We all want (and need) to be more productive throughout the work day. But how do you find a healthy balance between deep focus work and taking breaks?
In an article by Matthew Encina, chief content officer at the Futur, on how to design your most productive day, Encina shares his experience using “Focus Sprints.” You may have heard about this concept or others like it. Its main goal is to prompt you to work through a series of intervals that are 100% distraction-free. And once the timer runs out, you enjoy a well-deserved short break to help you reset and refocus.
Working in creative graphic design, I knew I needed a system like this to help me accomplish my tasks and know when and “how” to take a break. I’d spent countless days working from 7 a.m. to midnight without much movement in between. This wasn’t good for my health or my confidence, and it wasn't helping me be more creative.
Pulling inspiration from Encina’s article and his YouTube video on how to stay focused and more productive during a busy day, I’ve created a daily routine that I hope will benefit you and others working in the creative field.
Start the day with inspiration. I’m a big fan of following creative thinkers and influencers who represent creative graphic design, so each morning, my email is usually stocked with new articles that feature topics relevant to graphic design.
I once heard that if you read 30 minutes on a particular topic each day, in seven years, you become an expert on it. I’ve also heard that staring at your screen first thing in the morning is a bad idea, but as Encina shares in his video, the type of quality content that’s available on the internet these days is packed with useful information that can help spark an idea or a solution to a future task.
Next, create a focus sheet. I usually make a list of tasks I’d like to complete before the day’s end. This helps me plan out the workday and have a set target.
Before beginning work on your tasks, review any emails from clients or your team. Some emails you’ll want to respond to immediately while others you may decide to add to your focus sheet, if they aren’t urgent or if they require additional materials. I usually check emails for no more than an hour because if you’re not careful, you could spend your entire day answering and sending emails. Try this for an hour each morning. If you’re worried about missing something important, remember that you’ll come back to it in the afternoon (more on this later).
Schedule meetings during the morning. I like this strategy because it helps me ensure that meetings won’t interfere with my afternoon, which allows me more time for deep focus work.
This type of morning routine gives you a great head start and allows you to achieve small accomplishments (i.e. your day is planned, you’ve responded to important emails, and you completed your meetings for the day).
Start your afternoon with a focus sprint. Try 90 minutes of deep focus work, followed by a 20 minute break. During these sprints, it’s important to turn off all notifications, including emails, chats, and social feeds. This allows your brain to focus on a single task without getting thrown off your game with constant distractions. To track your time, use a device that won’t create more distractions (i.e. smartphone). We recommend a watch, a digital clock, or even an oven timer, as many of us are working from home these days.
Take a 20 minute break. Use this time to catch up on emails if you wish, but don’t feel guilty about stepping away from your computer to have a cup of coffee and relax. These breaks are meant to give your brain a rest from your deep focus thinking, so it’s best to spend this “free” time away from your desk and allow yourself to recharge for the next sprint. Challenge yourself to try 1-3 sprints each day.
End of Day
Wrap up your day by checking off the tasks you completed from your focus sheet. This will give you a great feeling of accomplishment. Any tasks that weren’t completed, add to the next day’s focus sheet. New day: new opportunity to get a task completed!
Interruptions. Some days, you can’t avoid interruptions. Maybe your client calls with an urgent request or a colleague needs help. This happens and when it does, remember to pause your timer and resume your sprint afterwards.
Pro tip: Take a 5-10 minute break before you resume your focus sprint. This gives your mind time to reset before continuing the next task.
How to Take a Personal Day
Once a week, we should all take a moment for personal time. This can be a full day or a half day, mid-week, or towards the end of the week. Use this day to release stress by doing an activity that takes your mind off of your daily design work.
Personal days are meant to stimulate the mind and self-reflect. Read a book, paint or draw, workout, get a haircut, go shopping, or take a bath. We recommend taking a morning off on either Wednesday or Thursday to help split up the workweek.
When we take breaks, we give our creative minds permission to think freely without force or a fast-approaching deadline. It’s also important for our self-esteem, as we all deserve a break to care for ourselves, feel valued, and allow our minds to wander. Many of our greatest ideas develop during personal days, including new projects, skill share topics, blog posts, and life goals.
Give Yourself a Break! You Deserve It and Your Creativity Needs It.
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