Be productive.. not just busy being busy!

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We’re coming to the end of January – and you may have found that some of the New Year resolutions you vowed to keep are slipping a bit. That’s totally normal – after about 3 weeks, the novelty of something new starts to wear off and it takes dedication and commitment to see it through until it becomes a habit.

One of my own resolutions (well, a life goal if I’m honest) is to “stop being a busy fool”. So many of us are ALL of the busy these days, but are we busy being busy, or are we actually being productive with our time? And also, are we making time for the really important things in our lives; like family, friends, self-care and general wellness?

The best way to avoid the “busy fool” trap is to focus on making the most productive use of our time.

And to help, I’ve put together a list of the top 8 Productivity Pointers to help us be more efficient with our time, so that we have more downtime to enjoy.

I hope they help!

  1. Take 5 minutes every night

How many mornings have you woken up a little later than planned, and you end up in a tizzy of getting breakfasts, rooting through drawers and hot presses looking for clean undies, trying to decide what in the fridge can be thrown in a lunch box for later…

In the morning, our schedules are normally pretty tight so it’s not the best time to be making even mundane decisions.

Instead, take 5 minutes each night to do the following:

  • Prep what you’re going to wear for the following day. If you have kids, leave their clothes out where they can see them (or better yet, get them to do it as part of their nighttime routine). That way, you don’t have to make any decisions in the fug of morning brain and end up going into the office without a bra and wearing two odd socks
  • Decide what you’re going to have for your lunch. If it’s something that doesn’t need to be made fresh, prep it quickly and put it in a lunchbox in the fridge. Same goes for others in the family (if you’re responsible for their lunches)
  • Are you working out tomorrow? Pack your gym bag and leave it by the door so you don’t forget it, and so you won’t miss a workout because of that old chestnut “I forgot to bring my gear!”
  • Have dinner at breakfast time so you’ve a clear run of the day….

OK, OK – I’m only joking. But if you do struggle to get dinners ready in the evening, consider investing in a slow cooker. You can throw the prepped food into it in the morning, set it on low for 8 hours and your dinner will be ready for you when you get home!

  1. YOU decide on the direction of your day

As much as we’d like to think otherwise, those people we know (and loathe a little) who manage to be super-productive don’t have any more hours in the day than we do. They are just better task managers. And unfortunately, time cannot be managed. Instead of trying to manage time, write up your list of to-do’s and prioritise them. The top 3 are must do’s – the next 3-5 are need-to-do’s. The remainder are non-priority. Stick them on a separate list and decide if they’re even necessary.

And remember – planning your day is important, so take time to do it. Put together your task list before you even open your mailbox/Facebook/Tinder… and YOU decide what direction your day is going to take and what you’re going to get done.

And DON’T start something new just because you’ve got some available time. Again, plan how much work this “new thing” is going to take, and manage your tasks accordingly.

 

  1. Learn to say NO

This is valid in many areas, and I’ve even discussed it in other blog posts with relation to managing your food intake.

Being able to say no, and feeling comfortable with doing so, is a great self-preservation weapon to have in your arsenal. Whether it’s saying no to a colleague or boss, to a friend or to someone in your family, the only way to perfect the art of saying “no” is to practice it.

In case refusing someone a request gives you that feeling of horror in the depth of your gut, here are a few stock phrases that may feel a little less harsh that a straight-up “No, can’t do that – sorry”.

  • “Thank you so much for thinking of me for this, but I was planning to spend this week working on [name of other projects]”
  • “I appreciate you asking me, Julie. That sounds like an exciting initiative. Unfortunately, I’m not much good at xxx, so I’m afraid I wouldn’t be much help. But I know Anne has a lot of experience in that area. It might be worth checking in with her.”
  • “I have a high workload at the moment, John. So I would be unable to do a good a job on your project and my other work would suffer.”
  • “That sounds great, but I just can’t put one more thing on my calendar for the next few weeks. Let’s try arrange a night out again when things clear up.”

 

  1. Eat Well, Move Smart

Being fit & healthy has lots of benefits, one of which is helping you to feel more in control. When you eat well (by that, I don’t mean cut calories and live off lettuce. I mean eating plenty of the good stuff), your body responds in great ways. You have better energy, you avoid things like 3pm slumps and sugar dumps, your sleep quality improves, you have more patience… When you combine this with exercise (and remember, you can do as little as 20 minutes a day to reap benefits), you will be a super- efficient productivity machine. The only downside is that you will be the envy of all those around you and will be constantly asked “what’s your secret?” Here’s a typical example of a 1xday meal plan and exercise routine:

Breakfast: Fruit salad, Greek yoghurt, granola

Snack: Berries & walnuts

Lunch: Homemade tomato & bean soup (scroll to point 3), salad, small wholemeal bagel

Snack: Homemade hummus (scroll to “Snacks” near the end) & carrot sticks

Dinner: Slow cooker chicken stew

Exercise: 20 minute bodyweight HIIT workout

 

  1. Become a decluttering ninja

Decluttering is the new mindfulness, and a quick Google search will show you that it is set to be a trend for 2018 too. But how exactly can decluttering help with productivity?

