How To Make The Most of Your Least Productive Time
Everybody talks about mastering the art of staying productive. Not many people willingly accept that such efforts are futile. It’s impossible to stay productive 100% of the time, and this will never change.
Something that I believe to be just as important, if not more so, is what we make of our least productive time.
We all have the capacity to be extremely productive for some part of the day. Even the world’s grandest underachievers. But I believe that to be successful running your own business, to steal a cricket metaphor, your tail has to wag. You have to find a way to maximise what you achieve when you’re not playing very well. This is easier said than done.
Build Momentum with Small Actions
There are days where I find myself staring banally at the screen, not a single pixel tweaking my imagination out of the gutter.
These slumps usually arrive in the mid-afternoon, and if I’m not careful, they’ll ruin the rest of the day. When I find myself drifting badly, I like to set a menial task; something requiring little brainpower that I can tick off within minutes to elicit the tiniest flame of achievement. It could be replying to an email, or cleaning my desktop, or formatting the chapter headings in my latest round of Premium Posts.
The objective of these menial tasks is not to make giant strides on my biggest projects, but simply to regain momentum. A tiny achievement leads to a slightly bigger one. I often find that no matter how much I’m dreading a task, by diving in headfirst and staying focused on it for 5 minutes I can build enough momentum to see it through to the conclusion.
I hate leaving what I’ve started. And that’s a blessing for which I’m eternally grateful.
Forget the scale of the tasks on your to-do list. Break them down by negotiating the first 5 minutes. It’s amazing what a difference small steps can make.
Battle Lack of Direction by Committing Early
Every large project has the potential to drag on while you battle ‘downtime’ and the precarious middle stages. I rarely have trouble committing my ideas to a plan of action, and I’m wise enough to know that immediate action is required to kickstart those plans. I also find it easy to put the finishing touches on my shiny new works.
Where I suffer, and I’m sure I’m not alone, is in the middle stages. Internet Marketers often have a gajillion projects on the mind, including those that they haven’t even started. The most vulnerable phase of any project is the vast chasm between laying the foundations and casting the finishing touches.
How many WordPress installations do you have with page structures in place, finished designs, a sprinkling of content but no sign of activity since 2009?
Some people complete their websites, launch proudly and then erase them from memory. Why? Because they don’t realise that finishing a website is just the beginning. The hard middle part is marketing it, gaining traction and connecting your brand to people who give a shit. Or maybe they do recognise this and have simply given up. It is, after all, the most challenging aspect of any web project.
Maintaining direction while a project drags on is tough.
Being an Internet Marketer who frequently works on websites that are somewhat disconnected from his own passions, I like to take on business partners – passionate individuals who love the concept more than myself. This acts as a driving force. The partner has the determination to maintain the original vision, thus preventing me from abandoning ship.
Even with a partner onboard, every large project must be broken in to smaller goals and milestones. Momentum is the catalyst for nearly everything I do. I like to launch concepts as soon as possible.
When I’m launching my own products, I will get the sales letter written and the website marketed before I even finish the product. Users roam the site, click to buy, but instead of being allowed to pay, they’re told the product is temporarily sold out. In my stats, I see a potential sale. This triggers a surge of motivation as I rush to complete what I started. It’s also an excellent method for measuring demand without committing to the whole shabang.
Note: This applies to SEO, especially. Long gone are the days where I attempt to rank for keywords without running an initial PPC campaign to gauge whether the traffic converts.
Beat Writer’s Block by Mastering Second Gear
Writers live and die by the amount of time they manage to spend in The Zone.
The Zone is a productive state where flow, style and inspiration come together in harmony to produce fireworks on the page. When a writer is locked in to his Zone, it all seems so easy; both to himself, and to his readers. The problem, of course, is getting there.
When you create your to do list the night before, it’s simply not realistic to set tasks under the assumption that you’ll be in The Zone all day. What every writer has to have in his artillery is a second gear. He has to be able to make the most of his least productive time.
For me, in blogging terms, that means throwing ideas, quips and phrases in a draft. It doesn’t matter if the wording is horrible, or if the ideas are disjointed. Perfectionists will spend hours dilly-dallying over the slightest details only to find that by the end of the day, they’ve barely scribbled 500 words.
It’s important to understand that ideas do not exist in any other place but your head. Until you’ve taken the action to commit them to paper, or a WordPress draft, they will lapse in and out of memory, eventually ceasing to exist. For a writer who can only produce while he’s in The Zone, failing to take action on those brief moments of inspiration is a death toll to his output.
Every great writer needs a second gear. He must be able to write without worrying that his drafts are a damning indication of the completed work.
Use second gear to record ideas, get phrases on paper, collect together any irony that could be tied in to your posts as humour. You can’t write great material in second gear, but you can certainly invest the time wisely. When you snap in to The Zone, you’ll demolish the material you prepared earlier, like a jacked up Blue Peter presenter on steroids.
Being Bored is Not An Option
One of the reasons I upgraded from my stack of books to a Kindle was so that I could carry an immense wealth of reading in my coat pocket. I live in London, where trains and buses can suck hours out of the day. If I were to commute in to the city centre, it would take 50 minutes each way. That’s 100 minutes of sitting on a train, avoiding the gaze of strangers, and generally being an unsociable southern urchin.
Instead of wasting that time reading the tube map, or worse – the Evening Standard – I take out the trusty Kindle and plunge in to my 100 pages a day. It’s a simple matter of using every minute in the day to your advantage.
The people who complain about having no time in the day are the very same people who sit in silence, staring morosely at their reflections in the train window. Well no shit, Sherlock. They probably come home to watch X-Factor, too.
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3 CommentsLeave a comment
Two new realizations I gathered from this:
1. 2nd Gear / Small Actions: my insight is that our unproductive time can be used to take those daunting tasks and break them down into easy ones, or to achieve some easy tasks to maintain a sense of momentum, which is almost as important as momentum itself
2. Find partners who love the concept more than yourself – because the entrepreneurial lifestyle can be lonely, and commitment is influenced so much by those we surround ourselves with
Found you through Hacker News.
Interesting thoughts you have here, Finch. My biggest problem is writer’s block. I usually try to get out of the house to find some sort of inspiration. The only things I hate about my trip to find inspiration is that I spend some money that I shouldn’t have and I waste a lot of time and sometimes, I just end up going around town and bringing back nothing.
Great tips, there have been so many times when I feel stuck, or that I can’t do anything productive. I have found myself wasting time looking around my blog and reading e-mail. Many times writers block has really stopped me in my tracks.
One thing that has helped me overcome writers blog is to just start typing all of my thoughts and ideas as fast as I can in no particular order and not worrying about spelling or grammar.
Sometimes I will be reading other articles or blogs about the topic I am writing about while doing this. Then I will leave it for the next day and go through and edit it. I find that I can come up with some good content this way.