I grew more and more frustrated as I sat on the couch, not feeling well enough to do all the things I wanted to do. I fought feelings of embarrassment, maybe even shame, over not being productive.
As I seek balance between productivity, rest and play, I’m realizing wanting to be productive isn’t bad or wrong in and of itself. Productivity is very gratifying. It’s how we share our gifts, skills and talents with the world. It’s a gift to be enjoyed.
It’s only dysfunctional when I try to ignore it and push it down because I think I’m supposed to be resting, push myself beyond my physical, mental and emotional limits, or when I let my sense of self-worth get entangled in being productive. I’m sure there are other ways productivity, or the pursuit of it, can be unhealthy, but these are the tendencies I’ve noticed in my own life.
I’d love you to join me as I redefine productivity and learn how to have a productive day.
How to Have a Productive Day
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What Does It Mean to Have a Productive Day?
I started by picking apart common beliefs about productivity and separating ideals from reality. Here’s what I know for sure:
- Having a productive day is not about how much you can get done or how fast you do it.
- Multitasking decreases productivity.
- Productivity includes rest. In other words, rest is productive.
- True productivity is fulfilling and rewarding.
- Activity and productivity are not the same thing. We can be so busy and have nothing to show for it.
- Productivity requires mindfulness
- Productivity doesn’t mean getting more things done.
- Your worth is not measured by productivity.
It took some wrestling and reckoning of the soul to let this sink in. Now that is has, I’ve been able to enjoy a more healthy perspective on productivity.
The Key to Being Extremely Productive
I’ve learned to become a student of my body, paying attention to patterns of productivity, rest and energy fluctuations and work with my natural rhythm to create a productive day. Some call this managing your energy rather than your time.
When I was still teaching, my alarm was set for 5:00 a.m. (for the first six weeks, then I moved it to 5:30. By the end of the school year, my alarm went off at 6:00.) I just don’t wake up rested and ready to go. It actually takes me until late morning or early afternoon to wake up.
Now that I work from home, I get to wake up more naturally, but it still takes me a while to feel awake. So, I focus on mindless activity in the morning, like throwing in a load of towels or unloading the dishwasher. After I’ve had breakfast, and maybe even step outside to soak up some morning sun, I typically feel like doing a little yoga. So, I do. (Sometimes.)
At that point, I’m ready to work. I’d say ten to two is my sweet spot for getting things done.
By three o’clock, my mind is ready to rest.
Track your own natural rhythms for a week or so and take note of when you have the most energy and when you have slumps. Use this information to plan your day and optimize productivity.
Things to Include in a Productive Day
Importance of Rest
I realized the other day I have lived under the belief that rest is lazy. And because of that, every time Matt walked in the door after work, I’d jump up from the couch, if I was sitting on the couch, and look busy. Or, I’d rattle off a sing-song list (sing-songing makes it sound longer and more important) of all the things I’d done that day. Just to prove I indeed deserved to be sitting on the couch.
I’ve spent the past few years reconciling my false beliefs with truth. I’m slowly accepting the fact that rest is productive. That it’s a necessary part of life. A part of our natural rhythm as humans. Otherwise, we’re prone to stress, overwhelm and burnout.
I can tell you from experience you don’t want to get to that point.
Achieving Balance in Everyday Life
From time to time I come across statements like “work life balance is the biggest lie.” It’s not that it’s a lie. It’s just not the picture we’ve all imagined.
Somewhere along the way, I realized living a balanced life is not balancing everything equally. I started thinking of it more like a plate of food. Half of the plate is filled with vegetables. The other side is divided into unequal portions of fats, protein and carbs. Altogether, this makes a balanced plate.
I think an important take away from this analogy is everything on that plate is good for you. Some of it requires moderation. Some of it gets more space. All of it works together to make a healthy whole.
Only you can decide how to fill your plate based on your priorities, roles and circumstances. But, we’re stepping on dangerous territory when we start letting circumstances dictate our schedule.
A Productive Mindset
There’s this powerful scene in the movie, The Equalizer. Denzel’s character is sitting with a young girl in a restaurant who is a prostitute. During their conversation she hands him a c.d. of her music, and asks him to tell her what he thinks.
” I think you can be anything you want to be.”
“Maybe in your world, Robert. It doesn’t really happen that way in my world.”
“Change your world.”
Aah! I get goosebumps (both because it’s a powerful scene and because Denzel’s voice is so dang sexy when he says that line) when I think about it. But that’s not the point. The point is we do have power over our circumstances and the way we spend our time.
When I was desperate to change my world, I learned to starting living according to my priorities.
If you want to know how to make your life more productive, live according to your priorities. Ask yourself:
- What is important to me?
- Why is it so important to me?
- How would I most like to spend my time?
Having these answers gave me the strength and determination I needed to start living according to my priorities.
Let your priorities become a sifter of all the things. Use them to decide how to spend your time, what to keep and what to let go of. Sifting is not an easy process, because it means drawing lines, creating boundaries and saying no.
Once you know what your priorities are, you can set goals.
How to Plan Your Day
Goal planning is the path to productivity. It connects all the dots of habits, routines and goals and creates a road map.
