When I was a child, I learned that I could pay way more attention to people talking, especially in a boring class, when I was drawing. Teachers hated that, maybe because most of the time I was drawing THEM as comics 🙈
Teachers were frustrated with me so they talked to my parents. Teachers told my parents that I was always drawing in class and that the “worst part” was that whenever they asked me a question, I always answered right. So my dad said, "Then why don't you let her draw?" One of the teachers, who seemed to be very square-headed about my dad's question, said, "Well, that's not how kids learn.”
Instead of arguing with the teacher, my dad did something smarter. He asked him to run a little experiment for a few weeks. He would let me draw while he was giving the lecture, as long as I wasn't making comics of anybody or sharing my drawings during class.
That little experiment changed my life.
Instead of feeling bad for having a mind that wanders, my parents showed me (and that stubborn teacher) that I have this special gift, and if I use it correctly, I can do wonders.
I used that technique in university when I did my bachelors and then my masters, and in both cases, I graduated with amazing grades. I not only proved that this technique works for me, but I also learned that not everything works for everybody. And that's okay.
Maybe this is when I became passionate about running experiments to help my brain function at its best under different situations. For example, when I was doing my masters, I learned that I read better and faster on small screens, so I bought a Kindle. Instead of feeling dumb for not reading fast, I tried different techniques until I found the one that works best for me.
We are often presented with new situations or scenarios, whether you have to work on a new project that you don't quite enjoy or a new task that you don't know how to tackle. It's in these cases when our creative brain often chooses to procrastinate and go somewhere else. We often feel bad about ourselves, but I believe, like my parents taught me, that these are opportunities for us to try something different.
So here are some experiments I'd like you to run. These are things that I've tried over time. Some may not work for you, and that's okay. That's why I encourage you to keep track of them and write down what you used them for, how you felt afterward, and how you could make them better.
Give your phone a break
My family and most of my friends live on the other side of the world, so my phone is an extension of myself. I love that this little device can help me feel like they are closer than they physically are, but phones, as you know, can be very distracting. This is an issue when I'm doing tasks that I don't enjoy, like taxes or reading long, boring documents. Automatically, I feel the urge to check my phone, text my best friend, or check social media. In those situations, I put my phone in a drawer, and if I need extra support, I put it in a different room. Here's a little trick: try putting it in a further drawer so you think twice before opening it.
Time what you spend time on
If you can't keep your phone away for XYZ reasons, use your phone's timer to time how long you take on tasks and keep the timer open. Every time you unlock your phone, you will see your timer and remember you have to go back to work. This is a strange technique but it works.
Treat social media as a business tool
Social media is meant to be addictive, and in my case, Instagram is the app that distracts me the most. Therefore, it’s a good idea to set some boundaries and turn them into habits. I use social media primarily for work, so I can’t just delete the apps. How can I be active on social media without getting lost? My trick is to use Instagram along with other social media accounts only during my work breaks. During those 15-20 minutes, I can scroll freely, but I know that after that, I have to go back to work. It’s a good idea to set an alarm so you don’t lose an hour without noticing it.
If something distracts you, turn it off
From notifications to apps, if something distracts you, turn it off. This may sound obvious, but sometimes guilt doesn't let you do that. For example, I use Slack to communicate with clients. I used to feel guilty for turning off the app (I don't anymore!), so I kept the app open on my computer. Even when you turn off the notifications, you are going to get distracted because you often feel like you have to check every time so you don’t miss anything. So I decided to try something new. Anytime I had to do focused work, I would turn the app off and check messages once I'm done. That way, you feel more in control of the app and not the other way around. As you can imagine, that worked pretty well, and my clients didn't even notice or care that I was gone.
Break it down to its smallest version
One of the situations that makes us procrastinate the most is when we have to work on tasks that feel overwhelming, like you don’t know where to start or it feels too big to complete. After working with several tech teams and startups, I’ve learned that it’s more efficient to break down a task into its smallest version. Every step of completing the task can be a task on its own. That makes them more manageable, easier to handle, and if there is a blocker, you’ll find it sooner. All while feeling like you are making progress (because you are).
Brainstorm on paper
Whenever I have to brainstorm ideas for anything and my brain is blocked, the computer screen makes it worse. I prefer using a notepad or sticky notes to think freely. I do this for anything you can think of, from social media to presentations to any designs. Only when I have all my ideas on paper, do I move them onto my computer.
Do it once, reuse it always
I'm the queen of creating templates. If I know I'm going to use something more than once, I turn it into a template. I've done that with Google Docs, Google Forms, Illustrator files, and Figma. Figma is probably the place where I have the most templates because it's my go-to app for design. I have templates for proposals, welcome guides, goodbye guides, brand boards, brand guides, workshops, presentations, and more. For example, it used to take us days to build a brand guide, but now it takes us an hour to create a brand guide of 50+ pages. So don't reinvent the wheel, just templatize it.
Talking about templates, I've created a FREE Figma mini course where I've included a brand board Figma template. You can get access to the mini course plus the template completely for free. The course includes videos where I explain the basics of Figma and how to use this template. Check it out!
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