Ah productivity, my old nemesis.
It’s May – somehow – and with it comes the usual oh-my-god-I-graduated-nearly-a-year-ago panics. Worrying about things is a great way of not actually doing them and I swear some days it feels like avoiding deadlines and responsibility is a fundamental part of the human condition. Kant spoke of universal rules and while thou shall not steal or kill are pretty common, ‘thou shall not do your work till the last possible moment’ could also apply. The most difficult part of any project is simply starting, but when you hit a wall in terms of ideas or inspiration it can be hard to get back up again. Besides, life just gets in the way sometimes.
Like many people in my generation, I have been avoiding responsibility my entire life. Be it ducking down when captains were chosen in P.E or making excuses instead of progressing, we have all become experts at evasion. Now, I know I’m not the only one with a habit of letting problems and deadlines build up into an irrepressible mess, before finally paying it too little attention too late and collapsing in on themselves like a panicked and frenzied dying star (which is not as glamourous as it sounds). Now this could be my tendency for anxiety and flawed coping mechanisms, but I am twenty-two now and I still seem to be incapable of changing this, despite how acutely aware I am of this method’s failings.
But I think, deep down, we are all aware that our lack of movement comes not from a lack of ability but from fear. I myself am so afraid of failure that I have to fight myself just to try. If I had a pound for every time I nearly cancelled on a friend or had to force myself to walk through the door and not just turn around and walk straight home, I’d be a very rich lady and on an island somewhere sunbathing rather than having my laptop as my only source of heat.
Point is, there comes a point where the fear of failure is engulfed by the fear of never knowing, of never quite pushing ourselves to the edges of our ability. This is an idea sold to us on every billboard and hallmark card, every motivational poster and every street corner. The tantalising possibility of bettering yourself, equalled only by the terrifying reality that you could actually do it. Vonnegut wrote “I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the centre.” And if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that Vonnegut is usually (always) right. So it goes, I guess.
So here it is, as much of a mushy pep talk or cheesy checklist for me to get my butt in gear as it is advice for anyone reading. Just remember, you’ve got this, okay?
- Buy a new notebook
Sometimes just having a really pretty journal makes your mind go crazy with ideas. Feeling organised is the first step to actually being organised, and what better way to give an illusion of productivity than buying new diaries and notebooks? I am I admit a bit of a stationary addict (hello Typo my one and only true love) so I don’t need much of an excuse to go on a binge, but taking pride in your work is evident in not just what you create but what tools you use to do so. But then again, that could just be me rationalising my addiction, ops.
- Read (anything)
Familiarise yourself with what your peers are creating and listen to what people are talking about. Inspiration comes from feeding your brain ideas and the more you read and consume, the richer your work will be (read the back of the shampoo bottle if you have to, just stuff your eyes with information and hope something sticks.) Reread your favourite novels and quotes and you’ll rediscover the reason you chose this path in the first place.
I still have a copy of the personal statement I wrote six (six!) years ago pinned in my journal, and while I’ve realised that being a war correspondent may be more hazardous than it would be conceivable, my love for art and literature remains. I once read that you should aim to be the person you needed when you were younger, so if you lose your way, look backwards – it’s never too late to become who you want to be.
- Avoid distractions
I recently discovered StayFocused, a Google Chrome plug in that blocks sites like Facebook for a set period of time on your laptop or computer. Phones are also a huge distraction, turning off 3G and wifi or turning it off all together will boost creativity almost instantly. Social media is the equivalent of having a three year old poke you every couple of minutes. You do not need to respond immediately to every notification or check for snapchat story updates — detach yourself from social media and you’ll improve your content, creations and self-esteem.
- Free paint/write:
This is actually a super helpful method to try. Usually when I get to work, I try to write out at least a few paragraphs to wake myself up and get used to actually formulating words and not just grunts (I’m not much of a morning person). What you write needn’t be on par with Joyce or even good enough for one of Heat’s ‘circle of shame’ features. Just write, it doesn’t matter about what.
Write about your commute in, what you ate for dinner or any old thoughts rattling around your head. The important thing is just to put pen to paper and get the words flowing. Free painting works on the same kind of premise. There’s something very therapeutic about spreading paint across the page without any single vision or end game in mind. Just push the paint around, play around with pigments and colours; maybe you’ll find that shade you’ve been searching for.
It’s basically creation for creation’s sake. It can be hard to start important projects (or even any project depending on your headspace), so take the pressure off and make something just because.
- Write a to-do list
I am a notorious list maker, mostly because it’s the best way to do nothing while feeling productive (I’m starting to see a pattern here). Either way, making lists are a great first step to compartmentalise just what needs doing and when. Separate your goals into what’s achievable now and what is long term. Even if you can only cross two small things off that never ending list today you will have done well.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is just doing anything at all. My room is always cleanest when a deadline is looming and I’m forever thinking of completely separate, unnecessary tasks to do in order to put off getting to work. And that’s okay. Existing can be overwhelming sometimes, so take a step back and hone in on what’s important.
Everyone is a giant nerd about something, you just need to find your passion. And even if you’ve somehow already found it, you need to remind yourself every day. It can be hard to motivate yourself when your life feels monotonous and repetitive. But remember where this all fits in, why you’re doing this and what you’re working towards. Stand up and shake your body, remind yourself that you are a living, breathing being and this essay or painting or thesis is scary because it is important. Just sit down and start doing.
- Realise that the only person you should be in competition with, is yourself:
Being surrounded by success can be as constricting as it is inspiring. I spend a lot of my time as a writer and an artist asking ‘what can I contribute? What is it that I can offer that no one else can? What makes what I create different?’ Depending on my mind frame that day, these questions either fill me with hope or leave me muted, numb and reluctant to pick up a paint brush or pen for days.
There’s a quote I read in Gavin Strange’s Do Fly! this week and I think it’s pretty apt:
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is that we compare our behind-the-scenes footage with everyone else’s highlight reels.” – Steve Furtick
Point is, we don’t and can’t know about what others have overcome to get to where they are, but the one thing I can promise you is that it involved a lot of hard work.
- Don’t wait till you’re ready
Lemony Snicket wrote that “if we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.” So stop waiting around and just do something. Write anything, write nonsense, do a Woolf and just pour out a stream of consciousness. There are always a thousand reasons not to do something so stop waiting for the perfect time or conditions, just do! And most importantly: Be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do.
So there you go, my very own motivation manifesto. Go write your essays and emails and music scores. Have you got any tips on how you stay productive? Share in the comment section below!
All photos are from pinterest