About this episode
Productivity and the Motivation Wall! I'm talking in this episode about how I think managing your momentum is key to ongoing motivation that leads to productivity, including some of the things I'm doing to really prioritise that momentum and make sure you don't hit the metaphorical wall that brings productivity in creativity to a halt!
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I feel like productivity is a hot topic in creative circles, and how some people consider themselves good at it and others see themselves as eternally unproductive. That’s what I’m talking about on this episode of The Positive Creatives! Productivity and the effect of Overworking on Creativity!
Welcome back to The Positive Creatives. I’m your host here, my name is Adam, and I’m very happy that you’ve decided to be here and listen to my topical thoughtful ramblings about creativity!
Last week I talked about perfectionism and how if you let it, striving for the mythical concept of perfection can hold you back from completing work, and just make your creative life less enjoyable because you’re striving for something that doesn’t exist. If you didn’t listen to that one yet go back and have a listen.
It was off the back of that episode that I had a long, deep and meaningful chat with a friend about perfection and productivity.
Like I said last week I talked about how striving for perfection is like striving for the impossible goal. Like trying to do something to be taller after you’ve finished growing. You could spend – or waste – a whole amount of time looking for a way to keep growing, people might even offer you products or services which claim to help you grow taller, but realistically you’ve reached the height you’re going to reach.
Yes, I have spent time researching how to be taller but let’s not talk about that.
Chatting in the week though we strayed into perfectionism’s obvious effect on your productivity. Because naturally in trying to achieve perfection you’ll spend longer than you need to on projects or tasks and that means you’ll have less time to work on other stuff or new stuff. So there’s that too.
And that gave me an idea to dedicate this week’s episode to one area of productivity. I say one area because I think productivity is a massive subject, and probably one I’ll keep coming back to from different angles on episodes in the future. I don’t know that for sure, but I reckon that’s what’ll happen.
So today I’m talking about productivity and the wall. The wall being the effect of overworking or pushing your productivity to the limits when you feel motivated so hard that you hit a metaphorical wall or fall off a proverbial cliff back into the chasm of no-mojo-ville.
From talking to a lot of creatives over the years, we place a lot of importance on our mojo, feeling inspired or motivated to work. It comes and goes, that’s natural, and there are so so many reasons for it. I did some research this week into motivation as a concept and it turns out it’s a really deep psychological concept. Who knew! It’s something I’m going to be doing a lot more research into so I can bring you some episodes in the future to help explain why we get motivated, why we lose motivation and hopefully some techniques to stay motivated, but that’s irrelevant to this week’s episode so let’s move on and just say that motivation or lack of it leads to us being productive, or not.
Ok. That’s cleared that up.
I think because we’re so aware of our motivation levels as creatives, and as self employed freelance creatives, it’s more of a driver of productivity than, say, if you work in an office and have a boss telling you what to do.
I spent a lot of my career before – which, by the way, was a career in Marketing and I did a lot of programming, but it was basically a 9-5 job at a computer and I wasn’t particularly senior so I was just one of the people who did the work…
But anyway, I spent a lot of that career with very little motivation to do much, but the fact I would get in trouble or lose my job, and the fact that I needed money and had a lot of personal pride, meant that I got a lot done.
So my point is that productivity isn’t as intrinsically linked to motivation as we might think and sometimes all you need is someone to keep you accountable to yourself and remind you to get stuff done. So find an accountability buddy, someone where you can try to keep each other on task and set yourself deadlines, there’s nothing like a deadline to make me get something done…
BUT that’s not really what I’m here to talk about this week, this isn’t supposed to be productivity tips! But you can have that one.
I want to talk about when we ARE feeling motivated to work or to get stuff done, and that leads to us FEELING productive.
If you’re anything like me, when you’re feeling the productive mojo you go into overdrive. I absolutely love that feeling of really wanting to work, really feeling like I’ve got loads of momentum so I just roll with it and I push and I push and inevitably I will hit a wall. And that happens every single time!
And still I don’t learn, well now I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to see it coming and see it happening.
I was going to call it burnout but I don’t want to call it burnout because again, while researching this week, I found out that burnout is a real psychological state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion and I don’t want to trivialise that in any way. So I’ll stick with the wall analogy!
So what usually happens with me and maybe you’ll resonate with this, is that I either think of an idea that motivates me, or on very rare occasions I will actually wake up in the mood to get stuff done and when that kind of inspiration hits it’s so easy to just start working.
And like the good old quote from Picasso says, although he probably said it in Spanish and it sounded better – he apparently said “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working”. So I often find once I start working on something, fuelled by that burst of motivation, I find more and more motivation to keep going and keep working, and before I know it I’m doing 14 hour days in my studio, going to bed with burning eyeballs, and basically withdrawing into my zone of motivation.
Thinking about it now, I don’t know if I do this because I’m worried about the motivation going or just because I am a bit of a workaholic when I allow myself to be one.
I think it’s more of the first thing. I think I’m so aware these days that I go through phases of feeling like I have no mojo, that I try and squeeze as much out of my mojo as I can while it’s here.
I’ve given talks before about how the way I manage my own productivity is that I work when I work and when I don’t feel like working I do other stuff and then I just wait for that feeling to come back that I want to work.
My main business in creativity is wedding photography and so obviously there are times when you maybe don’t have much mojo but you have to find it because it’s someone’s wedding day, and then inspiration hits because it finds you working and you’re feeling good again, then you’ve got a load of photos to edit and so there’s the momentum that kind of keeps you going because there are loose deadlines involved in wedding photography and people who want and need their photos.
