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Juggling between creativity freak and productivity ninja

How can we be as creative as possible and as productive as possible? At the same time, of course.

Well, that’s a tough one. You see:

Creativity requires mess; progress requires strict order. The real art is maintaining the balance between the two.

So what can we do? Well:

System 🙂 OK actually more of them. The first thing is single-tasking and focus.

Single-tasking & Focus

No matter the type of work you do creative or not try to work on one thing at a time. Believe it or not, it’s the most effective productivity technique out there. Yet so few practice it.

So avoid the multitasking at any cost.

Next focused sessions. I wrote about this before. Ensure that you can get a few uninterrupted one-hour, two-hour and three-hour blocks into your day. Even with kids or people to manage, you can still get a focused hour or two per day as long as you commit to it. I kid you not some writers actually rent a hotel room when they need peace.

Until you master the above two concepts, every productivity hack is useless, as is most of this blog post. OK, maybe not. But first, get the basics right then try to do fancy stuff.

All right, you are now focused and working on a single thing. But what do you do with all the ideas, articles, books, opinions, … you are exposed to each day?

Store them. Close them into a nice box (more of a folder on PC).

When an idea pops-up capture it, physical notebooks are sooo effective here.

Notebook techniques here:

Then decide that it’s a million-dollar idea and it is worth storing for a little longer. That’s where the digital storage comes into the picture.

Digital storage system

We split our digital world into two categories (folders on the PC):

idea_brewery/
projects/

Build the Chinese wall between the two. Only a few well-behaved ideas should make it into your projects folder. The rest should be capt outside.

But how to decide what idea to work on?

This is where the part of Idea brewery called Case studies comes into play.

Case studies

In Case studies I gather all the ideas for a specific project I want to do in the future. For example:

Then comes the process.

The Process

Once I feel that a case study is ready to become a project, I do the following:

  1. Take a project from case studies.
  2. Open a project folder in projects with today’s date.
  3. Work on that project until it’s finished.
  4. Archive the finished project. Proceed at step 1.)

You are not allowed to deviate from this approach; otherwise, all hell breaks loose.

And I mean it. Chines wall was built for a reason. So leverage it as a concept in your productivity mental models.

My projects folder looks like this (indents are for sub folders):

projects/
    2016/
    2017/
    2018/
    2019/
        2019-02-06/
    2020/
        2020-01-06/
        2020-10-01

Again each date represents a project.

Idea brewery

Few more sections in the Idea Brewery:

idea_brewery/
    case_studies/
    learn_next/
    links/
    upgrades/

Now to be clear, I never expect to finish/consume/work on all those ideas. But the Idea brewery helps me store stuff and trick my mind so in thinks oh I have it stored so I can let it go.

What is classified as a project?

Each project has to have:

That’s project management one o one.

If you feel the project will drag on and you won’t be able to focus on it all the time put it back into Idea Brewery and move it to projects when the finish date is on the horizon.

Few examples of projects:

Though there are projects, you can’t fit into the above mould. All projects where you are collaborating with someone.

Then projects/ folder becomes more of an archive of finished work in this case.

Collaborative projects

I usually work on four types of projects:

  1. Project started by me where we keep track of file versions (version controlled projects).
  2. Shared project that uses google drive, Dropbox.
  3. Project with no common file sharing. Everyone has their own files.
  4. Making a small contribution to a larger project that exists already for a while.

So how do I handle each case?

  1. In version-controlled projects I have a separate repository for that project. Once the project is finished, I store the last project version into projects/ folder.
  2. I store stuff that’s relevant for the project only on my PC. The rest of the files are on the drive. I take a snapshot of the drive once the project is done or I stop working on it. If I weren’t the one leading the project, I would archive the most relevant parts and my contributions.
  3. I keep the version of my files on my PC.
  4. Store just the minimal examples I used to get my final contributions working.

If possible, don’t work and fix projects where my work isn’t self-contained.

To be honest, those are not even remotely all the edge cases out there. But those are the edge cases I come across in my work. If you have other scenarios in your work/private life, write them down and see how they fit your project management picture.

Should I?

I know what you’re thinking this is complicated as shit. Maybe. But I’ve been looking into how to become more productive for seven years (by not sacrificing work-life balance) now, and that’s the best approach that I’ve come up with—sorry multitaskers. If your super-duper productivity system is overflowing with tasks, you’re doing too much. I have been there and done that. It leads straight to burnout.

Single task and maybe work on 2 - 3 projects. But even three projects at the time that might be too much. If you have to do multiple projects ( I do a PhD and work on the side hustle) make sure that you spend few dedicated days on one project and few other days on the other. One option is also to alternate—one project in the morning and after lunch and another project in the evening.

If your work doesn’t allow you to focus on one single project at a time, try restructuring your work. If you still need to want/to keep multiple projects open at least try to figure out what’s causing the most dis-focus in your days.

Does being ordered require work?

Yes, a lot. And if you’re life is messy it can be pretty daunting to start.

1.) Start by just cleaning something for thirty minutes each day. Make it a process. Then eventually you’ll start seeing progress. If you start the de-cluttering and ordering process, the key is to figure out how to stop the mess from growing in the first place.

2.) If you sort more mess, then you make each day you’ll be fine in the long run.

3.) Digital clutter (all unsorted shit on your PC):

4.) Your system will get “re-de cluttered”, and that’s OK and only natural. Once that happens, go back to the drawing board and see why that happened. If the nature of your work isn’t changing daily, you’ll be pretty quickly able to identify what works for you.

Once you master the above you sort of completed level-0, then start going deeper and deeper based on your needs.

Wrap up

Sure being ordered takes time, but being ordered makes me feel super calm. So I do it. I invest a lot of time into it. I’m in a completely different state of mind when I neatly store and organise things in my mind.

For a long time, I thought that I wasn’t affected by the mess around me. But when I started working on multiple ideas, I too often caught my self feeling lost. Introducing order bit by bit resulted in tremendous focus. Or so I keep telling my self.

If you’re a bit of a workaholic or overachiever (which you might be if you read so far), don’t forget about the me project 😉 the most important one in your life.

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