Start a Productivity Snowball
I’ve been in a productivity slump for the past few months. I could blame it on some sad things that have happened in my family, stress at work, or on the busyness of being a working mom, and I could feel bad about the things I didn’t do during that time - like not write any new blog posts...But I’m not here to make excuses, I’m here to get my productivity groove back and help you do the same!
Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others. There are so many tools and suggestions available about productivity and organization (many available in previous posts on my blog!) Don’t try to do it alone - find a blog post, grab a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a YouTube video to learn something new or reinforce what you already know. I finally started reading the book I’ve been eyeing for months, Atomic Habits by James Clear. I am about halfway done, and I LOVE it! (Book review coming soon!) There are so many tidbits of great information that have provided me much needed motivation!
"Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others."
Don’t try to do it all at once, or you’ll get overwhelmed and potentially do yourself more harm than good. Pick something that is fun and attainable or something that you have to do anyway. My motivation started returning when I had something to look forward to that required planning and organization - family vacation. Once I got started planning, I could start anticipating vacation, which I think is almost as fun as going! My planning paid off, and I felt really proud of all the effort I put into it.
After a successful vacation, I knew I could tackle more. I’m embarrassed to say I’d been doing the bare minimum for taking care of routine family finances and paperwork - for months. I’d do what was absolutely necessary and stash the rest for later. Later just never arrived until this past weekend. I spent a few hours and am now all caught up with processing and filing. (Click for tips on how to get caught up with your paperwork.) My appetite for productivity and organization is snowballing now!
Once one project is done, you immediately feel a weight lifted and create space in your brain that used to be taken up by worrying about that thing that was undone. Once one task is complete, you will crave the feeling of checking another project off of your list. For me, after paperwork was caught up, I decided to cancel a couple of unnecessary subscriptions and saved myself money in the process. Now I’m hooked and am shopping for a better price on insurance. Who knows, I may be cleaning out my craft area before I know it!
What I’m relearning is that getting any little thing organized propels you to the next, bigger step. After completing that step, you gain motivation to tackle even more daunting tasks. You stop feeling sorry for yourself or bad about yourself for not accomplishing tasks. I have a suspicion, I’m not the only one who has let their “productive self” go over the past year and a half, and I want to provide you encouragement that it’s not as hard as it seems to get your life in order!
Start your snowball of productivity in the next 15 minutes:
I predict that as you repeat steps 3-5, you will gain motivation and confidence. When that list is complete, you will have room in your head to really create productive systems to help you avoid having to write another list like that!
Thanks for reading my first post in several months - it’s good to be back! I hope you’ll stick with me as I strive to get and keep My Life In Order! If you'd like to get new posts and newsletters in your inbox, please join the email list!
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.
The time around Christmas and New Years is perfectly made for reflecting on the past and planning for the upcoming year. I'm calling this year's exercise "Hindsight 2020" because when we look back we can see things more clearly. 2020 has been a year of the unprecedented, so it's been next to impossible to navigate it well and see things clearly while we've been in the middle of it. Soon, we will have a little space between us and 2020 to give us the perspective we need to plan for a new and better year.
I haven't had 20/20 vision since I was about 7 years old, but I never really knew why good vision was described that way. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a person with 20/20 vision can read what the average person can on an eye chart when standing 20 feet away . The top number is the number of feet from the eye chart and the bottom number is the number of feet away from the chart that the average person can read the same line. For example, if my vision is 20/200, at 20 feet away, I can read only what an average person can read at 200 feet away. We often think of 20/20 as perfect vision, but it's really just average because someone could actually have better than 20/20 vision. A person with 20/15 vision they can see as well at 20 feet away as the average person can at 15 feet.
