I read a lot of blogs, articles, and books about productivity, and one of the top suggestions for success is developing habits and routines - specifically in the morning.
Morning is a time of day I love to BE up and productive, but my problem is the GETTING up! Many of the books say you should get up at 5 a.m., exercise, meditate, and never look at your phone. Well... my mornings have almost always been the total opposite of that. I've traditionally set the alarm for as late as possible to allow me a few snoozes and then scurry around until I'm all sweaty and it's a little past time to get in the car for my commute.
I've gone through spurts where I got up early and walked on the treadmill or did yoga or maybe even read an enriching book, but it never lasted much than a workweek. I'd look to other research to support my theory that maybe I'm just not a morning person. The book The Power of When by Michael Breus is very interesting and suggests that each of us have a chronotype that dictates when we tend to perform the best. Though there's truth that I might not naturally pop out of bed at 5 a.m. happy and looking fresh, work and school still start early in the day, so I've got to figure out how to embrace the morning! I distinctly remember the feeling I had one crisp, fall day in college when I'd gotten up early to finish a paper and walked across campus to turn it in. I closed my under-20-year-old eyes, breathed in the cool air, and thought, "It feels good to already be done with something this early in the morning." I often think of what it felt like to breathe in that feeling of early morning achievement. How do I get that feeling back? How do I become consistent in early accomplishment?
Here's what I've come up with:
1. Have Something You're Excited to Get Up For
THIS is where it's at! If you enjoy sleep more than you enjoy what you do in the mornings, obviously, it's going to be hard to get out of bed. Thinking back to that feeling I had of early morning accomplishment when I was in college - what I remember most was the beautiful, cool morning air. I used to, very rarely, and only on a weekend, go out to my deck to read if I needed some alone time. The weather had to be perfect, the angle of the sun had to be perfect, and the timing had to be perfect so there was no dew on my chair. All three of those things aligned a few weeks ago, and I was enjoying my book and the sounds of the birds in my backyard. I looked around me and saw the overgrown plants, the dusty table, and the leaf-covered boards of my deck. I decided if I was feeling so calm and enjoying my book in the outside so much in the midst of that disaster, how great would I feel with pruned plants, a clean table and a swept deck? I spent a few hours that day cleaning things up and vowed to sit outside every morning that week before work for at least a few minutes and do something I wanted to do - read, write in my journal, work on my blog, plan in my calendar, do a devotion, just sit and listen to the morning - whatever I wanted! What a great week it was - I made progress on my e-book, I planned, I read, I smelled my flowers! I'm not going to lie, there was a day that all I did was take two deep breaths of morning air and then headed back inside, but even on that day, I looked forward to getting outside, which made it much easier to get out of bed!
For me, getting outside coupled with having some dedicated time to do what I wanted to do was key! I did have to adapt to the dew on the chairs (a towel to sit on or a chair from inside brought out) and the humidity (not fixing my hair until after the outside time), but because I was excited about the time set aside accomplish my personal goals, I made it work! Now that I've made going outside in the mornings a habit, I'm going to try to get up a little earlier in the coming weeks to enjoy more of that time! Winter in Indiana may prove a little difficult for outside time, but I plan to create a nook somewhere to stand in for my deck during the worst of the weather (though I'm not going to dwell on winter weather when I still have late summer and fall still to enjoy!)
2. Do what you want to -- and what you don't
As excited as I am about my outside, alone time to do thing things I want to do, I'm still a mom, wife, homeowner, and employee, so everyday there are tasks that aren't necessarily making me jump up and down with joy. But since I'm allowing myself that time to do what I want to do, it makes those other tasks not as bad. Is there a really daunting task for work that you could get a jump start on at home, do you need to start a load of laundry or maybe even scrub the toilet? Pick at least one task that you don't care for (and it's ok if it's a tiny one) and just get it done! You will feel so good that you've gotten it out of the way
"I often think of what it felt like to breathe in that feeling of early morning achievement. How do I get that feeling back? How do I become consistent in early accomplishment?"
3. Plan ahead
I wrote about this topic earlier this year, but I think it makes such a difference in a morning routine that I'll sum it up for you again. Limit your morning decisions by picking out your outfit, and either pre-packing your lunchbox or at least having go-to snacks available to pack. Use your phone to remind you of what you need to do on a specific morning or to alert you when it's time to get in the car! I also like to time myself so I know exactly how long certain morning tasks take.
