With the dawn of 2016, I’ve heard a number of gripes and moans around the social sphere about how short the holidays were and how awful it is to be going back to work. I’m a glass half full kinda gal, and I know that that griping and moaning is only going to breed more negativity and set you off on the wrong foot for the new year. No matter what kind of business or job you find yourself in, you can maintain a “can do” attitude and you can find enjoyment in your work. The fact that you have a job should be reason enough to express gratitude, but sometimes we forget how fortunate we actually are.
I’ve found that there will always be days when you find it difficult to get up. There will always be days where you want to be doing something else. But there will also always be ways that you can turn this situation around and make the most of it. These are my 10 ways to boost your productivity… my tried and tested methods of clearing my head, amping myself up and giving every day the best of me that I can offer up. In living and working in this way, I’ve been returned with an abundance of awesome clients who have the most delicious work for me to do. Coincidence? Perspective? Who knows? But it makes me truly happy and grateful to be able to sit at my desk every day and do the things I do. So here goes…
Having had my roots in personal training, yoga instruction and pilates teaching, I’ve always been “addicted” to exercise, so this one’s easy for me. But often when we get too busy we let the good things in our life slide, in favour of meeting deadlines and working to ridiculous constraints. I read an amazing article that I tweeted about last year about how exercise and looking after your health are the things that you need to keep in check if you want to be successful in your career. No matter the deadline, exercise must come first. You and your health must come first. It’s no secret that regular exercise had boundless positive effects. The simple release of endorphins (happy hormones) during exercise is enough to make you forget about the pressures of work, or even better… to help you see them in a different light, which makes them all the more manageable. I see my exercise as “me time” where I get to be inside my own head to either think of nothing, or to muddle through lists of things that have been plaguing me. Either way, I come out of it feeling a renewed sense of determination and with a silly grin on my face because it feels so damn good to be alive!
My husband and I run daily, we swim, we do yoga and we are generally really active and will take part in awesome outdoor activities over the weekend like wakeboarding, hiking, snorkelling (if we’re close to the coast). By keeping our bodies going, we’re helping ourselves stay young and able, which makes going into the work week or day so much easier to manage.
2. Healthy eating at regular intervals
This ties in with the exercise in that your personal health is so important to maintain in order to function optimally. If you think of yourself as a machine that needs to fuel up to keep going, your food and the quality thereto will determine how far you can go. Filling up on junk will give you a boost for a short period of time, but it’s not sustainable. It’s quick and convenient, but the long term effects of eating this kind of food will eventually wear you down. It’s also a short trip to innumerable health problems and will also prevent you from living and working at your best.
Coffee is one of my major loves in this world and it’s easy to rely on it to keep me going, but the adverse effects of jitters, mind-spasms and inability to sleep are not worth the full-bodied flavour. That’s not to say I don’t drink coffee. I have and love a cup of premium coffee every morning… but that’s usually where it ends until the next day and I’ll rather keep myself hydrated with water and fresh juices.
Eating regular meals helps keep your momentum going and gives you the sustained energy you need to be able to focus on what you’re doing. It’s so easy to skip meals when you’re crunching deadlines, but it’s this kind of behaviour that will have you crashing and burning by the time you’re done. For many of us, this is how we live. This is how we go through each day, and while it may work for us while we’re younger and fitter, there will come a time when it all catches up. Plus it will give you premature wrinkles – gasp! Snacking on fruits, raw veggies, nuts and health bars will keep me going between meals, as boring as that sounds I actually enjoy this kind of food now.
3. Meditate or do yoga
Getting your mind out of the game for a short space of time will help you reboot. Just like your Mac needs to switch off every now and then, so too does your mind. Cleaning out your head is the most revitalising exercise you can do and if it’s something you’ve never tried, then you should… now. I’d actually say that meditation can help more so than exercise because it’s the route to finding the right mindset that will have you wanting to put everything else in place. The exercise, the healthy eating, the good living… that all becomes part and parcel of the deal once you get your mind right.
