There it was. Staring at me in black and white. It was exactly what I wanted. It was the perfect answer to the perfect mental storm that had been building in my mind for days.
It was simple. It was proven. It was even free.
“Build your list more in 30 days than you have in 3 months”.
That was the claim teasing me in my Facebook feed.
Considering it had only been 24 hours since I threw my hands up in the air, singing “AYO – gotta reach more”, I knew it was a sign. A perfect solution to help me build a community of like-minded women who support each other in creating a life of less struggle, more ease, and more flow.
So why then, did I feel heaviness in my chest, as if someone had just lay a large brick on it. Why did my breathing quickly shift from deep, long diaphragmatic breathing to short, shallow chest breathing?
Because I was having a physiological response – the “fight or flight” response, triggered by fear, guilt and shame.
See, a year ago, I had committed to the same challenge – and never finished it. I didn’t even make it past day three. I was too busy to follow through. I was anything but productive. And I felt like a failure.
Do you know this feeling? To be optimistic at the beginning of a project, only to lose steam to another cycle of busyness, stress and overwhelm?
I do, and that’s why I committed to myself that this time, things would go down differently.
I put together the following 10 Steps to Productivity to get me moving and flowing in the direction of completion – and in doing so, achieve one of my heart’s desires.
Step 1: Connect to your why
“Because I have to” is never a compelling enough reason to stay motivated and on task. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to do this?”. Write it down and post it on your office wall or make it your screensaver. It will give you a deeper sense of commitment, ‘pull’ you through the project and keep you focused – especially when the next shiny object tries to seduce.
Step 2: Small step your way to completion
Breaking projects down into smaller pieces makes it easier to work with and helps build momentum because of your small wins. This will contribute not only to your productivity but also to your overall happiness with the entire journey – and that’s what life is about.
Step 3: Schedule it
Just like seeing your yoga class scheduled in iCal is a visual reminder of your goal to get fit, blocking time in your calendar to work on this new project will help you instantly re-focus your attention to your new commitment when it wanders off to ‘what shall I do now’ land.
Step 4: Make a progress list
Happiness research shows that more than getting something done, it’s seeing that we are getting things done which contributes to our overall mood. Write down your steps and checkmark the completed ones as you go along. Be sure to celebrate and acknowledge yourself too!
Step 5: Create Your Space
Create an environment that you actually WANT to work in. You can do this by placing fresh flowers on your desk, or having inspirational quotes around you. Find a way to create a workspace that supports your productivity, creativity, and motivation.
Step 6: Let the music do the work
Speaking of creating your space, listening to your favourite tune before you tackle your list can get your creative juices flowing because it boosts your mood. Getting into this happy zone will not only feel better, but it will give you a productivity bump. My go-to song: Happy by Pharrell Williams.
Step 7: Use the one in, one out policy
Just like managing your wardrobe, a one in, one out policy for your to-do list is a great way to reduce overwhelm. If you add one item, take one item off, so that your mental space stays as clutter free as possible. Hint: Connecting to your ‘why’ from step 1 will help you decide which task can hit the road.
Step 8: Personalise it
Are you someone who loves to work on paper? Do you like to use colourful sharpies and create mind maps? Find a way to personalize the process so that it works for you. If excel spreadsheets put the lid on your creativity, then find another way. For me, printing out the worksheets and putting them in my new Kate Spade folder motivated me to look in there every morning.
Step 9: Schedule your breaks
Studies show that taking a lot of mini breaks, even as short as 30 seconds to 5 minutes, reduces mental fatigue and leads to greater productivity. These microbreaks are most effective when you take them before you actually need it, so do yourself a favour and schedule your breaks! Try this: I’ve started working in 20-minute increments, followed by 10-minute breaks. It keeps me focused because I know that when that timer goes off, I’ve got full permission to scan the social media scene, call up a friend or take a walk (all guilt-free!).
Step 10: Permission to choose again
Have you ever been halfway through a project when you suddenly realize that it’s not actually going to help you accomplish the outcome you’re after? Give yourself permission to change your mind halfway through, if it is no longer serving you or supporting your goals. We are no longer in school, so exercise your right to choose again. Your goal: guilt-free, flow-filled choices that bring a smile to your face.