Productivity part 1: Keeping a healthy mind

Monday 14 January, 2019

Owen Ralph

Arts marketer and musician

Getting things done is hard.

For some of us anyway. If you’re one of those people who is able to sit down whenever you fancy it and crack out a stunning piece of work in the 45 minutes you have between, I don’t know, getting your hair cut and solving global poverty (seems like the sort of thing you’d do), then the next few posts on this blog are unlikely to be of much use to you.

My expectation is, however, that many of you are like me, and often find it difficult to actually sit down and get things done. Whether it’s a lack of motivation, an inability to concentrate or a full blown struggle with anxiety, finding the conditions and techniques to be genuinely productive at a given time can be really tricky.

Before we crack out the productivity tips in the coming weeks, I want to spend this first post giving some attention to mental wellbeing. The pursuit of productivity can be great for your mental state, or it can be terrible. At best, a productive day where you can look back and see everything you’ve achieved can be really satisfying and make a day feel well spent. At worst, you can spend every second worrying if you’re getting enough done, worrying about being lazy, and eventually worry yourself into submission.

I’ve spent so many evenings staring at a blank Word document or Sibelius file with every intention of spending several hours making something amazing, but ending up chain watching YouTube videos instead. Days like this, where you look back and don’t feel you’ve achieved anything of real significance, are pretty reliable anxiety triggers.

While the aim of the next few posts will be to limit the amount of time you spend doing nothing and increase your satisfaction with your work, let’s first lay down three important rules:

  1. Your mental health always takes priority
  2. It’s so easy to ignore this, but you’re human and can’t work constantly. You need to take some time to breathe, to make sure you’re okay, otherwise you will have a detrimental effect on your productivity in the long term as well as your well-being. When you know you have a stressful and strenuous period of work coming up, it’s so important to also schedule in some recovery time afterwards. Allow yourself a day or two to sit on the sofa watching Netflix, guilt-free. Make sure you also allow some buffer time within a project to pause if you need to.

  3. Don’t over-commit
  4. Your time is a limited resource in the same way your money is. When starting a new project or taking on some new work, remember that time has to come from somewhere. You can’t magically add extra hours to the day. If you find you’re doing extra work instead of, say, sleeping, it is unlikely to be sustainable.

  5. Make sure you know why you’re doing what you’re doing
  6. It’s horrible when you find yourself in a job or any other regular commitment which just stops feeling rewarding. We’ll look at this in more detail in the next post, but one thing that really helps you stay motivated is to keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you can’t think of a good reason, maybe it’s time to get out.

Now those safety measures are in place, it’s time to get into the details of how to improve your productivity. Like any new system you introduce into your life, it will take a bit of setup, so next week we’ll be running through that.

Nancy Kerr & James Fagan + Nidd

Tuesday 25 June 2019, 7.30pm

The Half Moon, London

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan are one of the best-known and most experienced folk duos on the British circuit today. Outstanding musicianship, a lifelong ground...

Tickets £17 + £1.70 booking fee

Tim Eriksen + Mama’s Broke

Tuesday 23 July 2019, 7.30pm

The Half Moon, London

Tim Eriksen is acclaimed for transforming American tradition with his startling interpretations of old ballads, love songs, shape-note gospel and dance tunes...

Tickets £15 + £1.50 booking fee