Between work, class, extracurricular activities and—oh yeah—life, sometimes it can be difficult to check off the boxes on your to-do list and make some time for yourself. Isn’t “work hard, play hard” everyone’s #goals? If you’re anything like me, you probably say “yes” to just about everything someone asks you to do and apply for just about every opportunity that comes your way. This isn’t a bad thing, but balancing your personal and professional time is important to a healthy lifestyle.
So whether you need some advice to get and stay productive or rather to slow down and make more time for yourself, here are a few tricks to try. These may not work for everyone, but these are just a few ways I manage my time effectively.
Getting — And Staying — Productive
Even the hardest working people can fall into a slump. Fatigue, writer’s block, that Netflix show you need to catch up on distracting you — it happens to the best of us. But often times, if you can get started on a single task, simple or bold, the motivation to continue will follow. When I have a long to-do list in front of me, I’ll often do something easier or quicker than items on the list, like load my dishwasher or start some laundry. This not only gets me started on a productivity train, but it gives me an opportunity to take a break from work later to finish these simple tasks, i.e. switch the laundry or put away the clean dishes.
Let’s Get Visual
I am a person that responds to visuals, and this plays a role in my productivity level in a few ways. First, written to-do lists and calendars keep me on track. The satisfaction of crossing things off or turning the page in a calendar on a successful week keeps me motivated.
Your work space can also be a visual cue for productivity. Before I start my day, I make sure my desk is neat and organized. I like to display my calendar and to-do list on one side of my computer and my trusty cup of coffee on the other. I try to avoid working from my bed or couch as much as possible because those aren’t areas I associate with a productive work environment. Finding your own personal space in which you work well, and therefore associating that place with tackling your to-do lists can save you from missing deadlines.
Create a System of Rewards and Accountability
Charles Duhigg wrote a fantastic book, “The Power of Habit,” that has influenced the way I cue and reward my work routines. Finding the routine that works for you is key. I prefer to set a work schedule each day with goals to meet, but that still allows for unstructured time. During the week, I try to get up at the same time each morning. Habits and cues help. I like to have one cup of coffee before I do any work and watch the morning news. Take your time with the first cup. Allow yourself to wake up. Then I pour my second cup and take it to my desk.
Duhigg says in his book that the real power of habit is, “the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” You are more in control than you think and you really can change your habits with simple cues — the first cup of coffee — and small rewards — the satisfaction of crossing items off the list. But for some, crossing items off of the list isn’t reward enough. To jump start the habit, you may need a stronger reward to start, like treating yourself to an episode of your favorite show if you complete a certain item or number of items. Whatever reward you choose, try to keep it consistent so the habit loop continues to get stronger and your productivity does as well.
I also live by deadlines. Deadlines remind me that after that time, my task will be completed and I’ll have free time to spend on myself. But deadlines work best when they have a level of accountability behind them. For some it may be impressing a supervisor by getting it done early and for others it may be the motivation to not let someone down. Sometimes, I set my own deadlines even when it’s not required. For example, if someones asks you to complete a task but doesn’t give you a deadline, try to respond that you’ll have that action item done by tomorrow evening. Get specific with these deadlines. If you say it will be done by 5 p.m. it may help keep you on schedule.
Now that we’ve created productive habits and crossed all of those items off of our to-do list, let’s take time to make time for ourselves. The word “unplug” may trigger shock for many of you. For this generation, putting away our technology and communicative devices is a serious challenge (I’ve recently found this even more difficult after my boyfriend bought me an Apple Watch. Technology amazes me). However, a recent Kent State University study showed that those categorized as “high-use” smartphone owners actually experienced more stress and anxiety during their leisure time. Reserve an evening during the week and/or a day during the weekend that you completely unplug and quiet your mind. Instead, have a meaningful conversation with a friend or read that book that’s been sitting on your nightstand for months.
Plan a Weekend Getaway
Set your out of office email and abide by it. If you’re truly taking time off for yourself, and you’ve made that clear in your automated response, people will understand. For compulsive email refreshers like myself, this isn’t easy, but you’ll be glad you did. Just like your body, your mind needs rest. Plan a weekend vacation, or staycation, and relax. Spend time with friends or family or just take a much deserved nap. Whatever you do, do it for yourself.
Take a Walk
No really, take a walk. Or a hike. Or a bike ride. Just take a moment to look around you. Listen to music or a podcast while you do it if you’d like. Bring a friend and catch up. Or don’t and take in your surroundings completely on your own. But literally just get outside and move.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
These tips and habits I’ve discussed should help you work smarter, not harder, so you can make more time to do the things that make you happy. “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort,” Duhigg says. So get in the habit of being productive, get your work done and do it well, then take a moment to enjoy yourself.