meditation-428382_640

11 Things I Learned from Reflecting on Last Month’s Productivity Challenge

This past month was an amazing whirlwind of work, promotion and finally taking the first steps to realize our dream. The soft-launch of the Liftree Community finally saw us through turning a pipe dream into something concrete that we could share with our friends, family and co-workers.
 
Its been a long road to get here, juggle personal commitments and still stay productive and churn out quality work in a regular basis. So we kicked off the first month with our August Productivity Challenge – and here’s what we learned about being productive:
  1. Productivity needs structure
  2. Productivity cannot be planned
  3. Productivity needs faith and reverence
  4. Sometimes you need a drill sergeant
  5. Productivity needs controlled doses of stress
  6. Productivity thrives on variety
  7. Productivity is both an art and a science
  8. Productivity needs singular focus
  9. Life will always get in the way
  10. There are no shortcuts to productivity
  11. Get in the best shape of your life (BONUS)

 

Productivity needs structure

You have no hope in hell of achieving your dreams and working productively if you don’t even have a road map for where you are going.  Here’s a simple idea: create some structure in your workday. No, not the OCD kind with 50 post-it notes accounting for every moment of your day. More like a subway map that shows you the direction and redirects you if you miss your stop. With no plan you will be as productive as a chicken trying to find a kernel of corn in the dark it’s impossible.
 

 

Productivity cannot be planned

For all the talk about productivity and planning, the simple truth remains – productivity cannot be planned. you can train yourself over time , maybe . to be honest, it did get easier to work and get in the zone faster towards the end of the month, but there are still days when the enthusiasm falters, the work is boring as hell and we just lose our mojo. The concept that was the most difficult to wrap our head around was this: Some days you will sit down to work and realize that its just not happening. If you falter, don’t get upset and beat yourself up about it. stressing about productivity actually makes you *surprise* less productive. On the particularly bad days, it is easier to just step away form the rat race and enjoy the beautiful chaos of ordinary everyday life.

 

Productivity needs faith and reverence

Your work is important – like life and death important. If you can’t find a single cell in your body that believes this down to its cytoplasm, then quietly hand in your resignation, shut down your business and walk away. Find work that doesn’t make you want to gouge your eyes out, murder your co-workers and clients. Work that you actually enjoy. Life is too short to be stuck in a job you don’t like.
 
When I worked as a resource nurse, we rotated around different hospital units on different days. Some places were great, the work was exciting and the pace challenging yet fun. Some places on the other hand, I literally dragged my feet to. When I started realizing that I was actually dreading going to work on some days, I switched to a job I enjoyed more. I’d seen too many old and bitter nurses angry for having wasted their lives in a field they didn’t love – and guess what – their patients, colleagues and managers didn’t enjoy having them around much either because they were always complaining. So if you dread going to work everyday, go find yourself new work that inspires you.
 
That is not to say that work should be enjoyable every moment of the day otherwise its not worth doing. Obviously, anything of value takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to build. However, the difference between toiling to build something you aspire to and something that you do for the sake of doing lies in the amount of engagement that you experience while working.
 
If you’re just there for the money, sooner or later you will burnout. You may even start to hate yourself and your job because you know that is not where you belong. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in the healthcare arena.
 
When you know you don’t like what you are doing, perhaps, you even know deep down inside that you’re not doing a particularly good job either, it creates a cognitive dissonance that will leave you restless. You risk becoming a bitter and resentful machine.
 
Find something to look forward to in your work day. If you can’t, then get out as fast as you can. There is better work elsewhere that desperately needs your skills and enthusiasm.

 

Sometimes you need a drill sergeant

Sometimes, despite loving your work, you cant seem to actually sit down and get the work done. At some point, you might have to admit to yourself that without external motivation you probably wont get anything done. That’s why crazy apps like WriteorDie; Zombies, Run and even Fitsby are so popular.
 
While apps are great, having a real, live person to hold you accountable is unbeatable. Having someone check in with you can be as pressure laden as you want it to be- or not. I used to hate having to report to someone or be told what to do until I quit my job.
 
When we first started Liftree, I began to realize how motivating it can be to have someone breathing down your neck. In fact, I missed that external motivation so much, I actually considered appointing my mom as the drill-sergeant in residence! Don’t worry, I chickened out before I actually did that.
 
If you don’t want to appoint a parent of spouse whose reminders can grate at you real quick, pick a friend or a colleague. Make a group, if you can gather enough people.
 
If you can’t find people, be your own drill sergeant. This one is more difficult though unless you’re super disciplined. When push comes to shove, you will have find it within yourself to start working and keep yourself going.
 
Inspiration comes and goes but productivity is something you can control,measure and improve. In order to maintain a successful and regular practice, consistency is key. Pick a time slot everyday to work on your craft whether you feel like it or not. Writers use this technique a lot. As do Yoga practitioners. Even on days where you do not feel inspired at all to sit down at your desk, coffee table or balcony – wherever it is that you sit down to work (Check out this post about ditching your desk), you still sit down consistently, and devote yourself to the practice with the faith that you will get something valuable accomplished. Over time, you will.
 
In work and in life, people seldom get anywhere without constantly pushing themselves to their limits and beyond. We were juggling other full-time commitments when we started working on this website. In fact, we still are. I am currently raising a two year old, living in a house with nine people, travelling frequently and writing for local publications as a columnist. Finding time to work on this website while juggling personal, professional and social commitments takes that extra mile every single day. Every single day.

 

Productivity thrives on variety

In order to keep yourself interested, you need to keep the novelty factor up. The only way to keep things interesting is to pepper your work with a variety of tasks and approaches. If you’re a writer, sketch out your story board by hand one day. If you’re  graphic artist, try listening to music for inspiration the next time you sit down to design a logo. Slaving through a day’s work doesn’t mean you have to torture yourself. Using a variety of approaches can help you stay interested and inspired.

 

Productivity is both an art and a science

Many of us think we work better under pressure. The truth is, we work better when we have clear, quantifiable, relatively-rigid deadlines. Why does productivity come so easily to us when we have a looming deadline? When our short-lived, limited dose of stress over-rides our internal critical editor, we’re able to mentally climb out of the box and work freely (check out our earlier post about working under pressure). The art of working under pressure entails knowing how to get yourself into the zone by shutting out your internal editor. The science involves knowing and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses well enough that you don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t with and you don’t end up being as productive as you expected to be. Its a fine balance – and one that we often overlook in our zeal to work like a ninja warrior.

 

Maintain singular focus

In today’s arena of social media and new media distractions, we tend to lose focus because we are trying to engage in multiple activities at one time. We end up doing even less and being less productive even though we were involved in various busy-making tasks all day. We think we are getting lots done, but when we look back at our day and realize how little we’ve struck off our to-do lists, we get mad at ourselves. The most notorious of these is internet ‘research’. A close second is running a social media campaign. Beware of tasks that make you feel like you’re doing valuable research, but in reality, just lead out of one internet rabbit hole and down another. Pick a task and run with it until it is completed. Set a timer if you have to. You’ll be surprised at how fast this old-fashioned method gets you off your behind to do some serious work.

 

Life will always get in the way

Sad but true. Even last month, when we were setting up the beta-version of this website, you’d think that we had the time to focus and be free of distractions. Not true. Something or the other always came up that seemed more urgent, more important, that took us away from the work that needed to be done. Sometimes, its okay (even desirable) to accept that life happens and just take setbacks in stride. It is more about finding a workable balance between the work you want to do and the other important priorities in your life than about blazing through the work like a maniac and burning yourself out. For me, I ended up dividing my time between family (whom I was visiting) and working on the website. I realized that I did not want to work exclusively on the website at the cost of missing out on precious time with my old folks.

 

There are no shortcuts to productivity

When all is said and done, there is no substitute for hard work. At the end of the day, the work is not going to materialize out of nowhere. it will take a lot of toiling, frustrations, working and elbow grease to build something valuable and profitable. If you work for someone, you will have to show some real initiative and effort before people start to recognize your skill and ability. No matter what your field of work is, you will need to log some serious hours in order to become an expert at it and succeed.

 

Bonus: Get in the best shape of your life

Good health makes other areas of your life function more smoothly. When you are well-fed, well-rested, well-hydrated and active. Your alertness, quality of life and ability to work brilliantly, creatively and efficiently all depend on having an agile body and mind.  How well you work is directly proportional to the physical, mental emotional shape you are in. Focusing on your health will help you clear the cobwebs from your mind, shed emotional baggage, get rid of fatigue and completely focus on the dreams that you want so badly to achieve.

