On a cruise for location independent entrepreneurs I met Dan and Bjorn. Like me, they both travel several months a year while running their businesses. Together we figured out what makes us productive in challenging circumstances. And how we balance work and fun for optimal happiness. Do you know what makes you tick? In this article you’ll find many practical tips you can start applying right now. For the more complicated stuff we’ve created the Get sh*t done! e-course.
Three different approaches to work
Bjorn is founder of an international digital marketing & lean innovation consultancy. Originally from Germany, he is based in London, Barcelona and South Africa. Bjorn loves making lists, writing down goals and keeping track of results. He is a workaholic who rarely ‘switches off’. Dan is a successful writer and teacher of various online courses. He is originally from Canada, but now lives in Prague. Dan is either working or procrastinating. He turns on or off and doesn’t mix the two activities. He waits until he feels inspiration, disconnects from the world and works. Afterwards he disconnects from work and enjoys life. I am called the ‘no excuses lady’. I have a very intrinsic sense of what needs to be done. It’s all in my head. I don’t make lists, but just know, feel what has priority. I mostly work when a deadline is near. I let the pressure built up until I cannot ignore it anymore. Then I work like crazy till I get things done. This gives me a kick; the defying of the deadline, working extremely hard and then making it, against all odds. But it is very demanding, so I should make sure I have enough down time in between. When our cruise arrived in Brazil the three of us decided to stay there for a while to get some work done. In the next two weeks I realized what it is that makes us successful. We each found our own ways of dealing with changing circumstances, distractions and other challenges. We decided we needed air-conditioning to be productive in the heat, so booked mid range hotel rooms, while other nomads were in hostels. We got frustrated when slow internet interrupted our workflow, so went to a coworking space, business center or hotel lobby to solve that. We felt very happy and energized after we got a batch of work done and enjoyed a swim in the ocean, overlooking the beach afterwards. We each had our own strategies to deal with focus, distraction and motivation. It was so interesting to become aware of how our mind works and to find out how different personalities deal with it in different ways.
Frustration or flow?
Do you feel frustrated sometimes after spending an entire workday glued to your computer and still not getting things done? On the other hand you might know these sudden bursts of inspiration that make you very productive, while it doesn’t feel like working. It’s all about knowing when you are most productive and in what context. When you can identify and (re)create these you will not only be more productive, but will also have to work less for the same -or better- results. Wouldn’t that make you a happier person as well? Sometimes only small adjustments can make a huge difference. I identified some factors that influence productivity. If you carefully look at your own productivity and try out some different strategies, the effects could be incredible. Below are a number of factors you could play with. Find out what works best for you.
Know when you are most productive
- Morning, afternoon, evening or night? Keep a log to find out how you feel at different times during the day. Only work during your productive hours, don’t force yourself otherwise.
- In a cool or warm environment? Humid or dry? Adjust heating/air conditioning/clothes/windows for fresh air and see what impacts you most.
- Quiet or noisy? Do you like to hear others talk, listen to music or prefer other background noises? Some people prefer to wear (noise cancelling) headphones to close themselves off from the outside world.
- Do you like to be alone? Or have people around you? Or work with other people?
- Do you want to be isolated from the world, in a cubicle, away from distraction, or does viewing the world around you inspire you in your work?
- Do you work better at a desk with a proper chair, or could you lounge on a sofa or even in a hammock and be productive? Make sure your setup is just right for you.
- Proactive or reactive? Do you check your email or social media first thing? Then you’ll be reacting to outside impulses all day. If you get some task or project done first thing, then you’ll be in active mode all day.
- Do you prefer long work periods or short spurts? If it takes you a while to get your focus, then your ‘spurts’ should be longer.
- Do deadlines motivate or paralyze you? In that last case: plan ahead to avoid deadline stress. In the first case: don’t let the deadline bother you: do other thinks first and don’t feel guilty. You know what works best for you.
- Do you switch off? Or are you always (pretending to be) working. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy… As in archery, sometimes you have to let go before you build up the tension.
- Do you make lists? Prefer paper or digital? Keep everything in one place. Even paper can be stored in the cloud (I prefer Evernote), so you always have your stuff when you need it.
- How about sleep? I don’t function when I am tired, so sleep is always my first priority
- How about food? A heavy lunch often makes you sleepy and unproductive afterwards. Either have a light lunch, like a salad, or accept this and don’t fight it. Enjoy your heavy lunch and have a brief siesta afterwards. If not, you’ll be unproductive and miserable.
- Coffee and sugar might give you a temporary kick, but a ‘downer’ will follow: requiring more sugar or caffeine. Craving coffee or snacks mostly means that you are tired. A few glasses of water, some fruit and/or a walk outside will get you over your dip as well, but without the ‘downer’ afterwards.
- What are your drivers/motivators? Do you need structure, pressure or do you work when you feel inspiration or ‘flow’? Knowing this will make you choose the right tools to help your productivity instead of frustrating it.
Increase your productivity AND happiness
Play around with the factors mentioned above can provide you with a good start: finding out what works for you. Bjorn, Dan and I all experienced how challenging circumstances can be: both while traveling and in an entrepreneurial or even home setting. We discussed our different strategies and solutions to various challenges, and became so fascinated that we created an online course. In this training (25 videos; created and filmed in Brazil), we share our experiences on how you can influence your attitude and provide practical tips on to structure in your life and work, even if you are a creative or chaotic person…:
- how to deal with an off day
- where to find inspiration
- how to stay motivated