Productivity for Mavericks: Get Epic Stuff Done When You're a Creative or Disorganised!
You are a maverick. You have a big vision, think differently and are all about impact. Playing by the rules isn’t your bad and creativity is one of your greatest weapons. You are a big picture thinker who loves being inspired, finding the flow and counts freedom as one of your highest values. However, how much time and energy do you spend frustrated, not really getting rubber to the road and making the mark you know you can?
It's not just you!
If so, you are not alone. Many of our tribe suffer from the same affliction. Personally, I have spent 20 years researching and trying all kinds of productivity systems, approaches, tools, apps etc. GTD, post-its, mind maps - been there, done that. Omnifocus, Todoist, Pomodoro - got the t-shirt. Always in search of the perfect system that will allow me to get the ideas out of my head and make my own little dent in the Universe.
However, a bit like a perpetual dieter constantly trying to lose weight, I have spent far too much time trying the latest new productivity fad, rather than really doing what works for me. We are not built to follow someone else’s rules and anything too structured or detailed is likely to kill our buzz.
So, how can we get out of our own way and get the good mojo flowing? As a complex and divergent thinker, I like principles, habits and mindsets rather than structure, routine and rules (YAWN!…).
Here are 7 tried and trusted principles and related habits that can shift you from vision to action and productivity...
Don’t fight yourself
In a Muggle world, one of the things that we can forget as Mavericks is that it is our very eccentric, unorthodox nature that is our biggest gift. In so many ways, you spend so time liberating yourself from other people’s ways of doing things that trying to follow the productivity systems of so-called experts is just an exercise in frustration.
Don’t waste time and energy fighting your fundamental nature. All personal growth and effectiveness is rooted in self-acceptance NOT self-improvement. Getting productive is about being effective…which usually means doing more of what you are best at, rather than trying to compensate for weaknesses.
Productivity starts within us and inner chaos = outer chaos. As big picture, innovative types we naturally get a buzz from generating ideas and getting creative. We can also be guilty of making things overly complex, for ourselves and for others. The less chaos we have going on in our mind, the easier it is to bring order to the chaos in our external world.
It’s about flow
Just take a moment to think back to a time when you felt you were doing your best work. Did you feel inspired? Did you lose track of time? You were in the flow, right?
Whatever you do to get organised and productive is ultimately about finding your flow. Those “Monica Geller” types use to-do lists, Gantt charts and label makers to find their productive flow. I suspect that you might find such things to be akin to wearing a straitjacket.
Maverick productivity is about finding the fine line between space and structure. We need just enough space to feel free, follow the scenic route, get inspired and explore without losing our way. Too much space can be a bit like a writer being faced with an empty page…way too intimidating to even get started…and besides, playing in the realm of ideas is so much more fun.
Equally but maybe-counter intuitively, we need just enough structure to contain and channel our creativity, without it feeling constricting and killing our energy. Too many rules and processes in a productivity system means that eventually you just won’t follow it to the letter and it will break down…which - let’s face it - doesn’t feel great.
So rather than thinking about systems, processes and flowcharts, why not think about frameworks? Frameworks give you just enough guidance, structure and rhythm to get stuff done while giving plenty of space and freedom for going with the flow and making choices on the fly.
- Try giving certain days of the week a theme and then batch-processing tasks related to that theme on that day. Marketing Mondays? Trouble-shooting Tuesdays? Writing Wednesdays?
- Find a time during week to schedule the most important meeting of the week - strategic thinking time with yourself. Schedule at least 90 minutes and go somewhere that you can think without being disturbed. This is your time to pull back from the detail, look at the big picture and think strategically. Every Maverick needs quality thinking time. I personally find Friday mornings work really well…most of the week is over, so the rush is dying down…so I can look back over the last week and look forward to next week.
Think big, think impact
When it comes to actually deciding what to get done, as a Maverick you are all about making a difference and creating an impact.
Therefore, think big and give huge priority to the things that make a difference and are meaningful to you. Get in the flow of what inspires you and enables you to do more of what you are great at. It certainly isn’t productive to efficiently power through 57 tiny things on your to-do list that don’t make a blind bit of difference at all.
- Do a weekly summit/review with yourself. This could be part of your strategic thinking time but take the time not only to plan productivity but use the time to reflect on what is going well, what could be going better and what you can do about it.
- Keep prioritising simple on a weekly. During your weekly summit, decide what your 3 Most Important Tasks for the week are…the things that are going to make the biggest difference. Then decide which ONE thing out of those three is the one that would make the biggest difference if it was done. Just keep it simple.
- On a daily basis, decide your 3 Most Important Tasks for the following day. Doing this gives you the freedom and simplicity to respond to what has happened today, while making it a matter of simply showing up the next day and executing. It takes resistance out of the process at the beginning of the day, meaning you are more likely to be able to get into your flow more easily.
Manage to the deadline
As freedom loving, unorthodox types, we tend to love the flexibility to follow our inspiration and energy. We have natural highs and lows, plus we like to keep our options open as something interesting and unanticipated may come along in the mean time.