Multi-task! Normally, I'd tell you single-tasking is a better bang for your buck, but in the morning, you can do a few things at once like let your hair dry while you put on your makeup. Quit opening up the same cabinet over and over - plan your morning attack and be efficient! Leave something in your home clean before you exit the house for the day - for me it's my bathroom counter, for others it's their made bed. Give yourself a quick win to start the day feeling productive! And finally, make a note of all the stuff floating in your head rather than trying to remember it. A note on a piece of paper, a digital note on your phone, or even a voice memo, are all great ways to empty your head without worry of forgetting so you can focus on your morning routine. (If you'd like to read to whole post about tips to avoid a mad rush morning, click here.)
It's really hard to get up early (and do it consistently) if you don't get enough sleep. That's not a profound statement, just common sense. In a previous post, I wrote about a really good day I had that began with a good night's sleep, so I wanted to figure out how to consistently get that kind of sleep to create more really good days! I've found that stress has a huge impact on my sleep, so making my bedroom as calming as possible is a must! Even if the rest of the house isn't clutter-free, I try to make sure my bedroom and bathroom are picked up. A bedtime goal (mine is 10:30 - 11:00 p.m.) also helps, but I've found that one of the most important parts of getting a good night's rest is to go to bed before my husband. Reading a physical book in bed to the light of my bedside lamp with the noise machine set on the rain sound makes me sleepy. I use a specific scent of lotion every night (and only at night) right before I turn off the lamp to tell myself it's sleeping time! I also prepare for whatever temperature I might want in the middle of the night. If I start out with no socks, I have a pair on my bedside table. I have headache medicine in my bedside drawer and some water within arm's reach just in case. The quicker I take care of small nighttime nuisances, the more sleep I can get. My sleep goal is 7-8 hours per night. I track it with my fit bit, and normally am just shy of 7, so I've got some room for improvement!
5. Don't compare
Who cares if you haven't run three miles or read a chapter of a personal development book or made your family a hot breakfast? Morning routines are about YOU, not everyone else. Like I admitted earlier, my personal, outside time on some days is literally just breathing! What matters to me is that I'm up, I'm motivated, and I'm growing. I don't share my ideas and experiences with you so that you feel bad about yourself for not doing exactly the same, I'm sharing them so you can feel inspired or motivated to find your own, personal morning routine that works for you! As much as I wish I loved exercising and could check that off my to-do list before 8 a.m., it's probably never going to be part of my morning routine (because I will continue to be red-faced and sweaty even post-shower for hours after any level of physical exertion!) So, you know what? I'm ok with my own routine that may not fit the "ideal" because it fits me!
I encourage you to find what works for you and stick with it for at least 3 weeks to determine if it's going to move the needle. I could see positive change after just one workweek of going outside in the mornings, but one workweek does not a habit make - keep it up! I would love to hear what you find as the key to your morning - share with us in the comments or on the Facebook page!
I want to be a morning person, I really do...but, I'm not! I'm always looking for ways to make things go more quickly in the morning so I can sleep in just a little bit more. I don't have a magic list of things that create a perfect bedtime routine to prepare for a calm morning, but I do have a list of things I've learned over time to help prevent a mad rush in the morning.
1. Limit morning decisions
Either prepare for the morning the night before by completing tasks before bed or by creating a few standard choices for your regular morning tasks. For example you could lay out your clothes before you go to sleep or you could pre-define a few pair of pants and a few tops that match so it's very easy to pick out an outfit in the morning. You could make your lunch at night or you could have several items that you know you like, don't take any preparation, you know fit in your lunch box, and are all located in the came general area in your kitchen that you can mix and match into a lunch bag in the morning. The fewer decisions in the morning, the more energy you'll have during the remainder of your day.
2. Set an alarm you can't ignore (or two)
I used to be a serial snoozer. I could hit a traditional alarm clock's snooze button every 9 minutes for a good hour before finally rolling out of bed. I tried using my Fit Bit as an alternative and set multiple alarms that would vibrate until I turned them off. That worked better, but I soon learned, I can turn them off in my sleep! I think I may have found the best solution for me - I have been setting an alarm on my Google Mini and when it goes off it the morning, I have to actually speak to turn it off, "Hey Google, cancel alarm." Even if I don't get out of bed immediately, having to talk out loud seems to wake me up enough so I don't fall back asleep. I like setting backup alarms to make sure I'm out of bed in time. Additional alarms throughout the morning can also keep you on track - try an "it's time for breakfast" alarm, an "it's time to dry my hair alarm", or an "it's time to load the car" alarm. Remember all those little things you do in the morning that could be wasting time - like checking email or social media on your phone or watching the news. If you want to build those into your morning, give yourself a set time so you don't get carried away!
3. Time yourself
I'm a big proponent of timing everything you do so you know how long things really take. I used to think it took SO long to do my makeup that on most days, I'd just throw my makeup bag in my purse and do my makeup at work. Once I timed myself, I realized it takes me less roughly 5 minutes for my entire regimen and there's usually plenty of time for that in my morning! I also know how much time it takes me to take a shower with and without washing my hair (so I can sleep in a little on days I don't need to wash my hair.)
