This week, I hit rock bottom.
Despite my best efforts, the perfect storm of corporate tax deadlines, planning and presenting at FIGT 2015 and an intensive public speaking residential weekend meant that the backlog of things to be done and postpones family commitments finally caught up with me.
My inbox (typically at zero) contained 534 messages, the dogs hadn’t been hiked in over a week, and the house looked like the aftermath of a Quentin Tarantino movie. Calm and serenity had exited the building.
It’s at times like these – when I can’t humanly do it all – that the magic happens. I become ruthless about where I’m focusing my attention and if something falls through the cracks, so be it. I have a backup system that sends out reminders for the vital stuff, and for everything else I’m invoking the human error approach.
So, for those of you who crave a simpler, saner life, here’s how to go from procrastination to productivity in 24 hours.
So, for those of you who crave a simpler, saner life, here's how I went from procrastination to productivity… Click To Tweet
First: Forgive Yourself.
Seriously. We are constantly battling information overload, and there is no way on earth we can possibly keep up with it all. So why do we spend precious time, energy and mental space beating ourselves up over what we didn’t get done. I can’t decide if it’s a uniquely female characteristic or whether this particular gender divide exists only in my household (feel free to add your vote in the comments below), but I do know that it is a singularly crappy way to start the day.
At this point, I’m tempted to encourage you to repeat a deep and meaningful mantra, discover the power of EFT or join a meditation circle. However, as I am utterly useless at all those, I’m going to introduce you to my own personal response to any feelings of inadequacy, poor performance or unreasonable expectations. So, on three, repeat after me:
Sod it. I’m doing my best.
Not bad, hey? I’m betting you feel better already.
Next: Just Start.
As an expert procrastinator, I speak from personal experience when I say that getting started is the hardest part.
Mercifully, I have discovered Pomodoro, a productivity app that divides your day into 25 minute segments with a five minute break between each. I started using it as a means of breaking unpleasant projects (it’s tax season here, in case you missed my prolonged, pained silence over the last month) into tolerable chunks, but I now use it constantly as a way of not just getting me started, but also limiting my time spent down online and email rabbit holes. Quite why I am so massively motivated to accumulate virtual tomatoes (get the app to see what I am talking about) is beyond me, but hey, whatever works.
There’s also a plugin for the Chrome browser, which not only times you, but blocks out distracting websites like Facebook, YouTube et al – check out the Member’s area for the How-To video on that one.
The other huge benefit of the 25 minute limit is the improvement in problem solving performance. Seriously, just set the timer, and if enlightenment hasn’t dawned in 25 minutes, go do something else and let your subconscious take over. Our brains works best in short bursts of high intensity creativity, so ‘sticking with it’ is not a phrase that should ever be used in the learning context.
In the book ” Did you Spot the Gorilla”, Prof. Richard Wiseman outlines techniques for inspired problem solving, and all four of them involve moving away from the task in hand, either mentally or physically. So there you are.
Starbucks, Netflix, you name it. Just make sure you set your timer…
Now: Curate your Context.
Which brings me to my next step – choosing what to focus on.
I do not work well in chaos, and yet I seem to be waging a constant battle against it. This is probably down to expat life, two kids, four dogs and a husband who clearly isn’t paying attention, but I know I am not alone. Despite my best efforts, I still spend a massive part of my day making everyone else’s life run more smoothly, whether that be school runs, housework, dog walking – you get the picture. It manifests itself in constant interruptions – via email, social media, text message, skype chat – the list is endless. And while I adore how connected we are able to be, I have to set boundaries around when I am actually available.
Working from home compounds the problem – blurring the line between ‘at work’ and ‘at home’ means that not only are my communication boundaries blurred, but my physical ones are too. If you’ve ever been on a Google Hangout with me, you will inevitably have watched at least one dog walking through.
In the last few months, I have made a conscious decision to take my office environment seriously, in decluttering terms at least. This means that the first place I focus my energy on is my immediate surroundings – most notably, my office. I start with the desk, move on to the rest of the room and in my wilder moments, even lug out the vacuum cleaner. I remove all trace of family detritus, – homework, pet toys, discarded socks. I now buy flowers for on my desk, invest in beautiful office stationary and basically make my office look like a glorious haven of creative serenity.
It works. Instead of feeling resentful about heading to work (a commute of about 20 steps), I find myself drawn to the calm. And here’s the funny bit – I am far more decisive in getting rid of anything that interferes with my zen – crappy emails, school flyers etc, etc. If it’s not a resounding yes, out it goes.
The virtual clutter is where I make the most lasting impact, because there are some great tools out there and no family members to interrupt every three minutes. There are tons of videos over in the free member area to satisfy even the most entrenched procrastinator, so if you haven’t already registered, you can click on this link and get started.
Finally: Accept the Guilt and Still Say No.
Sadly, decluttering inside our head is less easy, and every choice you make, every refusal you utter, is fraught with emotion. Because it’s not about saying ‘no’ to the second grade science trip, it’s that gnawing feeling that won’t stop that you are missing out on your moments, on being there for your children, your partner, your family and friends – and the inevitable guilt that comes with it.
Which brings me to Lynne, and the best productivity advice I ever received. It came from an unlikely source – an abrasive, outspoken coworker, who I avoided like the plague. Unfortunately, I shared an office with her, so I was regularly treated to her opinions on everything from the state of education to the cost of my shoes.
I had just returned to work after having my firstborn, and as she walked past my desk one morning, she casually asked me how working parenthood was going.
“I constantly feel guilty,” I replied.
I’m not sure what I was expecting – sympathy, advice, commiseration maybe. Who knows? What I got was a blunt, brutal honesty that at the time knocked the breath out of me, but has stayed with me ever since.
Without missing a beat, she fired back,
“Get used to it”.
She was deadly serious.
It’s true. In this crazy, busy, overwhelming world, it’s easy to be fooled by the promises of serenity, simplicity and calm, by those alluring images of perfection – and then feel guilty because we are so far from that image that it’s laughable. We miss appointments, events, moments – and then beat ourselves up because if we had only been a little more organised, a little less exhausted, paid a little more attention, we could have been there, seen that, done that.It's time to accept that guilt is a constant presence, and still say 'No'. #expat #productivity Click To Tweet
There will always be good days, bad days and those days when you wish you had never got out of bed. There will be triumphs, disasters, moments of clarity and weeks of confusion, and most of all, there will be a constant barrage of decisions and choices, many of which you will get wrong. And that’s okay. We are in this for the long haul, and we are all in this together. So deep breath, remember that getting it wrong is a integral part of getting it right, and just keep taking baby steps.