There’s a war going on, climate change is manifesting itself in clearer ways than ever before, and we’ve barely emerged from the wake of a pandemic and still, there’s a lot of noise and pressure around being productive. We’re increasingly aware of the importance of nurturing our mental health, preventing burnout and taking care of ourselves in times of such unprecedented stress. The two are not mutually exclusive — you cannot be productive at work in a sustainable way until you strike a balance between focusing on work and taking care of yourself. So how do we do this, especially if our work is also a source of necessary stress?
It may not sound easy, but it’s definitely possible. Let’s see how we can achieve this.
Your journey to being productive starts with taking a long and hard look within yourself. While it may seem daunting, it’s necessary because your journey to being productive and taking care of yourself starts with… yourself. Here's an example of an exercise you can practice.
Grab something to write/type with and ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s your favourite part of your job? Which part do you find most draining?
- What are the times of day when you feel most energised? What times do you feel drained?
- Are your manager and team supportive of your ways of working? If not, can you have a conversation with them about how you can work better together?
- What would you be doing if you had all the time and money in the world? And don’t stop at “travel” or stuff like that. Go deeper to discover what drives you.
- Do you look for purpose and fulfilment within your work, or do you have ways of finding it outside of work?
- Are you happy with what you’re doing for work or is it a means to an end? If the latter, can you try to figure out what you’d like to do instead?
The answers to these questions will help you get a clear direction for your style of working, and more importantly, they’ll answer why you should want to have a productive day at work.
A morning routine
A couple of months into the pandemic, I found myself deflated every time I started my day. I had the privilege of being a tech worker, so I used to wake up at noon, do a bit of work during the day, and then mindlessly browse or consume content till the early hours of the morning. It left me feeling exhausted all the time, and my focus and work suffered.
I knew I needed to turn things around, so I joined an online Bootcamp which helped me reset these habits and form a strong morning routine. My routine consisted of three things: exercise, meditation and journaling.
- Exercise: 30-60 mins of any kind of activity that makes you sweat.
- Meditation: 30 mins of focusing on body sensations, and then your breath.
- Journalling: 12 mins of writing down anything and everything that comes to mind, followed by 3 mins of writing one thing you’re grateful for.
After sticking to the routine for a few weeks, I realised I felt a lot better about my day, and that automatically put me in the mode to get things done rather than my previous default of procrastination.
Pro tip: Add a good breakfast and you’ll get the energy boost you need for a supreme start to the day.
Remember when you told yourself you’ll do something later that day or week or month? And then you didn’t? When there’s something we need to do that doesn’t excite us, we often put it aside without committing to the date or time. More often than not, it doesn’t get done. An easy way to hack this habit is to divide your day and week into chunks of time that are popularly called time blocks. This is proven to be a lot more effective in getting things done.
Think of time blocks as LEGO blocks for your time. You commit to doing a task at a certain time of the day or week. The best thing about time blocks is that they can be flexible. So if something unexpected comes up during a block you put for something else, you can move the block ahead. Make time blocks for non-work things as well. You can see your entire day in one view and it will be easier to move things around when unexpected situations arise.
Pro tip: stack your time blocks for deep work together, and keep them separate from time blocks for meetings as much as possible. This will avoid context-switching during your deep work time and make it more effective.