However, we are also energised by deadlines (that’s not to say that there won’t be stress involved…but there is definitely a build up of energy) and we can use that to our advantage. If you give yourself a deadline of, say, Thursday on a Monday…and you COMMIT to that deadline, you are drawing a line in the sand while giving yourself some flexibility. You can also rely on the fact that if you take the deadline seriously, you will get a surge of energy before it that will help you to complete things.
However, for this to work, it means that you have to keep things simple and keep enough space in your schedule to keep things flexible. Mavericks can also be time-optimists, believing that they can get more done in the time they actually have…and therefore are in danger of overcommitting.
Know your energy
Don’t manage time, manage your energy. Some people have energy levels that seem pretty constant during the day. Others have several peaks and troughs during the day. Some people are larks, others are night owls.
Knowing your energy pattern during the day (and they tend to stay relatively constant) and working to that will help you do your best work.
- Use a timer and work in sprints. For some reason, many mavericks work best in short spurts rather than prolonged periods…and if you a facing a huge task that feels daunting, time-boxed sprints using a timer can make the difference between “started” and “just a nice idea”. Several sprints in a row might just get you to “finished”. The most famous version of this is the Pomodoro technique which uses a timer to set a 25 minute sprint, followed by a 5 minute break. This has definitely worked for me.
- Interrupt the drudgery and do something to raise your energy and spirit. Go out for a walk and breathe. Listen to some uplifting music (or actually dance…maybe best done in private if, like me, you dance like an embarrassing dad at a wedding). Go and work somewhere different. Routine is boring and energy sapping, so do something to change the routine.
Creative mind can create complexity which can lead to clutter, both mental and physical. Mental clutter is the enemy of productivity for us Maverick types as it leads to resistance, procrastination and overwhelm. Too much detail can literally feel like it is fritzing the neutrons in my brain.
Keeping it simple (stupid) and uncluttered is one of the best ways to ensure that your vision becomes reality and the action that you take is effective.
- Get it out of head. Write down everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) in your head that could ultimately become a to-do. Whether it is the thing keeping you awake at night, the next great idea or your boss asking you to do something, don’t rely on your ability to remember it later on. It is just cluttering up your mind. Better out of your head and captured elsewhere. That leaves you clear-minded and more able to make better decisions.
- One inbox to rule them all. Capture all your “stuff” in one place and process it regularly (at least once a day). Here I don’t literally mean your email inbox, but using one place to capture everything that is coming into your life. Think of all those different tasks as being like invaders into your territory. It is much easier to defend one defined front than fight a war with your forces and attention split on several fronts.
- Capture everything in a way that works for you. I personally am quite analog and find the organic nature of paper works best for me. If you spend all day at a computer, an app or programme might work best for you. It could be post its, mind-maps, your iPhone. Whichever way, make sure that it is a way that fits best with your natural style rather than what someone else tells you that you *should*use.
Environment is important
Just as mental clutter will kill all attempts to create great things, so physical clutter can do the same. Having an environment full of chaos, piles of paper and all kinds of other stuff can impinge on your ability to think clearly and execute effectively. Just ask Marie Kondo!
In this world, environment and context are everything. Just as it is easier for me personally to exercise at a gym than it is at home (getting to the gym is another matter!), having an environment that is set up for you to do your best work in the way that works best for you is key.
- Keep a clear and tidy desk. Even if it looks like the apocalypse has erupted in your work environment, keeping your desk free of clutter and extraneous material will help to lower the barriers to getting productive.
- Hide the clutter. If you are a highly visual person, just seeing clutter around can be enough to create despondency and overwhelm. I felt that I couldn’t get anything done until everything was organised and cleared. What a recipe for procrastination! While not dealing with the total issue, I found that literally dumping everything in a box out of my line of sight meant that I gave myself the illusion of zen. That was enough to get me started. I take the same approach to filling email - dump everything in one big folder and let the search function earn its money.
- The best filing cabinet is the trash. Although there are certain things that we simply (and legally) need to keep hold of, the best place to file most stuff is in the bin. We keep hold of far too much “in case” we need it in the future. As far as possible, THROW AWAY EVERYTHING! All that stuff I had put in the box. It was still there 6 months later…so it all got dumped (and yes, I did make sure there was nothing critical in there).
- Change environment. I find that often I need a variety of spaces to work from to give me options depending on where my energy is at. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t find my home office very productive so I am a member of a co-working space. Much like the gym, going somewhere else to work changes my context and gets me in the mindset to work. Coffee shops of course are the staple of many an entrepreneur or start-up…but it is about finding the environments that inspire you the most.
So there you have it, some principles and concrete ideas that may work for you. The key is to not fight yourself, keep it simple and let your way of productivity work for you, rather than vice versa. If you are spending more time on planning your great work than doing it, it might be time to chuck that system and listen to your own way of doing things.
The world needs that magical sauce that only you can bring…and we only have so much time on this planet, so we might as well enjoy it rather than being a slave to either onerous productivity systems or the tyranny or chaotic disorganisation.
We Mavericks have to make our own rules and it is a fine line to create the optimal conditions that let you unleash your superpowers. Let’s do ourselves all a favour and not let the chaos get in the way of creating a world that works. For us all.
Leave a comment below and tell us what do you do to overcome the chaos and become productive?