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How to combat desk restlessness and get shit done, according to 5 Australian creatives

Photography by Kai Lao
Words by Genevieve Phelan

There’s more to it than crozzies and coffees.

Greetings to the freelancers, full-timers and casual operators that are putting daytime cocktails down and picking the tools up in the exciting (but gruelling) back-to-work shuffle. 

It’s that time of year again. Your automated OOO has been reluctantly removed, the email abyss is backlogged and your office plants have tragically wilted. You’ve got a new diary and it’s staring blankly at you with possibility, prospect and way too many to-dos for one Monday.

For those who shuddered at the thought of returning to the grind, I have consulted a not-so-corporate crop of Australian creatives (some self-employed, some not) to help you remedy any burgeoning desk unrest. 

If you’re far too familiar with arvo fatigue (hallmarks include: retrieval of a boredom croissant, online shopping escapism and cheeky phone time), then here’s a few ways to banish the brain fade and get back to getting your Very Important Shit done. This is how you keep work fun in 2021, according to some of the best. 

Lillian ‘FlexMami’ Ahenkan, TV presenter, DJ, podcast host, copywriter and influencer 

You’ve hit the 3pm slump, hard. What do you do? 

This may be unorthodox to say, but I’m a big fan of powering through, cranking it hard and getting the work done so it’s off my mind and out of the way. Granted, I can work really well under pressure and still deliver pretty nice quality work. If that’s not you, then maybe don’t.

How do you structure your daily agenda to optimise productivity?

I prioritise whatever has a deadline looming, then I knock out what I can do quickly and the rest of the day is allowed to be ad hoc. You’ll come to learn that I run all of my businesses in a very unconventional, random way. Whatever works for that day is what I’ll do.

What gets you out of a creative rut on a slow day?

Oddly enough, spending a lot of time on the internet. I follow a lot of creatives on every social platform I have, and nothing gets me out of a slump quicker than watching other people show all the good shit they’re making virtually.

How do you keep things interesting in the same physical space, day in, day out?

Surprise yourself! It’s all a mental game. Mind over matter. Your life is only as interesting as you observe it to be.

@flex.mami

Ash Davidson, founder of Pash Social

 

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You’ve hit the 3pm slump, hard. What do you do? 

Get the F up and get outside. As a freelancer who works every day of the week inside the four walls of my very tiny townhouse, an afternoon walk or run is essential for my productivity (and sanity TBH).

How do you structure your daily agenda to optimise productivity?

BIG fan of lists. HUGE! I start each day by reviewing my weekly priorities and projects, then creating a [realistic] to-do list for that day. And if there’s a shit load of tasks to get through, I’ll separate it into AM and PM segments. This may seem excessive but if you’re easily distracted like I am, micromanaging yourself is essential. 

What gets you out of a creative rut on a slow day?

Chucking on noise-cancelling headphones and blasting my eardrums with Britney Spears’ Blackout album does wonders for my productivity. But if Brit isn’t your thing, anything groovy or vibey played loud does the trick.

How do you keep things interesting in the same physical space, day in, day out?

I have one very large wolfhound and two cats to keep my workspace interesting, but moving around the house or office definitely helps as long as it’s comfy. I also like to treat myself to a bougie lunch every now and then instead of making the same tuna salad day in, day out. And don’t tell my clients (let’s face it, they already know) but sometimes if I’m in a serious rut or need to tackle something I’ve been putting off for weeks, a glass of wine is almost always the answer.

@heyashpash

Elliot Ulm, graphic designer

You’ve hit the 3pm slump, hard. What do you do? 

I try to step away from all screens for a little while but just end up scrolling through Instagram. Still gets me out of a slump though.

How do you structure your daily agenda to optimise productivity?

I’ve set myself a pretty strict schedule for when I post my content, so that deadline alone each day forces me to be productive until then. Still working out how to stay productive past those daily deadlines but new year, new me – I’ll work it out. 

What gets you out of a creative rut on a slow day?

