Resources for Inspiration, Productivity & Escape

Summer can be an incredibly hard time to focus and get things done. In addition to your overcrowded inbox, the sun beckons you outside, and taking summer vacations means it’s even more important not to fall into bad patterns when you’re at work.  Here’s the good news: you can have your time in the sun if you prioritize and work more efficiently.

Here’s what I’ve found in my research and efforts to use time more effectively, work smarter and stay productive. I’d like to share some of what worked for me, because maybe it will help or inspire you too!

Establish Your Priorities

This isn’t just what you need to get done today. It means being intentional about what you want from your life. Time management guru Elizabeth Grace Saunders illustrates the idea of a “priorities filter” in her article “3 Rules to Work By.” She instructs readers to create their own unique priorities filter by listing what’s most important to you.

Saunders’ list is ordered as follows:

Inner life –> Relationships –> Business –> Wellness –> Order –> Leisure.

I could not for the life of me limit my list to six items. So I have seven, and some are sort of doubled up, but to me, they’re related. Mine go in this order:

Learning/Growth –> Connecting with Others > Creativity > Achievement/Earning > Order/Caretaking > Wellness > Leisure/Enjoyment.

Take a minute to make your own priorities filter. What’s helpful about putting them in order is that it can help you make decisions about your time. Should I go work out or watch a tv show? If wellness really trumps leisure for me, I’ll know what I need to do. It also helps you to say no to things that will take time and energy away from what matters most to you.

Break the Routine

There are a million tips for improving your work habits on the internet, but the best one is to get away from the internet. When you find yourself with low energy or you’re having trouble focusing at your computer, don’t check your e-mail, Facebook, LinkedIn, that site with the vacation ideas… stand up.

If you’ve really hit a wall, you can talk a ten minute walk, have a conversation with a colleague, or get out a pen and paper and make a mind map.

Change Your Scene

One of the best things I did this summer was to attend the local Design Madison conference on the power of process.  Two days away from the office listening to stories from an incredible variety of creative professionals (including a chocolatier) gave me a huge boost of inspiration and motivation. It was a wonderful reminder of all the possibilities that exist in the creative field, and of how lucky I am to be a part of it. It was also really cool to socialize with fellow designers I don’t see that often, and meet interesting people from other creative fields. [Hello to the nice architect I met!]

Productivity Boosts from others

Alex Kendrick of Two Six Code saves time by automating repetitive tasks. Text Expander is a favorite app that helps avoid retyping the same things over and over, and works great for e-mail and even some coding. You can find more time saving tips from Alex here and here.

Scott Pauli at Art & Sons says he divides his day between administrative tasks and creative projects that require concentration, and takes a break for exercise in between.

Peter Streicher, Creative Director at 5NINES says he loves his new adjustable-height desk, because it’s easy to change to either sitting or standing to suit his energy and task, and he can do a quick stretch while it raises or lowers.

And a client friend passed on a lovely quote from William Blake related to setting your priorities:

Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep at night.

Because she says she “feels like I’m always on, and work is never done—it helps to put things into perspective. It’s a great simplifier.” Amen to that. 

Don’t Forget the Escape Hatch

And although our work is never done, it’s still summer. Hopefully your priorities include some relaxing time with a good book; maybe on a beach somewhere? Just in case, I’ll leave you with a list of my favorite reads from this summer. Links are to one of Madison’s remaining independent bookstores, A Room of One’s Own. But you can also find these at your local library or favorite online bookseller.

Science Fiction

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Ready Player One by Earnest Cline


A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey

Political Autobiography

My Traitor’s Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience by Rian Malan


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
30 Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic by Luke Longstreet Sullivan


The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

Psychology/Self Help/Mythology

Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World by Carol S. Pearson