OK, I have a confession to make. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been really suffering with ‘overwhelm’. It hasn’t been pretty. There’s been tears, snot, the whole shebang, plus a lot of soul searching. I won’t bore you with the whys and wherefores other than to say that sometimes, as you may know from experience, being the parent who works from home can mean you find yourself juggling far too many balls.
In a moment of clarity, I realised I needed to go back to basics and work out the best ways to cut out distractions, streamline my life and create some precious downtime. It’s a work in progress but at least I seem to have gained some forward momentum…
So, if you’re feeling frazzled, overwhelmed or easily distracted, I wanted you to know that you’re not alone. Here are the seven productivity tips that have saved my sanity:
Write everything down
There’s something about writing a to-do list in a notebook that suddenly makes everything more manageable. I don’t know why but just the act of putting pen to paper makes me feel more in control than typing the same words on to a screen. There’s something cathartic too about crossing out tasks with big, determined lines. Each strikethrough is like a silent victory, ‘A-ha, to-do list, you thought you could beat me but who’s the winner now?’ Before I shut down my computer each night, I write my to-do list for the next day. It takes a matter of minutes but it means I start each work day with a plan of action.
Have a frenzied 15 minutes
One of my favourite ways of beating overwhelm is to set myself the challenge of striking off as many tasks from my to-do list as I can in just 15 minutes. This might mean making a quick phone call, answering a couple of straightforward emails, creating a mind map of ideas for a forthcoming project. The important thing is to start moving forward, away from the paralysis of procrastination. This isn’t about prioritising, it’s about seeing immediate results and the promise of what I could achieve throughout the rest of the day.
Eat a frog
You’ve no doubt familiar with the following Mark Twain quote, which seems to crop up on memes on social media feeds everywhere: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” It’s a variation on the lecture I give my eight-year-old about doing his homework on a Friday evening so it doesn’t lurk in the background – a gloomy, fun-sucking spectre – for the entire weekend.
I’ve realised that one of my biggest productivity killers is putting off unappealing tasks until the end of the day. My natural ‘go-to’ position for certain tasks is the ostrich, my head firmly in the sand until I can’t afford to procrastinate for a moment longer. Well, enough is enough. There will be no more ostrich behaviour from me. From now on, my plan is to eat that flippin’ frog, no matter how bad it tastes, because Mark Twain was right, the rest of the day looks positively bright afterwards.
Know your productive times
I’m pretty productive in the mornings, especially if I’ve had a good night’s sleep, and my brain seems to double in capacity in the evenings but the afternoons are grim. Honestly, it’s like wading through treacle while wearing iron boots. Recently, I’ve changed my routine to match tasks to my concentration level. Mornings and evenings are for writing, whereas afternoons are for admin, emails, phone calls and a brisk walk to blow away the cobwebs.
I read recently that when a person is interrupted in the middle of writing, it takes 15 minutes for their brain to settle back into the flow of where they were. I can well believe it. This is one of my biggest productivity blocks. I’ve started turning my phone to silent and shutting down my inbox while I write, simply so that I can concentrate without anything stealing my focus. The difference it makes to my productivity is significant. Now I check my email and social media first thing in the morning and straight after lunch, then again in the evening.
Make tasks more manageable
Do you ever feel as though a job is just too big? Do you find yourself so stressed about what to do first that you do nothing at all? I definitely believe that it’s better to take one step at a time than to look at the mountain, which is why I like to break my jobs down into small, manageable chunks. Instead of thinking about writing a whole website, I tend to focus on understanding the client’s brief first, brainstorming ideas, conducting keyword research, planning the content for each page, writing the first draft and so on. By taking things a task at a time, I’m more likely to enjoy the journey as well as the satisfaction of reaching my destination.
Take a break
*Deep breath* ‘My name’s Emma and I’m a workaholic’. I always have been; even at the age of five or six, it felt like there would never be enough hours in the day to read everything I wanted to read or write everything I wanted to write. Actually, maybe it’s more accurate to call me a ‘wordoholic’. Whatever the case, I’m not very good at walking away and recognising when I need a break. But that has to change.
Many productivity experts recommend taking a ten-minute break every 90 minutes. Certainly, I find that after a brisk walk or a cup of tea away from the computer, the words flow more easily.
What are your biggest time thieves and the productivity boosts that help you fight the overwhelm? I’d love to hear what works for you as I’m more than open to ideas.