The analogy of the eye chart gives me a little comfort. The standard of 20/20 is not perfect - it's average. In our daily lives, we are pushed to perfection and it seems being average is not good enough. All of us have been using the phrase 'hindsight is 20/20' to mean that when we look back we can see perfectly what we should have done. I'm really happy to re-frame the expression to mean that when I look back, I'll have a better idea of what was actually happening or how things could have gone better, but I don't have to expect my view to be perfect - just better than it was when I was right in the middle of the experience.
I want to appreciate the year 2020 for what it was, what it gave me, and what it taught me. But I think the most powerful part of 2020 was what it WASN'T. Recognizing what we missed, what disappointed us, and what we regret can teach us so much about how to live in the future.
An exercise I do every year is to ask myself some simple questions about the past year and then some similar questions about the upcoming year. I then look at the themes I see through these answers to help narrow my focus for the next year. Finally, I set goals around those areas of focus to help me be successful. ,
This year I tweaked the questions a little bit, and I also asked my kids these same questions and shared some of my answers with them (though this is a very personal exercise, and you should't feel the need to share your answers with anyone unless you want to!) These questions led to a great discussion with my kids, and helped me solidify even more what I wanted to focus on in 2021. Try it out!
1. What made you feel proud or successful this year?
2. What made you happy this year?
3. What caused you stress this year?
4. What are you disappointed you did not do this year?
5. What did you do this year that you regret?
1. What would your fantasy self accomplish next year?
2. If your wildest dreams came true next year, what would happen?
3. If money were no object, what would you do next year?
4. If you didn't care what others thought, what would you do next year?
5. What are some key things you want to avoid next year?
If you are looking for support in setting goals and achieving them in 2021, check out the accountability group I lead called Achieve! The next session starts in mid-January. Spots are limited, so if you are interested, please reach out for more information!
For some more reflection, planning and goal setting, check out past posts on the topic:
Vimont, Celia. “What Does 20/20 Vision Mean?” Edited by David Turbert, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 10 May 2020, www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/what-does-20-20-vision-mean.
Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash
Make Home Your Sanctuary
It's easy to go down a rabbit hole of gloom, doom, and woe is me because of all that has happened in 2020. Never has there been a better time to learn to see the glass half full, find the silver lining, and look for the good in everything (no matter how small that may be!)
In the midst of everything going on in our 2020 world, we need somewhere to escape. Make your home that sanctuary! The definition of sanctuary is "a place of refuge or safety." Our homes can literally keep us safe from the pandemic, but more than that, they can provide us a sense of calm and control that it's hard to find out in the world.
Try these ideas to make your home just a little more comfortable.
Consider what will make life easier or more enjoyable if you were to get quarantined or simply have to spend more time at home because there aren't a lot of reasons to leave!
An example from my house is our bedroom TV. Prior to lock down early this spring, we had a small, 19” TV.
As soon as school went virtual in March, my husband said,” If I’m going to home with these kids for months, I'm going to need a bigger TV in our room.” We ordered a TV and wall mount that weekend and got them delivered before TVs became scarce. That was one of the best decisions we've made in a long time! That TV has provided each of us alone time from the rest of the family and has served as a way to have a movie date when we couldn’t go out.
Consider what currently frustrates you about your home and brainstorm about ways to fix it. It may take a little investment and a lot of creativity, but when you can relax and enjoy an area of your home, it will be worth it!
"Consider what currently frustrates you about your home, and brainstorm about ways to fix it."
Rearrange and Repurpose
We all had to adapt our homes to fit our new needs like working from home and housing virtual students while still keeping them comfortable for regular living. For a while, my husband used TV trays to hold his laptop in the living room, but soon we realized that was a frustration for everyone. We set up a small table in our bedroom and moved a comfortable chair there. This allowed him to have a workstation that he didn't have to tear down each evening and kept our living room for family time.
