I’ve been thinking a lot lately about productivity. Every year about this time, I start looking ahead to the next year. I begin to cull through my potential Word of the Year List and reflect on my word for this year. I look at my goals for the year and come up with a plan to make it through the holiday season with my goals still intact.
I like to be productive. I’m happier when I’ve checked off my to-do lists, when I have a plan for the day (or week or month or, heck, year). I feel better, not just in my headspace, but physically when I’m meeting my health goals and I feel better in my headspace when I’m making time for creative outlets. But it’s hard to be productive all the time – some days, no matter how many things are on my to-do, I just don’t feel like it. I don’t want to write or read or finish that craft or make those phone calls or pay those bills or fold that last load of laundry. I just flat-out don’t want to.
When those days hit, there are two choices: 1) don’t do anything and feel even worse the next day or 2) fight back against the don’t-wannas with a few tricks. Here are five ways I push through those blah days:
- I use a focus app called Tide: I’ve been using focusing apps for a long time, but I switched over to this app in the spring and I am in serious love with it. There are several different settings (nap, meditation, focus, etc), with different timing options starting at 15 minutes. I usually set it for 45 minute writing sessions: write for 45, take a short break to fold that load of laundry or get a drink of water or play ball with Hazel-the-pup, then it’s back at my desk for another session.
- Put the phone in another room: This seems like a given but for a long time, I was working with my phone right next to me. Email would bleep or someone would call and wham! I’m out of my zone and distracted again. Putting the phone in another room (and turning off the notifications for my watch) is key to keeping my focus where it needs to be. Going along with this one: turn off the internet! Seriously, disconnect from wi-fi and if you need to check “just one thing” online, make a note in your WIP or on a piece of paper and keep pushing forward. Check that one thing during your morning routine or after you’ve met your word count for the day.
- Use a paper planner: There are a lot of digital options for planning and I think they’re great. For me, though, a paper planner is the best option (the Happy Planner is my jam! Love the flexibility/customization options of the disc system). My planner holds daily to-do lists (like cleaning and appointments) but it also houses my business plan, deadlines, quarterly goals (including action steps to meet said goals). Plus, there are stickers and stickers make everything better! There are a couple of different studies that have shown the physical act of writing down a goal or appointment helps us meet those goals. I’m a firm believer in paper planners for accountability and goal setting.
- Make a date with yourself: have lunch with girlfriends, go for a walk in the botanical gardens, or just head to the mall to people-watch. I like taking my writing notebook with me. Sometimes I brainstorm book/character ideas, sometimes I write down blog/social media post ideas and sometimes I just bring dump a lot of the stuff in my head or doodle. Here’s the thing: as much as I love planning, there are times that I plan too much for too long. Being unable to focus on my work can sometimes mean that I haven’t made time for *me*. When that happens, stepping away from my computer is crucial, even if it’s only for an hour. Creative dates help me clear my head so I can focus again.
- Sleep: I don’t mean a nap in the middle of the day (although a good 20 minute power nap can be ahhhh-mazing!). I mean getting a full 8 hours of sleep. Having a set bedtime and sticking to it. Along with eating healthy and drinking water, the best thing I can do for my focus is to make sure I’m getting enough sleep. Being rested is crucial for me to feel good, to feel like working, and to be able to focus on my work.
When I’m having one of those days when I just can’t focus, I’ll think about what I’ve been eating/drinking, the sleep I’ve been getting or the schedule I’ve been keeping…if I need it, I’ll take an hour or so for me, and then I’ll go back to the basics of turning on my focus app, turning off the internet, and getting back to work.
What about you? How do you focus when your focus is gone?
Habit. It kind of sounds like a bad word…probably because for most of our lives we’re told we need to “break that bad habit”. Be that habit smoking or drinking too much soda or indulging in a candy bar once too often.
One thing I’ve learned over time: it’s much easier to learn a bad habit than it is a good one. I think because the bad habits can be so fun – I mean, who doesn’t want to spend a day in the pool rather than at the office? Who doesn’t want another slice of Chocolate Decadance or one more drink of that mojito? We’re human. We like the things that, in many cases, aren’t great for us.
According to Mr. Webster, an habit is “a behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary”. In other words, a habit is a learned behavior, and it doesn’t have to be a bad learned behavior.
I think the key to creating any habit is to begin by looking at it as a positive rather than a negative. Instead of “I can never eat chocolate again” look at it as “I’m going to enjoy one slice of the best chocolate cake ever and I’m going to enjoy every second of it”. Instead of “I can never laze in the pool on a hot summer day!” think “I’m going to meet __(goal)__ before I laze in the pool this afternoon”.
Y’all know I love my planner – it’s so much easier to have a list of to-dos and deadlines and expectations and family events all in one place that I can keep track of. But, another thing I do is track my habits – the good and the bad. Up above you’ll see the habit tracker I created for 2018 (feel free to download my Habit Tracker and other printables for writers here). I don’t fill it out every month, but I do find it helpful to use it every couple of months, just to make sure I’m doing the things I need to be doing – like exercise, like drinking enough water, like making my bed time. I’m happier, in general, when those things are going well, and I’m more likely to follow through on work goals when I’m also meeting my personal/health goals.
Here’s a copy of the tracker so far for August. Making those checkmarks is very satisfying…and as you can see, I’m not perfect. I haven’t been tracking my meals like I should (which is probably why, even though I’m hitting my bed time goal, I’m still feeling a little tired and “off”). But, now I can see where I’m not being the best me I can be (as bebe’s teacher liked to say in 4th grade), and I know how I can make a small change to start feeling better, in general.
Have you tried tracking your habits? Did it work for you? Share in the comments!