4. Do things in order (or at the same time!)
Think through everything you have to do in a morning, and figure out the most efficient order of tasks. It doesn't make sense to put moisturizer on first and then put in your contacts just like it doesn't make sense to fix your hair before putting on your pullover shirt. Also consider which things can be done at the same time. Multi-tasking isn't usually a great idea, but for some mindless tasks, it's great! For example, I get my jewelry out while I'm brushing my teeth and use my Turbie Twist towel to absorb the moisture from my wet hair while I'm doing my makeup. This is one of my favorite morning hacks because it significantly reduces the time it takes to blow dry my hair!
5. Limit the number of times you open doors and drawers
I try to only open a drawer or a door twice a morning - once to get out what I need and a second time to put those things away. I open my top bathroom vanity drawer to get out my contacts, my hairbrush, and my makeup bag. Then I close the drawer and don't open it again until I'm done with all of those items. I open the door under my vanity to get out my curling iron and/or hair dryer and hair products, and then I close it. I don't open it again until I'm ready to put those away and while I have it open I spritz myself with body spray before closing the door for the final time.
6. Put things away as you go
I like to wake up to a clear bathroom counter and leave for work with a clear bathroom counter. It allows me to start the day with a little control. When you do your makeup, try taking out all the items you will use out and set on the counter. As you use them, put them back in a makeup bag, so when you're done, everything is back in your bag and it's easy to just put it back in its place. Try a heat proof bag or container for curling irons or straighteners, so you can put them away as soon as you're done instead of leaving cords all over the place! Keep a wastebasket next to where you get ready so you can throw away cotton swabs, tissues, cotton balls, etc. as you go.
7. Empty your head
Whenever you think of something you need to do, either write it down in a place you will see before you walk out the door or set a reminder on your phone that will create a notification so you can feel confident you won't forget. If I need to take food for a carry in or return a library book or drop my car off at the repair shop, I set a reminder for early that morning so that when I look at my phone before I walk out the door, I'll see the notification. This helps me sleep better not trying to remember what I have to do in the morning. I also set reminders at times all throughout the day for things I need to buy, errands I need to run, phone calls I need to make, etc. It's nice to get them out of my head and into a system I trust.
I've said it many times before, I'm not great with time, which is why I try to come up with systems and habits to help me. I'm not going to lie and say I'm never late or I always have a calm morning, but these few tips have helped me greatly reduce the amount of mad rush mornings!
Even though we got an extra hour of sleep this weekend, there’s still only 24 hours a day. Sometimes it’s just so overwhelming to try to fit everything into our lives! There are many resources out there for time management, but I wanted to share 5 simple tips that have helped me improve how I manage my time.
1. Track your time
If you’re anything like me, you are so busy that you feel like writing down what you’re doing is just another task you don’t really have time for. But, if you commit to just one week, 7 days, of writing down what you’re doing in 15 minute increments, you will be amazed to see how much you actually accomplish in a day’s time! If you’re really honest when you track your time, you will see more wasted time than you like, but you’ll also see how much time of your life is spent doing things you can’t NOT do – eating, sleeping, grooming. When you know what time you have left after those kinds of non-negotiables, you will automatically feel more in control and more motivated not to waste those remaining hours. Take the time to track your time! Download this free printable to track your time this week. It’s broken up into 4, 6 hour sections, so you can visually see how much of your time is really spent during the overnight hours (hopefully sleeping), morning, afternoon and evening/night. You’ll be amazed how many hours are already spoken for, so that’s what makes being productive in those remaining hours so important!
2. Time yourself
Once you’ve finished a week’s worth of time tracking, you will see patterns in your days. There are things you do every day. Some of those repetitive tasks will occur at the same time each day, but others could be mixed throughout your day. In your time tracking phase, you were only recording in 15 minute increments, so you didn’t find out how much time it actually took you to empty the dishwasher or take a shower or drop off the kids at school. Identify the things you do at least 3 times/week and then get your timer out! Time yourself doing each of those tasks. Don’t rush to beat the clock – just do them as you normally would and then keep a log of the tasks and the times they take. If you want to be really scientific, do the tasks multiple times and then take an average time. There are lots of time tracking apps out there - one free one I've used is Toggl. What you can gain by timing yourself is a realistic expectation of what you can accomplish in a certain time-frame and the ability to insert quick tasks into random time openings in your day. Have 10 minutes before you need to get in the car – well, now I know it only takes 6 minutes to empty the dishwasher – why not?