Virtual school was another challenge many of us had to overcome. I wrote about some ideas to get organized for e-learning without completely overtaking the house in a previous post. There were times this year that we had the entire family working/learning at home, so that meant I had to get really creative about my workspace which used to be in the living room. I was able to repurpose my craft area into an office. I found a cable to connect the TV I watch while I do crafts to my laptop for a second monitor, I reused an old cart to store all my sewing supplies to make room for my computer on the counter, and I got a new power strip to I could leave my power cord plugged in so setting up each day was quick. I now have a dedicated space to work that I can leave at the end of my work day. This is one of the key parts of work from home productivity!
Removing frustrations and reducing the amount of time spent in set up and tear down mode were the things our family was able to accomplish by rearranging and repurposing items in our home. Working from home is now seamless and, though our kids are back at school for now, if they need to learn from home again, it won't be a burden or impact our common living space. What can you rearrange today to help make your home fit your current situation? Do you have a space or an item you can repurpose to help remove a frustration?
"What can you rearrange today to help make your home fit your current situation?"
Over the past several months most of us have spent more time at home than ever before. It is looking like this winter will be more of the same, which means spending more time in close proximity to our families. All of this together time has probably made your home feel a little tight. Take this opportunity to get rid of some of the unnecessary stuff in your home. A clutter-free home is more pleasant to spend time in.
If the length of time it took to get materials for our deck this summer is any indication, LOTS of people have been doing home improvement projects during this pandemic, and we are no exception! From building a deck to redecorating a bedroom to installing new doors, we have kept busy for the past several months. Most of these projects were DIY to save money and fill time, though I have learned that there is still value to hiring the right person for a difficult job!
Regardless of your budget, small improvements can make your space feel fresh and special. A gallon of paint, a new piece of art on the wall, or a flea market find can do wonders for a room! An inviting space makes you feel more calm, relaxed, and happy. A freshly mowed yard, a few flowers and some bright cushions on your patio furniture can make you want to spend time outdoors. Improving your living space indoors and out can make your home feel like a retreat. Walk from room to room, and come up with a handful of quick, low-cost ideas that could make a big impact on how you feel about your home.
"Improving your living space indoors and out can make your home feel like a retreat."
Why does it matter?
Home used to be where we got to go after work and school, but now work and school have invaded. It's too easy to keep working past quitting time or jump back on your computer for just a little bit in the evening. When we turn on the TV or scroll through social media, we are bombarded with scary and upsetting news. We have to be strict with ourselves about turning off the distractions of the outside world to make our home a sanctuary where we can relax, recharge and enjoy. Take control and make your home a place you enjoy spending time, and create space in your home for both solitude and family fun. The world will be waiting for you, but make sure you have a sanctuary to come home to.
Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash
Put Your Mask on First
If you've ever flown, you've heard the airline safety demonstration about putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others if the cabin pressure were to drop in the plane. Fortunately, I've never had to make the decision between myself or my child getting an oxygen mask first, but I think my instinct (like many parents) would be to help my child first. When I think about it intellectually, I understand that hypoxia, or a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the brain, can cause many issues including confusion to the point of being unable to help others or even yourself. In the moment, though, it's hard to think intellectually, and that's why flight attendants remind us every time we fly!
In the same way that prioritizing our own oxygen supply is critical for saving the lives of those around us in a hypothetical plane crash, it is necessary to prioritize caring for yourself so that you can better care for your loved ones. Self-care can mean different things to different people from a massage to an hour alone to reading a book. Self-care can sometimes feel like an indulgence that we shouldn't desire when, in fact, it's something we should not ignore.
In his article, Dr. Matthew Glowiak from Southern New Hampshire University said, "In a society in which people are expected to work long hours and pass on vacation days, there is an underlying belief that we must always be productive – which can ultimately take away from opportunities for self-care. But by taking some time out to engage in self-care, you may relieve the pressures of everyday life and reset yourself to get back to a healthy point where productivity is once again maximized."
