How To Get Everything You Want This Year ▦
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These are the things I’ve done and employed over time and have continued into this year to boost my productivity and form positive habits for a balanced, consistent, happy work life.
Get an Erasable Wall Calendar
Getting a laminated, erasable calendar was probably one of the best decisions I made in 2019 for my productivity. Placing it near my bed ensured I would see it every time I woke up and before I went to sleep. Having a constant, visual reminder (cue) of your planned, scheduled work load in your own handwriting is psychologically powerful in forming and maintaining habits and consistency.
I also find that manually filling out the dates each month offers a different, unique appreciation for (your) time than if it had come pre-filled. There’s also the mental and visual satisfaction you get from physically crossing out the day with a marker after you’ve completed and accomplished the tasks and activities allocated to it.
There’s something just very “take-charge” and empowering about intentionally planning out the fundamental aspects of your life on a daily/weekly/monthly basis and viewing it all the time. So, get a large enough laminated calendar and place it in a prominent area in your home where you’ll have to see it all the time. Your bedroom or home office/study are great options.
It’s so much more than a planner, though, built on the “Law of Attraction” which is the belief/philosophy that your thoughts, both positive and negative, become your experiences. Which makes sense because our actions always follow from our thoughts. If you don’t think it or can’t envision it, it typically won’t happen.
The planner also integrates meditation along with the concept of emotional vibrations and self-awareness, which I’m a huge stickler for. I find that I’m consistent when I use the planner to meditate at the start of every day and allow myself to be aware of how I feel and why. I can’t overstate how fundamentally important it is to consistently be aware and reminded of how you feel and the reason(s) you feel that way at any given time. This also allows you to reassess your desires and aspirations frequently and on a consistent basis and think candidly about what you want out of your life and why.
A huge part of becoming more consistently productive was coming to terms with the fact that I only have so much will-power and self-discipline at any given time, and in order to level up my productivity and work ethic, I needed external accountability. Specifically, in the form of another person. Even more specifically, in the form of another person who also shared the same sentiment and was looking to improve and be held accountable, in return.
I used GetMotivatedBuddies and was matched with an awesome accountability partner in February of 2019. I have to say, I scored on my very first try with that and didn’t need to get re-matched with anyone else tends. I will say that I’ve been fortunate in that regard but it wouldn’t have happened had I not recognized the benefit of being accountable to someone other than myself. This is also the reason why it’s easier to meet lifelines (I intentionally choose not to call them ‘deadlines”) set by your boss/professor/etc. than yourself. Place some form of external accountability that can be enforced or has some sort of negative consequence (like losing money for not meeting a target/lifeline). Another option to find a good accountability partner is Supporti.
Make a Dedicated Work/Study/Activity Timetable
One of the biggest issues I had up until last year was not having a dedicated and routine schedule for work. It made it extremely difficult to be consistent with productivity, as you can imagine. When you don’t have a consistent time to dedicate towards something, you can expect that you will not consistently do it. I knew this both intuitively and theoretically, but I never actually made the decision to put it into practice until much later in the year. Had I done so earlier, I would’ve been far more productive than I had been, however, when I did implement a routine schedule, my productivity soared far beyond what I had even imagined it would and I felt genuinely good and happy about it.
I think that I was trying to mentally reconcile the parallel of working from home full-time and a traditional 9-to-5 job. But the truth is that working from home is still a job and you still need dedicated work hours/windows that you adhere to on the days you choose to work. Whether that’s 9 to 5, or 8 to 3, or 7 to 2, or whatever scheduling works best for you, your lifestyle, and your current desires.
I ended up using FocusMate, a remote collaboration work app which incidentally incorporates both scheduling and the previous point of having an accountability partner. This is so incredibly powerful and was basically the turning point of my productivity in 2019. If there is one thing I can say that will boost your productivity to no end, it is using this app consistently. My entire work schedule is based on it and it is pretty much the framework for my work week.
After experimenting quite a bit, I settled on a nine hour work schedule from Monday through Friday that goes as follows: a morning three-hour work block from 7 AM to 10 PM. Then a nap from 10 AM to 11:45 AM. Then an afternoon work block from 12 PM to 3 PM. Working out from 3 PM to 3:30 PM. Showering from 3:30 PM to 4 PM. Eating my meal for the day from 4 PM to 5 PM. And then my final evening work block from 5 PM to 8 PM. This timetable worked incredibly well and I ended up settling on it at the end of August 2019 and it has been such an awesome schedule for me and it incorporates other important elements like working out, meditation and napping on a daily basis which helps with my stamina and productivity and allows me to work consistently without actually feeling like I’m working nine hours every day.
Take a Nap
As mentioned above, I take a nap from 10 AM to 11:45 AM between my morning and afternoon work blocks. Taking a nap is so unbelievably necessary regardless of what time you choose to take it during the day. Having a period of restoration is necessary for both your brain and body and it effectively gives your mind a reset between working hours so that you can maintain your mental stamina and not feel fatigued or burned out quickly. Burnout is incredibly real and it’s very easy to get when you are working continuous hours day in and day out without any real breaks or pauses between.
I personally don’t recommend working for eight continuous hours or without any breaks in between. You wouldn’t physically work out for eight hours with no breaks, either. You still need time for your body to heal and for your muscles to grow/recuperate. Otherwise, you’re just working yourself into exhaustion and actually harming your body in the process. It’s not sustainable to work for hours upon hours continuously on end and actually makes you less and less productive when you get past that threshold of mental capacity. I find that, for me, three hours continuously with breaks in between are a good cutoff point. So, basically, three hours on, and two hours off have worked very well me.
