out of your office/house, take a walk or run
- have a coffee/tea/drink (but not at your desk, of course)
- have a nap
- tinker and play
- do sports
- listen to or – even better – make music
I often read that people can’t focus on something for a full workday of 8 hours anyways. The time people are able to focus on something is different from person to person. But isn’t it way better to be productive for 4 hours or even 2 hours, but being really motivated and able to get stuff done than hanging around for 8 hours and feeling unproductive and empty? De-focus to re-focus again. Which brings me to another point …
Certainly efficiency is something we also define for ourselves. How efficient you work and if you are satisfied by the end of the day/week/month/year, is something only you can tell and evaluate. Not your boss. Not your client. You.
Everybody works in a different speed and gets work done slower or faster. If you have deadlines or a boss standing in your back and they generally like the outcome of your work, they should learn to give you the time and freedom to get your work, your projects done and calculate with your pace. If you work for your own and have no one telling you, you are too slow or un-efficient, you should sit down from time to time, to reflect and think about your work and how you used your time. This is what I do. I take my time and think about how I got certain tasks done. But you have to be honest to yourself. It sometimes is frightening and feels demotivating in the first place. But if you do this regularly and really sit down from time to time, to evaluate your way of working, it helps.
Not only does it help to make you a happier person as you are improving, but it also helps to get a better feeling for what you do. Also if you work for clients and not, like in my case, on your own event or your own product. And with feeling, I don’t only mean the feeling for how much worth your time is, as you are able to estimate this way better, if you actually know how long it takes you to get something done. No, I also mean this feeling of being unproductive. You learn to understand, that this sometimes is exactly this: just a feeling. And with being self-confident that you do work efficient and are productive, you can fight this feeling. You are able to measure your productivity.
Enjoy what you do
All productivity and efficiency aside: I’m a huge believer in the idea of that only what you like to do, what you are motivated to do, is something that you are able to do in a good way. At least in long term you will end up hating what you do and yourself for doing it, if you don’t enjoy it. I don’t say: be a dreamer, believe in and love what you do and then the success is coming automatically as it was waiting exactly for you and your idea. Nope. This is something completely different and not as easy as it sounds sometimes.
What I say is more or less meant the other way around: the stuff you don't like to do is going to kill you and your motivation in the end. It sometimes takes quite some courage to make a decision and it even is pure laziness maybe, next to fear of course, stopping us from making a big change. Not only work related. But if you don’t change it, you never know, if maybe this change would have been something that made you happy … or happier at least.
Yesterday I stumbled over a post by Lagom, a magazine which my friend Elliot Jay Stocks and his wife Samantha Stocks publish. They pointed me to a website for a new typeface called Tuna. I directly liked it a lot and even though of switching my beyond tellerrand website to it. For sure I'd have to do some tests, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to tell you about this typeface by Felix Braden from Cologne and Alex Rütten from Berlin.
Tuna is a typeface for for print and screen and I really like the calligraphic touch in it. Check all the details about Tuna on their website.
I will be in London twice in February. This week for awwwards and in two weeks for Reasons:London. Just wanted to let you know, that from tomorrow on tickets are more expensive. Safe a few £ by getting yours today.
This, at CSSday, looks like a great event. Sad, that I am in NYC exactly then. But you should go.
Last week from Monday to Friday I had my friends Bastian Allgeier and John Davey here at my house to learn the one or other thing about Kirby. John is new to Kirby and I had a few questions as well and so we planned this trip, which was actually planned as a trip to Berlin, for quite a while. Not only turned it out to be great fun to see these two people, but it also reminded me how much fun it can be to work in a team. The conversations we had were absolutely refreshing and inspiring and even small things like a comment to something you do on your event site were pure joy as usually we all, at least John and I do, sit in our home office alone and mostly don’t get direct feedback to ideas. I enjoyed the three days a lot and hope we are able to repeat this pretty soon.
But did you know it can be so much fun to improve as a team?
This was one of the statements (yeah, I know it was a question, but I think it has more rhetorical meaning than that it is actually a question) he made and he is absolute right. From time to time it can be quite refreshing to get together, to get new views on ideas, your work, or even to as questions. A team is not really only a team when working on the same project. Event if you meet and work on your own stuff the whole time, you are working all together. The benefit of this is also the time in between working times: we took a long walk in the forest, went and got some dinner in the evening and enjoyed a few coffees and – yes, of course – the one or other glass of gin.
They seem to have recorded 90 episodes already, but somehow I managed to miss this podcast. Just because Brendan Dawes was their guest in issue 90 and tweeted about it, I know about this podcast. A lovely episode and nice to listen to. I mean … come one … it is Brendan. People must think we have a love affair anyways as much as I tell people about him …
Listen to Data Stories with Brendan Dawes
This morning I was wondering how other people get their head clear and empty again to focus on a certain task? I often find myself sitting at my desk asking me something like What was it what I wanted to do again? or Wait, a second ago I wanted to do something and now I am on Facebook again… and I forgot what it was, I wanted to do a minute ago, because I did not do it directly.