 

exercisefeatured

Exercise For Productivity – How Exercising Regularly Can Give You Insight Into Being Productive

At the advice of this superhuman friend of mine, I started doing Tabata workouts.

I’d been struggling to lose weight for the past two years, both in terms of motivation as well as trying to find the time to work out after I had my baby. I ran sporadically 30-60 minutes a day and lost a significant amount of weight last year, but I’d hit a plateau. So over a dinner reunion with an old friend who happens to be a certified fitness coach, a world-class dragon boating champion, a medical student and an incredible powerhouse of energy (that’s the superhuman part), I posed the question:  What is the most efficient way to lose weight? 

Definitely not running, she said. Try Tabata instead.

So I went home and hunted down some Tabata circuits from Pinterest.

They were hard, monstrously, heart pumpingly hard but the thrill I got after doing them, the sense of accomplishment was phenomenal. Kind of like when I tried Insanity to lose weight before my wedding. It works, but only if you give it all you’ve got.

Anyway, while working out, I got this huge brain-wave that had me itching to finish the workout so I could run to the notepad, the sweat still dripping off my nose, to pen down the epiphany that just rocked my grey matter:

 

There are so many parallels between working out and increasing your productivity.

Both require:

    •    Planning
    •    Discipline
    •    Singular focus
    •    Solitude
    •    Decluttering of the mind

 

Planning

In order for your workout to be effective and to prevent injury, you need to have the skills and knowledge to  plan out an effective workout. Now, I’m no purist, planning can be as simple as picking a pre-designed workup dvd or video program. In that case, Shaun T or Jillian Michaels will have already done most of the planning for you. What’s important is for you to give it some thought and plan the kind of work (or workout) that you intend to do and the results that you expect to get.

Similarly, you need a road map to your end goals in work as well.If you want to work productively and see results, you will need to plan, gather resources and learn the skills necessary to succeed in your task.

Discipline

Intense workouts require discipline. You need to be able to roll your sleeves up and focus. When I started my workout, I had a lot of reserve energy and motivation to bludgeon through the difficult moves, but as the workout progressed, the only way I was able to go on was by powering through with sheer force of will.

I am not saying that your work should always be dependent on whether or not your will power is strong that day. After all, if you don’t love the work you do, you will end up burning out at some point by forcing yourself to do it day in and day out.

More often than not, however, there will be days where you have to force yourself to sit down and work when you don’t feel like it – that is where discipline comes in. Contrary to what most people think, discipline is not the same as torturing yourself to finish a project when you really don’t want to. Its more about building a habit or practice over time, where regardless of the external and internal factors affecting you, you are able to sit down and give your work the attention it deserves on a regular basis.

Singular focus

Effective workouts, like productive work, requires you to focus solely on what you are trying to accomplish. You can’t succeed if your attention is flying in all directions and you’re trying to accomplish several things at once. Self help gurus like Leo Babauta talk about focusing on one thing at a time. We nod our heads to concepts like these but then go right back to checking our iPhones, answering emails and watching youtube videos simultaneously.

Step back and focus on one task at a time. Say you’re doing a squat challenge. In order to do it properly, you have to be in the present – to tighten and engage your core, to breathe evenly, to keep your back straight, shoulders down and to slowly lower yourself into a squat without losing your balance or damaging your knees by extending them beyond your toes. If you’re wholly present within you’re body while you’re doing this squat, you don’t have much mental space left over to think about other things, do you? If a simple squat is more effective because if such singular focus, imagine the difference focusing can make to your work projects.

Solitude

Some tasks require social participation and interaction. This is not necessarily true for working out or working productively. It sounds counter intuitive (group work, and group workouts are so much more fun right?), but really, it isn’t.

Collaboration may be fun, but in order for the system to work, at some point, you will have to go inside yourself and on your own to complete the core requirements to accomplish your goal. Even in group workouts, we are seldom interacting with others during the more intense bits. Instead, we are focused internally on ourselves. This also means that we are no where near our gadgets, tablets or social media accounts.

Being alone forces you to mentally check off your priorities and focus on what’s important to you at this moment, free form external pressures and influences. Being alone can make you incredibly productive. Being alone, you also don’t have any distractions. Many of us relish working in groups, especially if we are working form home and do not get a lot of human interaction through out the day. It is important to remember that there is a balance between working with others and working alone, and working alone in solitude is not just  important, it is essential to stepping away from mediocrity and doing extraordinary work.

 

Decluttering

Working out both promotes and stems from a decluttered mind. Like an endless loop. We already talked about how important it is to have a clean mental slate in order to function at the optimal level. The beauty of it is, once you declutter your mind and start to work in solitude – once you get into the “flow” of your work (or workout), your monkey mind automatically settles down and switches to a thought process that helps you calm down and focus deeply.

The following three things follow when you declutter your mind:

You are not a slave to random thoughts.
The car needs a wash, garbage needs to be put out, you forgot to pay the telephone bills. These thoughts slowly slip off your radar as you do deeper into an intense workout or focus on your work. The deeper you get into the ‘zone’, the less frequent these random thoughts become. If it worries you so much write it down and go back to working – you can always deal with non-urgent things an hour later when you’re done your work.

You don’t get bogged down by worries and negativity.
When I’m upset of angry, I sit down to work. No you didn’t read that wrong. Working as an anger management strategy works incredibly well because when I get into the flow,  I automatically check-out of every day life and into a cleaner, more positive, worry-free mental space.

Try it, concentrate hard when you sit down to work today. Overtime, it will become a habit. Negativity feeds off our brooding and focusing on our problems. Getting into a working rhythm can help you manage your emotions and liberate you from the stress and worry that hounds you. That’s how people get addicted to working out. It gives you such a huge mental break from your daily worries and hassles. You worry less when you’re taking active steps towards solving a problem. It empowers you and puts you in the position of a leader, rather than a victim.

It gives you clarity of mind.
The focus and freedom that comes from working or exercising are a corollary to maintaining a clear mind. When you sit down to work with a clear mind you tackle it, finish faster and often eliminate the entire cycle of worry and negativity that comes from procrastinating about a job.

Exercising it before during or after work can be very conducive to a productive work session. These two activities are mutually compatible in the context of getting things done. More than its physical benefits, those of you that need to get a lot of work done in a short period of time will appreciate this technique for its ability to (ironically) tackle several problems at the same time – procrastination, sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity, lack of focus, worry, stress negativity as well as not getting things done on time.

 

[message_box title=”Try this exercise:” color=”beige”]I’m a big fan of the focus booster app. No, I don’t get paid by them. It has a timer that counts 25 minutes ON and 5 minutes OFF. When its ON –  work hard and blaze through the project you’re working on. When the timer turns to the blue OFF section, put everything down and do a few pushups, burpees or anything other physical activity (Try Tabata!). The Focus-booster app is based on the proven and popular pomodoro technique which is really effective because your mind stays fresh and active while you work in short, sharp bursts and maintain regular breaks.

Try it the next time you are looking to ramp up your productivity. See what a huge difference it makes in the quality and quantaty of your work. And – Tell us about it in the comments below!
[/message_box]

 

 

morningfeatured

Why You Need to Become a Morning Person and How to Do It

Mornings are sacred.

There was a time when humans rose and retired with the sun. For us, that meant better health, more energy, and more importantly for those of us concerned with productivity, more time early in the mornings to plan and work. We are no longer forced to follow the daily cycle of the sun, but the simple act of waking up early in the morning can literally revolutionize your work-life.

Mornings are the singular uninterrupted time during the day when you can do whatever you like, uninterrupted. Its like a mini-vacation during which you have the power, the energy, the drive and the resources to accomplish the most difficult tasks of your day.

Why, then are so many of us struggling with waking up late, squandering our mornings and not living up to our potential? A lot of it comes down to planning.

If you don’t plan for work in advance (check out this post on using planning) then you end up just going with the flow and most times the flow means you are just lounging around being ridiculously unproductive. Using your mornings wisely can make all the difference between staying on task throughout the day and fumbling about without any apparent purpose.

 

Benefits of being an early bird

Clarity of thought. Your mind isn’t bogged down, distracted or confused with worldly things first thing in the morning. You can use that focus and momentum to knock out a huge chunk of your work first thing in the morning.

No interruptions. No colleagues emailing you or calling you  with “urgent” queries, no employees coming to you for more budget allocations, no friends inviting you to random events on Facebook

More will power.  Will power is highest at the beginning of the day and goes down as the day goes by, so focusing on your health and productivity first thing in the morning makes inherent sense.

Increased motivation. If you wake up in the morning and accomplish important tasks even before others are starting to wake up, that motivation carries you through the workday and gives you an energy boost better than coffee or redbull would.