Now that you know what you do, and how long those things take, you can now really prioritize. Once those things are you’ll need to do a big bad brain dump! Get out pen a paper or try the sticky note mind mapping that I tried in “Confessions of a List Maker.” After everything is out of your head, begin categorizing all of the to-dos. Don’t get hung up on your system, your goal is to have a master list of all of the things you will want to plug into the open slots in your days. Last week’s post talked about how to figure out what to do next – take a few minutes to read that post. If you set a focus for the year and related goals, take a look back at those to make sure the items that are on your list help you get where you wanted to go. Now, review your list again and get rid of some things! There are many things we think we need to do, that can either be done by someone else or just not done at all. Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do X? If you can live with the answer, cross it off! Now prioritize what remains within each category so you have a next action for every category of your life. Remember this process can be done on paper or in your favorite digital tool.
Finally it’s time to put it all together. First take a blank time tracker and plug in all of those everyday must dos for tomorrow– include everything that you have to do from meal prep to kid drop off to brushing your teeth – you now know exactly how much time each of those take. Now take a look at your prioritized lists and choose what you’re going to fill in the blanks with. Remember the importance of margin. You can’t really make back to back meetings work. What if you need to walk or drive to the meeting or even just take a bathroom break? That means you’d have to leave one meeting early or arrive at the next meeting late. Instead of booking yourself solid, give yourself some leeway. I like to see at least 10 minutes between appointments. If you have a task that you haven’t or couldn’t time, give your best estimate BUT add 25% to that estimate. The worst thing that will happen is you finish early and you plug in another task (maybe one that you previously timed so you know that you can absolutely run to the pharmacy and back in 20 minutes.) Fill up every box in your day’s time tracker even if those boxes say “rest” or “watch TV” or “family time.” If you give purpose to each slot of your day, you are less likely to squander your time.
5. Take shortcuts
Always be looking for ways to be more efficient! Are there things that you can do in the background while you are doing other tasks? – like watching your favorite TV show while you fold laundry. Be wary of attempting to truly multi-task because that usually leads to poor quality or longer efforts. Read about the benefits of single tasking in a previous post. Are there things that you just don’t need to do or can replace with something easier or quicker? For instance, I believe with my whole heart that a damp dishrag thrown in the dryer with a wrinkly shirt while I shower is much more efficient than ironing! Do you really need to re-pot the flowers or is the plastic one they came in just as worthy of the position on your front steps? Sometimes shortcuts do mean lowering our expectations – I’ve become pretty good at that – but others are just a smarter way of doing things. Remember to enlist your family and/or be willing to pay for services that help save you time.
I'd love to hear from you if you try these 5 steps and learn how they worked for you! Please comment below or email me at email@example.com If you want to read more about time management, one of my favorite authors who writes on the topic is Laura Vanderkam. I read (and thoroughly enjoyed), I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time and have her latest book, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, on my bookshelf ready to read!
“I have so much to do, that sometimes I don’t even know where to start!” How many times of you heard yourself say those words? I know that’s how I’ve been feeling the past week. When we have unexpected things happen, our responsibilities don’t just stop. Things keep piling up and eventually there is this big bunch of things to do and you almost feel paralyzed because you feel like no one thing is going to make a big enough dent to actually be considered a priority. In order to know where to start, you have to know ALL that there is to do. That’s why it’s important to have everything that you need to do in one place, and then you can more easily decide what needs to be done first.
I like digital tools, but before technology can help, I have to know what I’m going to put in that tool and how I am going to structure it. I was feeling really out of control last week, so I did what always calms me down – got out a pencil and paper and start dumping my brain onto the page. If you try this, don’t worry about it being pretty or cohesive or anyone else understanding what in the world you’re writing. It’s so freeing to get what’s in your head onto paper, and then you can actually SEE all the things you need to do. Unless you are super-human, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to do and when if everything you have to do is floating around in your head all at once.
If you’ve read the book The One Thing by Gary Keller, you know that he says there is always one thing that’s more important than everything else at that very moment in time. Sometimes it’s so hard to figure out what that one thing is and it’s so much easier to just do busywork and make yourself feel like you’re being productive when in fact you’re doing nothing! A good example of this is spending the entire day working out of your email inbox just responding to messages and taking care of brief little tasks, and then putting other, bigger projects aside for “later”. If you do that type of triage all the time, “later” never comes, and those big tasks begin to create an overwhelming pile.
I’m trying to unbury myself and am doing this in my personal life using Trello. It’s a free app that I use on my laptop and on my iPhone where you can create different teams (which I’m using as areas of my life) and within those teams, you can create as many project boards as you want. These are kind of like digital bulletin boards where you can create lists and tasks. Trello gives you a visual representation of all of your to-dos and lets you drag and drop them where they go. I took my handwritten notes and figured out there were several areas of my life: Me, Family/Friends, Household, Volunteer, Side Hustles, and Work. I use a different task management system at work called Nozbe. Some people like to use the same system at home and at work, but I prefer to keep them separate, so I decided for these purposes to nix the work category in my Trello app.
