Staying organized with my calendar is one of the best ways that I've found to be consistently productive with all of my creative projects. I keep all of my appointments up to date in my phone calendar, through Google Calendar so it's easy to update, but I've found a paper calendar to be super helpful for being able to see pockets of free time. The folks at NeuYear are my planner team of choice. They have created a giant wall calendar and a thoughtfully designed planner, called the Weekly Dominator, geared toward creative projects, gratitude, and accomplishing goals.
In tandem with the Weekly Dominator I've begun practicing time blocking techniques to increase my productivity. Time blocking goes by several names but the essential idea is to move away from multi-tasking and toward focused work over a set period of time. Tasks will always expand to fill the amount of time that you give them. It is amazing to see what can be accomplished in a short period of time if you stick to your deadline and don't allow yourself to be interrupted by your phone or other distractions. Blogging is a great example, I can typically pound out an entire blog post, including making a graphic and coming up with a topic, in two hours. I have to pick a time, turn my phone on silent and put it upside down so I don't get distracted by notifications, and then go to work. It takes 15 minutes on average for your brain to start fully focusing on a task, which means that we are never getting to full focus and productivity if we're looking at our phone every few minutes. I've found that I actually accomplish more in a day, with higher quality work, when I set blocks of time to work with a single focus, than when I spend the entire day trying to do multiple things at the same time.
One trick to helping you stay on task is to keep a pad and pen near you and jot down any ideas, notes, to dos, etc that come to your mind. When you start trying to focus on work you mind will endlessly think of other things that need to be done. Write the things down and put a star by things that are really important, then give yourself 15 minutes to knock those things out between your time blocks.
You can block in breaks as well! Times of rest in between times of work are also essential for successfully time blocking. Keep it short, 15 - 20 minutes, and then make yourself get back to focused work. Breaks are good and will help you feel rewarded and rested for the next push of productivity.
Knowing yourself is also essential for good time blocking. I know that I can work for an hour and a half to two before burning out. Time blocking needs at least 45-60 minutes to really be effective, most people say an hour minimum and two to really be productive. You need to know yourself and how you work best and set yourself up for success. Don't push yourself beyond what you can handle because you'll burn out right away and give up. Instead, start with what you know you can do and work your way up to longer time. Focused work is a skill you can grow like exercising your muscles at the gym. When you first start working out you may only be able to do a few reps before needing a rest, focused work is similar, start with what you know you can do and work your way up. Start with less time and increase it, the temptation will be to give yourself more time than you need and not actually see what you are capable of, start with sprints and work your way to marathons.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! Have you ever tried time blocking? What did you think about it? What are tips and tricks that you've learned to help yourself be more productive? What scheduling tools do you like and use?
Emily is a creative entrepreneur, born in the South, raised in Colorado, and loving life in Brooklyn, NY. As the co-founder of Bright Ideas she spends her time doing freelance photography, writing music and blog post, designing pretty web things, drinking coffee, experimentally cooking, and exploring NYC. You can listen to Emily's music, follow her adventures on Instagram or Twitter, see what inspires her on Pinterest, check out her photography on Facebook, or hire her here.