As a graphic designer, you can get really stuck on client demands and revisions to your work which can be really disheartening. I always make sure to allocate some time to design for fun when I can just experiment and make something cool without having to worry about whether or not people like it. As far as I’m concerned, if I had fun making it, then it’s good!

How do you keep things interesting in the same physical space, day in, day out?

I used to have my desk in my bedroom when I started working more from home and that was an absolute nightmare! I’ve moved out since then and have made a mission out of separating all my living spaces, so I don’t blur the line between relaxing and working. 

@elliotisacoolguy

Annie Carroll, creative consultant and writer

 

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You’ve hit the 3pm slump, hard. What do you do? 

It’s unorthodox, but if I don’t have a pressing end-of-day deadline, I have a quick shower. It’s the best way to reset, it feels like you’re completely starting the day over. The perks of WFH life! But if I’m on a tight timeframe, I’ll give my dog a scratch, put on a new playlist and just… dig deep. 

How do you structure your daily agenda to optimise productivity?

I’m afraid I’m a bit of an organisation and list obsessive. I find the urgent/important matrix is a good way to map out the working week ahead. If I have a clear understanding of the big picture each Monday morning, I can then set my daily agenda depending on priority and urgency. The nature of my work means I need to be doing ‘light’ work in the morning: emails, phone calls, follow-ups and planning. The afternoons are reserved for deeper thinking: writing and strategy work. 

What gets you out of a creative rut on a slow day?

Stepping away from the screen and picking up a beautiful magazine or book. Sounds so simple, but it really works to engage a different part of my brain and reminds me of the ways creativity can manifest itself. Plus, your eyes will thank you.

How do you keep things interesting in the same physical space, day in, day out?

Sometimes I’ll pick up some cheap flowers on my morning coffee run for my desk. It’s the little things.

@anniecarrolll

Hannah Furst, beauty editor, podcast host and writer 

 

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You’ve hit the 3pm slump, hard. What do you do? 

If you’re finding that your motivation is low in the afternoon, ask your work about restructuring your hours. You could try 8am to 4pm. Early in my career, I was too nervous to ask for work arrangements that also suited me. It’s okay to speak up and advocate for your own needs, especially if they support your mental health. Whenever I slump, I have to leave my desk, go outside, let the sunshine hit my face, listen to music, go for a walk and maybe have a little dance.

How do you structure your daily agenda to optimise productivity?

I’m in a creative role so too much planning and too many to-do lists stifle my creativity. Make sure you have spare afternoons later in the week to just sit, think, research, read, watch. I write ideas on the floor on big pieces of butcher’s paper, and then try to make sense of them later. I like to do emails in the morning when I’m still groggy, and then I try to leave them until the afternoon. I hate email culture where everyone is too responsive and expects responses immediately. Twice a day is enough. They will call you if it’s urgent.

What gets you out of a creative rut on a slow day?

My team has a book club which we do at 1pm on a Friday. We recently read Big Magic which is a book about creativity… Friday afternoons are the worst for ruts! We all find book club gives us a boost for the rest of the day, and it sets me up for a weekend of spontaneous “shower ideas”. My best ideas come when I’m not working. It’s when I’m hiking, or cooking, or cleaning, or under running water. Also, don’t work on weekends or at night if it’s not in your contract to do so. Do. Not. Check. Emails. Again, your boss will call or text if it’s urgent. This is the biggest lesson from career mistakes in my twenties. Burnout and a constant state of stress is not fun, and it’s damaging to your mental health. 

How do you keep things interesting in the same physical space, day in, day out?

This is a hard one because I really struggled during lockdown. I bought myself flowers, I lit candles, I burned incense, I let a lot of natural light in, I even bought a blender to make myself açai bowls to eat on my balcony in between meetings. I find fresh air, light, scents, healthy food and plants are the best things to keep your day more interesting because I personally don’t think we were meant to be staring at a computer all day.

@hannahfurst

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