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As a production assistant, productivity is literally in my job title. Every day, I have a long and varied list of tasks to complete, and sometimes it can be overwhelming to decide where to start. Even before I started this job, my to-do lists were often long and overwhelming. But during my junior year of college, I learned a productivity tip that I still use every day, and it came from a very unexpected source: a book on dance.
While some of the book applies to being physically creative — one of Tharp’s habits, “the Egg routine,” is literally doing a series of stretches where you clutch your knees close to your chest in an egg shape and expand from there — so much of it is about habits that can apply to a work day in any creative field that requires creative thinking and problem-solving of some kind at some time.
Tharp’s antidote to the inevitable end of a day of creative, productive brilliance is actually one she learned from Hemingway: Build a bridge to the next day. “Ernest Hemingway had the nifty trick of always calling it a day at a point when he knew what came next,” she says.
Tharp says to quit once you know what comes next and before you’re completely drained. “If you’ve been following a don’t-stop-till-you-drop routine — that is, you only quit when you’re totally wiped out — rethink that,” she says. “For the next week or so, end your working day when you still have something in reserve.” She suggests harnessing whatever idea or thought or energy it is, writing it on a notepad or index card, putting the note away, and not thinking about it for the rest of the day. After all, perhaps you’ll have a great solution in the morning.
Building a bridge to the next day is the productivity tool I’ve used since reading this book (it’s in Chapter 10, “Ruts and Grooves”), and it has seriously changed the way I start and end my work day. For me, it both increases creativity and places importance on time spent away from the desk.
On a typical day for me, “building a bridge” looks something like this: I turn my little bubble from green to gray on Slack, leaving one thing partially unfinished — something easy I can complete in five minutes or so the next morning. That way, when I’ve just started working, I’ve already accomplished something on my to-do list. I’m already in a groove, and it seems less daunting to choose a next task.
You can also do this in your home: Fold your laundry at night, and put it away the next morning. Type up that email or write that note you’ve been meaning to write in the evening, and send it off in the morning. Wash your dishes (or run your dishwasher) at night, and start the day by putting everything in its place.
By using Tharp’s tip to “build a bridge to the next day,” you’ll always have a place to start — and momentum to keep going forward. No guarantees on becoming a better dancer, though.