More time in the day to do what you need to do. This is self explanatory.

Peace and quiet. Experiencing the solitude of the early morning hours helps ground you and put problems in to perspective. Your whole day starts on a calm note.

Setting an example for others. Getting to work early in the morning with a positive attitude shows how seriously u take your work. As a boss and employer, that speaks louder than any training. You don’t need to pay someone a ton  of money to motivate your employees, you just have to be a role model for the behaviours you want to promote.

 

[message_box title=”Quotes from Successsful People” color=”beige”]
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]You can always strive to get out of bed a little earlier.  you could get right to work, or for something personal like working out. Use commutes wisely – no one is competing for your attention. Tim Cook, Apple[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Working out early on monday (even if it seems too busy). It’s a way of making yourself a priority when you otherwise wouldn’t. Plus, you’ll have a clear head and the accompanying endorphin rush, which always helps make otherwise dreadful Monday mornings cheerier. Barack Obama[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, you’ll have it behind you for the rest of the day.  Mark Twain[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I normally walk her for about an hour in the morning. It’s the only time of day I get to myself. Joanna Coles, the Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine[/quote]

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]I’m really not a morning person at all. It’s just sheer determination. I’m very strict with myself. When I practice six days a week and eat clean food, I feel much better. Gwyneth Paltrow[/quote]

For more quotes like these, check out the original articles they were excerpted from.

[/message_box]

 

So how exactly do successful people use mornings to stay on top of their game and power through the rest of the day?

Emails.

Some experts say you should tackle your email the first thing in the morning. Some say don’t. I say do what works for you. If you’re the type of person that gets derailed when someone jumps in with an item on their agenda, where you quickly give up your own to help the other person, then definitely, don’t check your emails. But if you’re the kind of person that can shut out other people and look at your priorities effectively, then starting the day with an email is a perfectly natural way to plan for the hurdles you will be up against later in the day. By checking your email you are alerting and preparing brain for the things to come. For years I used to avoid checking emails because I always ended up getting side tracked by someone else’s demands. Until I realized that every time I missed an important memo and a colleague asked me about it, I risked looking like an incompetent baboon. So check your emails. Just don’t get so engrossed that you forget to do your work.

Calendar.

You can use email to plan your day out, or you can skip it altogether by penciling in your most important priorities first. This way, when you are bombarded by external demands and gripes, you always have that perspective on what your priorities are. Planning is also important in helping you pace yourself so you’re not burned out, or taking it too easy.

Doing difficult things first.

If its good enough for Mark Twain (see the quote below), its good enough for you. Start the day with the most difficult tasks. Laura Vanderkam, author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, talks about experts and millionaires with morning habits and how they impact their lives. She cites a study by a Florida State University professor named Roy Baumeister. They found in this study that will power is like a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse.  So make the most of your reserve of will-power in the morning to blast through some of those giant tasks that you’re afraid to touch, but you know you have to at some point. In fact, the sense of achievement from having dealt with that monster first thing in the morning will keep you powered through the rest of the day, breezing through it because the headrest part is, literally, already behind you.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]”Diets come undone in the evening, just as poor self-control and lapses in decision-making often come later in the day. On the other hand, early mornings offer a fresh supply of willpower, and people tend to be more optimistic and ready to tackle challenging tasks.” -Prof. Roy Baumeister as cited in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast[/quote]

Rejuvenation.

If you don’t take care of your physical and mental needs, you will burn out at some point. Its so obvious on paper (or screen), isn’t it?

If powering through the crummiest tasks of the week is too much of a herculean feat for you in the morning, try relaxing instead. Go for a walk, indulge in some yoga or meditation which, incidentally, is also good for regulating your hormones and really getting into the optimum physical and mental space for working.

Last summer, I visited my family in Toronto where my sister dragged me to a hot yoga class. I loved it so much, that every morning, I’d hover over her bed and wake her up unceremoniously to go attend the 7 am class. We were working on this start-up at the time and I found that after yoga, a shower a light meal, I was totally primed for some marathon writing and creative action. I got so much more done when I took an hour out for myself in the morning. More than I had in the last two years of trying (and failing) to get content up on this website. Go on. Try it yourself.

Labor of love.

Do something you love. A side project. That dream book you plan to write. The guitar lessons you’ve been putting off. Whatever your passion is that you’ve saved up for the proverbial ‘someday’. Starting the morning with something you love can have the same motivating effect as tackling an unsavoury task first thing in the morning. What you’re aiming for is that sense of achievement when you do something you don’t normally do.

Food.

Mornings are a perfect time to plan out healthy meals. Of all the things we know are good for us, this is the one that falls to the way-side when we are busy getting through the buzz of life. I once knew a girl who had a tattoo on her arm that said “food is fuel”. Indeed, food is fuel. You don’t expect your car or lawn mower to run on the wrong kind of fuel. Why would you expect that of yourself? Greens, beans, fruits, grains, vegetables and lean protein. If you’re upto it, use your mornings for a quick mental check for what healthy meals you will be eating for the rest of the day.

 

Here is an excellent excerpt from Personal Development Guru Robin Sharma’s website on how to wake up earlier in the day:

1) Don’t eat too late in the day, it will help you sleep more soundly.
2) Jump out of the bed and start your day as soon as the alarm clock goes off.
3) Get into the best shape of your life. When you’re working out, you sleep better, wake up fresher, and getting our of bed earlier gets easier.
4) I love this one – Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Raising the bar and striving for a personal dream will fire u up and give you something to look forward to in the morning.
5) Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier than your usual wake up time.

Robin Sharma ends his post with the following words:

“Get up early. I dare you to do it for a few weeks. Your life is too precious a thing to waste. You know you were meant for your own unique form of greatness. You know you can do more, have more and be more. You know that you can be bigger than you currently are. So join The 5 O’Clock Club. Win The Battle of The Bed. Put mind over mattress. Get up early.  And as Benjamin Franklin once noted: “there will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead.” Smart guy.”
How’s that for some early morning inspiration?

 

 

slackingfeatured

42 Reasons Why You Are Slacking

  1. You wake up at the last minute, then rush out the door to work, disorganized.
  2. You check emails like an obsessive chimpanzee.
  3. You watch way too much TV. You think you deserve a few moments of relaxation, but few moments easily turn into many.
  4. You put off the challenging tasks for till tomorrow.
  5. You create self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.
  6. You work long periods without rejuvenating breaks.
  7. You take breaks but don’t get back to work as planned.
  8. If you work at home, you make no clear demarcations between work time and family/chore time.
  9. You let other people’s agendas rule your day.
  10. You let other people distract you into gossip, chit-chat or unproductive banter.
  11. You chomp on chips while you work. Not only are you unproductive, you’re also getting fatter.
  12. You stay up late. You’re partying or waffling or watching all-night Harry Potter marathons. Or all of the above.
  13. You make horrible meal choices. They may taste heavenly but leave you drowsy, bloated and distracted.
  14. You don’t take care of your physical health. Physical exercise helps you think clearer and feel more active and inspired.
  15. You are bored out of your mind. If you’re in a line of work that ceased to inspire you a long time ago, you won’t exactly be bursting to churn out quality work.
  16. You are waffling around on the internet. You’re not really doing any “research” are you?
  17. You are lost in a sea of social media updates.
  18. You are secretly stalking your niece’s sister’s best friend’s aunt’s vacation pictures from Costa Rica on Facebook.
  19. You are secretly pinning the awesomest wardrobe of life on Pinterest at work.
  20. You are scheming about the rewards you will give yourself even before you complete the measly taks at hand. Get your hand out of the chocolate jar!
  21. The people in the cubicle next to yours are talking loudly about the concert they are attending this weekend.
  22. Your boss keeps interrupting you with useless instructions.
  23. Your colleague keeps stopping by to chafe office gossip, you, of course indulge.
  24. The phone keeps ringing with clients making random inquiries.
  25. You are bogged down with numerous, irrelevant company memos and meeting minutes.
  26. You have three meetings in the morning, none of which have any conclusive results.
  27. You are waffling around on your coffee break, trying to squeeze that one last spare minute before you have to get back to that boring report.
  28. You don’t know how to say no when someone dumps an unwanted project on you.
  29. You are making plans for dinner with your friends after work.
  30. You don’t push yourself hard enough.
  31. You don’t have all the tools you need.
  32. You don’t have the right tools for the job.
  33. You don’t have the necessary training for the job.
  34. Your team isn’t working as a coherent whole.
  35. Conference calls without a purpose that seem to meander on forever.
  36. You’re exhausted and frustrated from your daily commute by the time you reach the office.
  37. Your lack of familiarity with the technologies you use for your work.
  38. You are way-sided by a million shiny apps that really hinder your productivity rather than enhance it.
  39. You don’t set priorities and optimize your workflow. Working without priorities is like firing a shot in the dark. You don’t really know if you will get the intended target or not.
  40. You are disorganized and your workspace is cluttered.
  41. You are a perfectionist. Learn to be comfortable with work that is “good enough” and you will get a lot more done when you sit down to work.
  42. You are constantly checking, sending and receiving texts from friends, family and co-workers.

