Little Black Book
eBook - ePub

Little Black Book

The Sunday Times bestseller

Otegha Uwagba

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eBook - ePub

Little Black Book

The Sunday Times bestseller

Otegha Uwagba

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Fourth Estate
Chapter 1



‘Nothing will work unless you do.’
– Maya Angelou, poet and activist
Producing creative work often means juggling a seemingly endless number of deadlines and projects. This can be both a blessing and a curse: while a bit of variety keeps things fresh, good time management is infinitely trickier when you have lots of competing demands on your time. Read on for some effective ways to make the most of your working hours.


Try starting your working day an hour earlier. If you’re not used to early starts this will probably be a little painful at first, but you’ll soon notice the benefits of getting a head start on your work without anyone to disrupt you, especially if you have clients to report to. Consistency is key to making this habit stick, which means getting up at the same time every day. Studies have also shown that people who get up early actually tend to have higher energy levels, and feel more in control of their day – even more reason to become a morning person. And on that note …


Resist the temptation to check your emails or social media accounts first thing in the morning, as you run the risk of falling down an Internet rabbit hole. Instead, dedicate the first hour of your working day – when your mind is at its freshest – to establishing what your priorities are for the day ahead and making a start on them. That first hour is precious, so make the most of it.


Many world leaders and CEOs swear by having a ‘work uniform’, i.e. returning to the same outfit (or variations thereof) day in, day out. Eliminating smaller choices such as what to wear each morning means one fewer decision to make over the course of your day, so you can save your brainpower for the important stuff. Plus, you’ll save precious minutes in the morning, which can only be a good thing. Having a consistent look is also a great way of establishing your personal brand – find out more about that in Chapter 3.


Despite the many wonders of modern technology, the humble list remains one of the most effective productivity power tools at your disposal. At the start of each week, make a to-do list of your key goals for the week ahead, prioritizing them in order of importance. By spending a few minutes planning your workflow upfront, you free your brain up to do the real work of creative thinking the rest of the time. You might also find it helps to go analogue with this – the process of committing your thoughts to paper can be incredibly clarifying, and having a written list to hand means your goals won’t get lost in the jumble of draft tweets and browser tabs that tend to dominate our lives.


Working non-stop doesn’t necessarily equate to getting more done, as your brain simply can’t operate at peak performance for long stretches of time. Instead of trying to work marathon sessions, aim for shorter periods of focused activity interspersed with regular breaks allowing your brain to recharge. Try scheduling your day into a few two-hour ‘work blocks’, comprised of ninety minutes of work followed by a thirty-minute break. Resist the temptation to carry on working beyond the allotted time for each block just because you’re ‘in the zone’ – you’ll be more motivated to return to work if there’s something you’re dying to finish, as opposed to working yourself to the point of exhaustion.


Multitasking is overrated! If you’ve got several projects on the go, it’s easy to get distracted by flitting from one project to another but that’s an exhausting way of working, and one that reduces your efficiency. Don’t fracture your time by jumping from task to task – pick one task you want to complete in a given time slot (e.g. one or more work blocks) and focus on just that.


Identify your most productive times of day – are you an early bird or a night owl? It’s natural for your energy levels to fluctuate throughout the day, so figure out the time of day when your focus tends to be at its peak and schedule important tasks for then. Try starting with the most difficult task on your to-do list first. The sense of accomplishment (and relief) from having ticked it off your list will give you a burst of energy that propels you through the rest of your day.


Avoid a hastily gobbled lunch ‘al desko’, and always aim to take a full hour for your lunch break if possible. At the very least, make sure you’re well away from your phone or computer when eating your lunch – this is your time to recharge your brain so don’t try and multitask. If you can manage it, take a quick walk outside, too. A few minutes of fresh air will do wonders for your energy levels and sense of calm.


Relegate emails, admin and social media activity to specific times of the day, factoring in your ‘peak energy’ hours and working around them. If you need to, consider switching the notifications settings on your phone from push to pull, to avoid the distraction – and temptation – of notifications popping up. Frequently interrupting your work to check or respond to messages stops you from getting properly immersed in it, as it takes the average person around twenty-five minutes to get back into the swing of things after a distraction. The same principle applies to ‘life admin’ such as going to the supermarket or doing housework – set aside a regular slot once or twice a week to deal with everything in one go. Knowing you have a pre-allocated time to tackle these tasks will also help you put them to the back of your mind and concentrate better the rest of the time.