It’s not easy. We all have monkey minds that dance all over the place and tell us the most ridiculous stories of failure and self-doubt. But there is a way to gain control over that, to control the mind and to help clear that space so that you view everything with awareness and a sense of perspective. Not taking things personally will do wonders for your business, because it’s easy to be precious about the work that you do, especially when you’ve clocked three all-nighters in a row to get it done. Meditation gives you the outsider’s view of your life so that you can see everything for exactly what it is, without taking it to heart on a personal level.
Yoga does the same thing… so if you want to tackle the exercise and meditation at once, then this is a great option. But you have to be mindful in the way that you do it. You can’t just go through the poses. You have to be present in the moment of each pose, each breath, each movement.
A fabulous app that really got me sinking deep into meditation is Headspace. The first ten sessions are free and they’re ten minutes each, so it gives you a nice way to ease into the work. Then after that you can pay per month or year or for a lifetime of meditation. I pay per year and it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. There are emergency meditation sessions that you can do when you feel like you’re about to crumble, sessions to help you sleep as well as loads that you can do on the go. Download it. Pay for it. Meditate. You won’t regret a single moment spent doing it and it’s something that can easily fit into the beginning of a work day.
4. Rise early
That old adage, “the early bird catches the worm” rings with truth! The best hours for productive work are in the morning – well, for me, anyway. When no one is really up and at ’em yet, there are no disturbances and no one firing off emails or Skype messages… that’s when I get the core sticky bits of my work done without any distractions. Obviously the world eventually catches up, but by then, I’m already half way through everything I need to do for the day. Working for myself, this allows me the freedom to spend the afternoons with my kids, which is priceless. While a lot of people won’t have that luxury as they work in full time employment, there might be an opportunity to negotiate a more flexible approach to your working hours if you show your dedication to getting in early and smashing the tasks you have at hand.
5. Early morning rituals
If you’ve had children you’ll know how a routine can help your child (and you) cope with everything you need to get done in a day. The same applies where work is involved. I do have kids, so I need to factor them into my mornings as they need to get up, get dressed, eat and get off to school. By sticking to my morning rituals it makes it that much easier to fit everything in.
- Early to rise at 5am
- Run or yoga first thing in the morning to get it out of the way
- Get the kids up so they can get dressed and ready for the day
- Shower or bath to freshen up and feel alive
- Eat a healthy breakfast
- Get kids off to school
- Get to work
All of this can happen before 7am, which sounds ridiculous, but when you’ve got so much to fit into a day, rising early and creating a ritual for your waking hours makes it so easy to manage.
6. Smash a task first thing in the morning
Before even getting to emails and communication, smashing one of your more pressing tasks is a great way to fire up your energy for a productive day. It sets the tone for much of the same in the rest of the day to follow and also prevents you from getting stuck in Facebook posts, tweets or emails, which can distract you and drag your energy levels down. Keeping the momentum going is of utmost importance. The moment you realise you’ve been distracted from the task at hand, take a breath and focus again.
I’m the worst when it comes to distractions. I can sometimes walk into the kitchen to get a snack and then find myself washing dishes and putting clothes in the drier half an hour later. Maintaining focus is tough, but by getting your day going with the right sense of productivity, you’re setting yourself up for more of the same in the hours to follow.
7. Keep social networks muted or closed
The easiest way to get distracted is by chat messages, Facebook posts or tweets popping up every five seconds or so. I’m a bit of a communication addict and I love being in contact with the world via Whatsapp, Gtalk, Skype, Facebook and Instagram. Even email is a major cause of distraction for me, so I have to try really hard to fight the urge to check them every five minutes. I used to do it automatically. I would be in the middle of typing out a blog post and suddenly I’d find myself opening up a tab and navigating to Facebook to see what the world had done in the last few seconds. It took extreme willpower for me to put an end to this manner of working, but since I did, I found that my productivity levels soared!
I keeps all my tabs closed now, have my Gtalk on silent and keep Skype closed until I need it. I see emails popping into my mailbox, but I don’t attend to them until I’ve finished what I’m currently working on. With the closing of each task, I take a moment to check my mails and any important messages before I carry on. I guess it’s kind of like my reward! Haha. Using Headspace has helped me in this area because they often speak of distractions during meditation and it’s one of the things they focus on preventing. Obviously your mind will always wander… that’s natural. But you don’t have to give into it’s whims when it wants to browse the net or have a chat with old friends. That can come later once all your tasks have been ticked off the list.