"Don't worry about your system being perfect - an imperfect system is better than no system at all."
I started getting so excited about my new system that I spent a lot of time designing it, thinking, “should I have a separate areas for my blog, piano lessons and Clever Container sales or should they all be in one area called Side Hustles?” I realized I was going down a dangerous path spending more time designing a system than using it! I’m giving myself permission to start where I’m at and improve as I go. That’s one of the things I like about Trello – it’s really easy to drag and drop tasks to different lists, put things in different order, and move boards to different teams.
Once you get going and have all your responsibilities out of your head and in your chosen system, give yourself time to review all tasks and decide what is the “one thing” is that will move you forward, and what the next one is, and the next, etc. Consider assigning due dates and reminders. If you have projects that you repeat, create a template so you can copy and repeat what works best for you. Don’t worry about your system being perfect – an imperfect system is better than no system at all!
I’m so ready for back-to-school! Not because I’m tired of my kids being home for the summer, but because I’m ready to get back into a routine. I always loved the beginning of the school year as a kid – new clothes and shoes, freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, locker organizers – kind of my dream come true! I was thinking today about why the beginning of school still excited me as an adult. Yes, I get to buy supplies for my kids, but there’s more to it than that. There’s something about a fresh start that appeals to me, and I think we can all learn some lessons from school to help us live our best life this school year.
Refresh your wardrobe and get a haircut
Kids usually get a few new outfits and shoes because they’ve grown out of the clothes from the previous school year. We go through their entire wardrobe and get rid of things that are too small or they won’t wear to avoid any fashion arguments! This time of year is also a great time to refresh your own wardrobe. Go through your closet and donate items you haven’t worn in the past several months, items that don’t fit, or ones you just don’t like. Make a list of what items you need to “fill in the blanks” of your wardrobe. Watch for sales and treat yourself! We get our kids a haircut prior to the first day so they look fresh and clean. Make an appointment for yourself, too. This could be the one time per year that you spend a little extra or try a new style.
"I always loved the beginning of the school year as a kid - new clothes and shoes, freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, locker organizers - kind of my dream come true!"
Keep a regular sleep schedule
Just today, our family discussed what fair bedtimes are for the kids when school starts and what time they need to get up to have plenty of time in the mornings before school. This will be a big change from our summer routine where the kids’ bedtimes go out the window – and so does mine. I find myself staying up way too late on a regular basis, but still having to get up at the same time to go to work. By the end of the summer I’m exhausted and sleeping in late on the weekends to try to catch up. When school starts, the kids will each have a set bedtime and wakeup time. I plan to create my own, reasonable bedtime as well as a wakeup time that doesn’t involve the snooze button!
Eat healthy breakfasts and pack a lunch
When school is in session, I make more of an effort to feed my kids a healthy breakfast to give them a good start to their day. It’s so easy for us as busy adults to skip breakfast or scarf down something on the go. When school starts, it’s a great opportunity to plan your morning to include a healthy breakfast at the table with your family. Many days my kids pack their lunches, and we have various options that are easy to pack and are fairly healthy. Packing a lunch for myself alongside the kids will help me not only to save money on eating out, but help to control my portion size and the nutritional value of what I eat for lunch.
Embrace a fresh start and the opportunity to learn new things
Kids literally start the school year with a blank slate, and they have the opportunity to take new classes from new teachers. It’s a great time of year for us to forgive ourselves for failed attempts in the past and make new resolutions and plans for new habits. Is it time for us to take a class, read a book, attend a webinar about something new?
Be active and enjoy recess
My kids have gym class at least once a week, and recess every day. They also participate in sports during the school year. I need to follow suit and be more active. I can use the time they spend at sports practices to be active myself, and why not enjoy a “recess” during the day and take a quick walk?
Create systems to manage time
With all the commitments kids have these days, they have to learn to manage their time, plan ahead and just plain remember what all they need to do! We are in the process of finalizing what the daily routine will be and then will create a checklist to keep track of it all. I will print out a grid with the items that need completed down the left-hand side with the days of the week across the top. The paper will go in a page protector and be displayed on the fridge with a magnetic clip. The kids will use a dry erase marker to mark off their daily accomplishments. This makes it reusable, but also easy to change if we add or take away a responsibility. It’s great to pair one of your own responsibilities to your kids’ – for example, when they practice piano, you wash dishes or when they do homework, you read. Consider planning your day the night before with specific timebound tasks. Always overestimate how long it will take you to do things so that you don’t get frustrated!
