Lately, I’ve been experimenting with setting a more conscious cadence to my workflow. It involves a planned blend of upfront fluffing around followed by short intense bursts of productivity – ideally scheduled well ahead of any pressing deadlines.
It’s something I decided to do after realising for that almost every time I have a knock-your-socks-off-with-its-brilliance idea, it happens when I’m either meditating or walking in the bush.
Hot on the heels of that ‘bleeding obvious’ thought came a second: every time I end up handcuffed to my desk because I have an urgent deadline, what’s the first thing to go out the window? You guessed it – the very pastimes that fuel my creativity.
Strategic procrastination works for some things, but not all
Last-minute scrambles to get things done have been a feature of my work for as long as I can remember. Often the urgency is due to client-related factors, but truth be told, I’ve also been known to leave things to the last minute now and then, sometimes in the hope that the pressure of a deadline will inspire me.
So I laughed long and hard when I emerged from my bushwalk one day last week having sussed all this out, only to discover that while I’d been coming up with ways to optimise productivity by minimising last minute pressure, Kelly had been sharing her secret technique of strategic procrastination.
I can definitely see where Kel’s coming from when it comes to managing emails and tackling other relatively minor tasks. For me, strategic procrastination works brilliantly when I’m sorting out receipts for my BAS or writing a blog post on a subject I know like the back of my hand.
But … procrastination has also bitten me on the backside more times than I care to admit. And it’s usually when some unforeseen crisis or not-to-be-missed opportunity has derailed my plan for a last-minute burst of activity. Or when it’s turned out that I’ve under-estimated the size or complexity of what needed to be done.
The value of having time to fluff around
Once upon a time, I justified my addiction to performance-under-pressure with the fact that when I started projects early, I always seemed to spend a lot of time spinning my wheels (i.e. fluffing around).
I looked busy but felt like I achieved nothing, and often felt frustrated and guilty while doing it. The whole process felt like my own idiosyncratic (and sometimes exhausting) form of procrastination.
Then a few years ago I read Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, and something he had to say turned my guilt-ridden perspective on its head.
Seth’s term for that wheel spinning/fluffing I do at the start of a project is ‘thrashing’, and he says, “In the typical amateur project, all the thrashing is near the end … Professional creators thrash early.”
A weight lifted off my shoulders as I realised he was right. When I only start working on something at the last minute, I have no choice but to ‘thrash late’, and sometimes end up making compromises for the sake of expediency – often while feeling a growing sense of stress.
On the other hand, when I put mental energy into a project ahead of it becoming urgent, my mind has time to wander and explore, trying out ideas to see if any of them are worth pursuing. Not all my ideas are helpful, but those that are, they usually weave together to form a basket that can carry and contain my project, ultimately giving it form and structure.
At that point, the stage is set for flow and efficiency. Especially if I can take a break from thinking about the project for a while as it’s often during that hiatus that real inspiration strikes.
Starting early gives your subconscious time to do its work
In a video I watched recently, John Cleese reassured me that I’m not alone in finding that doing work that feels like it’s going nowhere is still often worthwhile. His theory is that if you put in the hard yards trying to find a solution to a problem, your subconscious mind will often reward your efforts by coming up with ideas for you while you’re asleep.
All of this has led me to decide to implement a workflow that, wherever possible, has me actively contemplating projects as far ahead of their completion dates as I can. This means there’s plenty of time for my mind to meander and my wheels to spin as I wander through the bush on my daily walk.
Starting early also sets you up for productive ‘sprints’
I still do need to be effective, however, thus can’t afford to go off on tangents indefinitely. (And yes, I still love the sense of adrenaline-fuelled speed and efficiency that comes with the pressure of a looming deadline.)
With that in mind, I’ve also started working a series of fast-paced sprints into my schedule. These are bursts of time dedicated to intense productivity, just like the ones I’d typically do in a last minute frenzy, but without the associated stress.
So how’s it all working out for me?
It’s still early days, but so far this new system is serving me well. Both my creativity and my productivity seem to have increased, along with my enjoyment of my work.
I’ll report back on my workflow experiment in a future article, but in the meantime, would love to hear your productivity tips.
When it comes to productivity, does it work best for you to be a wheel spinner, a last minute thrasher, or a strategic procrastinator? Share your productivity tips below.