Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lori Stalter.
There’s a scene in Star Wars V where Yoda, looking at Luke Skywalker, says to Obi-Wan Kenobi:
“All his life has he looked away … to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was … what he was doing.”
I’ve lived most of my life that way.
At work, I used to think about what I’d rather be doing. My mind whirred with exciting plans, projects, and vacation ideas. I thought about anything but that the task at hand.
I imagine many employees find themselves distracted and daydreaming from time to time, but multipotentialites are likely to have much more difficulty stopping their minds wandering while they’re at work.
It’s a Catch-22
Employed multipotentialites need to focus on their day jobs to support themselves, but they also need free time to pursue their interests. If we don’t allow ourselves to spend time on our personal projects, we’re likely to become distracted and perform badly at work. But if we devote too much time to our personal projects and neglect our jobs, we risk losing our income.
What we need is a way to balance our day jobs and our personal projects.
But I believe we can go one step further. I believe we can leverage our day jobs to help us with our personal projects. I believe we can use our jobs to increase our productivity when we’re not at work.
How to Use Your Day Job to Increase Your Productivity
1) Pay attention to what you do
In order to make conscious decisions about how you spend your time and what you do, you need to come off auto-pilot, and notice how you spend your time. You need to understand your current situation in order to change it.
2) See your job as an enabler
Instead of resenting your job for keeping you from your hobbies, see it as your ally – the thing that makes your lifestyle and passions possible. View it as transitional, temporary, and as something which is helping you on your way to your next great adventure.
3) Create non-negotiable schedules and routines
Most of us need to do certain tasks every day if we want to make meaningful progress with our projects. Schedules and routines are the keys to making consistent progress.
But, beyond calling in sick, scheduling vacation days, or getting approval to rearrange your hours, if you have a traditional job, your working hours are likely to be fairly non-negotiable. However, I found that my restrictive schedule actually proved useful.
I do my best writing at around 10am, but I’m at work at that time, so I experimented with my free time, and discovered that I write almost as well at noon. Rather than waiting until the evening to write, I decided that noon would be my writing time.
As much as your schedule and personal circumstances allow, experiment to find the best routine for you.
4) Focus on what you’re working on
I struck a deal with myself. Instead of resisting my job, and treating it as the enemy by tinkering with my personal interests while at work, I decided to ask myself the following questions whenever I feel my attention or intention stray:
- Is this what I should be working on right now?
- Am I giving this task my best effort?
- If I’m not giving my all, what can I change so that I am giving my all?
I also decided I would do nothing on my work computer that wasn’t work related.
5) Make time for your projects
In exchange for creating such a strict environment for myself while at work, I compromised by committing to leaving the office for lunch.
During my lunch break, I began driving to a nearby park, and embracing this time as my own. After some experimentation, the following routine emerged:
- Eat lunch while reading for about twenty minutes
- Write 500 to 800 words
- Take a quick walk around the park
This is my hour for giving my mind and my body exactly what they need, either by working on my interests or by taking a break.
The 80/20 rule proves true
After implementing these changes, it didn’t take long to notice some interesting side effects from my new attitude, behavior and routine.
- My performance has improved
- I make fewer mistakes
- I no longer have to rush to meet deadlines
- I feel happier and more content
During my lunch hour:
- I retain more of what I read because I’m not hurried or distracted
- I discover new ideas more often
- My writing has improved
- I get more done in this one hour of full concentration than I did when I squeezed these activities in during my work day
Instead of feeling stuck and resenting my day job, by seeing it as my ally, I have been able to improve my performance not only in my personal projects, but also at work.
How can you leverage your day job to improve your productivity?
By day, Lori Stalter is a senior drafter and designer in an engineering department for a manufacturing company. Her other interests include healthy eating, exercise, and mindfulness, which she covers at loristalter.com. Lori also has an online resource for people interested in building their very first website at How to Start a Website 2.0.