As I was researching for this post, something so obvious began to emerge from my own experience. These days when I hear the word mask, I don't think of oxygen masks on a plane, but instead I think of the homemade cloth masks that I've made over the past several months to help protect my family and those around us from the COVID-19 pandemic. Very early on in the first lock down, I purchased a basic sewing machine. I had to have my 7th grader teach me how to use it since he'd recently taken Family and Consumer Sciences in school. I remember scavenging for old t-shirts and scrap fabric that I could use to make masks. This was back when you couldn't find pre-made cloth masks and the disposable ones had all been bought up. Because of my lack of sewing skills, it took me hours to make just one mask, but I made enough for my whole family (in the event that we'd actually leave the house!)
Over time and with practice, my sewing skills and access to fabric and thread improved enough that I was able to begin making more masks. I made masks for my husband, two sons, some friends, and then more for the kids. I was wearing and washing, wearing and washing the three masks I had (two made for me by a friend and one that I'd made myself.) I bought fabric to make myself more, but whenever I got the sewing machine out, I ended up making masks for other people and put my own masks at the bottom of the priority list.
Only today when I was thinking about the parallels between putting on your own oxygen mask first and the importance of self-care did it hit me that I need to make myself some masks! I'm the one in the family that spends the most time away from the house due to my job, but yet, everyone else has more masks than me. Once I have enough masks, I will feel more secure, less frustrated and spend less time laundering my small supply of masks.
There are selfish people in this world, but many of us think of others before ourselves. It's time to begin looking at self-care as a way to help others. Perimeter Health Care in Georgia explains on their website that, "Self-care encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can transmit the good feelings to others. You cannot give to others what you don't have yourself."
Consider these easy ways to care for yourself:
Even though the metaphor of oxygen masks meant actual masks in my life, it can mean anything in yours. Choose at least one way to care for yourself this week because if you continue to give to others without caring for yourself, the less you are going to have to give. Put your mask on first!
Glowiak, Matthew. “What Is Self-Care and Why Is It Important For You?” Southern New Hampshire University, 14 Apr. 2020, www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/2020/04/what-is-self-care.
Coffey, Helen. “Hypoxia Definition - Why Adults SHOULD Do Their Oxygen Mask BEFORE a Child's on a Flight.” Express.co.uk, Express.co.uk, 24 Jan. 2017, www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/758140/hypoxia-definition-flight-mask.
“The Importance of Self-Care.” Perimeter Healthcare, 2020, www.perimeterhealthcare.com/about/news/the-importance-of-self-care/.
Less Storage, Less Stuff, Less Stress
Over the past week, we have transformed my son's bedroom. It has been a whirlwind process, but because we planned well, it's gone smoothly. Read my previous post about 5 steps to a bedroom refresh .
The new room has much less storage than the previous layout. We removed a large bookshelf, got a smaller dresser, relocated a cedar chest, and got rid of a 3 drawer plastic storage unit in the closet. Less storage may sound counter intuitive, but it forced my son to have less stuff in his room. Less stuff means less time cleaning his room, less arguments with me about clutter, less time spent looking for lost items, and more room to enjoy his private space.
When you have less storage, you must have less stuff. This makes you consider each item that makes it way into your space carefully. If you have a hard time getting rid of items or feel like everything is essential, try this trick. Pack up your room as if you were moving, and when it's time to "move in," start by unpacking only the absolute essentials like clothes, bedding, and maybe an alarm clock. Then over a few days' time as you find a need for an item, go get it from your boxes and carefully place it in the location that you noticed you needed it. In his book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, Joshua Fields Millburn says, “Minimalism looks different for everyone because it’s about finding what is essential to you.”
After a couple of weeks, you will notice that you did not need many of the things you had in your room before you packed it up. This is your chance to either trash, donate, relocate, or store as a memento. Getting rid of unnecessary things not only gives you more space in your home, it can also improve your happiness. Internationally recognized applied positive psychology coach, Lisa Cypers-Kamen, says, "When you're less obligated to stuff, you have more time to experience life."