One of my favorite, if not my very favorite goal planners, is the Powersheets Intentional Goal Planner. It’s an excellent tool filled with wisdom, love, and guidance. You’ll learn to cultivate an intentional life. The whole process pulls you into goodness and mercy.
While I love Powersheets, I now practice bullet journaling. I’ve adopted a very simple approach that fits my personality. I use it to create monthly calendars, set annual, quarterly, monthly and weekly goals, brainstorm, take notes, plan my week, keep to-do lists and process life.
For me, goal setting is the difference between living a life I love and staying stuck on repeat.
Develop Daily Habits and Routines
Every productive day starts with good habits and routines.
First, determine what habits you want to include in your daily routine. These are habits that support your goals and that you need in order to feel productive.
Daily Habit Example
- making my bed
- clearing the clutter from counter tops and flat surfaces at the end of the day
- putting the living room back together before going to bed
- emptying the sink after dinner
A yoga practice and writing time, including bullet journaling, are a part of my must-do list, too. If I do those things, I feel like I’m having an extremely productive day. If I don’t do those things, I give myself grace.
Aside from a morning and evening routine, I also have a weekly reset routine and loosely follow a theme for each day of the week.
My Weekly Routine
- Mondays are for planning and prepping. Ideally, I menu plan, order groceries online, write out my weekly wish list, brainstorm ideas for blog posts, call to schedule appointments, etc. (I just now decided to start calling my to-do list a wish list because to-do sounds so controlling.)
- Tuesdays are my out and about day. I try to keep meetings and appointments on Tuesdays.
- Wednesdays I start shifting into more of a work mode. Ideally Wednesdays are writing days. That takes a lot of mental and emotional energy, so writing is enough for Wednesdays. During the school year, I end my writing day by going to RECHARGE at my church where they serve dinner and offer different bible studies. I skip out on bible study to sit with a group of young moms and give them the opportunity to connect and share. We all crave this time and truly leave feeling recharged.
- Thursdays are for professional development. I have a standing date with an author accountability group. This time is very encouraging and motivating. This is also day I try to send out an email to you to let you know there’s a new blog post.
- I set aside Friday for a half day of work to schedule social media posts. Then, I shift into play mode. For me, this means getting out of the house to meet friends, visit my mom, browse Target or get a treat at Chickfila. It’s like a little field trip day.
- Saturday & Sunday -I try to unplug from social media and limit my phone/screen time on the weekends. This is also time for rest, relaxation and adventures with my man.
This rhythm works pretty well for me, and I don’t sweat it if things don’t go according to plan. Actually, one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was in a book I read by Emilie Barnes nearly twenty years ago. She says if you miss a task, don’t try to make it up during the week. Just skip it and wait ’til it comes around again the next week. I’ve lived by it ever since.
Find a rhythm that works for you.
3 Unique Productivity Tips
There are some lessons in life that come with trial and error. That’s how I stumbled on these productivity secrets.
Schedule Play Time
One of the biggest fallacies is that play is frivolous or a reward for finishing your work. But, the fact of the matter is play increases productivity.
I thought it’d be a good idea to create separate, color-coded calendars for my daily household routine, weekly household routine, personal appointments and work appointments. Except when I was finished, I felt gross on the inside. Like I’d reverted to an old behavior pattern that focused solely on getting things done.
I think feeling gross was that still small voice steering me away from destructive behaviors. I’ve learned the hard way that all work and no play makes Sharon a very dull girl. In fact, I almost quit writing.
But, when I had time to process wanting to quit, I realized part of the problem was my life doesn’t include enough play.
Maybe it’s because I’m an oldest child, but I’ve always carried the weight of the world on my shoulders and have always been rather serious. Not that I don’t have a silly side, because I do. And I love to laugh. But, I just didn’t feel like I had permission to play.
If you really want to have a productive day, take time to play. It can be as simple as listening to music while you work or do chores.
Learn to Delegate
Again, my oldest child tendencies come into play here because…weight of the world. But, I eventually learned I do not have to do it all. I was never meant to do it all.
Also, I think our culture has really missed the mark on womanhood. In this day and age we’re expected to mother full-time, work full-time and still manage the household. No wonder we’re exasperated! One way I’ve made change is by honoring myself; my time, health and well-being.
It started by delegating. I’ve gone from someone who could never ask for help, to taking advantage of every delivery and membership service out there. Grove Collaborative, Instacart, Door Dash, Amazon, and even curbside pick up makes me feel like a queen. At the very least, I feel seen and understood.
Delegating gets easier with practice, especially once you realize you can achieve more.
Whenever I didn’t quite follow the health plan my doctor gave me, he’d ask why. Not in a judgmental way, but as a means of self-discovery. That’s a good practice in every area of life, including time management and productivity.
The next time you don’t feel productive, ask yourself why. The answers will you help you tweak your schedule and change habits.
If your experience is anything like mine, that self awareness will also help you discover what a productive day means to you. That discovery has allowed me freedom to live more fully and enjoy the beauty all around me. Ultimately, that is how to have a productive day.
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