How to create a productive day in 11 steps
When I started to work from home I had no idea how to structure my day as productively as possible, skipping major things that were vital for my focus, concentration and motivation.
Over the years I have sought to improve the productivity of my day by using research out there as my guide but also the things that work best for me.
The latest exciting research I have come across is from the University of Nottingham which suggests that self-control and energy levels are closely linked to each other and that both are limited – wearing out as the day goes by.
It seems that energy and self-control are like muscles tiring throughout the day, it makes focusing on tasks harder. The research therefore also suggests that the morning hours are the best hours for challenging work as our self-control and energy levels are at their highest at these times.
To make the most of the day and retain our energy levels as best we can, there are things we can do in the mornings to help us steer into a productive day.
Sleep: I believe to get the best results these 'muscles' need some rest, so having the normal amount of sleep is a good way to start the day. Now I know we live in a busy world that throws demands at us no end, however we do have some say in what we decide to adhere to. Arianna Huffington, a busy lady herself, writes in her book Thrive, how important making sleep an appointment in itself is. So take out your diary and make that appointment for the night. Once we give sleep the importance of any deadline or meeting we will start to see results.
Affirmations: Affirmations are a great way to set the day’s tone in the morning. When we feed our sleepy mind with kind and affirming thoughts we stop the negative flow of thoughts that can arise in the early hours of the day when the brain is still disoriented and sleepy. This helps to centre us and tackle any situations that arise with a cool mind.
Lemon juice: Now hot lemon juice is the latest addition to my family of morning routines. Packed with vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients, it also helps your stomach to absorb nutrients more effectively throughout the day. Take half a lemon and mix with warm or hot water (otherwise your enamel will suffer). Drink this 15-30 minutes before you eat anything for best results.
Exercise in the morning: Now I used to think that I’m not a morning exercise person, and I guess I still am not completely there. I expect that I will do my morning yoga stretches religiously and cycle 30 minutes, three times a week in the morning. What I have noticed is this: I feel more centred, energised, focused and positive after exercising, but also better able to deal with rude or difficult e-mails or situations. I just don’t get so involved and sucked into them. And what research says is people who walk (just) 20 minutes throughout their working day help their body to produce a hormone called GABA which soothes the brain and gives impulse control. So imagine what positive effect exercising each day can do for you. Fabulous!
No devices: My rule of thumb: no devices before my morning routine has been completed. The day has been planned and I am at my desk at home or on the train. When you read texts, emails or peruse social media this early you are sucked into the whirlwind of the world and the demands of others. This will leave us feeling overwhelmed and even peak our stress levels as we feel that we have so much to do and to achieve. A great way to distract yourself from the devices is to meditate, do mindfulness exercises, yoga stretches (or just the Sun Salutations), exercise or just marvel at nature out of your window. These calm and centre you and therefore connect you to yourself and your flow, which in return focuses on what you want and choose to achieve in the day.
Planning the day: Plan your day the night before with goals that specifically tell you how you will action it and in what (realistic) timeframe. This helps your brain to move to the next task after a set time without using energy to plan and distract you, and enables more tasks to be done. Your motivation also goes up as you see yourself achieving.
Do the hardest thing in the morning: Revise your plan in the morning and focus on the priorities that take more mental energy or do not excite you and tackle them first. This helps you with using your energy and self-motivation ‘muscle’ wisely, especially as it tires as the day goes by after which you can focus on the smaller, less demanding tasks later when less energy is left over.
Eat breakfast: Eating a healthy breakfast gives us the energy we need to start the day and research even suggest those who eat more in the morning are the ones who snack less on unhealthy things throughout the day and are less overweight. Especially in the winter I love my porridge with nuts, seeds and fruit, popped into the microwave while I prepare my pack lunch.
Making your own lunch also helps you know what it is you are eating throughout the day. If planned in the morning, saves you money and a few kilos too.
Tidy your desk: I tidy my desk in the evening ready for the morning. This gives me a feeling of a new fresh day, new start and doesn’t draw me into the battles of yesterday. Decluttering and organising our office space, as much as our living spaces, are great for our mental health.
Learn to say no: Prioritisation is vital. If we want to achieve our goals, learning to prioritise is so important. When we know our plan and what we want we can also see what is most important to do and thus, can say no to demands that would take us away from achieving our most important goals. A great question to ask is: Will this action/decision take me closer to the things I aspire to?
Don’t multitask and stick to your plan: The old chestnut. Is multitasking better than not? I have come across so much research about this and for me it is a definite: no multitasking. When I have my plan for the day ready I move from one task to the other. Having it written down is so helpful as the brain does not have to, mid flow, work out what to do next as the priority order is already spelled out in black and white. This moves us easily forward in our tasks and does not demotivate us, even when a task is not finished. We still feel we have achieved more as we have tackled multiple areas one at a time.
Anything we do in a given day is preparation for what you will be doing in the future, so make those things you do today as relevant, pleasurable and worthwhile as they can be. Exercise today creates the health for your future. And this body is the only thing you have so treat it kindly. Taking that small step towards your goal will pave the way for you to be able to achieve it in the future. And if your day is filled with things you do not want to do too many days in a row then start making those plans to make it a more enjoyable 'now', since now is the only moment we have to make a change.