Which room in your house could you try this with? An office or bedroom would be one of the best places to start because those rooms tend to be smaller and usually only belong to one or two people instead of the entire family. You owe it to yourself to feel stress-free in your own home, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised how having less storage and less stuff will give you a sense of calm.
Millburn, Joshua Fields, and Ryan Nicodemus. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. Hachette Australia, 2017.
Cypers-Kamen, Lisa. “3 Reasons Why Having Less Leads to More Happiness.” Thrive Global, 3 Mar. 2018, thriveglobal.com/stories/less-really-can-be-more/.
Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash
Keep Your Hobbies Fun
The definition of a hobby is, "an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation." Hobbies can range from photography to gardening to playing an instrument to needlepoint to starting a blog. Most of us have at least one, and if you don't - well, you should!
You probably fill several roles - employee, parent, child, volunteer and the list goes on and on. In a previous post I wrote about the busy badge many people have awarded themselves that sometimes provides an excuse not to engage in a hobby. In the last twenty years, there has been a decline in adult participation in hobbies, and I don't think it's any coincidence that in that time frame the popularity of social media has increased exponentially. Today, we waste much more time scrolling than it would take to learn a new skill.
You may think that being engaged with your career is more important than a hobby, but science suggests the two are not mutually exclusive. A study in the Journal of Occupational Health and Organizational Psychology studied hundreds of employees and found those with a hobby outside of work were more creative in work-related projects, had a better attitude, and were less likely to suffer from burnout.
What about the time and attention your kids deserve? Not to worry, your hobbies don't need to wait - just involve the kids in some of them. Licensed and Independent Clinical Social Worker, Alison Ratner Mayer, explains that hobbies are a wonderful way to bond with your child. "There is a special magic that happens between a parent and a child when they share a mutually beloved activity. "
Hobbies can actually improve productivity! In 1955, Cyril Northcote Parksinson, a British historian wrote an article in The Economist that began with the sentence, "It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Today we refer to this as Parkinson's Law. The more time you have available to get something done, the longer it takes to complete. Having a hobby gives you something to do at either a set time (like get to your bowling league) or something to look forward to (like getting out your sewing machine.) You still have other responsibilities, but because you have a hobby to get to, you aren't as likely to stretch those tasks out.
"...work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
A Psychology Today article explains that in addition to all of the benefits we've already talked about, hobbies can help you create new social connections, make you more interesting and help you cope with stress. Research has shown that those who spent leisure time engaging in a hobby displayed lower blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference, and body mass index. They also had lower levels of depression. An article from Verywell Mind, a mental health resource partner of the Cleveland Clinic, states that part of the reason for this may be that "hobbies provide a slice of work-free and responsibility-free time in your schedule. This can be especially welcome for people who feel overwhelmed by all that they have to do and need to recharge their batteries by doing something they enjoy."
After all of the reasons I've shared so far, I think you probably agree hobbies are a good thing, but what I have struggled with is how to keep them fun so they provide all of the great benefits we've discussed. One reason I have failed to carve out time for hobbies in the past is when they were inconvenient. I like to sew, but I had all of my sewing stuff in a hard to reach spot, and anytime I wanted to sew, I'd have to nearly do a back-bend to get everything out. I recently up-cycled an old metal cart that I've had since I got married in 2002! It used to hold laundry supplies between an old washer and dryer, and then spent years in the garage holding spray paint. After some scrubbing, it became eligible for my new sewing supplies cart. It tucks nicely under my counter in my craft area and is light weight so I can move it around easily. Now because I don't dread getting everything set up to sew, I'm much more likely to do it!
I struggled to continue with some hobbies when they turned into more of a requirement than an outlet. This blog is a great example. I started this as a hobby and for fun. I like to write, I like to organize and become more productive, so this made sense. Soon, I felt like it was taking too much of my time, and it started to feel like work because my standards were to high. I finally gave myself permission not to be the absolute best blogger or side-hustler and reminded myself that it was a hobby and hobbies are supposed to be FUN! Once I started looking at it through that lens, it again became enjoyable.
