In my last post, I mentioned how I feel productivity is a balance. For every few very productive days, you’re bound to have an unproductive one. In late December, I took an instagram poll about content for the New Year. Over 90% of people voted “yes” for a post on how to have productive day, which doesn’t surprise me. In our world (especially in the U.S.), we’re always trying to get more done in less amount of time.
Productivity, whether in the workplace or in your personal life, is something everyone strives for but can often seem elusive. Especially if you’re someone who is a habitual procrastinator. Although I definitely have those unproductive days, usually brought on by illness or fatigue, I’ve developed a system to get myself back on track as soon as possible. And, believe it or not, I use to be a horrible procrastinator often believing that I “work best under pressure”. Flashback to those all-nighters I pulled in college to finish 10+ page papers or study for finals 😑. Although I do work well under pressure, it isn’t healthy to create this type of work environment. It causes unneeded stress and anxiety that could’ve been avoided. Let’s just say, procrastination = the bane of productivity.
In my opinion, having a productive day starts from the moment you wake up and doesn’t end until you fall asleep. It’s not just housed in your workplace but begins well before that. So, for this post, I’ve divided it up into the “productive” times that bookend your day (morning/evening routines), and the time of day when you hope to be most productive – at work.
-Bookending Your Day for Productivity-
The Morning Routine…
I learned a lesson while working my old 9-5 – If I didn’t have a good morning before arriving to work, my day was far less productive. I felt frazzled and just not organized from the moment I sat down at my desk. So, I developed a system about 2 years ago to combat this and these are the cornerstones:
Wake up before you have to get ready.
For example, if you need to leave your house at 7:30 AM to make it to work on time, and it typically takes you an hour to get ready, most people would get up at 6:30. This isn’t a good idea. Here’s why, leaving no time for yourself in the morning can cause you to feel unenergized and unfocused as the day goes on. You may not realize this now, but once you put in a healthy amount of “me-time” in the morning, you’ll get a lot more done throughout the day because you’ve taken time to care for yourself first. You cannot properly serve others or do work unless you feel fulfilled from within.
For me, I typically wake up 45-30 minutes before I technically have to “get ready”. I know, I know! this isn’t super appealing to most people because we all like our sleep. But we’ll touch back on that here in a bit. For now, just trust me that you can actually look forward to this built-in me-time in the morning.
It depends on what you like to do, but you can use this additional time to focus on something that only pertains to you. Whether that’s working out or meditating/journaling while having coffee (my personal favorite!), do something that won’t be interrupted and doesn’t involve anyone else. Secondly, don’t check your phone or email until after this 30-45 minute “me-time” is up. That way you’re truly focused only on you and not other things. After that designated me-time is up, hop in and start your day.
Your Bedtime Routine…
Your nighttime routine is as equally important to your productivity as your morning routine is. A good chunk of me-time, followed by a solid night of sleep is a huge part of making your next day productive.
I think it’s a pretty common habit to sit on your phone or watch TV before bed. I know Kevin and I are definitely guilty of this. It’s a convenience thing, your phones just right there. But, looking at your phone or any screen before bed can be detrimental to your sleep habits. I don’t feel like this is “news” to anyone. I’ve seen multiple news stories in the last year alone about the negative effects blue light can have on your sleep. And, for me, even if I have the blue light filter on on my phone, having any sort of bright light in my face instantly makes me more awake.
The best thing you can do to ensure you’re ready for the next day is to establish a solid night-time routine so that you sleep better. That means giving yourself 30-45 minutes (at least) of uninterrupted, me-time to focus on recharging.
I’m at my best when I get 8 hours of sleep. This means I try to have lights-out by 10:30-11:00 every night. Around 9:00 PM, I make a cup of tea to start winding down. And at 9:30 my phone alerts me that it’s time to start getting ready for bed (did you know Fitbit has a setting for this built-in to their app??). I light a candle, get ready for bed, journal (again!) and then read for usually 30-45 minutes. Reading is one of my favorite parts of the day. If I don’t set aside a solid 30 minutes for reading, I go to bed restless, and it’s often harder for me to fall asleep (right now I’m reading this book, which happens to be on effectiveness/productivity!). If reading isn’t your thing, try drawing or paging through your favorite magazine. Essentially, anything that doesn’t involve screen time and feels like pampering!
