For years and years, I was the queen of productivity. I would get out of bed everyday at 4:50 am and work. Most of the time I didn't even need an alarm clock. I was just really excited about starting my day. I made sure to find time to workout and eat right. I tried to have everything wrapped up by 5pm so I could be at home to focus on my husband and two daughters. I could be more productive if I got to bed at a reasonable time, so that was always a priority, too. I was on it!
Then, four years ago my son came along and kicked my butt.
He was born a few months before the release of my first book, The Belly Burn Plan. Yes, as I wrote the book my own belly was growing every second of every day - or so it seemed. Let's just say I was 100% confident that my book was a great way to get unwanted body fat under control.
After the book released, I did a media tour and finished a master's degree in health and nutrition education. All of this, while getting up a couple times a night with my little one took the wind out of my sails. I needed to dial it back as much as I could, so waking up at 4:50 am wasn't practical or healthy anymore. And for the 22
longest months of my life that it took him to learn how to sleep through the night, I let myself sleep in a little longer.
Now that he's four, I've had a chance to redevelop my productivity skills. And it doesn't have anything to do with burning the candle at both ends. It also doesn't mean that I have to get up at 4:50 am...yet.
Letting the Small Stuff Get In Your Way
The key to be a more productive person has a lot to do with the small stuff rather than making monumental changes to your schedule that are very hard to stick with.
It also has a lot to do with setting the right priorities - and then making time for them. It's very easy to say "Working out is a priority for the new year!" But it's much more difficult to actually carve the time out to get the working out done.
In no particular order, I've outlined my five most important habits to be more productive. They're very specific, but if you can stick to them while focusing your daily, weekly or monthly goals, you'll be a heck of a lot more productive - and healthier.
5 Ways to Be More Productive
1 - Limit Added Sugar to 30 Grams or Less (and yes, this helps productivity):
Productivity requires energy - both mental and physical. You need to be in a good head space to make changes that make you more productive. Nothing helps you feel better, ready to conquer the world, than eating right foods.
I could harp on about exactly what you should eat, but if I had to wave a magic wand to make a wish for people to make only ONE change, it would be to limit added sugar to no more than 30 grams a day. That's actually pretty generous, but it's a good place to start. Thirty grams of added sugar is the equivalent of about 7.5 teaspoons.
Time and again, research has shown a clear connection between sugar, depression and anxiety. As if depression isn't difficult enough to deal with on its own, striving to become more productive while in a dark place is nearly impossible.
Cutting back on added sugar can help to manage depression and anxiety.
There are plenty of other reasons to cut out added sugar. Lower triglycerides, fewer cravings and improved weight control are just a few.
Read the nutrition facts of your favorite foods. You might be surprised to see just how much added sugar is in something you might eat or drink without giving a second thought.
If you're already following something like a keto plan, Whole30, The Belly Burn Plan or just don't eat added sugar, good for you! Keep it up.
2 - Get the Small Stuff Done Before Bed
This is something we all know too well. Getting the little stuff done for the following morning before bedtime might only take 15 or 20 minutes, but it's a heck of a lot less stressful and makes our mornings run a lot smoother if we just do it.
Meal prep, kids' lunches, filling water bottles, laying out clothes or responding to quick emails can all be done fairly quickly - so why do we wait until 15 minutes before we walk out the door to get it done? The answer is likely procrastination.
Stress and productivity go hand in hand. If you're rushed to get a few things done in the morning making your late for work or getting the kids to school, stress rises. When stress rises, it unnecessarily elevates cortisol levels (stress hormone), which in turn throws off our blood sugar levels, which in turn makes us hungry.
Stress also affects our ability to focus.
Chronic or regularly occurring stress causes the brain to shrink and, in fact, weigh less. Naturally, this has an effect on our cognition and overall productivity.
Everything is tied together and even the little things can make a big difference on our overall lives and certainly productivity.
Wrapping up loose ends the night before is just a good habit to get into - nothing more, nothing less. Habits need repetition. As much of a pain as it might be to prep your lunch or your kids' lunches the night before - the benefits and the ease of the next morning make it all worth it!
3 - Journal 3 Goals Before Turning Out the Light
Daily goals don't necessarily need to be big or something noticeable to anyone else, but they serve the purpose of accomplishment. If you got in the zone, you could probably think of 10 goals you would like to accomplish for yourself tomorrow. Coming up with the three biggest goals should go on this list.
Your goals don't have to be entirely work-related. In fact, accomplishing personal goals is just as important to your life as anything!
Life moves us forward, whether we like it or not, and things that require our attention will always come up. The bottom line is the pool of goals for you to choose from will always be pretty deep.
Think of the things you've been putting off or have a hard time making a habit of, then write it down.