Lastly, I used to feel like hobbies were selfish. A couple years ago, I changed my mind about that when my husband and I joined a bowling league. Now we have a shared hobby (complete with our own bowling balls and shoes!) We even go on bowling dates (as my kids call them) to practice. It's only a few hours every other week, but it's a shared experience and guaranteed time together. I also like to play the piano, and this is one that I've been able to share with my kids through teaching them to play. It gives me a lot of joy to be able to share something I enjoy with them.
What about you - do you have a hobby that you want to make more fun? Try making it more convenient, lowering your standards a bit, or sharing it with someone in your family! Hobbies are an important outlet and you owe it to yourself to have one - and to enjoy it!
“Definition of Hobby.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, 2020, www.dictionary.com/browse/hobby?s=t.
Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash
Kurtz, Jaime. “Six Reasons to Get a Hobby.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 15 Sept. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happy-trails/201509/six-reasons-get-hobby.
Eschleman, Kevin J., et al. “Benefiting from Creative Activity: The Positive Relationships between Creative Activity, Recovery Experiences, and Performance‐Related Outcomes.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 17 Apr. 2014, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/joop.12064.
Parkinson, C Northcorte. “Parkinson's Law.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 1955, www.economist.com/news/1955/11/19/parkinsons-law.
Elizabeth Scott, MS. “The Importance of Hobbies for Stress Relief.” Verywell Mind, 14 Sept. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/the-importance-of-hobbies-for-stress-relief-3144574.
Mayer, Alison Ratner. “The Benefits of Sharing a Hobby With Your Child.” Child Therapy Boston, 16 July 2017, childtherapyinboston.com/2017/07/16/the-benefits-of-sharing-a-hobby-with-your-child/.
Photo by Darling Arias on Unsplash
There Are Only 24 hours In A Day!
Last week I was feeling bad about not getting everything done that I wanted to. I started thinking about all the things I was NOT doing. I even got out my journal and started to list all the things I used to do but can't seen to find time to do now, and then I listed all the things I wished I was doing. I was getting harder on myself with each item I added to the list.
I needed a solution - a way to fit more into my days. I started by listing out all of the things I am currently doing on a daily basis. Maybe if I could figure out how long those things really took, I could find a way to add more. I identified items from my list that I consider non-negotiable and added up the minimum hours it takes to do them. For me those included work, commuting to and from work, sleep, showering/grooming, one meal/day with my family, and some exercise. Do you know how many hours the non-negotiables in my day add up to? 21 hours. 21 HOURS! That only leaves 3 hours per day to do everything else including helping with homework, cleaning, laundry, errands, kids' activities, family time, working on my blog, etc. No wonder I'm feeling pressed for time!
So if there aren't very many hours left in the day to work with, what are my options? I decided I have to be content with not doing a lot of extra things in this season of my life, and when there is time for extra, I want that time to be spent with my family. Once I gave myself a pass on all of those things I thought I should be doing, I felt so much better! I was the one putting most of the pressure on myself.
I encourage you to give this exercise a try!
If you're a bit of a spreadsheet geek like me, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask me to send you the How to Spend 24 hours spreadsheet that does all the math for you!
Check out all of the other time management posts on the blog to help you find ways to balance all that you want and need to do into the realistic framework of a 24 hour day!
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
First Things First
Last week was Labor Day which meant a day off of work for many of us. Long weekends are exciting, but short weeks tend to overwhelm me. There is just as much to do, with one less day to get it done. When time is short, choosing the right thing to work on first is even more important.
"There's so much to do that I don't even know where to start!" How many times have you said that? I'm here to help! Not because I'm the expert, but because I've faltered and failed enough times to find a better way.