There’s lots of areas in our lives that can benefit from a good declutter, and when the space around you is clear it helps to keep your mind clear too.

My main tip would be to not underestimate how much time it takes to declutter even a seemingly small area. Take the time to do it properly to reap the rewards. I’ll focus on 3 areas here, but there isn’t one aspect of your life that wouldn’t benefit from a decluttering session:

Desk declutter:

If you’re like me, then every post-it and notebook from the last 12 months is somewhere on your desk, for fear one note with a tremendous idea or 1 to-do item would get lost and fall out of your brain, never to be seen again. If that’s the case, then you need to do some housekeeping. Get rid of any old lists, notebooks with loose bits of paper in them… Old biros that don’t work, a diagram of a process flow from 2 years ago that is pinned to the wall. Get rid of them ALL. Only keep things that are useful, current or of sentimental value. Keep one photo/picture of a cute cat saying “I survived another meeting that could have been an email”. Hold on to a few working pens, post-its and a fresh note pad. And that’s it!

Email declutter:

  • Open all your important emails and flag the ones that need follow-up.
  • DELETE any that you haven’t read in 3 months.
  • UNSUBSCRIBE from any mailing list to which you have taken NO action in the last 3 months (and don’t be victim to FOMO)!
  • TURN OFF email notifications for ALL social media.
  • CREATE folders for important mail, and delete the rest.
  • RELAX and enjoy the feeling of peace and serenity that comes from having a completely decluttered mailbox.

Kitchen declutter:

  • Put items where you’re most likely to use them (knives with chopping boards, oils and condiments near hob…)
  • Use the space between the cabinet and the ceiling to move necessary items from your kitchen tops.
  • Organise your cupboards using the inside of cupboard drawers (or check out these hacks for great storage ideas)
  • Keep countertops as clear as possible.
  • Don’t keep out of date food.

Check out this great article from Patricia Lohan for more tips and information on decluttering.

  1. Avoid long-finger-itis

How many times have you thought to yourself “Ok, I’ll send that email just after I reply to this Facebook message…”, then 3 hours later you’re deep in a hole of YouTube videos about how to make your own crystals for decorating cheap, shop bought jewellery? Well no more. Procrastination is one of the main adversaries of productivity, and it is something that we can take control of with some focused thinking and mindful action.

If I know I need to do a task (send a complicated email, make a difficult phone call…) then I put this at the top of my action list for the day. No messing about. No checking emails or Twitter. No “I’ll just make another cuppa and then I’ll do it”. It’s my number one action for the day, and I don’t allow myself to do anything else until it’s done. Simples! Well, not really. It takes focus and a bit of forward planning but it’s always worth it to tick that bad boy off my list.

 

  1. Work with YOUR flow

We all run at different speeds, and we also have different peak times in the day when we feel like we have boundless energy and could do a hundred tasks with ease.

For me, this is first thing in the morning. Once I start work, all the synapses are firing and I feel like I can take on the world. This is when I am naturally most productive, and this is the time I set about doing my “must do” tasks.

However, come 3pm I start to slow down – significantly. I can’t start anything new after this time, and struggle with the thought of making important phone calls or having to be creative or even interactive in a meeting or with a client.

Cue my husband… his time to shine is definitely after midday, where he can take on any task you like. He also gets a burst of energy around 9pm, when I’m getting ready to have a chamomile tea and go to bed.

Recognise your own peak time(s) and pencil in your big tasks for this time slot. You’ll find the tasks much easier to do then, and you will free up some lower-energy time for some of the more mundane jobs in your day.

 

  1. Don’t hit “Snooze” (but get quality sleep)

One thing I’ve changed in my own work life is refusing to hit the snooze button. There was a time when I would set about 9 alarms every morning (each of which was about 2 minutes after the previous one). Looking at my alarm list before I went to bed would actually stress me out but I had a fear of sleeping in.

At that time, I wasn’t really addressing the real issue. And that was my lack of quality sleep. Work was stressful, it would take me quite a while when I got home to unwind, then I would watch TV and try to go straight to bed afterwards. Then I would lie in bed for at least an hour trying to drift off, and with each passing minute dreading getting up in the morning.

So instead of “Snooz”ing your way through the morning, do the following:

  • No TV/screens for at least 30 minutes before bed (ideally 60 minutes)
  • Go to bed at least 7 hours before you need to get up
  • Set only ONE alarm, and get up once that alarm goes off – don’t hit snooze
  • Take a minute or two before you get out of bed to quickly go through what you need to do when you get up. DON’T check your phone
  • If you are tired during the day, try to get a 15 minute nap in. I know this isn’t always easy, but remember even 15 minutes shut-eye in your car will energise you
  • If you find you’re anxious during the night and think about things you need to do, keep a notepad and pen next to your bed. If you wake because you remembered something you need to do, write it in the notebook and try to go straight back to sleep.

For more about Carrie Small Plate’s Transformation programs where we address lifestyle in general (as well as health & fitness), have a look here.

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