 

 

portrait-317041_640

Squash the Negative Thoughts that Are Destroying Your Productivity

In a haze of exhaustion, anger, PMS and the stresses of child-rearing the other day, I completely lost it while trying to get this project done.

It started with my toddler refusing to have her omlette and demanding cookies for breakfast and quickly snowballed into a full-blown cascade of negativity.

Problem is, it had nothing to do with my toddler or breakfast or even child-rearing. There is this tape that keeps playing over and over in my head whenever I get upset. Its like a continuous refrain that crescendoes into self-doubt and tears. What am I doing half a world away from family and friends trying to raise a child when I can barely take care of myself? How long did I think I could keep up this charade of domestic bliss living in an extended family of eight? Yes , eight. What am I, with my professional degrees and independent rearing doing depending on my husband for everything like some 19th century stay-at-home wife?

I became so fixated on these “issues” that I started bawling right alongside my two year old. The project I was working on? Straight out the window.

Funny thing is, on the whole I am genuinely happy. I chose to live half a world away from family and friends and raise my child with my husband. I actually like living in a huge family, not the least because it gives me so much more support in raising my two year old but also because I am a better mom for it. And not to piss the feminists off, but I actually enjoy having a capable, strong and protective man take care of me emotionally and financially for this brief period in my life while I devote myself to the first few years of our child’s life. Contrary to popular belief (and to my own) I am blessed to have the kind of life that I do.

So why do these same old thoughts cycle through my head when I’m struggling to be productive – like some well-worn belt of a treadmill that goes nowhere? Because I think too much.

Although new mothers are often ones who over-think and mire themselves in a pattern of negative self-talk, I am pretty sure we aren’t the only ones with a penchant for brooding over an issue until everything explodes around us and we lose track of what it was that we are actually trying to accomplish.

Do you over think things too? What if you nipped these seeds of negativity in the bud? Negative thoughts often trigger a chain reaction with one dark thought roping in another and before you know it, you find yourself in the throes of anger, resentment and depression.  What if you could declutter your mind and streamline your thoughts?

Sometimes its better to just let experiences wash over you without analyzing, judging, inferring or processing at all. Experiences, after all, are the primary products of life, and you cannot completely avoid unwanted situations. What you can control, however, is whether or not you fuel these unproductive feelings with your thoughts. The way you think influences your productivity. Do you want to live a positive life or a negative one?

Just how do you clip your negative thoughts anyway?

I had this crazy clinical instructor in university. The kind that told you quirky stories that you thought went nowhere but you listened because they were interesting. Then BOOM! You realized that they applied to your life and your learning goals. Some of them weren’t just interesting anecdotes but practical, engaging learning tools.

This one time in my freshman year, I was close to tears dealing with a particularly difficult patient when she pulled me aside and told me about the acronym ‘STOP’. I listened politely until she went:

“You need to STOP”

“Slow down, you mean”

“No STOP, you think too much and get yourself worked up”

I looked at her trying to figure out if it was a random story or one with a moral. You never knew with her.

She went on to tell me about a concept that I have been coming back to over the years when I’m wrangling with a particularly challenging situation or emotional problem. Or when I’m looking to make a quick, impactful decision.

[message_box title=”This is how STOP goes:” color=”beige”]

Stop. The deciding factor in how most situations turn out for us is how we react to them. The S in the STOP acronym stands for disengaging from a situation before you react. Gut reactions are great in fight or flight situations but we no longer live in the caveman days of running away from the carnivorous beast that wants to devour us. We live in a social world and staying calm in an upsetting situation is a skill we can only master by stepping back before we react emotionally. Not only do rash decisions clip our productivity, they may also cause us to make mistakes that we may regret later. Some mistakes are much harder to undo and it is much more productive to just take a moment to step back and make a rational decision rather than try to patch up a crappy decision later.

Take a Breath. In fight or flight, the adrenaline seeping into your system makes you breathe rapid and shallow.  The oxygen in your brain drops as your brain shunts the blood to your limbs for fight or flight. Take a deep breath in. Smooth and slow. Take your time breathing it out it out. Breathing deeply tells your brain that you are not preparing to fight or flee.

Observe. Not all thinking leads to negativity. When you react instinctively, you are often focussing on how wrong or unwanted the instigating event or behaviour is. If you are in conflict with another person, observe how they are feeling, try to see what has caused them to behave I  a way that has upset you. A little empathy goes a long way in human interactions. If the conflict is self-imposed or internal like mine was, try to step back and look at the whole picture. Observe how your body feels when you are upset. Observe what events or thoughts may have triggered your response. Perhaps naming this emotion may help you understand and resolve the situation in a rational manner. At this stage, your observation is as objective and detached as you can possibly manage.

Proceed. This is where you step back into the situation at hand, preferably calmer, with a bigger picture in your mind. When I put my toddler situation into perspective, it wasn’t such a big deal after all. Just because my toddler asked for cookies at breakfast doesn’t mean I failed as a mother or as a human being. Rather than focussing on my overwhelming self-doubt, I ended up calming my baby down with crayons so I could carry on working on my project. Stepping back and putting the situation into context will help you be an effective problem-solver when you come back to resolve it.

[/message_box]

At first using STOP may feel awkward. Lets face it, that’s a lot of steps to go through in the split second between getting upset and thinking negatively. Avoiding a downward spiral of negative thoughts takes practice especially if you (like me) have been thinking negatively for a long time. Difficult thought it may be, learning this skill of putting things into perspective will do wonders for your productivity in a stressful situation.

Try the STOP strategy the next time you are upset – and let us know how it went for you. Leave a comment below!

 

planning-250091_640

Plan. Plan. Plan. Then Live One Day At A Time For Stellar Productivity

If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan – not the goal.

 

I’ve learnt, the hard way, that the absence of goals leads to disappointment and eventually failure. Without a self determined benchmark to aspire towards, your daily actions just become meaningless and your life, a confusing mess. I discovered this when I chose to “live one day at a time”. I was under a lot of stress and was extremely unsure of the future. My education and career path, my relationships were all up in the air. So my smart brain decided it was time to employ the well known plan of action. But in all honesty, looking back now, I was only using that as an escape, as a way out of the indecision I was facing. I couldn’t make up my mind on what I wanted, on what my dreams and goals really were. So instead of spending time to reevaluate, I chose to avoid the true problem and started focusing on the daily events of each day.

My aim every morning was merely to get through whatever happens, and then rinse & repeat. I did this for almost 2 years before I was forced out of this rut by a coming-of-age ceremony called convocation. I am so thankful for that rude awakening. Though I had been anticipating graduation for such a long time, when it came, it was a shock. Suddenly, I no longer had assignments or textbooks to keep me busy. My schedule was completely open and empty, and I began to resemble a bum. But it was blessing in disguise. At first I felt hopeless and lazy, but soon I realized I was actually relieved and at peace with myself more than I had been in the past few years. I had no real plans for the future because I didn’t think I was capable enough to achieve what I wanted. How foolish of me. I hadn’t applied for grad school, not for jobs. I spent the first little while regretting that, but soon enough I formed goals that were not only real but also meaningful. I started applying for jobs because I wanted to, not because I had to. I focused on those applications that interested me. Within a month after finishing my last semester, I had a job in a field that I wanted.

So I took a long, hard a look at the pros and cons of being a meticulous planner:

Pros

You are more organized. Planning gives you the ability to organize not just your time but also your space and social commitments so that when you’re doing a certain activity, you can focus on it and perhaps also work more effectively.

You put things in perspective. When you plan for the future, you are forced to look at the big picture and determine what your priorities are. Putting things into perspective this way ensures that you’re always working towards a goal that is important to you and not catering to someone else’s agenda.

Allows for preparation. Planning allows you to indulge in future-thinking. This can actually be a good thing because it often prompts you to get things ready in advance so you waste less time prepping when you’re ready to settle down to business.

You are clear about expectations. How many times have people you work with gotten away with the worst because you didn’t have the forethought to define your expectations in the beginning. This is especially true if you have people working under you or if you run a start-up. In order to stay on track , you need to be able to  define early on to other people what your expectations are. Planning in advance allows you to see the big picture and articulate clearly to toehr people what kind of work it is that you need from them. In turn, it makes things easier for the other perseon as well because they don’t have to keep guessing at what it is that you want.

