If you think the topic of work productivity strategies has been hammered to death left, right and centre – we are on the same boat. I thought so too. Until I had a dinner with two of my former classmates yesterday – both of whom are very successful businessman (Chris runs a software house employing 50+ people, Arthur runs a coworking space with a Gross Leasable Area of over 50299 sqft (!) – and both of them are under 30…yeah, I know, it makes me feel stupid as well. Somewhere between the starter and the desert, after we’ve been talking for an hour about their multiple work projects, real estate investments, their own hobbies ranging from off-piste skiing to sailing, an obvious question pressed itself to my mouth: how do you do it all?! And what they said later opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity in terms of boosting my own work productivity. I applied their productivity lifehacks and – lo and behold – I had the most productive morning of all times today. But before I tell you what I accomplished today, let me describe my mornings before.
My “usual” morning – a *terribly* honest story
To be frank – guys – I’m ashamed as I’m writing it. But this is what my ‘usual morning’ really looked like (until today):
I get up at 8:20 a.m. after going to bed waaay too late (think 1-2 a.m.) and hitting the snooze button a few times. I pick up my phone, check my email, facebook, and rush to the shower. While drying my hair, I respond to a few messages on messenger, grab a coffee and bowl of cereals, respond to a few more emails/ messages on Slack, scroll mindlessly through Facebook, and about an hour later – get out of the house to get to the office.
Depending on whether I’m driving or not, it takes me 25-50 minutes to get there.
I usually use public transport so I spend the time getting there reading a book (while listening to music) or listening to a podcast. I thought this was actually the brightest part of my morning – now I see this was another piece in my sensory overload puzzle.
I get to the office around 11, make coffee, have a bit of office banter, sit down to my computer, munch on a yoghurt/ cereal bar, put on headphones to listen to some more trash music, and…depending on what I had planned for the day, either:
- have a meeting/ sales call with a potential client, copywriter, my project manager
- open my email and Facebook again to respond to more messages (EDIT: I communicate with my project manager and freelance copywriters mostly via Facebook, so it’s not like I’m a complete airhead glued to social media).
Number of *important* things done in the morning:
My day today
I woke up at 7:30, got right our of bed, made myself a coffee and a very light breakfast (cereals), headed straight back to my desk, opened my laptop, and started working on the presentation I had to finish (or rather improve) for an event (a content marketing seminar I’m speaking at) later today. I put my phone on flight mode, and my laptop on work mode (a Chrome extension I would highly recommend to anyone working online).
In order to improve the presentation, I wanted to listen to a two-hour long interview with Julia McCoy (a copywriting expert) on YouTube for SEMrush – on Keyword research for SEO writing. Because it was sooo long, I listened to it double speed so I could save time, focusing only on the interview. I was stopping it every time I needed to make a note for my presentation, and putting the additional info into the presentation right there and then.
I did not check my email, Facebook, or any of the distracting websites I usually go to first thing in the morning. I did not switch back-and-forth between multiple open tabs. I did not have ANY meetings or conversations with other human beings, online or offline. I did not munch.
Heck, I didn’t even shower.
Number of important things done before lunch:
- improving PowerPoint presentation for today’s event
- listening to a 2-h long educational video
- writing this blog post
- writing two newsletters about this blog post, in English and in Polish & sending them
- doing a live on Facebook on the content of the blog post
- doing a ‘dry-run’ of today’s presentation in my marketing group on Facebook
As you can see, I managed to pack in 6 creative activities that will have an impact on taking my content marketing business to the next level: producing quality content and promoting it.
Productivity lifehacks for content writers – from CEOs of successful businesses
Spend the morning doing most creative work
Whether you’re a business owner or a creative writer – your work will be highly sensitive to productivity shifts during the day. Coming up with ideas, creating marketing strategies, financial plans, content plans etc. – requires extreme focus and attention. It basically requires your mind to be fresh.
It’s been long known that time-management is bs – and what really matters is energy management.
So – first thing in the morning, when you’re still fresh and undistracted by anything – don’t ruin it by wasting time on commuting, talking to other people, or checking highly attention-consuming things like email or social media.
Don’t go to the office
Don’t go to the office in the morning if you have a creative work to do. Do it first thing in the morning from a quiet home office, and then go to have some meetings and get a second energy boost from interactions with people.
Offices are great for work if you can really focus there and avoid distractions, especially talking to other people. But in most cases – ironically – offices are not really designed to foster productivity.
I also believe that the sheer act of commuting is already going to flood your brain with stimuli that will take some edge off you. If I really want to focus and get something done, I’d rather head to my home office first thing in the morning – for a few hours of intense, well-defined, targeted work.
Don’t have meetings before lunch
Meetings are very energy-intense, and you want to conserve energy to spend it on highly creative work in the morning. Hence – a successful CEO like Chris never schedules meetings before lunchtime.
Don’t talk to other people before lunch
Same applies to other interactions – whether it’s on the phone, email or social media.
Don’t check email, social media etc.
These short shifts in attention you make by switching between email, messages, and comments on social media are very energy consuming – and can cost you your precious productivity in the morning.
Better put opening messages off until you have finished doing creative work for the day.
Phone on flight mode, computer on work mode
For those of you who can’t boast top self-discipline – work mode blocks all social media URLs on your computer.
Flight mode – both on your phone and computer (if you don’t need the internet to work of course!) will also help you avoid unnecessary distractions – trust me, most phone calls can wait.
Don’t listen to music
A lot of people choose to work while listening to the music – I’m not one of them – and it seems research is on my side.
Music can be a great when you are doing mundane, boring and automatic activities that do not require a lot of attention, focus or creative thinking on your part.
But when you’re solving problems – or coming up with novel, creative solutions, doing strategic planning, or high quality content – music is found to have detrimental effect on your performance:
The researchers hypothesized that performance, for both introverts and extraverts, would be worse in the presence of music and noise than it would be in silence; specifically, for all the cognitive tasks, performance would diminish in the presence of background noise, improve with only background music, and be optimal in silence. The findings supported their predictions and showed that cognitive performance in silence was better than performance with background music, which in turn was better than performance with background noise. The results also demonstrated that, overall, performance in silence was best when compared to performance in background noise and music (Dobbs, Furnham, & McClelland, 2011).
Have you ever noticed that you work best when *slightly* hungry?
That’s because ghrelin – the hormone responsible for feeling hungry – enters your hippocampus (the part of our brain responsible for i.a. memory) and helps us focus and remember things better.
It seems to be the primaeval mechanism that once helped us to focus on hunting our prey/ finding food when we were hungry.
“It is suggested that learning may be best during the day and when the stomach is empty, since ghrelin levels are higher at these times.”
The worst foods for focus are highly sugary foods, that increase the blood sugar level quickly. Sugar spikes (followed by sudden drops) in the bloodstream make us drowsy, distractable and irritable.
Eat whole foods in the morning that release energy over time: sugar-free cereals with nuts and dried fruit, served with whole milk or yoghurt – are my go-to “productivity breakfast”.
Hope you liked these productivity lifehacks – they really work for me. Let me know how it goes for you next morning!