When I worked at an agency, working long hours, nights and weekends was like a badge of honour. There was that terrible game of chicken at the end of the day: Which one of your co-workers would leave first? Those that did—often well after business hours—were “not team players”.
“Productivity isn’t about doing more, faster—it’s about doing the right things, deliberately and with attention.”
– Chris Bailey, “A life of Productivity”
A lot of us feel guilty about down time, and that’s not healthy. We can’t be running on full power indefinitely. The threat to productivity isn’t laziness, it’s trying to do too much. The trick is to leverage your prime lazy time.
Don’t confuse laziness with depression. Being lazy is a choice and will pass. We all have times when we’re feeling “blue” and decide to skip on stuff—doing the dishes or paying the bills. Depression isn’t a choice, and lasts months or years. If you feel depression is your problem don’t ignore it. Have it looked into.
Most of us will have a pretty good idea of when we’re more productive. Some of us are night owls, and some are early-risers (that’s me). But over the course of the day—or night—we’ll all have ebbs and flows in our energy levels. If you’re not exactly sure when your productive time is, try tracking your energy levels for a week.
I break my day down into three groups (not in chronological order):
- Deep Work Time
- Busy Work Time
- Lazy Time
Here’s a breakdown of a typical day for me:
1. Deep Work Time
This is my focused lettering/illustration/writing time. I’m working on ONE thing. There’s no multi-tasking here. For me this is usually early afternoon to late in the day.
I turn off my email notifications, but I don’t go whole hog and turn off every notification, though. Let your productivity be your guide. If you find it too tempting to sneak a peek, then quiet down all those chimes. Also let others know you need to work undisturbed.
When my mind starts to wander, it’s time for a break. Get up and stretch, refill your favourite beverage, grab a snack.
Break time isn’t the same as lazy time.
Recognize when it’s truly time to stop your deep work period. I can do 3-4 hours of focused work before my productivity starts to suffer. This is where a stretch break isn’t effective anymore, and my work starts going in circles.
2. Busywork Time
“Busywork” is all the stuff of lesser value—responding to emails, updating social media, cleaning your desk, etc … It isn’t necessarily bad or shallow work, but it’s not the kind of deep, focused work that moves you towards your goal.
Morning is my busywork time. This is when I clear out my email folder, do my website admin, research, update software, and do general office housekeeping. While I have no problem waking up early, I know mornings are not my prime time for doing my important work.
3. Lazy Time
I know my non-productive time is from late morning to about 2PM. This is when I’ll read the news, catch up on a show or nap.
The laziness is okay as I know I’ll be back at the desk shortly.
As creatives, there’ll also be times where things simply don’t click for days. No matter how much motivation you muster, or how much caffeine you consume, you’re stuck in a rut. Be nice to yourself, accept it, and know things will cycle around again.
There’s also real power in working on an idea and putting it away for a day or two. I find my first ideas aren’t my best. When I come back to my work, I often find new solutions to problems will present themselves.
“But a genius doesn’t work on an assembly line basis … You can’t simply say, “Today I will be brilliant”.
– Capt. James T. Kirk
Learn to recognize those times when you’re not as productive, and give yourself a hall pass.