 Makes you reach for loftier goals. We have a tendency to be easy on our selves. We may be rough with all the negative self talk, but when it comes down to actually doing something, we are as lazy as donkeys on a summer morning. Planning ahead gives you proper insight into what you’re capable of and if you’re like me, it also motivates you to reach just a little further to achieve something that you think is beyond your grasp. That striving, in my opinion, makes all the difference between mediocre work, and creating something exceptional.

You have peace of mind. You know that nagging feeling when you know you advent sat down in a while to do your homework? I don’t mean the kind of homework they give you in kinder garten. I mean the planning kind of homework that makes you list down all the concerns and priorities that are pressing down upon you at the moment, and turning it into something actionable and productive. When you plan, when you do your homework, there is less room for worrying about things you think you can’t do and more focus on taking practical steps to achieve whatever it is that you’re setting out to do. Not only does planning make you feel empowered, it also helps you maintain peace of mind and stay calm so you can work without getting distracted by your worries. Include link bat calm down article.

Cons

You don’t live spontaneously. Sometimes when you’re heavy on the planning, you tend to develop this loyalty to the original plan that can actually hamper your selse of freedom and productivity. You become a slave to the plan , afraid to veer form the planned course for fear that you will lose track of the bigger picture and far away fem your most important goals.

You restrict yourself from experiencing novelty. When you’re so committed to a plan that you tend to dismiss any novel, more attractive options that are presented in front of you, that’s  a problem. Sometimes, our plans blind us to the possibilities that are right under our noses.

You get bored. Sticking to a routine or a monotonous plan day- in and day-out, it is human nature to get bored and seek novelty. Why do you think so many people are opting out of office jobs and working for themselves these days? Even though you still have to plan your days and work, these is a sense of freedom and novelty in working by yourself, from random locations  and on your own terms that you would never be able to experience from the caged comfort of your 9-5 cubicle.

You get lost in the details. Sometimes you’re so caught up in following the nitty gritty details of your previously laid out plans tat you lose sight of the opportunities in front of you. I went on an epic trip to Jaipur this year. As I disembarked form the first ever rickshaw trip of my life, shaking from the adrenaline, I was so caught up in following my itinerary and the map on my ipnone to the last detail, that I didn’t even notice that it was raining. I got off in the downpour trying to negotiate with the rickshaw guy, only to realize that the hotel guard had been tapping me for five minutes trying to alert me to the rain waking up my sleepy baby, telling me that if I needed to look over my map and haggle further, I could slide over to the safety and dryness of the hotel lobby. When you’re planning, don’t miss the forest for the trees.

You become rigid. A corollary to the above point about getting lost in the details is that some of is are obstinate. I know I am. Once I decide upon a course of action, I have this urge to see it through at all costs. Sometimes, having the flexibility to change course or even edit defeat can mean the difference between being a struggling entrepreneur and a successful one that knows when to cut losses and try something more effective.

You become stuck in planning. When you’re stuck in the planning phase, you tend to pour over the plan and edit and re-edit –  but you don’t actually take any action or do anything. By the time you come to the point where you do something, you’ve expended so much energy and anticipation on the planning phase that you’re already bored before the project even begins.

[divider scroll_text=””]

Goals are what drive and motivates humans. Every person has individual motivations, but I’ll leave that discussion for another time. That is why they say set high goals, dream big. If you have no goals. You won’t achieve anything. If you strive high, you will reach somewhere there depending on how much of an effort accompanies that dream.

Essentially this is the recipe for success, to be added in the order listed:

1. Dream big and set goals, know what you want (I mean it), make them extravagant and don’t allow your mind to wander or convince you otherwise.

2. Make a plan of action, know how you are planning on achieving them

3. Take it as it comes one day at a time, don’t allow setbacks or happenings to get you down and reevaluating your goals. Don’t get too phased by things & think your goals are no longer realistic and achievable because X happened. You don’t need to over think things because often when you are under stress you have odd ideas and make stupid decisions. So deal with anything calmly and logically, now is not the time to reevaluate or worry. That is the next step.

4. On a particularly calm day, when there is no tension or pressure on your shoulders and in your head, maybe once a week take a few hours and rethink and evaluate the week. What things happened that worried you, how did you react with them, have your ideas and values changed, are you goals still what they were, do you wish to alter them a little bit. Never scrap an idea/goal because you never know when it could work out. If you think things have changed and I no longer wish to achieve that because it’s unrealistic and foolish, let me tell you it’s NOT! Because you had thought long and hard about it, that is exactly what you wanted at one point in your life. So don’t undermine it’s value, and don’t give up on it just because you haven’t been able to achieve it yet or because you have already achieved it and now it doesn’t mean anything to you.

Being a planner doesn’t hamper you from a journey of self discovery and improvement, thinking critically about your plans and choices can help you start a personal revolution to stay eager, motivated and productive.

How do you handle the planning phase? Reply in the comments below to share your planning dilemmas and hacks with us. We love hearing form you!

beautiful-16736_640

Invoking Calm Productivity in the Middle of a Crisis

“A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe.” – Wayne Dyer

Difficult boss. Screaming kids. Looming deadlines. Relationship problems.

Whatever your stressor, it will leave you feeling overwhelmed, powerless and unproductive. Turbulent emotions often mean that you pay less attention to working creatively, productively and efficiently. Take charge and empower yourself to deal with these feelings so they don’t get in the way of your goals. Learning to calm yourself effectively and immediately will give you clarity of thought and the conviction to take sound decisions.

In fact, the ability to resist emotional urges and outbursts actually improves your performance and productivity. One of the best ways to keep your mind stable and calm, especially when you’re looking to focus on getting back to productive work is to centre yourself by meditating.

 

The next time you’re in a blank state of unproductively, fixed in-place by stress, try this chanting meditation:

Select an appropriate phrase, prayer or affirmation that inspires and uplifts you. Examples of affirmations you can chant include:

I believe in myself and my decisions.

I accept the challenges of the world.

I can change my world.

I have unlimited potential

I am destined to succeed.

 

Sit comfortably on a mat or chair, or even lie down. Keep your shoulders and body relaxes. Close your eyes, take a few breaths to ground and centre yourself.

Repeat your chant slowly, pay close attention to the sounds you make as you chant. Keep a steady beat as you inhale or exhale as you chant.

Redirect stray thoughts and try to bring them gently back to the affirmation.

When you are ready, come out of the meditation by taking a few deep breaths. Observe your internal landscape. How do you feel?

 

Practical Strategies to Help You Calm Down

When you focus on staying calm, a funny thing happens. Your brain starts zooming out of the problem and putting it into context. Readjusting your perspective helps you gauge the problem rationally instead of blowing it out of proportion. When you come back to a situation with a clear perspective about what you want, you get back some of that control you lost when you were overwhelmed.

Disengage.

Step back. Get away from the aggravating situation or person. Focus on something else. Meditate. Breathe. The extra oxygen will do you a world of good. Experts say that in times of stress, the reduced oxygen to your brain drives your brain to freeze and trigger a primitive fight or flight response. Breathing deeply will replenish your brain supplies allowing you to look at the situation more rationally. And force yourself to smile – a fake smile will make you feel better just as a real one will.

Absorb yourself.

Do something else. It could be as simple as a shower. Do mundane things. Some people clean as a way to get their heads in order. Cook, if you like. Go do some yard work. Doodle – it’s a wonderful stress reliever. A change of pace, activity or scenery will instantly take your mind off whatever is bothering you.

Stop Multitasking.

A study at Stanford found that people who multitask are prone to distractions and decreased focus when working on a task. The “busy” feeling of multi tasking is just a facade. The constant distraction may make you feel like you’re getting more done, but in reality, you are far less productive than you hope to be.

Use music.

Blast some music. Sing along if you’re feeling bold – the louder the better. It is no secret that music helps people calm down. Sing loud, off key and do the chicken dance. There is no way you can be upset while you’re being that silly.

 Get moving.

Speaking of the chicken dance, a dance workout is an excellent way to improve your mood. So is running. Moving vigorously will clear your mind, pump some endorphins and have you feeling better in no time. Another great way to get moving is to do a walking meditation. Go to a local park or green spot. As you walk, breathe in the fresh air and drink in the sights and sounds of nature.

Engage a friend.

Have a “bitchin’ buddy”. A girlfriend of mine and I made a pact years ago. Instead of harassing our family members, significant other or random friends who may or may not want to listen to us raging, we would reach out to each other to vent. The mutually beneficial arrangement kept our other relationships sane and lending a sympathetic ear to each other drew us closer as friends.