But in 2021 and so far in 2021 there isn’t that momentum. There’s just stillness and silence. And without that momentum I’ve realised that my usual philosophy of working when I want to work and not when I don’t just doesn’t work as well and it’s made me question it.
There were times last year when I didn’t want to work for weeks at a time, or maybe at worst even more than a month.
I’d never given credit before to the concept of momentum in motivation and productivity, so it’s something I’ve really started to think about.
And I’ve realised that my usual approach of working when I want to work, getting lost in the zone, and working every hour possible, is counterproductive to momentum.
Slow and steady wins the race, it’s a marathon not a sprint etc.
I never rush my work so it’s not a case of rushing it’s just that I’ve led myself to believe over the years that this is a healthy way to work – mainly because it gives me a good excuse when I’m not in the mood to work and I spend 6 hours watching Netflix at a time!
Because what happens when I’m working relentlessly is that yes I get a lot done in a short space of time but inevitably I always hit that wall at some point and it’s like my mind just says ‘OK, ENOUGH, WE’VE HAD ENOUGH, STOP WORKING’ and at that point trying to find motivation again is basically impossible.
So what’s the answer. Is there an answer. I don’t know, but recently I’ve been trying to set more boundaries in my work life and it’s working so far.
What kind of boundaries, Adam, I hear you cry!
Well, first of all I’m having to undo this thing where I’ve convinced myself I have limited time to make the most of this burst of enthusiasm.
At the moment it’s a bit like when you try and tell a kid there are no vegetables in the food you’re making them eat, but really you just blended them in because you knew they wouldn’t eat it if they knew.
So I’m sceptical but also I’ve come to realise that my old way of working probably wasn’t so healthy and actually realising that momentum is a key component of motivation means that I’m trying to do things to keep that momentum going.
So for instance I’ll happily work until my kids go to bed, and where before I’d then have hopped straight back into my studio and carried on working, I’ll accept that that’s the end of the working day for me.
It’s probably still too late for a lot of people but I do work best at that end of the day, so that might not work for you, but I think the concept – if you’ve got a home office or workspace – the concept of setting work hours is a good one, and your family will thank you for it.
I’ve also realised – and this is not a new one – that exercise plays a huge role in how motivated I feel not only in work but in life in general. So with the onset of yet another lockdown and gyms being closed I’ ve put a few bits of gym equipment in my garage and I will absolutely be prioritising exercise, not only for my personal fitness wellbeing which has taken a battering over the last 12 months, but also as a tactic to try and keep this momentum of motivation going and avoid hitting that wall or falling off the cliff of motivation despair into the chasm of ‘you pushed your mojo too hard again and now you’re just going to have to wait until you’re in the mood to work again’!
Basically what I mean is that my new philosophy isn’t that motivation comes in fits and starts, it’s that if we realise that what we need to do is prioritise momentum.
The next tactic I’ve implemented in my own work is that I’m leaving myself wanting more…
I know what you’re thinking. What the heck are you talking about Adam?
Well, say it’s getting to a point like it always does that you’re working on something and you’re sort of finishing one bit or you’re getting close to finishing one bit. In the past I would think ‘ah well I’ll just stay up another hour, two hours, three hours and get that finished’ so I’d get it finished, feel good, but then it’s about 3am and now the next day I’ll be tired etc etc.
I know that one thing my mind loves is finishing something. So… when I know I’m coming towards that point of finishing something, I’ll stop. Especially now if it’s coming towards that time of day which is my self-prescribed finish time. I’ll stop at that point, because now when I go to bed at a normal time, and wake up refreshed the next day I’ll want to get back to it and get it finished. And now because I’m finishing something during the day, and not at 3am, I’ve got the momentum that means I’m in a good place to start the next thing, or start something new.
I’m prioritising momentum.
I think with the way I was working before which was 100mph worrying that the motivation would leave me I was just firing myself out of a comedy circus cannon, right at the wall.
I’m also finding that I’m generally taking more time over stuff, finding time that I wouldn’t have had before to do other things like research and make these podcast episodes or try out new social media apps…
Speaking of which – have you heard of Clubhouse and are you on there? I’m going to be hosting a room as a bit of a pilot, a bit of a test, on Thursday night at 7pm UK time, where we can chat about this week’s episode topic. So join me for the first Positive Creatives Open Mic night this Thursday, on Clubhouse at 7pm. My username on there is creativeadam so search for me and follow me on there, and I’ll schedule in the room so you’ll get a notification when it starts! Should be fun, I’ve been testing Clubhouse out this week and I’ve got to say I really like it so come and join in on Thursday at 7pm UK time!
Ok it’s listen, read, watch time!
Listen this week I’m suggesting you get on Clubhouse, if you’re not on there already you’ll be able to find someone to send you an invite, and just do some exploring and listening.
Read – the book I’m recommending is Ego is the Enemy. I’ve been fascinated with Ego since realising I have one. I’m half way through this book and there are just so many mind-blowing moments it’s amazing. So check that out!
Watch – if you’ve not already seen it I strongly recommend the movie Parasite. An absolutely amazing piece of cinema.
Alright that’s your lot for this week. As ever come and join the conversation on Instagram – you can find me @thepositivecreatives on there, and hopefully you’ll come and join in on Clubhouse this Thursday. I think having a chat in between episodes and hearing different perspectives could be really cool and useful.
So until then – Think Positive, Stay Creative, this is The Positive Creatives.