6 Shifts to Maximize Productivity and Happiness

This year I’ve decided to pursue my doctorate at Pepperdine University. It is a blended program with a mix of face-to-face and online learning, which is obviously perfect for this blended learning enthusiast! My program will allow me to continue teaching and coaching, but it will present some very real challenges for me personally when it comes to balancing my various roles and responsibilities–mother, teacher, trainer, coach, speaker, and author.

As part of our initial orientation, we read an article titled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. As I read through the article, I was struck by the difference between managing time–a finite resource–and managing one’s energy. I realized there are small changes I can make in my daily work life to increase my energy levels and make sure I dedicate my energy to high priority items, both work and personal.

#1 Spend the 1st hour of work focused on high priority items. 

I don’t consider myself a procrastinator, quite the opposite actually. That said, it’s common for me to become overwhelmed by everything I have to get done so I begin working on the low hanging fruit and easy to accomplish tasks. These aren’t usually high-priority items but they are easier to tackle and less intimidating to begin.

The problem with this strategy is that I have the most mental energy when I first begin working so I need to spend that first hour focused on high priority items that may be more mentally taxing. Then as my energy wanes, I can shift my attention to the easier to accomplish tasks.

#2 Designate two specific times during the day to check email and social media.

Email is a constant drain on my energy levels. I have four different email accounts associated with different roles and responsibilities. This means I always have new email messages. I could literally spend my entire day fielding and responding to emails. My most unproductive days are those when I am constantly checking my email.

Social media is no different. It’s easy to get distracted by Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook notifications or use these social media platforms as an escape from the work I need to get done. So, I’ve decided to designate two specific times during the day when I will check email and engage on social media. I’ve selected two times in the day when my energy and productivity are typically low.

This has been a game changer. Instead of allowing email and social media to become a drain on my energy or a distraction from important work, it’s built into my day during moments when I need a mental break. Ironically, responding to emails when I am not in a mental zone to lesson plan or write allows me to feel productive in these moments.

I’d suggest you not even log into email during until your designated email times. I have also found it useful to turn on the “do not disturb” feature on my phone, so I’m not distracted by the social media notifications that typically light up my phone.

#3 Work for a focused 90-120 minutes then move your body.

Physical activity is often the first thing people neglect when they are busy, but the body needs to move. Exercise energizes the mind and body. I’ve tried to follow the advice in the article and focus on work for 90-120 minutes, then break for some physical activity. Sometimes it is a 20-minute walk around my neighborhood, other times it is a trip to the gym.

At first, I felt guilty taking this time for myself when I had so much to do, but I almost always return to my work feeling more motivated, inspired, and focused. It’s clear my brain and body need regular breaks to recharge.

#4 Unplug during family time.

I’m a mom of two energetic children. I struggle to balance my role as a mom with all the other hats I wear. Technology doesn’t help. So, I unplug. From 5-8PM, I turn on the “do not disturb” feature on my phone and leave my computer closed. I want my kids and my husband to feel they are my priority and have my full attention when I am at home.

When they are old enough to have their own devices, I plan to have a “parking lot” where we all leave our devices for a designated period of time. My hope is to create a sacred space for our family to talk and connect that is not interrupted by text messages and notifications.

#5 Take time to breathe and gain control over your thoughts.

Breathing. We do it without thinking, but how often do we close our eyes and take a series of deep breaths? It’s incredible how powerful the simple act of intentional breathing can be. In moments when I feel particularly stressed or overwhelmed, I close my eyes and take a series of deep breaths. In these quiet moments, I try to calm the chatter in my head. I focus on my breathing and the small movements in my body and try to limit my thoughts. This immediately calms me and helps me focus on the most important tasks in front of me. It also provides some much-needed perspective when I am feeling daunted by my workload.

#6 When you’re feeling overwhelmed, pause and think about something you’re grateful for.

When work is intense, it’s easy to slip into a negative mental space so I try to practice gratitude. Work might be crazy, but there are wonderful aspects of my life that need to be celebrated. Stopping in moments of frustration or irritation to think about something in my life that is great helps provide perspective. I’ll often follow this with a written note or verbal affirmation to someone in my life who makes my world a little brighter. It might be a post-it note on my children’s bed or a quick audio message to my husband. Practicing gratitude helps me focus on all the positive instead of getting stuck focusing on what is hard.

What strategies do you use to stay productive and positive?

Reading “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” motivated me to think about my own energy levels and has helped me to adopt simple strategies that maximize my productivity and leave me feeling happier at the end of the day. If you have strategies you rely on to stay productive and positive, I’d love for you to post a comment and share them!

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10 Responses to 6 Shifts to Maximize Productivity and Happiness

  1. Ann Feldmann says:

    Great post, Catlin! Thanks for sharing these great tips.

  2. Susanne says:

    I needed to read this post as I jump back into the school/teaching routine. One way that I manage my time is to put important tasks/responsibilities into my calendar. That way I’ve designated time to complete things that really matter, and I don’t let interruptions distract me.

  3. Ola says:

    Dear Catlin,
    I’m happy to inform you that this post is featured in the recent part of TimeCamp’s weekly Productivity Articles roundup! Find “Need Some Inspiration? Read These 10 Productivity Articles! 27/8/17” on https://www.timecamp.com/blog/.
    Thank you for sharing these excellent productivity and time management tips!
    Ola Rybacka, SM Manager at TimeCamp

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  5. Jenna says:

    Great summary of a great article. I do a ton of things.
    First, I was so glad that you talked about “energy-drain.” I recently did a bunch of research on willpower, and that, too, can be “drained,” so this made a lot of sense to me.

    I have routines that I practice every day.
    My work day begins at 8 am, but I am usually at the office early. I make myself a nice cup o’warm beverage and settle in for me “get to work routine.”

    My job has a lot of moving parts, so I use Symballoo and Google Keep as my central “hub.” Every morning I check my Symballoo page. Symballoo is like a web page representation of bookmarks with editable tiles that you can customize to the hills and back. I put the link to all of the things I need to look at every day, Google form submits, Project Overviews, etc.

    On my Google Keep I have my project names on a check list. Part of my morning routine is to at least look at something related to every project I’m working on. I find that this helps me tremendously. I used to try and remember details from a week ago, or the details from that meeting we had a month ago, and it just wasn’t working.

    Now, I have all of my Projects on a Google Doc in a table. Every day I review the progress of the project, and I have a column for “actionable items.”

    I use that to populate my “General ToDo List” in my Google Keep. Then I transfer what I call the Big 3, the Fab 5, and the Dream 7.

    The first three items I choose from my todo list are things that have some kind of due date. Then, I choose 2 more mid-priority tasks. Then I chose 2 tasks that I would be elated to have done.

    I put those on a post-it the night before so that when I walk in to work in the morning, I already have my priorities decided. Something else that I really like about this, is that I leave work with the list done, it percolates the rest of the day and I tend to have better ideas.

    Love the blog!!

    • Wow, thank you so much for sharing the strategies that work for you, Jenna!

      I love the idea of the Big 3, the Fab 5, and the Dream 7. It’s helpful to hear how others are managing intense workloads.

      Catlin

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  7. Great post, Catlin.
    With email, I have found that I need to take action on every email otherwise it just clogs my inbox. I either, delete, reply, or put it in a folder.

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