“It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?” ~ Henry David Thoreau
For a while now I’ve been resisting the temptation to use the word ‘busy’. I can’t really blame the word for my aversion to it. In and of itself it’s really quite innocent. It’s just that the way we so often choose to use ‘busy’ is as an excuse for not having done something we feel we should have done or wanted to do but couldn’t get to. At other times it’s the proud badge we wear to prove that we’re in demand. It’s become competitive. We crave the opportunity to faux-complain about how busy we are in the same way we crave heart emojis on social media posts – furtively, but vehemently.
But what if we changed the narrative? What if ‘busy’ could regain its dignity by being associated with productive action? What if ‘busy’ became a good thing? I’m on a quest to make it so.
Here are some of the ways I now choose to be busy that result in me being a more proactive, effective, happier me. They’re my top 10 productivity hacks.
- Morning Pages. Every morning, immediately after making a cup of coffee, which is the first thing I do, I sit at my desk and write down 3 full pages of whatever is going on in my head. It’s not pretty or poetic. Often, it’s quite dull and not terribly inspiring in the moment. But it works! Think of it as clearing out the clutter to make space for fresh ideas. It usually takes about 20 minutes.
- Meditation. For least 10 minutes every morning after the morning pages. So much has been documented about the science of meditation, so all I’ll say about it is that it’s helped me to be so much more calm and confident. I often struggle with anxiety and meditation has helped tremendously.
- Gratitude. Another every day thing – I write down at least 3 people and things/happenings I’m grateful for. Having a grateful mindset really helps when you’re having a not-so-great day. It really helps with perspective.
- Exercise. I try and do some form of exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. I started running initially to lose weight and get fit, but its since become as much about my physical as my mental health. I alternate running with yoga. They’re both great anxiety-busters.
- Scheduling. As soon as I begin work, I plan my tasks and priorities for the day, making sure that I make achieving them realistic. Tip: Schedule your hardest task for 1st thing in the morning & quick ‘boring’ tasks for the afternoon. Try and space the work into an ‘endure’, ‘enhance’, ‘endure’, ‘enhance’ rhythm. ‘Endure tasks are the kind you dislike, but have to do and ‘enhance’ work is the kind that brings you joy.
- Finding flow – Science says 52 minute bursts of focused work with17 min breaks after are best. Breaks are where you get up and stretch, chat to a friend/or work colleague/read an article you’ve been meaning to read.
- The out of office responder. My out of office responder on email will tell you that I only check emails twice a day, so that I’m able to really focus on completing my priority tasks. Checking email too often throughout the day has the habit of derailing flow. Oh, and I NEVER start the day with checking emails. I always first finish an ‘endure’ type task.
- No meeting days. I make sure that I have at LEAST one, but preferably two, NO MEETING days a week.
- Working at home. If you HAVE to work at home (meaning over and above your usual work hours), make sure you’re working on work that fuels, not drains you. I find that working on projects that excite me (outside of work hours) don’t feel like work, but when I’ve done ‘endure’ type tasks after hours…bleh!
- Values check. Okay this is less an action that requires you to be busy and more of a check-in with yourself to make sure that you’re busy doing the right kind of busy. Make sure you’re feeding your values both at and outside of work – it really makes a huge difference. My values are ABIKE – adventure; balance; integrity; kindness and enthusiasm and I make sure that all of my busy-ness is aligned with one of more of them.
I’d love to find out what sort of productive busy-ness brings you the most fulfillment! Let me know?