8. Make use of project management applications or checklists
I don’t know if it’s my age creeping up on me or just the way my mind works, but I’ve found that I need to create lists to remember everything. I have quite a few different things that I use to help me manage my time and tasks, but one of the easiest and simplest for me is to create a list every morning with a checklist of all the tasks I need to carry out before the end of the day. Some of them will bleed through into tomorrow, but just having them in view allows me to visualise how much time I need to spend on my work day. There is a great sense of satisfaction in crossing items off my list too! When that list has been completely fulfilled I have no qualms about shutting down and spending the rest of the day with my kids, doing puzzles or swimming or baking biscuits. That simple stuff that makes life worthwhile.
I also make use of apps like Asana, Trello and I used Wunderlist for a while too. Asana is more for me to see what tasks I have and the deadlines that need to be met. Trello is more for me to be able to share content and information with other team members on a project specific basis and Wunderlist was more for my lists, both personal and professional, but I found that I prefer the old fashioned notebook and pen approach to making lists and have stuck with that.
Because I work with a lot of freelancers and outsource a lot of work, I actually got one of the guys I work with to create a custom editorial calendar for me. This helps me see who is working on what project and for how long. It also helps me see where all my resources have been allocated so that I know how much capacity we have for new projects. Essentially, it’s all about being organised and seeing where the workflow is, knowing what your deadlines are, being able to pinpoint who is responsible for what and when things need to be delivered. Staying on top of all of this makes for a fully productive day for me and for everyone I work with.
9. Don’t leave tasks unfinished
This sounds a little silly, because clients would obviously be hounding you for work that you haven’t completed, but there are those tasks that maybe aren’t as urgent as the others. Or maybe they are cyclical and come around every month and you tend to leave them to the last minute because they are the least exciting of all the work you do. I’ve found that in leaving these little bits and pieces unfinished, I leave a pool of stagnant energy around me that doesn’t invite in anything new or fresh. By tying up all those loose ends, it’s almost a symbolic gesture of now being able to welcome in new work, and guess what? The new work comes! It’s almost as regular as clockwork. Scan through the tasks you need to do and see if you’ve got any of those nagging little brats that you simply can’t face managing. That’s the task that you need to take care of today. Do it and release yourself from it’s filthy clutches! You’ll feel so much lighter for it.
10. Take time out for life
Do you work to live or live to work?
It’s a question that I mentally ask everyone in my life. I look at their lives and try to figure out which one they stand for, and quite sadly, most people live to work. If your life is all about work and working towards creating a life that you will one day enjoy, then in my opinion, you’ve got it all wrong. Life is here, now. Life is happening all around you and you could – quite possibly – be missing it! Working to live is another thing altogether. You work as much as you need to in order to live the life you love. We all have to make money in some way, shape or form, but it doesn’t need to be something that consumes our lives. Unless money is everything to you and making it is what makes you happy. Each to his own, I guess. But for me, it’s about the experiences, the adventures, the baking of cookies with my four year old, the skateboarding with my 12 year old, or the braiding of hair with my 14 year old. The moments of quality time with my husband, or the lying on the couch snuggling up with my cats. This is why I work the way I do, so that I can afford to live and also have the time to spend with my loved ones, doing the stuff that I enjoy.
If you’re not making time for that, then chances are you might need to be more productive at what you do. If you literally don’t have the time for anything but work, then maybe you’re in the wrong line of business. Whichever way you look at it, the thing that fires me up with the largest sense of productivity is my life! I’m amped to go to work, because it means that once I’ve smashed all those tasks and done everything that’s expected of me, I get to go and enjoy the rest of my day…living! For me it’s as simple as that. For you, I hope that this has helped in some way, even if it’s just to give you a different perspective on productivity. We are all unique, after all, and perhaps my tricks of the trade won’t be as effective for you… but something tells me that if you give them a bash, you’ll find that they are.
Onwards and upwards!