I understand that not everybody has the option or liberty to make their own hours and are often bound or set by their employment, therefore, the typical 9-to-5. However, I think you can use lunch breaks etc. to nap if you are very intentional about it. And if you’re fortunate to work for a company that recognizes the importance of brief downtime during work hours, then please take full advantage of that and nap if you are given the option to. I cannot overstate how important this is in sustainable and long-term productivity. This is especially true for people who tend to not be able to get enough sleep, but we’ll get into that point further down the list.
Start Small. Start Somewhere. Just Start.
The significance of this cannot be undermined. A lot of the time, we procrastinate because we feel overwhelmed about how much we have to do and we view our goals as a whole or on a comprehensive level and that makes starting the process incredibly intimidating and we tend to actually feel mentally exhausted before we even begin for that reason. This is why it’s important to break up your goals/targets into small parts and start with what you actually know. Start with what you actually can.
You want to read a book within a week? Start by opening up the book or loading it on your phone or reading device. Start with opening up the first page. Start with reading the first sentence. Don’t even think about the first chapter. Just the first sentence. You want to start a blog? Start by writing your biography on your about page. Don’t even worry about writing your very first blog post which a lot of us feel has to be perfect and spend a lot of time fidgeting and fumbling on. Spend time on the things that are easy to do. Look through website themes that catch your eye. Think about what you want to name your blog and check whether they are available on domain name searches. Need to put together a presentation? Start with just one slide. That’s it don’t give yourself more work than just one task. Want to write a book? Start with 10 words. That’s right. Not even 100. Just 10 and then do another 10. And another 10. Or a one-sentence outline. Give yourself the easiest tasks possible and give yourself permission to give yourself easy tasks.
It’s important to just start. When you do, you typically have your momentum build up and that will continue and encourage you to keep going. The advantage here is that no matter how big or small your tasks are, our minds create a positive feedback loop whenever we meet our goals and fulfill our tasks, even tiny ones. You still feel happy. For instance, from my own firsthand experience, if I’d set a goal to write 100 words and met it I would feel happy, even though 100 words for me at that point was not a lot. Conversely, if I’d set a goal of 1000 words and I was only able to write 800, I wouldn’t feel good. In fact, I would feel quite discouraged and it would set me back mentally and caused me to procrastinate further even though I had written 800 words compared to the 100 words of my smaller task. That’s 700 more words and therefore I was technically far more productive (8 times) with the larger goal, however, because I didn’t meet it, I had a negative feedback loop in my brain which caused me to feel sad and stressed about not meeting that goal which further encouraged procrastination and the feeling of overwhelm. That actually ends up discouraging you from going further and kills your momentum.
So, basically, it’s far better to give yourself much easier tasks and meet them, than larger tasks and not meet them even if you end up actually doing more with those larger tasks than the smaller tasks. A huge part of productivity is how you actually feelas much as what you do. Your actions are what follow your emotions and thoughts, generally speaking, and if you don’t feel good about doing the work you want to do, then you’re likely not going to do it or you’re going to take a much longer time to do it than you would have if you’d felt enthusiastic.
Work Out for 30 Minutes
Physical activity is so important and, again, is one of the things that cannot be overstated. No matter who you are or what line of work you are in, physical activity is necessary for everybody. This is especially true for those of us to have physically sedentary jobs where we sit at a computer all day long, for the most part, or in an office chair or cubicle. It’s important for us to be able to move and it’s also important for our mental stamina. Our mind and body are connected and I find that when I’m in a mental rut, moving myself physically helps my brain and imagination to become more malleable.
And it doesn’t have to be anything extreme or you don’t even have to get a gym membership if you don’t want to. Outside of yoga, I personally jump rope in my driveway, walk a few miles in the park, or cycle and dance indoors. I’m a huge, huge fan of walking and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would take walks in the park multiple times a week and that would clear my brain and keep me feeling really good and energized overall and ready to take on more work when I got back. Walking around greenery in nature also gives you a sense of refreshment and good vibes all around which helps with your mental clarity, mental space and feelings of elation and peace.
Take a Shower
Believe it or not, a shower is actually as mentally restorative as it is physically. And it offers a relaxing breather between a hectic work schedule. I take a shower right after working out which, for most of us, is the logical step after working up a sweat, but what this does is also lengthen the time of your break. I also give myself a good amount of time to shower not just to clean my body but to also unwind mentally and allow myself to not think of anything while I’m in the shower. I know a lot of people like to brainstorm and plan in their heads while in the shower, however, for me, I find it important to focus on just unwinding and allowing the water to wash away your physical fatigue (from working out) as well as your mental fatigue.
At this point, I’m generally feeling good from the endorphins released from working out over a half hour and the addition of a 20-minute warm-to-hot shower further relaxes me and makes me feel good and gives me a much-needed mental break between my afternoon and evening work blocks. Plan your working out time strategically so that you can shower right after and actually give yourself time to unwind during your shower instead of rushing through the process. Showering is its own restorative break, just like napping and working out. It should be given its own due respect and value. For me, I find that 20 minutes is a good window; not too long that I end up stalling in the shower unnecessarily but not too short that I feel like I’m rushing the process. I actually set a timer on my phone and leave it in the bathroom while I shower and, over time, I’ve just naturally adapted to the amount of time such that I’m finishing up in time for when the alarm goes off.
