Find Your Work Style

Aug 31

This is another guest blogger post on Knghtwise.com, this time from Keith Murray (@kdmurray) who brings us some thoughts on work styles.


We’re all different. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you, and for the rest… surprise!

When you spend a lot of time dealing with people who share a lot of our thoughts, beliefs hopes, dreams and who generally think like we do it can become easy to forget that as individuals we’re all different. Therefore when it comes to finding ways to work and be productive we all need to figure out what works best for us.

I’m not going to lead you on some lifehackeresque productivity porn rant for the next 12 pages. I’m going to try to leave you with a couple of techniques you can try to see just what works best for you when it comes to delivering your peak performance. These are techniques I’ve used to get myself out of both productivity and creativity slumps, so hopefully they will be of some value to you.

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

William Penn

Time can be a powerful ally or a challenging nemesis. Most of us understand that having more time would generally allow us to produce more things. But what about better things? Adjusting the time of day that you do different tasks can help to put you in a different headspace.

For years I felt that I did my best creative work, including programming, late at night. Once everything was quiet and there were no interruptions I could focus on my task and get lost in a project. I was able to complete an untold number of school assignments this way as well as personal projects. As I’ve gotten older and other circumstances in my life have changed, this late-night time slot has become less and less effective. For a while I ignored the problem and told myself I just wasn’t as creative or as productive a programmer as I used to be (or as prolific a blogger for that matter.)

I eventually realized that the problem wasn’t the number of hours I had available, but how they were arranged. By moving some of that creative work to the early morning (immediately after having slept) I was fresh and awake, and the house was still quiet enough for me to be mostly undisturbed. Ultimately it wasn’t the late hour that I needed, but a quiet time where I could focus on my tasks uninterrupted.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

T. S. Eliot

As important as the time of day you feel most productive or creative is the place you choose to expend that energy. If you find that you’re low on energy trying to blog from your dark windowless office, try a new locale. If you have a laptop take it out to your kitchen or your patio where you can have more light or heaven forbid: fresh air.

If you can, try taking your work to a space outside your home or office. A park bench or a coffee shop may be the change of scenery you need to stop worrying about the 42 kilos of unshredded tax documents in the corner of your office or the pile of undone dishes in the sink. If you’re not at home you can’t do them anyway so you might as well get something productive done.

I have found that different locales work better for different types of tasks. If I’m processing photos, for example, I need to be sitting at my desk with my full-size monitor and no interruptions. It’s something that takes a lot of concentration for me, so that environment works best. However when I’m writing I need to be pretty much anywhere but my office. A couple of local coffee shops have proven very effective writing spots, along with my kitchen table. For writing I also find that changing venues regularly (daily) helps as well.

“Music is intended and designed for sentient beings that have hopes and purposes and emotions.”
Jacques Barzun

Once you know when and where you need to be to do your best work there’s one other thing that you can do to customize the ambiance to your needs: create a soundscape. This does not have to be complicated and it does not have to be fussy.

Some combination of silence, the ambient noise of your space and some added audio content like music or podcasts will undoubtedly help you to focus better. I include all of these things because you may find yourself in a busy coffee shop where the soft voices in all corners of the room coupled with the sounds of the espresso machine provides you all the ambient noise you need to get down to the task at hand. Perhaps your task requires a soundtrack of old favourites to counter the sound of your kids playing in the next room. Or you may be working on something that you feel needs complete silence. Each of us is unique and you may need to experiment a few times to figure out what works best for you.

When I’m working on tasks which don’t require much brain power (filing, paperwork etc.) I generally put on a podcast to help keep my brain occupied during the drudgery. Conversely if I’m working on something that requires a great deal of focus, I will either opt for silence, or some soft music without a catchy vocal line so I’m less tempted to sing along.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.”
Benjamin Franklin

This is not an instruction manual on how to be productive. It is merely a guide toward some strategies which may help you out of a slump with your creative or other endeavours. Try these tips out and see which ones might work for you. If you have other tips or hacks you use to get stuff done let us know!


Keith Murray is a software architect and developer can be found on twitter as kdmurray. He also blogs about technology and science at kdmurray.net.

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