Again, they don't have to be big or small, but they should accomplish something for you in that day, increasing productivity.
A few things on your list might be:
- Plan this week's meals
- Wash and fold laundry
- Start proposal for project
- Create budget for this summer's vacation
- Write a blog post
- Schedule appointments for XYZ
- Run or walk 3 miles
The list can be anything that's important to you. The key word is important. If it's something that's already a habit, then don't put it on the list. In my case, it's yoga or some other workout. I know I'll do this as it's an engrained habit, so it doesn't need to be on the list. But planning this week's meals is something I really need to push myself to do.
What will help you? What will make you feel accomplished? Get a notebook - nothing fancy - and start tracking your goals.
4 - Stop Binge-Watching Every Great Show on TV
I believe it's quite possible to fill an entire day watching some new great binge-worthy show on [fill in your favorite streaming service]. Maybe you're old school and record episodes from TV. It really doesn't make a difference what you watch - watching too much of anything is sucking time away from things you could be doing that are far more productive.
If you've had a stressful day, or have been on your feet nonstop from dawn to dusk, there is nothing wrong with kicking back for a little while to zone out and watch your favorite show. It's when one show turns into four and two hours of your night is spent shackled to your couch in total captivation watching The American's, The Handmaid's Tale, Traveler's or my personal favorite, Schitt's Creek (it's just too good) that binge-watching becomes a real problem.
Hitting repeat on this behavior day after day crushes your productivity and your health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adults watch about two hours of TV a day, men slightly more than women. All of this watching is probably done sitting.
Sitting is a sedentary activity that we usually do far too much of throughout the day - whether we're in an office, at home or behind the wheel of a car. Again and again research has show how grave of an impact sitting can have on our health - likening it to smoking.
Rather than watch something every single night, aim for just a couple nights a week, limiting the amount you watch on weekdays. Think of it like this...if you watch 2 hours of TV a day, that's 14 hours a week and 728 hours a year - which also amounts to 30 days. Thirty days of your life every year spent watching TV!
Think of all the things you could be doing with an extra month of time.
- Write a book
- Research a passion project
- Declutter your house
- Make a photo album
- Learn a new language
All of these things bring joy, happiness or satisfaction. Find something to do with your time that makes you happy while making a difference in your life!
5 - Wake Up 15 Minutes Earlier
I'm still working my way back to my old 4:50 am wake up time. Until then, though, I'll continue to wake up just a little bit earlier in the morning to ensure my routine is set and the day is off to a smooth start.
Waking up just 15 minutes early allows you to focus without the distractions of a morning hustle. If you workout in the morning, try to carve out these 15 minutes before you fly out the door to the gym.
Before you reach for your phone or your laptop, take a few minutes to get in the routine of following these quick and rewarding steps before officially starting your day.
- Goal Review (2 min): Take a look at the list of goals you set for yourself the night before and commit to completing them that day. This should be the last thing you look at at night and the first thing you look at in the morning.
- Stretch (5 min): Take a few minutes to stretch, even (especially) if you're really tight. Stretching helps blood improve blood flow to all parts of your body, including your muscles and brain. Your alertness and mental clarity improves immediately.
- Take 10 Deep Breaths (2 min): This may actually take longer for some people, but take 2 minutes to take 10 deep breaths, inhaling slowly and until your lungs are filled, and exhaling just as slow. Don't just glaze over this one because you breathe all day so why bother...right? No! Mindful breathing helps buffer stress. If you can tame stress throughout the day, you'll be a significantly more productive. The small stuff doesn't get to you as much as you can focus on the big picture. This is always a good exercise to go back to any time you start feeling stressed. The great thing is, no one needs to know you're doing it - whether you're sitting at your desk or sitting in traffic.
- Drink Water (1 min): Before a cup of coffee or morsel of food, drink 8 to 12 ounces of room temp or lukewarm water. Your brain is slightly dehydrated when you wake up, and water is just what it needs to improve attention to detail, memory and overall cognition. What's more, water is great for your skin and the rest of your body, too! Don't wait until noon to drink your first glass of water.
- Plan Your Day (5 min): This is not just a work-related plan, think of all the things you need to do for yourself, your family or your work throughout the day. It's your to-do list, rather than goals. Do you need to schedule a doctor's appointment? Did you think of a last-minute meeting you need to schedule? What about planning when you'll write the grocery list? Everything, no matter how big or small, takes time. Even if your day plan is a list of tasks, make sure you mark them down in a planner or your phone so you can refer to it throughout the day. Backpedaling to catch up for missed tasks is not only stressful but a huge waste of time, too!
You may have your own hacks to be more productive. I'd love to hear what they are. Leave a comment to let me know!