5 ways to get unstuck, generate better ideas and break the monotony at work
Maybe you feel work has become monotonous—that your daily routine has become a daily grind that has finally ground your inspiration down to a pulp. You can’t come up with an original thought because everything about your 9-to-5 seems unoriginal. Bleh.
Or maybe you feel quite the opposite—that you can’t come up with a great idea because you spend your days in fruitless meetings and replying to emails you never wanted to be included on in the first place. Ugh.
Either way, this post is for you. It’s got tips to end your unproductive streak and practical advice to help you feel reenergized to produce work that makes you proud.
How to do great work
It turns out that highly influential thinkers have a set of habits of how to get great work done. During NPR’s July 24, 2017 episode of Hidden Brain, Cal Newport (author of Deep Work) explains what these visionaries have in common:
“They all seem to have a drive to, on a regular basis, cut themselves off from their lives of busyness and communication and distraction, and isolate themselves to think deeply,” says Newport. “They often will have a location, a separate location they go to, when they want to think deeply…that’s often cut off from the rest of their lives.”
The examples he shares are fascinating and consistent:
“Carl Jung would go out to the Bollingen Tower, a stone house without electricity or running water he built by the lakeside outside of a small village in the countryside beyond Zurich.”
“J.K. Rowling, when she was struggling the finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, rented out this big suite at the Balmoral Hotel next to the big castle in downtown Edenborough where she would go and just think Harry-Potter-style thoughts.”
“Mark Twain had a cabin for a long period of his life he would go to on the property that was so far from the house that his family had to blow a horn to try and catch his attention to let him know dinner was ready.”
“They go somewhere physically isolated and different where they can, without distraction, think deeply,” Newport concludes.
Chances are your employer won’t allow you to isolate yourself for weeks and months to do “deep work” like the aforementioned luminaries. However, there is still something to be said for limiting distractions to increase your work efficiency.
Technology is destroying your productivity
Even if you think you’re able to multi-task with the best of them, you’re wrong. No one can actually do it. That’s because a seemingly innocuous inbox check could rob you of up to 30 minutes of productivity. With endless emails, chats and calls in the workplace, it’s no wonder you’re depleting your working memory—the part of our brain that keeps you focused and task-oriented.
To further prove the point, we tap and swipe our phones a whopping 2,600+ times a day, on average, according to a recent study on mobile usage. How can we be expected to produce great work if we’re constantly being interrupted?
What you can do
The first thing you should do to generate better ideas is to try and escape your office. Change your environment, go to a quiet place and completely unplug.
If you can’t physically leave your office building to get some deep work done, there are five things you can do to make it feel like you did.
1. Block your Outlook calendar. Create an appointment and give it a name like, “Heads Down on 2018 Strategy.” Better yet, make it a meeting with just yourself and reserve a conference room. Then, you can get away from your desk and your colleagues will hesitate to schedule meetings with you during that time.
2. Sign out of your email. I know. It sounds impossible. But you can take a break for an hour to get some real work done. Your inbox isn’t going anywhere.
3. Turn off your phone. Now you think I’m crazy. Am I though? Are you saying that you can’t power off your device for a mere 60 minutes? If that’s the case, you might be addicted, my friend. Prove to yourself that you’re not and shut it down. I guarantee you will accomplish more during that time.
4. Get noise-canceling headphones. Good ones. But don’t feel like you have to overpay. I get a new pair of $99 Able Planet headphones roughly every 6 years. Also, when you use them, listen to instrumental music. Any genre will work, as long as there are no lyrics. It’s hard to concentrate when someone is singing in your ear.
5. Make a sign. Tape a piece of paper to your door or wall that says something like, “On Deadline: Please Do Not Interrupt Until 3:00 p.m.” You will be amazed at how much your colleagues will respect your determination and focus.
I hope some of these suggestions help you become more focused and more productive.
Now, stop reading this blog and go come up with some great ideas.
If you have any tips of your own, I would love to hear them.