Reflect.

Grab a piece of paper, set a timer to five and write whatever comes to your mind. Don’t censor or edit. Don’t try to make sense of what you are writing, just keep the pen moving on the paper. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artists Way” suggests writing three pages every morning to free up your creative energy and help you think without inhibitions. For those of you that prefer typing to writing, try 750 words.

 

Staying calm in the middle of a difficult situation can give you the insight that someone who is worked up may not have. It makes you productive, focussed and gives you clarity of thought to put your larger goals into perspective so that you’re winning the war, not just the battle.

Quite frankly, staying calm makes you very powerful.

vervet-102994_640

Harnessing your monkey mind to turbocharge your productivity

The monkey mind refers to a Buddhist concept describing the constant flitting of thoughts from ‘idea to idea’ and the distractions influencing the undisciplined mind.

There are numerous books, articles and experts these days talking about the monkey mind – how you can calm it, eliminate it or control it.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]“The human mind is like a drunken monkey… that’s been stung by a bee…” – Founder of Bikram Yoga[/quote]

Many of us are under the misconception that we need to rigidly rein in our thoughts in order to sit down and be calm, productive and focused. The truth of the matter is that in order to truly accept your mind and body, in order to work effectively, you need to work with your mind and not against it. When you’re constantly fighting yourself, trying to rein in your mind and force it to focus on something its not interested in, you’re creating a circular struggle that just feeds upon itself until you’re frustrated and demoralized (unless you’re a yogi or a monk who does this for a living ).

For the rest of us mortals, it is time to realize that in some situations, the monkey mind is not something to be stopped, chained or forced. It is something you can harness and work with in order to multiply your productivity and creativity in order to come up with your most craziest, wildest and perhaps most successful ideas ever.

Consider this scenario –  you’re sitting at your desk, bored our of your mind trying to write that 12000 word report that’s due next week. Of course, you’re going to try and procrastinate until the very last minute, then at the very last moment when you’re stressed, you sit down in a frenzy and try to write the article in 2 hours instead of twenty. Then, surprised by how easy those ideas came to you, you tell everyone about how you are more productive under pressure.

Actually, you were just tapping into the power of the monkey mind. The monkey mind jumps fast, brainstorms effectively and bounces from idea to idea like fireworks. In this state of jitters that all kinds of new, shiny, crazy and even irrational ideas come to you. Part of the process of working effectively is to catch this monkey mind and ride its wave so that when you’re done, you’ve made a huge dent in your brainstorming work.

Once your monkey mind blurts everything out on to the page – that’s just your starting point. From there, you have something substantial to work with. Think of yourself as a sculptor. First, you start out with a rough lump or ball of clay. With every pass you elongate, shape and define the lump of clay until you’re satisfied that it resembles a human figure, a portrait, a landscape, a pot. It may or may not be an exact replica of the image you held in your mind, but that is not the point. The point is that everything just did not just happen on the first go, did it?

[message_box title=”Try This…” color=”beige”]

The next time your mind is flitting form place to place while you’re working, just put your serious task aside and go on a flight of fancy.

1. Sit down with a blank sheet of paper in front of you.
2. Use a pen, pencil, or if you like, go all out and use colours, crayons, oil pastels, anything that you feel like to create whatever comes to mind for you.
3. If you want to doodle, doodle. If you feel like sketching or drawing cartoons, give in. If you want to draw hearts all over and write in-between, do that instead. Indulge in whatever journey your monkey mind takes you along. Maybe you will get new interesting ideas about the problem or situation you’re dealing with, maybe these ideas will be completely irrelevant. Don’t try to drive the action. Just see where your mind leads you.
4. Keep up the creative pursuits until the bored and restless feeling passes. When you’re done, assess what you’ve done. Note your thoughts to see if you’re in a better mental space to go back to the task you’re trying to finish. You may be surprised at how quickly you calm down and focus once you give in to your creative and disorganized urges.You may find that you start to settle down into a rhythm. Chances are, once you settle down into this new rhythm, the work you were initially setting out to accomplish will come to you in a calm and inviting manner.

The point of this exercise is for you to work with, not against your monkey mind. The mind can be your strongest ally or your most formidable enemy. The key to living mindfully and working productively is not to fight your mind into submission, but to work with the energy of your mind in order to create something worthwhile. Think of your monkey mind as an adventurous friend that edges you towards dangerous and successful new ideas. You just need to latch on to it and go for the ride that it offers you.   [/message_box]

 

twitter-292994_640

9 Powerful Tools To Help You Get Things Done Faster

I’ve always been a list person. First pen and paper, then on electronic gadgets. I even asked my parents to buy me a PDA at the age of 14 so I could make better to do lists. Anyway, as you can imagine I’m a nerd for productivity and GTD apps. Here is a compilation of my top ten productivity apps:

 

Wunderlist

From Things to Remember the milk, Apple reminders to Evernote, I’ve tried them all. Wunderlist is the one app that helps you craft a relevant to-do list, and then see it through to completion. The best part is that you can share lists and make unlimited sublists for free! Their paid version is highly customizable and not overly complicated with superficial features designed to make you part with your money like some of the other apps out there. . While the list making and the sleep interface of the previous versions were pretty awesome, what I like about the latest Wanderlist 3 is that they’ve made it extremely easy to share lists, upload files, share comments and collaborate with others. Wunderlist’s seamless integration on all platforms – complete with real-time syncing on various platforms like iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, Mac, Chromebook, Kindle Fire and the Web make it a convenient substitute for some of the expensive project management software out there.

Wunderlist has come a long way from the first version. For someone looking to manage entire projects off of Wunderlist that their project tracking capabilities are still primitive. For everyday productivity, I’ve set up my Wunderlist so that I get reminder emails when something is due, or when a colleague checks off an item. Some examples of things I’ve used it for include summer travel lists, collaborating with my sister for places we wanted to visit, assigning tasks for group projects, multiple lists for different projects makes it easy to organize the different aspects of your life.

 

Evernote

This new media darling has literally all the features you will ever need. Need a place to jot notes? Check. Need to make a to do list? Check. Want to save a website to browse at a later date? Check. While I find this integration a little slower than Wunderlist (depending on your internet connection), its still pretty fast and arguably the most powerful productivity app out there. Evernote is a one-stop-shop for clipping notes, collecting pictures, making lists as well as clipping web content.

The one drawback of Evernote is that it takes a bit of education to learn to use it really well. As a first-time user, evernote can be a bit intomidating and not so user-friendly. The way I use Evernote in my everyday work is by recording audio clips of important lectures, taking notes, clipping interesting web content and for keeping all my content in one place. Again, the integration across different mobile platforms makes Evernote very handy when working on the move.

 

Dropbox

This is one of the oldest and most efficient cloud storage solutions that I’m aware of. If you’re looking for a single place to store different kinds of files (e.g. powerpoints, excel, word documents, photos), Dropbox is unmatched in its speed and user-friendliness. More recently, other newer cloud storage apps have started floating around the internet but I have found Dropbox to be the one that just works perfectly on all devices.

The one drawback of Dropbox is that after you run out of your free storage space, you either have to earn points by inviting friends and sharing dropbox on social media, or you have to purchase extra storage space for subscriptions of $10.99 a month.I use it mostly for reviewing my lectures on the go. But it’s also a very common tool in my family for sharing photos and videos. Alternatives to Dropbox include Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, iCloud.

 

Lift

This is the ultimate public accountability app. Often, when working by ourselves, the social aspect of  working and staying on track gets missed. The List website claims that “You are not alone on Lift”. If you want to harness the power of social media to ramp up your productivity, this is definitely the app for you, because they’re big on community interaction and public accountability. Every time you login, it also shares that with your friends. Within the app are various goals that you can set and work towards. Every day that you achieve the goal, you login and comment and it tracks the number of days you went without skipping.

While the social media shares can get annoying, especially if you’re failing to meet your goals, I think that is the essence of social accountability sites like these. I use lift to improve my own daily habits. Some of my Lift goals include drink 2L water everyday, write a well-researched Liftree blog post everyday, remember to clean my bunny’s cage, attend 60 minutes of hot yoga and even breathe deeply sprinkled as reminders throughout the day.

 

Write or Die

This website has one message, and one message only. Write or die. Literally, there is one big text box on the page with a timer and running word count on the bottom, and you write without distractions. Do you find yourself not able to concentrate when trying to put words down on the page for that big history paper? Try this app, and notice how easy it is to write when you have a timer. There is even a blinking red screen and a panic alarm to scare you into writing faster. If you slack off for a few seconds, fall far behind your set rate of writing or generally waste time, the app will literally scare you into focus. Let all your ideas come out on paper without censoring, the more fodder you have, the better you can sculpt it.