Cut back on screen time
During the school year, our kids don’t have any screen time from Monday to Thursday (unless homework requires it.) We started this a couple of years ago, and it’s amazing – attitudes are much improved and since there is no expectation of screen time, we don’t hear whining or complaining. This means my husband and I don’t turn on the TV until after the kids are in bed, and sometimes we don’t even turn it on at all. It’s my goal to use the time I normally would watch TV to do other things – read, play board games, talk to my husband, take bubble baths, take a walk, etc.
Catch up with friends
One of the best parts of the first day of school for me was always seeing my friends that I hadn’t seen much over the summer. We would catch up and tell each other what we did over the vacation. We looked forward to eating lunch together and playing at recess together. As adults, why don’t we designate the start of the school year as a time to plan some lunch dates and fun activities with old friends?
If you work in an office, you know how difficult it is to avoid distraction! There are the conversations with co-workers that you want to be part of and then there are conversations that you have no choice but to overhear. "Drive-by" meetings (when someone drops by and says, "do you have a minute" and to avoid being rude, you say, "sure") eat into well laid plans for our day. Urgent issues inevitably come up on your busiest day, and you may get invited to yet another meeting that doesn't really pertain to you. Sometimes distractions can be something as slight as someone's idea of a soothing playlist, a squeaky noise coming from the vent, or the temperature being too hot or too cold. If you work at home, distractions, though different, are still there. The cat, the laundry, the repairman - the list goes on and on. It's amazing that we accomplish anything, right?!
The fact is, there are always going to be distractions. We can have a plan for an ideal day, but unless we build in some flexibility and learn to go with the flow, we will end up frustrated and unproductive. I've worked in many different environments over the years - in a cubicle in an open office, in several offices with doors with varying amounts of people nearby, at a desk in a wide open area, and even at home. Each present their own challenges, but there are a few universal tips that help to keep me focused.
1. Set low expectations
This may sounds strange, but don't make a huge list of all the things you want to accomplish in a day only to be disappointed in yourself when you can't complete them all. Instead, identify your Must Do's - usually this will be 2-3 things that HAVE to get done during the day. The time these take will vary, so if your Must Do's for the day are very short tasks, you can have more or if they are labor intensive, maybe just pick one. If you get through all of these, then you'll feel like a rock star and everything else you accomplish will be gravy!
2. Meet with yourself
Create a MEeting (a meeting with yourself) to do your most important work. Go so far as to schedule this on your calendar so that others don't think you're free all day when in fact you need several hours to complete your critical tasks. Use some of this time to plan and identify your must do's for the following day.
3. Say no (or at least not now)
Learn to decline meetings that don't pertain to you or ask for someone who is already attending to fill you in. Be bold when that "drive-by" meeting request comes to you. I know you feel like a big meany, but saying, "I don't have time right now, but how about 2:30 p.m.?" won't make anyone hate you!
4. Plan for solitude
If you really don't want to be bothered, let others know the time frame where you'll have your nose to the grindstone. Send an email to your colleagues who are prone to stopping by to let them know you will be working on a project from this time to that time and will only be available for urgent matters. Consider setting your out of office assistant on your email with a similar message and setting your instant message status to unavailable. Configure your phone to go straight to voicemail and even customize the outgoing message. Hang a sign on your closed door (if you have one) or on your cubicle wall that says, "Working hard, please knock if it's urgent." Very few people will knock!
"...you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity."
5. Plug your ears
Don't actually stick your fingers in your ears, but use ear buds or headphones! You don't even have to listen to music, just put those earbuds in to instantly block out noise and trick people into not bothering you. Most people will think twice about tapping you on the shoulder if you have ear buds in. Again, you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity. If you can work with music in the background, find a playlist designed for focus and jam out!
6. Plan to waste time
We all need a break and some socialization. Plan for small periods of time to do this throughout the day. Get to work a few minutes early on Monday to chat about the weekend with your coworkers, or plan a lunch date or a break at the same time as the people you most want to talk to. Get up and move every hour - even a bathroom break counts. Drink lots of water and the bathroom breaks will take care of themselves! A quick walk outside does wonders for your concentration when you get back to your desk.
7. Keep track of your time
Write down the time you start and stop each task. For me, when I'm being timed, I'm more efficient. I also learn how long it really takes me to do things so that I can be more realistic with myself. I'm not going to get through my email inbox in 5 minutes, but there are other tasks that will fit into that short of a time frame. I'm also less likely to waste time when it is written down on a piece of paper. It also helps me look back and give myself grace when I don't get my Must Do's complete because I can see that I spent 5 hours in meetings, 2 hours dealing with urgent and unplanned tasks, leaving not a lot of time to get those things I wanted to do complete. Consider using the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of deep work, a 5 minute break, repeat) I wrote in depth about this in a previous post.