It’s easy to feel as though constant busyness is the ultimate indicator of productivity, but making time for ‘deep thinking’ is just as essential to your output as ticking items off your daily to-do list. Try to block out at least one hour-long slot in your diary every week just to think, strategize and evaluate how you’re working. That might feel like something of a luxury in the face of the endless demands on your plate, but taking the time to clarify your priorities, think about how you’re expending your energy and generate new ideas is a vital investment in making long-term headway on your goals.


Having an actual deadline can improve your performance and reduce your tendency to procrastinate no end, so as you begin each task allocate yourself a set amount of time within which to finish it. Make sure the deadline is achievable and allows enough time to get the job done well – don’t subject yourself to unnecessary pressure by setting unrealistic goals. Not allowing tasks to expand to fit the time available to you is a crucial habit to cultivate, and it’s even more salient if you’re a freelancer and your time is, quite literally, money.


Perfectionism is very often the enemy of progress. Resist the urge to endlessly tweak projects or creative work at the expense of ever actually finishing them. Following through – even if you’re not 100 per cent happy with the final product – is more valuable than endlessly chasing an unattainable ideal of ‘perfection’. Recognize where to draw the line and put your work out into the world. After all, if no one ever sees your work, then it doesn’t really exist, does it?
Chapter 2



‘Show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the muse shows up, too.’
– Isabel Allende, writer
Everyone struggles with creative block from time to time, and finding that your ideas come less easily at some points than at others is pretty much part and parcel of doing creative work. Still, when your livelihood depends on your ability to generate ideas, going through a creative dry spell is far from ideal. Whether you’re dealing with a seemingly impenetrable brief, or having trouble going from idea to execution, here are a few simple strategies to help you get your work back on track.


Your best ideas won’t always come to you when you’re sitting at your desk, so get out there and find fresh sources of inspiration. Whether it’s going to a talk, reading a book, or travelling somewhere new, putting yourself in a position to absorb information from outside your usual frames of reference is great for sparking new ideas, and developing work that reflects your own unique range of inspirations.


Don’t be afraid to open your work process up to others – if you’ve hit a wall, talking things through with someone else can really help. It’s a simple but often overlooked truth that a fresh pair of eyes usually helps you look at problems from a different perspective. No woman is an island, so open up to someone whose opinion or judgement you respect.


On a day-to-day level, simplify your to-do list to make it more manageable. Chances are you’ll find you don’t have to do everything right now, and it’s always better to do a few things well than many things badly. Be ruthless in figuring out what you can delay, delegate (if you work in a team), or skip altogether.


Creating the right conditions for inspiration to strike is crucial to doing your best work. Your working environment has a huge impact on your mindset and creativity levels, particularly if you regularly work from home – it needs to be somewhere you’re happy to be in for hours on end, day in, day out. It’s also far easier to get in the zone (and out of it when your workday’s over) if you have a dedicated workspace, no matter how small. Whether you’re working from home or based in an office, make sure you’ve got these basics sorted.

Get organized

Some people swear by organizing their desk every morning before getting down to work, in the belief that a tidy desk equals a tidy mind – or at least helps. Kondo (for the uninitiated, this means declutter) your workspace using desk drawer organizers, folders and filing cabinets, and treat yourself to some cute desk accessories to elevate your workspace beyond the mundane. Muji is a great option if you like your stationery minimal, and cheap.

Go green

Recreate the mood-boosting properties of the great outdoors by sprucing up your workspace with some greenery. If a continual supply of fresh flowers is too much hassle for you, go for an easy-to-care-for succulent such as aloe vera, which has the added bonus of purifying the air around you.


Ensure you’re working in a well-lit environment – if you can work somewhere with plenty of natural light, all the better.

Make your space unique

Adding some personal touches to your workspace by pinning up a few pictures, postcards, or inspirational quotes can do wonders for keeping you motivated when you’ve hit a wall.

Get comfortable

Your workspace should be as conducive to comfort as possible – if you’re uncomfortable, you won’t be able to concentrate properly, particularly on those days when you need to put in long hours. Make sure your computer screen is at the right height, and that you’ve got a chair with good back support. If you use a laptop, get an external mouse instead of relying on its touchpad; over time that can strain your hands and wrists.

Tune in

Music can go a long way towards creating the right ambience for your workspace, so experiment a little to see what works for you. Or you could take a leaf out of writer Zadie Smith’s book: she listens to ‘brown noise’ (like white noise, but more soothing) as she works....

Table of contents