While the web version of the app is free, you have to download it for $20 if you want to use it offline. I use write or die when I want to brainstorm new ideas, complete free writing exercises to come up with blog posts, as well as for finishing research projects on time.

 

Focus Booster

This app uses the pomodoro technique by setting a timer to 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest. Focus Booster is great for disciplining you into working with focus and then making a point of taking breaks to maintain productivity. Often, many of us get into the “zone” but afraid of taking a break lest we lost that productive streak, we just trudge on trying to work despite getting tired or bored of the project. This is actually counterproductive because taking a quick break would ensure that we are fully engaged with the work when we come back to it after a break. Focus booster is great for reminding yourself to take these much-needed breaks – after 3-4 regular sessions, it also reminds you to take a big 15-20 minute break. Alternatives include Howler timer for Mac, and the Online Stopwatch website. How awesome is this little tool, ticking away to help you stay on track.

 

ColdTurkey (Windows) / SelfControl (Mac)

This simple to use app is essential to conquering our pervasive online addiction and complete lack of self-control. It not only temporarily (you can also schedule blocks in advance) blocks you out of social media sites, addicting websites, games and even programs but is smart enough to know when you are trying to fool it. So forget trying to uninstall the program while its running or restarting your computer to circumvent its brute force. This is the ultimate bad cop- making you work so much faster without all the distractions. The best part of it all- it’s free!

 

If This Then That (IFTTT)

With this tool, you can eliminate the need for a personal assistant, and put the internet to work for you instead. You can create “recipes” using multiple channels to do things that you had only imagined in your dreams till now. Some examples of recipes: Get an email to let you know if its going to rain tomorrow. Send a thank you tweet to someone who retweets a link. Post the same picture to 3 different social media websites without actually opening even one.

 

Pocket

This nifty tool collects any and all of the webpages that are of interest to you. It is marketed as save for reading later, but I send many sites to pocket even just as a seamless bookmarking tool. The best part is, once you’ve saved a particular webpage or article to pocket, you can view it offline later. Check out this article on using Pocket with IFTTT to create a fantastic alternative to confusing RSS readers.

The one drawback of pocket is that unlike comparable apps like Readability and Instapaper, Pocket doesn’t offer any options for plugging into other social networks or the service’s own data to find the most popular/shared pocket pages. I use pocket for commuting or when I have little or no internet access.  In fact, earlier this year, I spent a few days on the Indian railway, travelling to Jaipur and surrounding areas, and using Pocket on my cell phone was a fantastic alternative to hauling around a heavy book, or dragging along my tablet or reader. I got a ton of research done on the go and could travel freely without worrying about slacking off or falling behind for the Liftree launch.

 
Have you used any of these? Do you have any other favourites that I missed on this list? Comment below, and share the knowledge!

 

coffee-90604_640

Stay Productive While Working From Home

So you’ve finally managed to grab the holy grail of the millennial dream.

You’re working from home.

[message_box title=”” color=”beige”]

  • You work on your own time.
  • Cafe, poolside, basement, hammock – you choose where you work.
  • Other people envy you
  • No office politics
  • Fewer interruptions from co-workers
  • More time with family
  • No more road rage during rush hour
  • Gas money, Lunch money – more savings!
  • More control over how you balance your life
  • Helping the environment
  • Less sick days, better health

[/message_box]

 

The Facts

Expert opinion on the topic of productivity among those that work from home remains divided.  Researchers at Stanford studied a large-sized Chinese travel agency and found that people working form home worked more hours, took shorter breaks, took less sick days and were more satisfied. A similar study at Cisco had the same results.

Ironically, tech-giants Google and Yahoo are not so keen on the work-from-home mindset. In fact, in February 2013, Marissa Mayer (CEO) sent out a new directive saying that employees could no longer work from home.

It seems to me that in this day-and-age, working remotely, telecommuting, or even working while  “away” from work is inevitable. While not every small or medium sized start-up can afford to bring their telecommuting staff (some of which live in other countries) into a physical office, we can definitely offer employees training and resources to maximize their productivity when working from home.

While telecommuting is really convenient in terms of satisfaction, eliminating sick-days and commute time, but the big question now is:

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]How do you stay productive when there is no structure to your workday?[/quote]

 

Establish a routine

While it may seem ideal to wake up and start working in your pyjamas while watching Dora the Explorer with your two year old, instead of dragging yourself out of bed by sheer will to start the day with a dreary hour long commute; there are some unexpected benefits to commuting. The trudge to work creates a morning ritual that gets you into the mental space to start work. This transition period is a crucial signal to your subconscious mind to get you in the mood for serious work.

 

Have a plan

Without a plan, you may get lost in the pile of pending items demanding your attention. You’re also vulnerable to numerous distractions at home. If you’re rolling with the punches and just working on things that come up in front of you, you may be working without a clear direction of your own, and despite the fact that you’re now working form home, you’ll still be working to further someone else’s agenda.

Creating a plan can be as simple as prioritizing and streamlining your to-do list to pick the tasks that are most important at the start of the day. If you want to get really fancy, you can even create a distraction elimination plan to overcome any disturbances and work like a ninja.

 

Be professional

You may no longer need to don a blazer or a pencil skirt to work from home, but lounging around on the sofa in your sweats or boxers won’t boost your productivity at home. Get dressed before you start working. You don’t have to go all out but the simple act of maintaining a decent appearance sends subconscious signals to your brain that you’re settling down to business.

Similarly, your workspace should remotely resemble an office. If you’re sitting on the couch watching reruns of How I Met Your Mother, that report isn’t going to magically get written. Treat your home office like professional business and I promise you, your productivity will skyrocket.

 

Professional space

  1. Define your work space and time. Refrain from attending to personal stuff during this time. When you’re working from home, uninterrupted work time is sacred. Do whatever you can to protect it. Just like you protect your personal time and space when you were commuting to the office.
  2. Separate yourself physically. If you live with other people, especially if you have kids, you will be more productive if you isolate yourself from the other people in your house away from the clutter, chaos, noise and distractions of everyday living.
  3. Some people recommend working in the same space everyday to train your brain to be more productive. While this may work for some people,  I’ve found that changing things up, finding a different place to work, especially taking your work outside to a novel, but soothing location can do wonders for your creativity and productivity. Working everyday in the same space without interacting with co-workers can get boring fast, and varying your work space (as long as your new place is conducive to focussing on your work) can make you excited about your work and boost your productivity.

 

Get moving

Finding a place to focus and get work done is crucial to staying productive, but equally essential is the need to take breaks and move your body. This Swedish study found that getting yourself outside, moving physically and doing a differently paced activity to your usual work can make you more productive. If you are a sedentary worker working with your laptop all day, getting outside is even more crucial in order to:

  1. Reduce eye strain
  2. Relax your strained muscles (shoulder rolls, neck stretches, walking the tension out of your legs)
  3. Stretch
  4. Breathe fresh air and gain clarity
  5. Use balanced meals to recharge your energy
  6. Use the change of scenery to inspire creative solutions
  7. Clear your mind of repetitive thinking patterns
  8. Give yourself a mental rest
  9. Get back to work with a fresh ideas and a recharged mind/body

 

Stay social

  1. Working form home can be very isolating and staying in touch with your co-workers can be beneficial in several ways. Being proactive about keeping in touch with your boss and co-workers not only projects a professional image, it also helps you feel connected, keeps you focussed and helps take some of the edge off the loneliness of working alone.
  2. Even if you don’t actually meet up with anyone, you can still satisfy your inner social animal by just hanging out in public places, letting yourself experience the human interactions happening around you. I don’t mean you should eavesdrop and get carried away listening to other people’s conversations (unless you’re a budding novelist), but just hanging out at a coffee shop or other public place filled with human chatter can boost your creativity, help you meet strangers that might trigger new thoughts and give you a different perspective on the problem you’re struggling with.
  3. Use other people as sounding boards, critics and idea magnets. Check our this article that talks about how Tim Trampedach, owner of Level X Motorsports reaches out to others for coffee to exchange ideas, bounce questions in order to stay productive.
  4. Take advantage of the WWW. This article talks about Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, who created a virtual water cooler message board so her employees can share photos, talk shop, share personal interests and catch up with each other to create a better connected organization.

 

As we venture over into the unknown territory of work-from-home gigs and flexi-time, questions of productivity and engagement while working in the home environment will become both personal and organizational concerns. While it remains to be seen whether working form home is more productive than working in an office, one thing is for sure – employees and start-up founders now have much more control over their time than they ever did. The key is to use it critically, looking at how you spend your time, energy and resources, analyzing, tweaking and improving your productivity.

