When I’m busy or procrastinating on a big project that needs to get done, my good productivity habits fall by the wayside. I check email too often, rationalizing that I need to be accessible in a crisis mode (actually staying productive would be more helpful but my stressed out self has poorer judgment!). Or I get distracted by busywork and checking off unimportant tasks instead of tackling the project I’m supposed to be doing (thereby digging myself into a deeper hole having wasted even more time!).
However, I have come up with six go-to habits that help me restore my productivity. While these productivity habits take time (and so the temptation will be to skip them), they return far more in effectiveness, energy and concentration. If I find myself having a particularly unproductive day, it’s usually because I’m not partaking in these activities. In fact, I try to build in these six productivity habits at the start of the day to get me on the right track:
I came to meditation reluctantly but the science-based results were compelling, and once I started meditating regularly, my own positive results encouraged me to continue. I look at meditation as training my brain. I over-analyze things. I’m self-critical. I’m a worrier. Meditation forces me to quiet the internal chatter for at least a few minutes. I find that my productivity and focus improve after I rest my mind with meditation.
My journaling practice includes writing free-form for 20 minutes. I’m sure that many days I write the same things over and over again but, like meditation, it clears my mind. Unlike meditation, however, it helps me think of new ideas or forgotten ideas that should be resurrected. Sometimes I even put a post-it note on a journal page where I want to transfer a thought onto my To Do list.
When I mistakenly feel like I’m too busy for my one-hour Bollywood exercise class and skip it in the name of work, I always get less work done when I peter out later in the day, One hour of exercise gives me two, three or more hours of energy and productivity.
I love food so much I almost never skip lunch. However, a lot of my otherwise very smart professional colleagues lunch at their desk or skip it altogether. First of all, you need the fuel from the food to stay alert. Furthermore, if you work in an office, lunch is the perfect networking platform – schedule lunch with different people to expand your relationships. Even if you don’t work in an office (I work at home), you can still use your lunches for networking – you can always Skype if you really don’t want to leave home!
“Water cooler” talk
Like the lunch, walking around the office and casually chatting with colleagues is good networking. But it’s also good management – to keep up with what’s happening in all areas of the office, to establish connections with people you otherwise wouldn’t see, to show that you’re accessible to others.
One break in the day for lunch or even two breaks for lunch and a water run are not enough. Your energy will flag, and you might not even realize it, but your work product will show it. If I’m working on something where I have a tendency to lose track of time (e.g., blogging) I’ll set a timer for 50 minutes, so that I build in a 10-minute break each hour. Even if it’s just to blink my eyes (which we forget to do when tethered to a computer screen!) or take a few steps, the short break maintains my productivity.
When I worked a corporate job with a defined office to commute to each day, I tried to build as much of these productivity habits into my morning routine – 20 minutes each of meditation, journaling and exercise goes a long way. Now that I work from home, I still try and complete these activities in the early part of the day, but with a more flexible schedule, I can dedicate even more time to them. However, you don’t have to run your own business to have a flexible schedule. You can negotiate for flexibility at the company you’re working at now. Then you’ll have no excuse not to build in some of these productivity enhancers into your daily routine.