If time is really dragging for you, write down the time you'll be at work down in 30 minute increments (ex. 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.; 9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.; 9:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m., etc.) and mark them off as the time passes. You know that little high you get when you check an item off of a to-do list? You get that same feeling for marking the time off, but you also get the feeling that you better kick it into high gear because your available time is waning.
8. Get creative with your schedule and workspace
If you work in an environment where you can control your schedule in any way, use this to your benefit! Sometimes coming in 30 minutes before everyone else (or just that one person who talks so much) can allow you to get as much done as you would have in three times that long during your regularly scheduled time. Take your lunch opposite of those in your vicinity to allow for some quiet time while the others take their lunch. Try working in an alternate space, like a conference room or vacant office, if you have something to complete that takes high focus. Consider a working lunch away from the office. If you have the option to work from home, give it a try. Many people find it much less distracting at home, while others need the structure of an office to keep them on task.
Give these 8 tips a try and let me know if they help you. I'm not going to lie and say that I can always stay distraction-free or perfectly productive, but I have learned that these tricks do help! Do you have other tips to share? Please post in the comments.
I like to be self-sufficient, and I enjoy learning new things or figuring out how to accomplish a new task. There are some types of tasks that I won't even attempt, but for most things, I'll at least do a little Googling or YouTube video watching and give it a go. Though this "I can do it" attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family! Over time, I've learned that there is real value in finding the right person for the job!
At work and at home, it's impossible for us to do it all, though I'm guilty of trying to do it anyway. I used have a hard time with the group project concept. I felt like it would just be easier to do it all myself. At least that way, I knew it would get done. Doing it myself meant that I knew the progress of the project and the barriers to getting it completed so I could figure out ways to overcome the barriers and meet the deadline. This mentality causes stress, burnout, and ultimately leads to lower quality work and delayed results. Why is it then, that it's so hard to relinquish a little control and trust others to help me?
"Though this 'I can do it' attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family!"
A great example of how finding the right person to do the job produced fantastic and quick results was when I wanted to create a logo for my blog. I had an idea in my head, but I thought it would be too difficult for me to articulate that to someone else, so I tried to do it myself. I tried and tried to bring my vision to life, but without the proper tools or expertise in graphic design, I just couldn't produce something I was happy with. I considered hiring someone, but I talked myself out of that by rationalizing that I was saving money by doing it myself and I could remain authentic to my own creative plans for my logo. Well, what happened is that I didn't launch my blog because I didn't have what I felt was the perfect logo, and I became more and more frustrated and wasted a LOT of time.
I finally got over myself and hired someone to design my logo. But, even then, I tried to maintain control over the process giving her very specific instructions about what I wanted, what colors I liked, etc. It wasn't until I gave the designer greater creative space that I got exactly what I had been dreaming of! I finally got down to the core of what I wanted to accomplish - a clean logo in soothing colors that showed you could be creative and have beauty while still being orderly. The graphic designer quickly created several mock ups for me. I chose the one I liked best, asked for a couple of tweaks, and tada -I had a beautiful logo that I love as if I created it myself. I think that I actually love it even more because I didn't create it!
I now am much more inclined to hire work done or ask for help and suggestions. The old saying, "time is money" is so true. I could spend ten times as long doing something that would be a lower quality than if I hired the right person for the job. I could use that time in a different way to produce real results. I'm a big believer in frugality, so of course I don't hire someone to do everything for me! I pick and choose what I can afford, what meets the biggest and most urgent need, and what I don't want to or don't have the capacity to learn how to do myself. There are some things that are just fun to dabble in and the difference in the end result of me doing it versus a professional wouldn't be that noticeable, but then there are all the other things where an expert is definitely the right choice.
This concept also applies to situations at home or work where we would should delegate a task to someone who is best equipped to do it. Best equipped can mean they are an expert or they have the capacity to become an expert or simply that they have time to do the task. When we delegate, though, we have to learn to accept the results may not be exactly as if we had done the task ourselves. I have my kids do certain chores at home, and maybe the cleaning isn't quite as thorough as I would have done it, but it's done and I was able to complete other tasks instead.
I also try to remember that it's all about choice. By choosing to do something myself (or learn how to do something on my own), I am also choosing not to spend that time on something else. To get and keep my life in order, I have to learn to choose to spend my time wisely so that there is time for the things I'm good at, time for the things I enjoy doing, time for the things I am required to do, and most importantly, time for the people I love.