Gary Keller suggests in his book The One Thing that we ask ourselves this question over and over, "What is the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” In the past, I thought that checking several things off of my to do list was better than completing one task - even if that one task was more important or urgent.
In fact, doing less, can help us accomplish more in the long run. Keller says, “Until my ONE Thing is done — everything else is a distraction.” Distractions are everywhere - email anyone?? Read the last post about the No Email Hour to help avoid that trap! Once you figure out what that ONE thing is, focus on it, and accomplish it, you repeat the process over and over! The hard part is determining what that ONE thing is.
Experts often point to the Eisenhower Matrix of urgent and important tasks. This matrix is named after the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was experienced at prioritizing while he was a general in the US Army and the Allied Forces Supreme Commander in World War II. He suggested identifying the urgency and importance of a task to determine what to do first. An urgent task is one that is compelling or requires immediate action or attention. An important task is one that is of great significance or value. If a task is both important and urgent, that puts it in the "do first" quadrant. A task that is important, but not urgent should be scheduled for a later time while a task that is urgent but less important can be delegated to someone else. Finally, if a task is not urgent and not important, this is something that likely not even do at all!
The Eisenhower matrix is a great framework to help sort out your tasks, but I would suggest a little twist to increase productivity even more using this simple order.
A busy day at home is the perfect opportunity to apply these steps. Let's say you have a sink full of dirty dishes, 2 loads of laundry to do, a doctor appointment to schedule, and uncomfortable email to send, cookies to bake for an event, kids to take to and from sports practice, and a few things to pick up at the store. Here's how the 4 steps above can help you be productive.
"It's super easy to check something off your list when you don't even have to do it!"
First you should look for an opportunity to delegate. If you can completely delegate a task, that's an easy win, but even if you can delegate only a step in the process, that can free you up to work on something else at the same time. If you have kids, there are plenty of ways they can help like unloading the clean dishes from the dishwasher, sorting laundry or even starting a load.
"Do one or more steps of a task, and the rest happens automatically!"
You have several automations already created for you in your day. In our busy day example, your dishwasher and clothes washer and dryer automate some of your tasks. Automations do require prep work. You have to empty the dishwasher of clean dishes and load it with dirty dishes before you can start it. You have to gather and sort your laundry, put a load in the washer with detergent before you can start the washer. Once you get your machines working for you, you can complete other tasks while your dishes and clothes are getting clean - in this example, scheduling that doctor appointment.
It is important to get automated tasks going before you do other tasks. If you waited until late in the day to start the laundry, the automation doesn't buy you as much time as if you start it early in the day. You may need to revisit your automated processes from time to time (like switching the clothes from the washer to the dryer in order to start a new load)
"A big, scary task looming over you will hinder your productivity the rest of the day - just do it!"
Now that you've got others working for you (delegation) and your machines working for you (automation), it's time to remove the stress. There may be one task on your list that has been causing you anxiety or stress. If you put it off, you may be focusing on it instead of other tasks throughout the day. By getting it out of the way, you will better be able to focus later. In our example, that uncomfortable email may be a source of stress. While your machines are working for you, take the time to just do it!
"Be aware of cause and effect, and think downstream."
Finally consider dependencies in tasks. You still need to take kids to and from sports practices, make cookies, and go to the store. The kids' practice is dependent on a specific time. It's scheduled, so you can't do it before the time it occurs. Since you'll be away from home during the drive to and from practice, and you probably shouldn't leave the house with your oven on, you either have to get the cookies finished before you leave, have enough time to bake the batches while practice is in session, or not start until you return home from pickup. You don't have any chocolate chips, so you can't make chocolate chip cookies until you've been to the store. Now that you've thought through all of your to-do's, you can determine the best order to complete your tasks in.
By using these 4 steps along with the principles of the Eisenhower matrix, you will be able to choose to put first things first and become the most productive version of yourself!
Keller, Gary. The One Thing: the Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. John Murray Press, 2019.