Take Restorative Breaks
This follows from points 5, 7, and the previous point, 8. Naps, workouts, and showers are all restorative breaks that help your mind unwind, relax, and restore itself between your working or studying hours. These are restorative breaks outside of your typical eight-hour sleep cycle at night (or whenever it is you sleep). For me, other restorative breaks are my mealtime which I now think about in an intentional way. I know for a lot of us, eating is more of a passive activity because we feel like it’s a given and we all need to do it. It’s a necessity and not a luxury so we don’t think of it as an “active” activity the way we do exercising or even taking a shower. I used to do the same prior to 2019 but, in designating a specific time for eating, I’ve taken up mealtime as its own restorative break and I’m mindful of my meals as well as the importance of eating well in order to maintain your energy.
You cannot function optimally without the energy source to do so which, for all humans is, of course, food. I personally meal prep in advance so I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat (which takes off the surprisingly huge mental load of worrying about/having to decide what you’re going to eat every day, not to mention, saves a ton of time) and already having it prepped makes it so much easier to just follow that routine instead of using the limited time you have to prepare something again and again and again. You just have to focus on warming up your food (if needed) and chowing down. That’s it. I usually eat while watching anime which is another restorative aspect of this break for me so that I can mentally recharge and just enjoy my mealtime with something entertaining.
Pairing your mealtime with something you like to do recreationally like watching TV, browsing YouTube, or reading a book is something that I like doing personally, but I’ve also learned about the importance of being mindful of meals and not having any other distractions during mealtime. This is something Ethiopians and Japanese (among others) typically do and their relationship with food is quite different from that of the Western world, in general. They are far more mindful of portion sizes and variety in specific meals. Being more mindful encourages not over eating and being a lot more cognizant of what’s going into your body instead of the passivity that comes with being engaged in another activity like reading or watching TV while you eat. But, whichever you decide, being mindful of your restorative breaks throughout the day is important and fundamental in your productivity because it allows you to maintain your mental and physical stamina throughout your wake hours. Speaking of which…
Wake Up Early
This is something I had to really come to terms with because, when I tell you I used to be a night owl, that was the understatement of the century. I was not at all a morning person. And I mean, at all. And I actually convinced myself that I was a night owl, to the point where I was just more productive at night when everyone else was asleep and less productive during the day. But what I eventually found/realized was that I felt this way because I had created that habit. I was comfortable being a night owl because I had already trained my mind and body to adapt to that way of living and working.
Creating new habits and breaking old habits is not difficult, but can definitely feel that way. Over the course of 2019, I found that our comfort zones are nothing more than habits; actions we’ve become accustomed to. What we find or think of as our comfort zone today were, once upon a time, habits that would have been or were difficult to learn. But they’re comfortable now because we’ve learned them. We’ve practiced them to the point where we no longer even have to think about them. Like brushing our teeth or eating with a fork/chopsticks. If you think about it, even something as obvious and common as using the toilet is typically not even seen as a habit, but normal. However, we forget that we were all once potty-trained as toddlers. Had we not been trained and had that habit not been instilled in us to do so, we wouldn’t have been potty-trained at the same rate or as early as we were. It’s the same for any other habit. Waking up early was something I had to train myself to do and, thankfully, using FocusMate to schedule my routine and have another person there to hold myself accountable to helped a great deal with waking up early. Interestingly enough, after I had developed the habit over several weeks, it was strange waking up at 9 or 10 AM when I was so accustomed to waking up at 6:40 AM to start my day at 7 AM. Whereas, in the past, waking up at 9 or 10 AM was quite early for me considering I would go to bed at 3:00. 4:00, or even 5:00 in the morning. Note how, even though I’d been accustomed to the night owl life for as long I could remember at that point (years and years), it did not take years to break the habit and form this new one. That is the power of habit.
And one of the biggest revelations that I found in 2019, before I ever read Atomic Habits (which I highly recommend) which may seem quite obvious and trivial, is that we are our habits. It’s really as simple as that. If you want to be a certain type of person, i.e., productive, you have to learn and create habits that will instill productivity in you and make it a part of your mindset and lifestyle. It won’t be something you think actively about it, it’ll just be something you do because it seems obvious and comes naturally to you, like using the toilet.
Waking up early also allowed me to start my day well and I can’t overstate the importance of being awake when there is sunlight. I find that that was one of the main things that I really missed out on being a night owl. I would be asleep when the sun would be out and I would be awake when the sun would be all the way down and nowhere in sight. No matter how much of a night owl you think you are, there is not a single living thing on this earth, animal or plant, that can survive, let alone thrive without adequate sunshine. You cannot be optimally productive without sunlight. It’s as simple as that and something that I’ve had to accept. But I find that in accepting that, I wasn’t disappointed. I was actually quite happy. I actually really enjoy having the sun out and sunny days and one of the big reasons I really enjoy the summer and dislike the winter is because there are longer days and the sun is out and about far longer in the northern hemisphere of the world, where I currently reside. Waking up early really gives you a boost to your day and is mentally motivating because you feel like you have a good amount of time to get all your tasks for the day done. If you wake up late, you get the sense that a lot of your day’s already gone and you’ve lost that time and it feels harder to take on the day when you don’t have as much time to complete everything you need to get done. This is especially true for those of us who tend to underestimate how much time we need to complete tasks and end up being under-accomplished for the day even more than we thought we’d be. This just creates a continuous negative feedback loop in your brain which further encourages procrastination and overwhelm which makes you unproductive because you tend to not feel like doing anything or as much as you would if started your day (and getting to your tasks) earlier.