"I feel good today - ordered, calm, focused, pretty, competent. Ah, so rare, but so nice! Why today?" This is what I wrote in my journal one day several months ago. After that, it was my quest to figure out what I'd done differently that day which caused me to be in such a good mood. I made a list of what had happened that day, and then made a plan on how to recreate it. I wanted to make the rest like my best!
Here's my list and what it taught me:
I slept til 8 a.m.
I realized that I needed more sleep. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, so I needed to make it a priority. I decided to set a bedtime, get a new memory foam pillow, and change my bedtime routine so I wasn't working or on a screen right before bed. Since then, my sleep has definitely improved! I love my memory foam pillow, and I’ve also started using a meditation app, some essential oils at bedtime, and I even gave a sleep mask a try!
The downstairs of my house was clutter free and laundry was caught up.
Visible clutter makes me anxious, so I needed to look at clutter clearing as self-care. I committed to keep my kitchen clean for the whole upcoming week and make note of how I felt as a result. Laundry has always been my nemesis, so just keeping it out of sight was what I promised myself for the following week. I've since started a laundry experiment which I wrote about a few weeks ago - it's working! Clutter is a constant battle, but one thing that always helps is having less stuff! For the past few months, I've been slowly and steadily purging my house, room by room,
My new curtains were up and I loved how they looked.
I'd invested a lot of time making a decision about new curtains, and I was relieved that I liked them. (I'd had the previous ones for about 14 years, so I knew it was a big commitment!) I usually beat myself up about how long it took me to make a decision and how much effort I put into analyzing my options. This time, I felt proud of the research and bargain shopping I had done. Since then I’ve tried to spend my analysis efforts on big and important things, but with smaller decisions, as soon as my criteria are met, I go with it!
I had some alone time.
I've always been labelled an extrovert, but with even just a little alone time that morning, I was energized. This showed me that maybe I am similar to my introvert husband -- I need to be alone on a regular basis so I don't get drained. I decided on some regular alone time the following week while the kids were at soccer practice. It was only about an hour two times that week, but just knowing it was scheduled helped. I now spend time at the library about every other Saturday and have given myself permission to miss the occasional kid’s sports practice for some time at home alone.
I was given a compliment from my husband.
After reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I had no doubt that my love language was words of affirmation. Hearing a compliment from anyone boosts my mood, but when it comes from my husband, it means so much more. I had a lasting smile on my face after hearing that compliment, but I had to figure out how to feel love in ways other than just words, so I decided to consciously look for other ways I was loved besides just in words in the upcoming week. Since then, I have noticed love and kindness being shown to me in other ways like having my back in a tense situation, doing me a favor, asking my opinion, giving me a gift, or giving me a hug. Turns out I’m pretty blessed by all the people in my life!
I did not check email or the news in the morning.
I normally checked email and news first thing in the morning, and usually there was something negative in the headlines or something stressful in my inbox. That morning, I didn't let my device control me. I realized I didn't feel as down during the morning when I wasn't consumed by negative thoughts. New plan - no news til lunch time and no email until I've at least taken a shower! The only problem is sometimes I feel that I’m not keeping up on current events as much as I should. It’s a tough balance between being informed and staying positive!
I sent a message to a friend and received a reply.
I sent a Facebook message to a friend because they were on my mind, and they messaged me right back. Having that connection made me smile. I decided that everyday, I'm going to reach out to at least one friend- it could be in person, on the phone or via a message on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. I’ve been doing this faithfully, and I love this so much! It’s fun to let my friends know they are on my mind and even better to hear back from them!
I spent time doing my hair, makeup and picked out a cute outfit.
That morning, I had the time (and took the time) to fix myself up a bit. It made me feel confident, put together, and in control. I realized that too often, I sported the "I didn't have time nor do I care" look, especially during the work week. I vowed to put on a little makeup and make an effort with my hair every morning. Time was my biggest barrier, so I tried washing my hair at night and using dry shampoo every other day. I also planned to do what I knew worked for me - picking out my outfit the night before. Last week's blog post explored this phenomenon in a little more detail - how we look impacts how we feel. I still enjoy a good no makeup (or shower) day, but that’s more of the exception than the rule these days.
I encourage you to go give this a try - remember one of your best days, and really think about what you did and which of those things you can recreate or even improve upon. Don’t think you can do everything every day, but even small changes will make a difference! I'd love to hear your thoughts, please share with us in the comment section below.
This week I announced that I'm giving away a copy of the book, Get Momentum: How to Start When You're Stuck by Jason and Jodi Womack. (If you're reading this before 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 there's still time to enter to win!) I highly recommend this book to help you get started on any project whether it be personal, work, or a passion project. Get Momentum first helps you to figure out why you're stuck and then breaks down getting momentum into 5 steps:
1. Motivation - What do I want to be known for?
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!