The start of a fresh new year is usually a great trigger to stop, take a step back, and do a fair amount of self-reflection. This year, as 2021 rounded the corner, I decided to take a deep dive into really looking at my productivity. I am self-employed so time management is crucial to making my week “work,” but I do think that creating structure and efficiencies make sense no matter what your position may be.
Take a Step Back
Looking in the mirror just isn’t that easy. It took me a week or two to really force myself to assess my habits, but then I just made myself do it. I decided to watch how I worked, take note of my work behaviors, and see what patterns and pros/cons I could find in my workday. Then, I tried to really think about what methods I could start/stop/continue (here’s some HR Professional Development Speak for you!) in my day and in my routine.
Mainly I realized just how specifically I work and at what levels of work I’m capable of performing at various parts of the day and week. Our personalities and natural work habits are so varied that it really takes a hard look at yourself to see where you might excel most. I also talked to some friends about what I was thinking and feeling just to see what they considered most ideal for them.
Things That Work For Me
This list is by no means a “one size fits all” approach. I tend to be very extroverted, very early-bird, and have very different energy levels at different parts of the day. I also do a good bit of professional writing for my job, and I know that my brain is not always in a mood to do deep-thinking, write creatively, or delve into technical topics. So I created a list of some work habits for myself that seem to get me positive results and have helped me achieve my most productive work week. Maybe some of these will work for you. I’d love some feedback on tricks and tips that you enjoy in your workday.
- Drink more water. There is something about avoiding all-day caffeine, staying hydrated, and limiting the artificial sweetener I was drinking too much of. Hydration is good for brain power (and it’s zero calories)!
- I start early. I know my most ON IT hours are from 7 am to noon. I’m a better thinker, I work really quickly, I have a lot of energy, and I just feel much smarter in the morning. So if I have something more complex to work on that day, I pencil in the task for early morning and knock it off my list.
- My list. I’ve always been a list-maker (the kind that writes in a completed task just to mark it off). But I’ve gone old school lately and have employed the assistance of an old-fashioned lined notebook. As simple as it is, my lists are all in chronological order. I put personal items in the bottom fourth of each page, and I use checkboxes to mark and slash through my day. An added bonus is seeing which tasks were left undone in order to plan for the next day. My notebooks have been great for note-taking, thinking things out, and listing out my day.
- I make myself move. Currently, I am on a 21-day challenge (thanks to a very motivated friend) to do some type of exercise for 30 minutes every day. “Yeesh!” I thought when she first posted this idea on social media, “There is NO way I can do it every day.” But 21 days forms a habit. I’m only 8 days in as I write this, but I feel great. And I have realized that I can, in fact, do something every day. Some easy ideas: a quick walk in my neighborhood, Amazon Prime has some decent Pilates videos, a quick HIIT routine with light weights/cardio/stretching, a visit to my 24-hour gym. All of these work for me and I have a bunch of kids and a baby, so you can too! My level of “awakeness” has really improved.
- One Hour Increments. For difficult tasks, I have forced myself to “unplug” from my phone and email for one solid hour. I can knock it out, get in my zone, and just get it done. I close out all my tabs, resign myself to not check social, emails, calls, etc. until I’m finished. And after one hour, I allow myself a brain break or move onto the next activity.
- Speaking of emails… My natural tendency (read above about checking off every item) is to check each email as the notification hits my footer bar. And then the distractions pile up until hours have passed, and I have no idea how I got to where I am. My new method is to check emails when I’m at a stopping point. Also, I don’t always check them first thing in the morning if I have a big assignment waiting for me. I read in a book once that starting your day with your emails gives more importance to what other people need from you than what you, yourself, know you need to get done. So now, emails come in second or third priority.
- Planning Phone Calls. I’ve realized how important it has been for me to take notes, especially with new clients. Thanks, Notebook. So I try to schedule all calls when I can be prepared and have my notebook ready and my research conducted. Or I wait to return phone calls when my current task is completed and I know I can give my client my full attention. Sometimes a simple text to say: “I saw you called. I will return your call at 2 pm when I’m available” is just enough to let your caller know you care, but not shift your attention to allow for distraction in your current task.
- Afternoons are not for me. I just don’t do well after 3 pm. I know this about myself so I don’t plan big meetings, important calls, or difficult assignments for the afternoon time slot. It helps that I can mostly control my schedule, but I’ve also just gotten comfortable with telling people I work much better in the morning. It’s just a fact so I don’t apologize about it anymore and just make it work.