Meditation is something that I really started doing consistently (in 2020) by and large because of the Law of Attraction Planner that I bought in December 2019. Meditation is a huge part of its philosophy and it was only when I started using the guidelines in the planner that I realized just how important it was to reflect and reassess how you’re feeling each and every day. It really is like a self-therapeutic session every day to check in on yourself and see how you are mentally and emotionally before you do anything else. This is something that when I do consistently, I find that I’m far more productive every single day and my entire schedule tends to go smoothly and I tend to not skip out on things like working out or accomplishing my tasks on time or staying focused during my FocusMate sessions.
Like I said, that planner is so much more than a planner and I cannot recommend it enough for anybody who is serious about their productivity as well as having their mental and emotional health integrated into that. It’s important to be aware of your emotional vibrations, which the planner has an entire section dedicated to with visuals that allow you to see where you are on that spectrum, and affirmations you can say out loud to yourself for each vibrational frequency you are emitting at any given time. The effect this has on you mentally is so powerful even though it’s simple to do. Practicing it consistently allows you to be far more in tune with yourself and your feelings and gives you permission to be honest and open with yourself about how you are feeling and verbally expressing that to yourself. A lot of us have issues expressing our emotions (both men and women) because we’ve been taught, both explicitly and implicitly, to hold everything in and not brood or whine and be grateful for what we have instead of complaining when there are others less fortunate. It’s good to be grateful, absolutely (which is one of the top 10 habits of wildly successful people and something the Law of Attraction Planner also emphasizes we do every day because gratitude improves your mood and your mental state) but it’s also extremely important to be cognizant of what is negatively affecting/impacting you and verbalize it so that you can solve the issue instead of ignore it.
As we all know, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. And ignoring your negative feelings, worries. or stressors won’t make them disappear. In fact, they will only compound and bleed into other areas of your life while messing with your productivity and output. And I know many people have different definitions of what meditation is, but I personally just follow the guidelines from the Law of Attraction planner and think of meditation as nothing more than being aware of how I’m feeling that morning prior to beginning my workday. It’s as simple as checking in with yourself the way you would a close friend and just following the guideline/checklist in the planner and being candid about the answers you give.
Switch Equipment/Devices When You Feel Stuck (Laptop, Phone, Physical Notebook, Tablet, Recorder, etc.)
Sometimes, I find that when I’m stuck on a chapter/scene for my fiction or a blog post or anything else I’m working on, switching work mediums helps get me mentally unstuck. Seeing the same paragraph that I’ve been writing on my phone versus my laptop offers my brain a different way of looking at things and gives it a sort of different physical stimulus because it’s a different device.
It’s a similar effect as changing your physical work space or environment when you feel stuck and you need a change of pace/scenery. A lot of us find that when we start to feel unproductive at home, going out to work at a café or library helps reboot our minds and our productivity. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us didn’t have the option to do that and even prior to the pandemic, sometimes you simply don’t have the option to get up and go to a different physical environment for one reason or the other. Switching your work devices offers a similar effect and can help jog you out of that mental rut you’re in.
I personally work between my laptop, phone, as well as dictating on a recorder and using a physical notebook to longhand write in. Longhand writing is actually quite helpful a lot of the time because when you write with your fingers, there is a different connection with your brain than when you type on a phone or a computer keyboard. A similar thing happens when you record using your voice. The words tend to flow more freely because you are effectively talking out loud and hearing yourself as you speak. Your brain processes things differently in multiple ways and talking, in a sense, helps your brain to dump the information that it’s holding onto and it frees and unsticks itself when it’s given the opportunity to do so. I’m actually dictating this post as we speak. LOL. No pun intended.
Switch Up Your Physical Environment/Surroundings for a Mental Reboot
Following from the previous point, like I mentioned, changing your physical environment presents your brain with different stimuli and, therefore, different opportunities for creativity and motivation to do the same work. If you find that you’re not getting as much work done at home or in your home office, taking a walk or hike or working in a park or in a café will often help you mentally reboot. Another thing I find is that if you realize that working indoors has you in a slump, take your work outside in some sunlight, whether that means working out on your porch/balcony/veranda, in a park, an outdoor café or any open public space that you can get fresh air and sunshine.
Sometimes, being in closed spaces tends to similarly confine our minds. I know it sounds strange, but being in open, airy, sunny spaces really has a huge impression on our brains. For the same reason, fish or small mammals confined to small fishbowls and cages, respectively, for instance, without open space tend to not develop properly and will tend to suffer from depression and stunted physical growth, as well. Even if you find that you perform well at your indoor workspace, allowing yourself some time outside every now and again will only encourage and enhance your mental state and productivity.
Allocate Time for Intentional Recreation and Fun to Recharge
Designating time to intentionally have fun and relax has been imperative for my increased productivity and it’s something that I realized after a long while of experimenting in trying to become more productive and coming up with a consistent schedule. I find that it’s not accidental that we tend to procrastinate by doing activities we enjoy, like browsing YouTube or reading blogs or checking Facebook, etc. It seems as though when we feel like we have to be continuously productive for hours and hours and hours on end without any break in sight, our brains will essentially force us to seek out those breaks, but in a disorganized and unintentional fashion which we incorrectly perceive and process as lack of focus and motivation.