“The Eisenhower Matrix: Introduction & 3-Minute Video Tutorial.” Eisenhower, 2017, www.eisenhower.me/eisenhower-matrix/.
There have been many times throughout my career that I've thought, "If I didn't have kids, I'd be a rock star at my job," or "If my kids were older, I'd have more time to devote to my work," or "If I were single, I could be married to my job." And then I'd snap back to reality and realize I AM a wife, I AM a mom, and my kids ARE young - and I'm SO HAPPY about those facts! Those facts are what make me a whole person are the areas of my life that I love the most.
So why is it I feel like when I embrace my role as a wife and mom, that I can't be amazing in a professional role, too? The reason is simple - because I can't be incredible at everything at the same time - no one can. I can be laser focused at work, but them my home life suffers, or I can be all in all the time at home, and my work life suffers. It's a conundrum that I think all working parents face. It's a big source of what you often hear called "mommy guilt." Working moms tend to try to just DO more to make up for the fact they are away from their families at a job during many hours of the day, but this can lead to over-working and over-scheduling. In an interview with clinical psychologist, Nicole Grocki about this topic, the Mindful Return website explained, "Here we’re grappling with the mom’s belief that if a mom does more, and ignores the guilt, the better she will feel. But this behavior can lead to burnout and becoming physically unwell."
I, like many, turned to productivity to help me figure out the secret formula (spoiler alert - there isn't one!) I wanted to do all the things, be great in all areas, and appear like it was easy. When I dove in, I realized that one of the biggest secrets to productivity is not to do it all, but to do the right things. No matter how productive you are, you can not do it all. A productivity system can help you get more done in less time - that's true - but it cannot create more hours in the day, it cannot develop meaningful relationships with your kids, it cannot foster camaraderie with your co-workers, it cannot magically make you smarter or more knowledgeable. All of those things take time and dedication. If you are simply checking things of of a list - read the kids a bedtime story (check), read a business book (check), make a dinner reservation for date night (check) - you may not be fully experiencing the joys of life.
"No matter how productive you are, you can not do it all."
I don't want you to feel discouraged though, because I have a few suggestions for you!
Mihalich-Levin, Lori. “What Exactly IS Mom Guilt Anyway? A Clinical Psychotherapist Explains.” Mindful Return, 27 Feb. 2020, www.mindfulreturn.com/mom-guilt/.
Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash
To be truly productive, it is almost imperative to have a master to-do list where you record everything you need to do and use it to prioritize your actions as you work toward completing tasks that will ultimately help you accomplish your goals. Though I believe this is true, today I want to introduce a different concept that I think is almost as important to your personal productivity - a done list!
A done list is just what it sounds like, a list of things you’ve completed. There are a couple of options on how to create a done list, but before I tell you HOW, let me tell you WHY.
Why a Done List?
1. Develops Positive Emotions
Sometimes in the midst of all the items left undone on our to do list, it’s easy to forget all that was accomplished in a day. At the end of the work day, the emotions we feel are directly related to the progress we made (or didn’t make.)
Dr. Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of The Progress Principle found that when people recognized their small accomplishments, they experienced more positive emotions which in turn, encouraged future accomplishment. In a Harvard Business Review article, she explained a study which analyzed 12,000 employees on a daily basis. ”On days when they made progress, our participants reported more positive emotions. They not only were in a more upbeat mood in general but also expressed more joy, warmth, and pride.”
2. Creates Momentum
We tend to focus more on our failures than our successes, so keeping track of what we’ve accomplished can remind us of what we are capable of. Organizational psychologist, Karl Weick says “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put in place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible.”
Completing a task feels so much better than starting 10 tasks and not quite finishing any of them! Every time you record something you’ve finished, you get a little hit of dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter in your body’s nervous system that plays a role in feeling pleasure. It actually helps us focus and improves motivation. So completing one item literally can increase our chances of completing the next one.