Side note – it used to be a common presumption, and one that I personally held, that sleeping less meant higher levels of productivity. More working hours = more work getting done, right? This couldn’t be further from the truth. Like I said, for me, getting 8 hours of sleep is essential to feel good the next day (and avoid issues with migraines). You may be able to function off of less sleep, but try to get 7-9 hours. In recent years, a TON of research has shown the detrimental effects of getting less than 7 hours of sleep habitually. In additional to general “brain fuzziness” it can take years off your life, decrease your immunity and increase your risk of obesity among other things (source).
-Increasing Your Productivity Throughout the Day-
In my opinion, there are 3 keys to having a productive day in addition to bookending your day with solid, relaxing routines.
One, try to follow the same general schedule every day so that it becomes habitual. I think this can be something that seems impossible to some people. At my old corporate job, I always had a ready excuse – “I never know who’s gonna call and need an hour of my time” “I never know what fires I’m gonna have to put out” “what if my technology just doesn’t work, and I can’t access X program” etc etc. But in the end, either you run the day or the day runs you. And that’s only a decision you can make.
So here’s my suggestion; create a flexible schedule that’s easy to follow and can adapt to your day. At my corporate job, this meant always working through emails and voicemails first thing. Then moving on to my new work and ending the day with wrapping up anything left over.
Now that I’m blogging full time, I’ll spend an hour or so on social media in the morning as that’s when most people are active (on their commute, upon first waking up, eating breakfast, procrastinating their workday (lol) etc). Then, I’ll move on to emails, then create content like blog posts. After breaking for lunch, I’ll shoot any photos I may need to, work on branding or take a webinar/improve my site etc. In both cases, I follow the same general schedule, but I don’t overload myself with 10 things to do in a day. I leave it to 4-5 big tasks so I can move things around if I need to. For example, on the screen shot of my iCal below, you can see that today I’m publishing this post later than I normally would because I wasn’t feeling well last week and didn’t wanna over do it this weekend. Be flexible!
In general, following the same general schedule daily takes the mental angst out of prioritizing and worrying about “getting it all done”. As I discussed in my post on goal setting, I set my calendar a week ahead of time in iCal and literally set alerts for every new task. This way, I don’t have to keep watching the clock, I just see the alert and know it’s time to move on to the next thing.
In addition, it’s a common idea that effective people “eat their frogs” in the morning. An idea discussed by Mark Twain, but likely upheld in society well before his time. This means, tackle your most mentally stimulating tasks or things you’re not keen on doing first thing. Tackling major tasks in the morning frees up your mind later in the day. It also eliminates any chance of wasting time by procrastinating those tasks later. For me, email and writing, although I don’t mind email and thoroughly enjoy writing, are two things that require a lot of mental focus for me. So, I get those done right away, and then the rest of my day seems comparatively easy-going.
Second, it is so so SO important to take regular breaks throughout the day and break for lunch. I understand, just like with sleep, it’s easy to think that more hours working = more productivity but this isn’t the case. Taking breaks every hour or so is not only good for your blood circulation, it gives you a mental break from whatever you’re working on so you can come back refreshed.
Breaking for lunch almost feels looked down upon in many work environments. So many people just eat at their desk as they work trying to cram every last second with work. Taking mini breaks throughout the day is important but breaking for 30-60 minutes for lunch is even more important. Go into the breakroom, talk to other people (network) or if you really need a break, take a longer walk or drive outside. I used to be someone who always worked through lunch, but then by 3:00 PM all of sudden I was really disoriented and lethargic. I ate lunch, so it wasn’t a matter of not having “fuel”, it was a matter of not having a mental break at all for a solid 8 hours. Even the idea of not taking a mental break for 8 hours sounds unhealthy. So do yourself (and your body) a favor and take a break for lunch. No matter what the stigma is in your workplace, you do deserve to take a break!
Third, stay hydrated throughout the day. I used to drink coffee until noon, then have maybe one glass of water until it was time to leave (not even joking). We all know how I love my coffee, but now I leave it to 1-2 cups in the morning. Drinking water consistently throughout the day actually makes me feel more awake than drinking coffee. Dehydration quite literally causes fatigue among other things. So drink up! And you’ll begin to feel better and have more energy to tackle that “to-do” list.
Wow, quite the post! I definitely didn’t intend this one to be so long (sounds familiar), but I didn’t want to leave anything out! To me, a productive day is truly a “well-oiled machine” with everything working together. I hope you found this helpful!
On Wednesday, we’ll be discussing a dressier Valentine’s look, which was also requested in instagram polls. For now, I’m going to bundle up and attempt to survive this blizzard we’re in. SPRING WHERE ARE YOU?!
Happy Monday Everyone! Hope it’s been productive 😉
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