After things started to fall in place with my schedule framework and my work output, I still found that I would get distracted every now and again by watching YouTube videos and anime, but after a while, I realized that if I intentionally scheduled those activities and made a time-slot to enjoy and do those things, I found that I no longer browsed when I was supposed to be focusing on doing my work because, mentally, I already knew that I would have time for that. That there was a specific time to do that which I could look forward to and that would also serve as a reward for the work I had done during the day. Allowing yourself to intentionally practice recreational activities that you would normally do or what you would like to think of as “procrastinating activities” will go a long way in ensuring you actually don’t end up doing them when you should be focusing on your work/studying tasks. It’s when you don’t intentionally designate time for them that you start doing them haphazardly and helter-skelter. It’s honestly the same for work itself. Before I consistently created a schedule for my work, my work output was disorganized because I would work inconsistently because I would work at inconsistent times and nothing was intentional, nothing was designated, nothing was scheduled. A huge part of consistent productivity is scheduling – including your fun time.
I know for a lot of people, that might sound unappealing and somewhat formulaic but, trust me, it works and it’s actually quite liberating in and of itself when you realize that you’re not just wasting time browsing YouTube and Facebook but it’s actually a part of your productivity process and mental stamina. We tend to feel guilty for doing these things which is its own negative psychological impact, but if we feel like scrolling through Pinterest or the Gram actually aids in our overall productivity, we won’t feel guilty about doing it, and we won’t need to feel guilty if we decide in advance that that is what we’re going to do at a specific time so that that activity does not interfere with the rest of our work or the designated time you set aside for something else.
During the typical workday, my intentional recreation between work hours, as I mentioned, is designated during my meal time when I watch anime or browse YouTube while I eat. Most anime episodes typically run about 20 minutes so I can get a good two episodes in while I munch as well as two or three short YouTube videos here and there. That makes me feel like I’m not missing out (FOMO) or that I’m a slave to my work and I don’t get to have fun. As they say, all work and no play makes the Youniqorn’s light dim. For most of us, all work and no play actually hinders our productivity. You just have to be intentional about scheduling your play, that’s all.
Choose a Dedicated Work Beverage and Special Cup/Mug/Bottle
This is something I did as part of creating a work habit. I started drinking (Ethiopian/Habesha) coffee a little bit more consistently during my afternoon work block as I’m not a breakfast person (even though I’m now a morning person, huzzah!) and I don’t have issues with having coffee between noon and late afternoon. I bought a specific coffee mug which I thought was super cute and elevated my mood in and of itself to serve as my coffee holder while I work. It may seem inconsequential, but believe me, it has a huge and significant impact on your mental state. Your beverage of choice will also have a huge impact on your productivity, not just in terms of how it affects your body physically but also as part of the habit-forming process.
If you associate that particular beverage with work/studying, it becomes easier to get into work/study mode while you have that particular beverage in that specific mug/bottle/cup you designated for it. If I have my cute teddy bear mug with coffee in it set down, I know that I’m going to be working and it’s typically going to be during my afternoon block. It just puts me in the mind frame of work. If you’ve never tried this out or been mindful about it, give it a try and see how you feel and how it impacts you mentally in relation to your work and productivity. Also, choose a mug/bottle/cup that you really, really like and that inspires feelings of fun, joy, lightheartedness and happiness – positive emotions you want to associate with your work so that you will continue to do it consistently, thereby boosting your productivity.
Have a Dedicated Work Station Free of Distraction but Full of Motivating Physical Stimuli
This follows from the previous point. Your mug/bottle/cup would be one such motivating stimulus at your workstation that motivates you to work or makes you feel good about working and puts you in a positive state of mind to take on your task(s). Having a dedicated workstation is so important and is as fundamental as scheduling and having designated times to do said work. It follows that, having dedicated work devices is also important so you know that when you use a particular device or sit/stand at a particular place in your home or outside of it, you’re doing so with a particular mindset – getting work done. If you work in the same place you play, the lines tend to get blurred and you won’t generally see that space as a “Let’s get shit done!” space.
This is one of the reasons I decided to use my new laptop just for work and relegate my old computer for recreational activities like watching anime, etc. I don’t use my new laptop for any other activities so when I use it I know I’m entirely focused on work and only work and when I want to switch to something fun related, I use my old laptop or tablet. You can do the same thing if you have a tablet, a second phone, etc. Separating your work from your play with your workstation and device is so important and allows you to be fully committed to working when you need to work and fully committed to playing when you need to play. That overall really boosts your productivity because you don’t end up spending time doing the things that you shouldn’t be doing when you need to be doing other things, i.e., working when playing or playing when working. Yes, it goes both ways. If you designated a particular time to play, do not work during that time because you are essentially robbing yourself of a much-needed recharge and you are not respecting the schedule you’ve set for yourself and your brain will want to seek that playtime at some point which will likely be at an inconvenient time where you have designated it for work.
Other motivating physical stimuli that you can place at your workstation that are not distracting but energizing can include a small potted plant like a cactus that doesn’t require too much attention or maintenance. Another can also be a visually-appealing planner, journal or diary like the Law of Attraction Planner. In addition to that, colorful, erasable pens that you use in your planner/journal/diary are also visual stimuli that are not all distracting but are actually motivating because you will use them for your productivity but they still offer a pleasant optical appeal.
You really don’t need to go overboard with this. Just pick one or two things that are visually appealing and that energize you, your work/study space, and encourage you to stay focused while working so that you are focused without feeling bored of your environment and surroundings. It can be easy to feel bored and unproductive when you don’t find anything stimulating or even remotely engaging about your work environment. This is your brain seeking visual/creative stimuli without you realizing it so placing something green or colorful will do the trick.
Make a Seasonal Vision Board
Now, this is something that I more so decided on doing more recently. I know a lot of us are encouraged to make vision boards for the year. But I find that making plans over the course of the year is not as efficient for me as making goals and plans for a few weeks to three months at a time. Of course, you can change the timeline based on what you find your needs are but a lot can happen in a year and you might or have to change your goals and, therefore, your vision board before the year is up. Doing so seasonally allows you the flexibility to change and reassess every so often, at least a handful of times throughout the year.
