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There's a Reason You Work Better Some Days

Sep 25, 2014

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This post is in partnership with The Muse. The article below was originally published on The Muse.

By Alex Honeysett

During a session with my business coach earlier this year, I was explaining that even though I had a million things to crank through, I felt like doing the opposite—I wanted to stroll around in my own thoughts, quietly observe, and write things down only as they came to me, rather than fight to get things done, like, yesterday.

And my coach said, “Well, that makes sense. It’s part of your process.”

Uh, what process? I know I have a process for doing laundry. I have a process for organizing my desk. I have a process for doing my taxes. But I never considered that I had process for the way I approached work—or life, for that matter.

But in the months since, she has helped me understand that I do. We all do! And the more we can recognize and take ownership of our own unique process, the less frustrated and guilty we’ll feel when we’re in the middle of it. And ironically, the more we’ll get done.

So how do you figure out what your process looks like? For most of us, our process is a mix of “curation mode” and “creation mode.”

When you’re in curation mode, you may be feeling what I described above—more introspective, more observant, and more thoughtful. In this mindset, you’d probably be more interested in digging into some meaty research or a great book and less interested in giving a presentation to a room packed with people. During this part of the process, you’re taking in.

Creation mode is the other side of the coin: You’re hitting the pavement, excited to get things done. Whether you’re growing your business, writing plans, or bringing in new clients, you’re doing it with ease. You’re not dragging your butt out of bed to write that proposal—you’re at your desk early, coffee in head, ready to get it done. Here, you’re pushing out.

Once you identify these processes in your own life, you’ll see how they affect your productivity. For example, I realized that I always feel great writing these articles when I spend a few days paying attention to what’s happening in the industry, tapping into my network, and recognizing what I’m experiencing in my own life—in other words, when I’m in curation mode. I don’t force myself to write anything; I just take a look around. Then, on the third or fourth day, I snap into creation mode. A topic will hit me and I basically need to find a computer that instant to get it all down.

In the times that I haven’t let myself do that initial observing, I often end up staring at a blank screen for hours, writing the same crappy sentence over and over and getting increasingly cranky.

Before understanding this was part of my process, I just thought that some weeks it was easier for me to write than others. Now that I understand how my brain works best, I know that I need to give myself that space to curate—ideas, themes, and experiences—before I can jump into creation mode.

To identify your unique process, start by digging into what you like to do when you’re in curation mode: What do you need to do before you get things done? Take a long walk? Keep a journal in your pocket for any thoughts that pop up?

Then, do the same for creation mode: What’s the ideal environment for you to actually get those things done? A super-organized desk? A noisy coffee shop?

Next, spend a few weeks being mindful of which mode you’re in. Sometimes, we can circle through them both several times a week—other times, we may sit in one for a few weeks before we switch to the next.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that you can’t always map out the balance of your internal process in a perfect 1:1 ratio. There will be some days when you’ll be on a deadline to finish a presentation when you’d much rather be curled up on the couch with a stack of research learning quietly.

On those days, your focus should be on bringing the balance back. If you’re in curation mode and need to be creating, for example, what activities or experiences do you most enjoying when you’re curating? Are there any of them, however brief, that you can bring into your day? You may find that going for short walk or drinking a quiet coffee before you begin may put yourself in the right mindset to start creating.

That may be all you need to snap back into getting things done, like, yesterday.

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