Productivity hacks for creatives and marketers: Part one

December 18, 2017

By Sam Davies

Ernest Hemingway composed his masterpieces during the wee hours of 5 and 6am. Richard Branson is known for clocking in around 5.45am. And Disney CEO Robert Iger is up and at ‘em by 04.00.

If you've read any of the thousands of 'How to be successful, brilliant or filthy rich' articles out there, you'll have noticed that CEOs are quick to extol the virtues of a morning meditation session, followed by a four-mile run, finished up with a healthy breakfast.

If, like us however, your dawn routine generally consists of a quick wash, a run to the bus stop (well, it is exercise after all) and a hastily-quaffed decaf skinny grande latte, fear not! It is possible to increase your work output without having to resort to such eye-wateringly early alarm calls.

Silence is a no-go

By now, most creatives understand the benefits of listening to classical music for getting those innovative juices flowing. (Here are 16 amazing classical compositions that will inspire you.)

But if the thought of Canon in D on repeat seems a little tedious, a study from the University of Illinois suggests that any moderate background noise, whatever that be, offers enough distraction to trigger abstract thinking, creative cognition and all-round better problem solving.

We're talking the bustle of a cafe, a quiet radio or muffled TV noises from another room. Note the word moderate, however. While complete silence is a no-go, so is AC/DC played at high volume (though it is rather good when typing passive-aggressive emails, just a tip).  

Coffitivity is a multi-device tool that offers a range of coffee shop sounds, from the gentle hum of ‘morning murmur’ to the bustling chatter of ‘lunchtime lounge’.

White noise is also surprisingly effective. Such dulcet, non-descript tones calm the nerves and help to promote focus. There are numerous free white noise generators available, but we particularly like the White Noise Box iPhone app, and White Noise Light (downloadable on both Apple and Android devices).

If you want the whole shebang, Noisli not only provides white noise, coffee shop chatter and nature sound effects, but is ideal for those with a second monitor as it also offers a colour generator to stimulate creativity – think blue for inspiration or red for nitty-gritty detail work.

Put off procrastinating

For those of us with little or no willpower in the Proctors office, website blockers are the cold-turkey solution to our Twitter and BuzzFeed addictions. Extreme? Yes. But in this cluttered online world, sometimes a direct intervention is your best bet. StayFocusd for Chrome, WasteNoTime for Safari, and LeechBlock for Firefox are the therapists to get acquainted with.

Download RescueTime for free to track exactly how you spend time on your computer. Set it, then go about your day as usual. At the end of every week you'll be given access to detailed stats on precisely where your time went, alongside a productivity score. Embarrassing and useful in equal measures.

Focus on NOT multitasking

Next time you’re emailing a client, try simultaneously phoning your mother while sending a sexy text to your other half...then let us know how that turned out for you.

Ever heard of cognitive load?

In a nutshell, our working memory can only hold a limited amount of short-term information – much like computers. Too many programmes running and you find yourself working less speedily and less efficiently.

How many browser tabs have you got open right now? More than 3? Yeah. Thought so.

Pffffft! Twaddle, I hear you say. Well, there’s actually some science-y shizzle to back this up. Multitaskers not only make more mistakes, they generally complete said tasks up to 40% slower than those concentrating on just one thing.

In laymen’s terms, both halves of the brain naturally work together on an activity – setting off an anterior-to-posterior chain in your prefrontal cortex.

Add a second activity, and the right-half takes care of the first, the left-half takes care of the other.

As the Productivityist succinctly puts it…

“Instead of one brain, working at full power, you’re now left with two less powerful brain halves, spending shorter periods of time on more tasks.”

And of course, there being only two brain halves, throw in a third task and frankly, you’re up the proverbial creek. 

Did you know?

Multitasking with electronic media causes a greater temporary decrease in IQ than smoking pot.

(There’s a proper study devoted to this we’ll have you know. The gist of which can be found here.)

In short, being mindlessly ‘busy’ isn’t clever. Or productive.

Being focussed is. 

The solution? Respect the tomato

The Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) technique is pretty darn good. Francesco Cirillo's salad-themed time-management method breaks down work into manageable and hyper-focussed 25-minute intervals.

These 'pomodoro' sessions are separated by short breaks (the standard being five minutes). Every four sessions, take a longer breather of around 15-20 minutes.

Pomodoro time management is based on the theory that frequent breaks can improve deep mental agility while lessening the mental burnout commonly associated with creative jobs.

The added bonus of course is that you can check your Twitter feed, catch up on Netflix or get your Amazon Prime order sorted in the allotted downtime – sans the guilt. Use the Focus Booster app to stay on top of your sessions.

Part two is on its way…

We’ll talk you through the fallacy of time, how not to drown, smart versus hard work, the power of frogs, and more.