I find that giving myself three months to create a vision board for what I want to accomplish actually has the added benefit of encouraging me to do things now. Sometimes we may feel like we have the whole entire year to get certain things done and because of that, we tend to procrastinate even without meaning to or realizing that we are. But if we feel like we only have three months to do something versus the whole year, we are likely to take action sooner and get certain things done now rather than later and, therefore, be more productive.
So, create four vision boards for the year but don’t do them simultaneously. At the start of the year (January), create a Winter vision board of everything you know you want to accomplish that season. About a week or two before winter is up, create a Spring board for everything you want to accomplish during the Spring season. Do the same thing for the Summer and the Fall seasons and you’ll find that you’re more productive overall than if you had only created a single vision board for the entire year. There are different apps you can use to create virtual vision boards and, of course, you can also create physical seasonal boards if you’re inclined to do so manually.
I find that there are benefits to both but the advantage of using an app is that it’s digital and you can save/preserve your vision boards without worry of them getting worn/torn/misplaced and can also easily use templates from your previous vision boards when creating new ones. Also, having multiple vision boards in one place is clearly easier when you’re creating/storing them digitally versus physically. You may not have the physical space to organize multiple vision boards side-by-side if you’re anything like me and like to compare vision boards from season to season or even year to year.
Listen to New Music When You Feel Stuck or in a Rut
We all have times where we feel mentally stuck or in limbo and can’t figure out why even though we’ve developed good, productive habits. Just like a change in scenery and/or device usage can help refresh your mind, music is a great way to stimulate and amplify your creativity and mood. The effects are pretty much instantaneous which makes this an extremely powerful tool. It seems quite simple and intuitive, but in practice, it’s so effective. And the fact that it’s so easy to implement and that you likely listen to music anyways makes this a no-brainer.
But, what’s more effective than simply listening to music, is listening to music you’ve never heard before. Intentionally listening to a new song/tune has a completely different effect than listening to a song you already know. While the latter is effective, as well, it tends to be, at least in my experience, more effective for continued focus rather than getting out a of a mental rut. The former is quite effective at melting the adhesive gluing your brain down so, if you find yourself mentally stuck and confused as to why you are stuck, try browsing for some new/new-to-you music and listen to a few songs and see how you feel. YouTube Music and Pandora are great apps to browse different songs/playlists, new and old that you may have never heard before. And that will go a long way in amplifying your mood, giving you a mental nudge, boosting your creativity and, therefore, your productivity.
Create a Monthly Music Playlist
This follows directly from the previous point and actually takes it a step further by planning ahead instead of waiting for yourself to get stuck in a creative or mental rut before looking to music to help unstick you. Having a music playlist every month of different songs is a sort of “music prep”, similar to meal and outfit prepping in that you don’t have to keep worrying about what you’re going to eat or wear on a day-to-day basis because you already have it planned out and prepared in advance. The same applies with music because it’s such an amazing tool for creativity and productivity. Personally, I find that when I work (writing, editing, brainstorming, outlining, proofreading, graphic design, etc.) listening to music makes the time go by faster and I don’t feel bored or get the same sense of staleness that comes with monotony. If you’ve ever noticed how long five minutes actually is when you literally have nothing to do but wait for the time to pass, you know what I’m talking about. Conversely, waiting five minutes by listening to music during that interval makes it seem like no time at all has passed, especially if you really like the song and have it on repeat. You’ll feel less bogged down and like a drone through the day when you have music involved. So don’t under estimate the power of using it consistently and in variety for your productivity.
Watch Other People’s Work and Productivity Videos if You Find Yourself Distracted/Procrastinating/Idly Browsing the Internet
Let’s face it: there will be times when even the most disciplined and dedicated of us who want nothing more than to be prolific champions and workaholics still find ourselves distracted every now and again and browsing the Internet and watching cat, natural hair or house hunting videos on social media when we should be working. As much as my productivity has spiked over (a relatively short amount of) time, I would be remiss to claim that I never ever get distracted anymore or feel the need to look up YouTube videos of tiny animals and waist length 4c hair when I need to be drafting my outline or dictating a blog post. But what I found is that if I do find myself drifting in that direction, instead of allowing myself to completely fall down that rabbit hole, I make the inclination work for me and my productivity by watching something that will inspire my productivity instead of simply entertain my tendency to procrastinate (i.e., cat/natural hair videos).
There are a lot more videos on YouTube (and I’m sure other video-based platforms) where people upload their productivity routines for work, school, etc. and viewers are challenged to work/study/clean/cook along or simply encouraged by the video to do the same. If you find yourself aimlessly browsing the Internet or checking Pinterest, YouTube, or Instagram, etc., use that opportunity to look up productivity videos, images and posts to re-inspire you and re-incentivize you to get back to work. Seeing someone else super immersed and productive and getting things done provides an external accountability effect and will typically inspire you to follow suit.
Eat Well and On Schedule
It seems that this should go without saying, but it actually does need to be said, especially if you are anything like me. I know, for a lot of us, mealtimes (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) are almost intuitive and we’ve been conditioned to eat those meals at specific times our whole lives so we think nothing of it at this point. However, I found, over time, that a lot of us actually have a hard time keeping our mealtimes consistent on a day-to-day basis. This is especially true for entrepreneurial types and those who work from home and make their own schedules. A lot of us tend to “forget” to eat, or put meals or dedicated mealtimes on the back burner, especially when we are on a time crunch or need to meet a lifeline. I’ve heard fiction writers, YouTubers, and other creative’s say this, and I was surprised that it was as common as it was because I thought it only happened to me.
