How to Get the Most from Your Creative Working Hours

hello, lovelies! i'm really thrilled to announce that lisa jacobs will be joining us each month to share some creative business advice with us! lisa is one of the most knowledgeable and talented creative gals in the business. she's an absolute marketing guru and i can't wait for you to get to know her better. i'm already taking advice from her post today!

marketing creativity (2)

image via love from ginger altered by lisa jacobs

Have you ever had a highly productive Monday? The kind of day that makes you think, “Look at all I’ve done! I’m going to knock it out of the ballpark this week!” Only to wake up on Tuesday and find yourself mentally and physically spent; so much so that it’s virtually impossible to get anything done?
That happens because each of us has a reserve of willpower, and when it’s spent, so are you.  It’s why most people quit the gym after January, and it’s also why the bakery is the last area of the grocery store (after you’ve used all your willpower to make good decisions in the fruit and vegetable section).

Moreover, an empty willpower tank is the black hole of productivity.

Since it’s the New Year and many of us are in planning mode, it’s a great time to talk about making the most of your working hours so that you can go the distance. This involves spending your time wisely, refilling your willpower tank more quickly, and expanding that reserve so it can hold more of your sacred energy.

How to Train Your Focus Muscle

Because focus is just that, a mental muscle that can be strengthened. Think of building your focus like you would train for long distance running. In order to improve, to go farther at a faster pace, you would gradually (and regularly) push yourself just past your personal breaking point. If I can comfortably run 2 miles in 20 minutes today, tomorrow I will have to run 2.25 miles in 22 minutes to build up my strength and endurance.

The same goes for your personal reserves of willpower. Your focus muscle needs to be trained for increased strength and endurance. First thing’s first ...

Set a timer. As I write this, I have a free app called Alinof Timer counting down my 50-minute interval of pure focus. This helps me stay on track.

The level of energy or resistance I have for a task determines how long the timer will be set between breaks. Here is my guide:

  • Difficult tasks and grudge work: 15 minutes
  • Work I’m resisting, but perfectly capable of doing: 25 minutes
  • Work I enjoy: 50 minutes

The results from a laser-focused, timed work session are truly amazing. Try it out for one week to see how much you’re able to accomplish.

Identify your bad habits. True story: When I finished the first draft of this post, I opened a new browser window and went internet-clicking before I caught myself in the act. Mindlessly clicking around the internet is my favorite method of “checking out” during the day, and it’s my absolute best way to waste time.

What’s worse is, my internet clicking doesn’t look like a waste of time. It still looks like production. I answered an email and updated a social media status. That’s part of my job, and it’s a pleasure to connect with other creative business owners throughout the day.

The problem with that is: it’s taken me off the most important task at hand, which is writing this article for Going Home to Roost. Will that social work get done outside of my laser-focused production hours? Yes, it will happen no matter what, but my task (finishing this post) will not get done if I don’t push through the less fun (editing) stages and stay focused.

In order to honor your to-do list, you have to bring awareness to your favorite method of wasting time and avoid those bad habits.

Understand your personal energy cycles. There’s a natural order to things: A new idea comes with a giant burst of productive energy. It’s exciting! It’s fresh! It could attract loads of fame and fortune if it all works out. So naturally, you get right to work.

Then somewhere towards the middle of the project, the energy slows down and the idea requires effort. You meet resistance, and your shiny new project suddenly doesn’t seem so fun anymore.

I feel quite confident that many of you in creative business can relate to this resistance. What I want to propose today is that you can overcome it, and each time you do, you strengthen your focus muscle far beyond your wildest dreams. Every time you push a project into completion, you enlarge your willpower reserve. When you bring awareness to your energy cycles, you are more likely to overcome resistance and feed the momentum your business so desperately needs.

Here’s wishing you all the best in love, life and business in 2014!

marketing creativity (1)
Lisa Jacobs is creative biz wiz who teaches online sellers how to get more sales and professional recognition. She owns the Energy Shop on Etsy and writes the blog, Marketing Creativity.

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  • THANK YOU FOR THIS! I don’t mean to internet-shout at you, but this was so awesome to read this morning as I have an embarrassing 10 tabs open on my browser :/ Using a timer is something I should absolutely try and being mindful of my bad habits is something I’m currently working on. This is such a great reminder since the most important thing we do is create. Thanks, Lisa!

  • Thanks so much for adding, Frances! I catch myself in the act of internet clicking all day long … it’s an uphill battle, but I can’t escape my timer :) If it’s not on, I know I’m not being productive on the computer. I love it! Please let me know if you try it too. All the best to you!

  • Guess what I did when I sat down to work this morning in my home office? I read your blog instead… OK, guess I better get focused.

  • The timer is such good advice! I used to do freelance graphic design for a supplements company, and to keep track of hours for invoicing I used the website toggl.com – a timer where you can keep notes on how the time was spent. I haven’t since and now after reading this post I don’t know why I ever stopped. It did help me keep on track, and I know it would help specifically for that “work I’m resisting, but totally capable of doing” category. I think its time to get back to using a timer.

  • Great post. I use a free website called Focus at Will that sets a timer and plays great working & focusing music. It has made a huge difference in my productivity. I know that when I sit down and start that music and timer I am going to get lots done.