“Work hard” does not necesarily mean “work long.”
It sounds like common sense: if you want to do more creative work, you work hard. Harder than everyone else. But meaningful work doesn’t have to lead to exhaustion at all: a few hours of total concentration and focus can change how you work and the progress you make. To attain peak productivity, you’ve got to have a plan.
Your best work happens when you are in the mental state of flow. In positive psychology, flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. You can achieve “flow” everyday if you know the best time to get the most out of your brain.
Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, we all start our day at some point. And we all seem to start it differently. According to psychologist Ron Friedman, everyone has about 3 hours of “flow”.
“Typically, we have a window of about three hours where we’re really, really focused. We’re able to have some strong contributions in terms of planning, in terms of thinking, in terms of speaking well,” Friedman told Harvard Business Review.
It pays to find your “flow”
Creative work doesn’t have to be a 10-hour work day. You can actually do better and even more in less time. Time management is absolutely crucial for every creative professional but don’t get caught up in the effort trap.
“How you begin your morning often sets the tone and your attitude for the day. It can also derail or direct your focus. If you remain committed to good morning work habits, you won’t fall prey to feeling unproductive and distracted at the end of the day or week.” says Lynn Taylor, a workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.
In 1965, Kurt Vonnegut, a famous writer wrote a letter to his wife Jane about his daily writing habits, which was published in the book: Kurt Vonnegut: Letters.
“I awake at 5:30, work until 8:00, eat breakfast at home, work until 10:00, walk a few blocks into town, do errands, go to the nearby municipal swimming pool, which I have all to myself, and swim for half an hour, return home at 11:45, read the mail, eat lunch at noon. In the afternoon I do schoolwork, either teach or prepare.”
Many excellent writers, artists and creatives start work early in the morning? That’s no coincidence. They work on their tasks before the rest of the day gets out of control. Because creatives are ultimately responsible for every aspect of their work, allocating the right amount of time to the right tasks is critical to maximum productivity.
To better spend your time doing what matters, start by understanding where your time is spent and for how long. Measure your progress during that time of work. Compare different times of work and stick to your peak times.
Many companies in Sweden are trialling 6-hour days to see what effect they have on employees. A study shows employees have lower stress, and work better. Workers in Sweden are proving that spending less time in the workplace may actually be more productive.
Do the “right work” at the right time!
In Daily Rituals by Mason Currey, a compilation of artists’ and authors’ work routines, almost nobody reports spending more than four or five hours a day on their primary creative tasks. “A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” says Currey.
Consistent productivity makes you more productive with a positive sense of accomplishment. Increase the pace, not the hours at which you work and maintain that momentum until you get your tasks done.
If you’re going to work for a 4-hour block (for example), stick to shorter sprints in this block, like 30 minutes each. This allows you to take breaks of about 5–10 minutes, and makes the 4 hours more doable.
Here Oliver Burkeman’s (author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking) advice on making the most of your creative time.
“The well-known advice to do the most important tasks first in the day is probably still the best; that way, even if you do lapse into busywork, you won’t be wasting your best energies on it. And if your work situation permits it, experiment with radically limiting your working hours: The added constraint tends to push the most vital work to center-stage. You could set electronic reminders through the day, as a prompt to ask if you need to change your focus.
The path to creative fulfilment and getting more done everyday might take a lot less effort than you think. “Working long” does not guarantee success. And “working hard” is not a reliable indicator of a day well spent.
People may not care how hard you work or how long it takes you to create meaningful work, but your tribe or audience expect you to show up and share. It matters that you do.
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