We may think it’s inconsequential, but it really isn’t, much in the same way that not getting adequate amounts of sleep consistently and on schedule has a compounding negative effect on our productivity and in general, which will talk about in a minute. I can’t stress enough how important it is to not only eat well, meaning foods that are nutritionally-dense and satiating and provide you optimal amounts of energy to perform all your tasks, both physical and mental, as well as eating those meals on schedule. Hands down, the one thing that has helped me eat well and on schedule is meal prepping. There is no way I personally can–or wantto—cook every single day and maintain a streamlined, efficient schedule and get everything I need to get done in a timely manner.
When I didn’t meal prep in the past, it was all too easy for me to skip meals because I couldn’t be bothered with worrying about what I was going to eat every single day and then having to actually make it before I would sit down to eat. Take a weekend day to meal prep everything you want to eat that will last you (and your family) all week without worrying about what you’re going to eat the next day. This will ensure that you eat on time and have adequate amounts of energy to perform your tasks so that you can stay on schedule and maintain your productive habits.
Practice One Intentional Act of Self-Care Every Day
Over the more recent years, I’ve become increasingly cognizant of the sheer importance of intentional self-care versus passive self-care. I know that a lot of us practice self-care as par for the course, i.e., taking a shower, doing our laundry, making up the bed, vacuuming the carpet, etc., and yet, a lot of those also feel like chores and occasionally (perhaps even often) burdens even though we know that we reap the benefits of doing them. Practicing active versus passive self-care creates a different mental shift. What I’m speaking of here is self-care that is specific to your own body versus your immediate surroundings or environment, although there are various acts of self-care where both intersect, as well.
An example of intentional self-care on a daily basis would be oiling your nails and hands after washing them to ensure that they don’t get dry and/or peel/break from being sanitized and, therefore, stripped by soap. The act of doing so creates a positive value marker in your mind and improves and enhances the value you place on that part of your body as well as how you view/perceive it. Even something as simple as intentionally pausing to apply a nice, rich balm on your lips to keep them soft and hydrated is intentional if your mindset behind the action is intentional versus passive. Even performing a usually passive act of self-care by acutely focusing and being present in the moment of the action can make that activity active.
For instance, something as simple as putting your hair up in a puff, bun, or ponytail can be passive (just trying to get it out of your face without any thought of placement or care for it) versus active (lifting it off your neck and shoulders/back but also feeling good about its presence, weight, texture, and its new placement and consolidated state, i.e., not seeing it as a bother but enhancement even when it’s being put away). Simply being mindful of the act and taking the time to enjoy the action versus just wanting to get it done makes it go from passive to active and rushed to intentional. Picking an act of intentional self-care on a part of your body that you enjoy and like to place attention on goes a long way toward boosting your mood and increasing your self-esteem and sense of identity which creates the positive feedback loop in your brain that encourages feelings of motivation and, consequently, productivity.
How you feel about yourself directly translates into what you do with/for yourself. Feeling good about yourself through acts of continuous, ongoing care reinforces that sentiment and has a compounding effect over time. You can even do this with body parts that you don’t like so much. For instance, if you don’t like your feet, giving them extra attention in the shower and scrubbing between your toes will go a long way in increasing their value to you on a subconscious level and that has the added benefit of changing your perception of your feet from negative to positive over time which further enhances your overall self-esteem which, in turn, boosts your psyche and, therefore, productivity. Taking the time every day to show yourself that you care about yourself goes an immeasurably long way into building the person you want to become and, by immediate extension, your productivity.
Stick With It to Create Positive, Productivity-Forming Habits
They say it takes 30 days to form a new habit. In reality, this number varies for different people because it comes down to how many times you perform the habit, as detailed in the book, “Atomic Habits“. In order to form habits, good or bad, we have to keep doing them. Not just thinking about doing them (like a lot of us, including myself, are guilty of) but actually doing them. Executing. Spending time and energy simply thinking about doing something (being ‘in motion’) won’t get it done. Only takingaction gets things done. So, it’s important to implement as much as possible, as often as possible, in order to form each habit that will spike your productivity.
Practicing all the points above (and below) will go a long way to increasing your productivity over time. And the thing with practicing multiple habits is that their effects are not linear or independent. Meaning that, practicing one will influence the other and its effects will not exist or manifest in isolation. The positive effects of, say, having an accountability partner to keep you in check and following a dedicated work timetable will influence each other and enhance the overall experience of doing both. Basically, their overall effects will be greater than their individual parts. Implementing even a third of this list concurrently will soar your productivity to heights you can only imagine in a relatively short period of time. Keeping at it will ensure that, over the long haul, like anything else, it becomes second nature and you don’t even have to think about it anymore. Like I mentioned earlier, before I started waking up and working early, I was convinced that I was a night owl and after I formed the habit of starting my day early and waking up at 6:30 AM, I found it quite strange and actually uncomfortable waking up later than that even though, prior to forming that habit, I felt the exact opposite. Our comfort zones are only comfortable because we have formed those habits and now reinforce them on autopilot. Once upon a time, our comfort zones were actually not comfortable because they were not habits we had yet forged. Decide on what habit(s) you want to form in order to be the type of person you want to be and work at creating and practicing those habits relentlessly until those habits become you and your comfort zone. The good news is, it doesn’t take nearly as long as we might think it does to implement and create positive, productive habits for ourselves. And, honestly, even if it took the whole entire year to get to that point, would you rather, a year from now, be where you want to be, or still in the same place? So, keep doing. Keep implementing. No matter how small. No matter how briefly. Do it every day and create the habit until you no longer have to think about it.