For things, that I want to do and get out of my head, I started using Evernote a long time ago. I used to have a notebook, like a Moleskine, to write down notes and tasks and ideas, just to get rid of them and to empty my head again. But the downside of the notebooks was, that mostly those ideas and thoughts then where lost in the nowhere, as I would never ever be able to find a certain though again. Maybe I was just to unorganised, but for me it was great to get rid of a thought, but never really to get back to something to then work on it. With a digital notebook I benefit from tags and from the possibility to search in my notes. Apart from this, I do the same: I write down the idea or thought or somethings that I wanted to do as soon as I think of it. Sometimes, when I am not able to write – in a car for example – I even record a short voice message. After this I am able to focus again and I get back to this thought later.
This is only what I can do with those bigger distractions. What I mean in the first paragraph are more those smaller distractions that keep your head busy. And this general feeling of a full head. To sit there and stare at nothing. You are not able to really concentrate and get your work done. I mean, sometimes you can only accept this an call it a day, get out with your kids and play. But sometimes, you have to get some shit done. What is it what helps you best here? I mean, everybody is different and has different solutions for stuff like this. Here is what I mostly do and maybe that is something that works for you as well …
If it is a nice day to get out, then get out of your office/house. Take a walk. Try not to think of your work or project and focus on the things that surround you. In a forest, enjoy the nature, have a look around. In a city, look at other people maybe or shop windows. Just try not to think of the stuff you though about a minute ago, when you where in you working-environment. If possible, also turn of your phone or any of the notifications that otherwise might appear.
Have a coffee/tea/drink
I own a nice coffee machine. It used to be an Isomac Zaffiro, but lately I got an ECM Technika IV, but that only as a side note. When the weather does not allow me to get out, I get downstairs and make a nice coffee for myself. I take some time to get everything done, sit down and maybe read a little bit in the newspaper to focus on something else. The coffee is a good excuse to get out of my office and downstairs. Same, of course, works with tea or any other kind of drink. Just leave the place you work for this.
Have a nap
You might smile, but that works for some people as well. A really short nap of 15 to 30 minutes. In my case this is rare, as I usually sadly don’t find the time, but when I do and did, it always helped. A short nap, some ice cold water afterwards in my face and then … of course … a coffee ;)
Just leave the work aside and play a bit. Maybe with your playstation, maybe with pencil and paper or, if you have kids, with your kids. Not much is better than a water fight in the garden, when I hear the kids playing outside. 3 against me. I can tell you, that empties your brain and you are ready and fresh afterwards.
You think that is strange? Think about it: is it YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or anything like this, where you sometimes find yourself between your work or when you where just about to get a certain task done? Then just give this distraction the full attention. Stop your work. Close email and anything that is work related and do whatever distracted you with full concentration. Take 15 minutes and watch YouTube videos. Jump from one suggestion to the next and let the flow of those suggestions lead you. Stay on Facebook, like and comment posts of your friends, but do this only. After you are done, close all those windows again and get back to work.
As an update to this post, because Frank mentioned it in a reply on Twitter, of course, sports! Sports is a great way to get a clear mind again as well. Whether it is a long run in the woods, a good session in the Gym, a fast and intense ride on your bike or any kind of team sport (where you have to find the team for on short notice) – sports is fantastic. Surely not everybody is a sports person. But then take a nap ;)
Another update, just because Brad Frost liked my tweet which triggered another topic: Music. It does not matter, if you just shut your eyes and listen to music loudly over the speakers or on your headphones or if you actually make music yourself. Brad sometimes invites to his house to have a session. I myself have rehearsal with my band every Thursday evening, which always refreshes me and during that time I never think of anything else than being in this moment and making music with my mates. If you are playing an instrument and have the chance to make some music (I prefer loud, handmade music), then do it. Music is fantastic.
What are you doing to get your energy back? To be able to focus on your work again? If all this above in the end does not help you, maybe just don't work for this certain day, as I mentioned earlier already. There are days, where you should accept not being able to work. Of course that is easily said in my position and I know that there are a lot of people who can’t just tell their boss “Hey, you know, I am not feeling like I should work today … not coming” – I get it. But wouldn’t it be great to actually have a boss like this? A boss who understands the value of someone who really is charged and fully able to get things done?
This post is very subjective and based on my daily work. So forgive me, if some things sound a bit silly or you think “That is easy for him to say”. Surely that is the benefit next to other negative aspects, that I have with the way I am working. What I have written is only meant to give you some examples what you could do, if you are in a similar position. I am more than happy what you are doing, when you are in a position like this, where it seems impossible to focus. You can shoot me an email, find me on Twitter or – best – meet me at an event to chat about this over a drink.
I took an unwanted pause after episode 8 of my little podcast called TWUMBLE. This was not planned and just happened as I had too much work with my last beyond tellerrand event and some family reasons needed attention. But now I am starting over again and am happy to finally managed to get Joschi Kuphal on the show, which we planned for quite a while.
Check episode number 9 of my German show called TWUMBLE.
Wow. Just recently stumbled over the work by Austrian Artist Peter Kogler. Since more than 30 years he is creating this kind of work. Fantastic.