Get Adequate Sleep
I know this is something we are all told time and time again and, yet, there seems to be an ongoing sleep-deprivation epidemic for a lot of us, especially in Western countries. Work culture, even on a social level, reinforces this idea that we always need to be working or doing something for long hours all the time. And losing out on sleep for work is often congratulated. The idea of it is socially elevated and rewarded. People tend to see you as “disciplined” and “hard-working” when you say you only got four or five hours of sleep last night instead of the required (not simply recommended) eight. I’m not going to mince my words here: Sleep is not only important, but it is absolutely necessary.
Adequate sleep is a requirement to be healthy, productive, and happy. You really cannot achieve those things with shorting yourself on deep rest which all living things consistently need in adequate amounts for optimal functionality. Sleep is not just downtime. It’s time your entire being requires to heal and restore itself from all of the day’s activities, stressors, and even functions as normal and seemingly inconsequential as blinking and eating, even though digestion is quite taxing on the body. Depriving yourself of sleep, intentionally or unintentionally, has dire consequences, both short and long term. But especially long term.
I understand that a lot of us have hectic work and school schedules that sometimes require us to forgo sleep in adequate amounts or even altogether every now and again in order to meet a lifeline, study for an exam, or turn in a paper/project/report, etc. I get it. I’ve been there. Trust me, I know. And yet, that doesn’t change the fact that each time you put your body through the stress of not allowing it deep rest, you are selling yourself short in so many ways and putting your entire health and, therefore, productivity at risk.
This ties directly into the previous point and is a huge issue for a lot of us who tend to not get enough sleep at night. A lot of us tend to go to bed much later than we should when we know we have to be up early. This has the impact of either not getting enough sleep or waking up later than we should and, consequently, not starting our day off on a good note. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I can count, especially during my night owl era. It was so normal for me to be wide-awake and bug-eyed at 11 PM all the way through the early morn when I should’ve been fast asleep. You can’t logically expect to go to sleep at midnight or one in the morning and be up at five or six and feel refreshed and ready to take on the new day. And certainly not on an ongoing basis. It just doesn’t work that way.
Your body physically requires you to rest and limit its functionality for a certain number of hours every single day in order for it to be optimally functional the rest of the time you’re awake. Honestly, if you think about it, it’s the same for any other machine. If you leave a blender on continuously, it will wear out and likely get damaged well before it’s time. Similarly, leaving a car engine running continuously will wear on its efficiency/horsepower/lifespan quickly. You cannot expect any different with your body. If even mechanical devices need to sleep, you can expect that your organic body needs the same.
Turn in early enough that you’re getting adequate amounts of sleep. I find that winding down about 30 minutes to an hour before you actually need to be fast asleep is a good idea and turning down/off the lights will affect your circadian rhythm and prepare your brain for sleep. Getting into bed eight and a half to nine hours before you know you need to be up is a good general ballpark to shoot for so that you’re already relaxed and winding down before your eight-hour countdown begins.
Start and End Your Day On a Good Note
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Waking up on the wrong side of the bed.” When you wake up with a bad mood, it’s no secret that it affects the rest of your day, and the choices you make are typically a direct reflection of how you feel at that given time. So, when you feel bad or moody or irritated as soon as you wake up, for whatever reason, the rest of your day will typically reflect that until those feelings are neutralized or pivot. This is why it’s so incredibly important to feel good and wake up on a good note so that the rest of your day follows from that sentiment and you are more motivated and driven to accomplish your task(s) and don’t feel overwhelmed/frustrated by your work from your previous/lingering feelings of irritation.
Know that feelings tend to compound both ways. Feelings of frustration and irritation will generally draw sentiments of overwhelm, dissatisfaction, anger, and other negative emotions. Negativity is directly counter to productivity. It just is. It is incredibly difficult to be and stay productive when you are shrouded by negative feelings. The same rings true for the way you end your day. If you go to bed angry, you will typically wake up with feelings of that same anger or remnants of it and carry that into the rest of your day. So, it’s important that even if you get upset or angry because of something or someone, even rightfully so, you owe it to yourself and your own productivity and mental health to neutralize that anger or negative emotion so that it won’t negatively impact the rest of that day.
An easy way to do this is to either, one: journal your feelings to explore and release the negative emotion(s), which helps you process and heal, or, two: watch/read something funny/elevating. Humor is an amazing tool that will always help with feelings of irritation, frustration, worry, and just general, all-around negativity that impede and stunt our productivity and mental health. I’m personally a huge fan of the animated TV comedies, Family Guy and American Dad, and if I find that I’m irritated or annoyed, I’ll watch an episode or a clip of a funny part of either of those shows. You can watch anything that makes you laugh or smile. You can even try to recall a time you were happy or something someone said that was hilarious or that made you smile and keep thinking about it until you actually feel better. Do not proceed with your day when you’re still angry. As much as practical, use your energy, time, and resources to make yourself feel better before you keep it pushing. That will be a much better and more effective use of your time and energy than trying to push through the frustration and anger with work. You typically won’t be as productive as you could be, and you certainly won’t feel better. So, start and end your day on a good note.
This is the comprehensive list of things, tools, tactics and methods I employ to stay productive consistently. Let me know if any of them work for you and share your own personal productivity tips down below!♥