Do you work from home? What is your biggest challenge in staying productive? Leave a comment below to let us know!

meditationfeatured

Mindful productivity- working in the present

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.
– Khalil Gibran[/quote]

In a discussion about productivity, people seldom expect to talk about mindfulness. Sometimes though, mindfulness is exactly what we need in order to stay productive, just like in other aspects of our lives.

In particular, being mindful of our internal dialogue, limiting beliefs and personal strengths can be helpful in identifying the style of work that is most productive for us.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. ― John Lennon[/quote]

In her best-selling book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, author identifies that human beings have two primal responses to stimuli- fear and pleasure. Those of us that are governed by fear are preoccupied with protecting ourselves and seeking safety. Those of us who are governed by pleasure seek excitement and novelty and new situations. Obviously both temperaments in excess can be harmful. The fear brain can lead you down a path of worry, nervousness, suspicion and negativity. The pleasure brain can cause u to seek out excesses, hush-risk activities, and even substance abuse in order to feel that thrill of doing something unique.

The body, like the mind, also has two responses to any situation – yes and no. The next time someone asks you a question or proposes an idea, observe your body closely for its internal answer. When your internal answer is yes while thinking of an idea, a question or a situation, you are relaxed, and positive. Your breath is even, the tone of your voice is level.  When it is no, you scrunch up and tense. Your shoulders pull up to your neck, your breath quickens, your body tightens.

 

[message_box title=”Try This…” color=”beige”]

Jot down two or three questions that have been on your mind lately.

Keep these questions in mind as you proceed through the exercise.

Sit down on the flow or in a yoga mat. Cross your legs put your palms on our thighs. Imagine a thick gnarled root coming out of your spine, grounding you into the earth below. Think of your head sending out a million shoots and leaves reaching high towards the sky.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Notice the tension in your shoulders, let it go. Notice the tension in your abdomen, let it go.

Notice what is going on in your body. Breathe like a baby – with abandon and trust.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Ask your first question.

Suspend your conscious thinking. Do not try to think logically or drive the answer into a certain direction. Restrain your rational and logical responses.

Listen instead to your body. Is your body tightening up, grabbing on to your roots? Are you holding tightness in a particulate part of your body as you ask this question? Just observe the reaction of your body as you hold his question in your mind.

When you’re satisfied with the answer, breathe, and let this question go.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Ask your second question

Repeat the thought process above for the first question.

Maybe you’re feeling free and peaceful as you think of this question. Is there a sighing, a release, a sense of relief as you hold this question in your mind. What is your body telling you?

When you’re ready, breathe and let go of this question.

Repeat the whole thing if you have a third question.

Breathe.

When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and reflect upon the wisdom your body has just shared with you.

With practice, you will learn to respect and recognize the powerful decision making of your body. The silence that this bodily awareness creates in your mind will be more valuable, restorative and productivity-inducing than any expensive vacation you will ever take.

[/message_box]

 

Often people think of meditation, inner peace and achieving a state of “flow” as some esoteric mumbo jumbo. But these things can be applied in your everyday working life too.

Here are some ways you can infuse awareness into your everyday work activities:

  • Being present in the moment. Wherever you are, truly engaging in conversations and making meaningful connections with those physically around you will create a special bond and magical memories more than conversations online ever will. Remember there will always be time to write on someone’s facebook wall, or send your crush a text message.
  • Focusing only on the current task. Eliminate any negative feelings that keep you from being productive. Attempting to achieve multiple goals all at the same time is not only an inefficient venture but also a counterproductive one. Remember that grasping new concepts and getting a project done properly is a big responsibility and requires all the attention you can give it.
  • Not worrying about the past or the future. This is similar to being in the present moment, but cultivating mindfulness can help reduce anxiety, nervousness and agitation which stems from negative experiences or feelings of the past, and anticipation of what is to come.

 
The ability to identify both fear and pleasure stressors in our lives, create a quiet space to rejuvenate and work free of your everyday tensions can create an avalanche of productivity in your everyday productivity as you learn to let go and ease into the activity at hand.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. ― Thích Nhất Hạnh[/quote]

 

Working in fear

Fear is a manifestation of misplaced hope. When you are constantly hoping for an external miracle to solve all your problems,  you’re also in constant conflict with reality. Leaving behind your fantasies about life to fully embrace the reality that is present here and now is the key to unlocking your happiness and creativity.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear. ― Cheri Huber[/quote]

Contrary though it may seem, giving up your rigid notions of the world, can set you free. There is no limiting beliefs or castles in the air interfering with your fluid perception of reality. And when these limiting beliefs are gone, you can really work with yourself and get into the elusive “flow”. Speaking about the state of “flow”, working in the “zone” isn’t really different from mindfulness when you think about it. When you work in the “zone” you are present, fully focused on what is in front of you. No past and no future limiting, obscuring or altering your present reality.

 

Working with pleasure

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more. ― Mother Teresa[/quote]

Joy is the pervasive happiness that stays constant regardless of the internal and external circumstances pressing upon us. Unlike the superficial notions of happiness, living in a state of joy simply means focusing solely on the present. It means living in the present moment with intensity, experiencing the world around us with a heightened sense of attention.

Working with joy doesn’t mean that you’re not aware of the negativity around you. Instead, working with joy means that you’re constantly living the present moment with a pervasive awareness of the grand perspective of things. Working with joy means stepping back from our fear and pleasure stressors and working in a “zone” that is neither altered by the situation nor the actions of totters around us.

 

beinheim-293827_640

30 Productivity Hacks to Help You Make The Most of Your Workday

  1. Try the Pomodoro technique. Chunk your tasks into 25 minutes and take a 5 minutes break in between. Use focus booster for getting some serious work done!
  2. Race the clock. Use an old fashioned timer, or for anywhere access try www.onlinestopwatch.com.
  3. Try working in a coffee shop. Train your brain to work efficiently in public.
  4. Prime yourself to get into “the zone”. Set yourself mentally to begin work at a certain time.
  5. Exercise. It gets blood flowing to the brain, making you more alert.
  6. Ditch your desk. Let go of the non-essential gadgets, streamline, and take your essentials outside to work.
  7. Vary work spaces to keep things exciting to boost both creativity and productivity
  8. Stay accountable with apps like WriteorDie, Lift and If This Then That.
  9. Use social media to your advantage. Go public with your tasks to stay accountable and productive.
  10. Ask a friend to check on you. Someone nagging you to finish your tasks on time is unparalleled in its effectiveness to help you get things done.
  11. Have a long-term countdown to your big project. On your cellphone. On social media. On your website. Maybe even on your desk.
  12. Take frequent breaks. Stay productive by recharging frequently and paying attention to body/mind cues.
  13. Make a distraction list. Then determine how to eliminate these distractions.
  14. Spend time with your peeps. Have guilt free distractions scheduled into your day or week so when you sit down to work, you’re focussed on the tasks in front of you.
  15. Don’t watch TV. Its called an Idiot Box for a reason. Watching in moderation os okay, but stay mindful if you’re starting to get fused with your living room couch.
  16. Take care of other needs so you don’t end up interrupting yourself. Pee breaks, food, water, exercise. Deal with these before you sit down to work so that you can work free of interruptions.
  17. Use your strengths. Delegate the tasks that you don’t want to do, or that someone else is better at. Keep your energy focussed on doing things that will give you the highest returns.
  18. Wear comfortable clothes but dress like you mean business. Appearances are important even when you’re working by yourself. A drumpy outfit signals to your brain that you’re not really on your A game.
  19. Limit obsessive email checking. Set times during the day when you will check your emails and reply to important correspondence. Make your habits public knowledge so people know when its best to contact you. Once you’ve checked your email, refrain from checking it again until the designated time.
  20. Be firm with yourself. When working for yourself, especially, if you work by yourself at home, its easy to slack off and tell yourself you’ll do an important task later. Don’t talk yourself into being less productive. Set deadlines like you would at a job. Then stick to them.
  21. Use pen & paper. If you’re getting distracted by your gadgets, try switching things up a bit by going back to old-fashioned pen and paper. You may be surprised at the creative ideas that seem to suddenly crop up out of nowhere.
  22. Wake up earlier. Things seem so much saner earlier on in the day ( or later on at night – depending on whether you’re an early bird of a night owl) when no one else is around to distract you from the task in front of you.
  23. Curb your perfectionism. If a task is done, and is of reasonably decent quality, you need to let it go and stop nit-picking at the little stuff. If a task is done, then label it as done, and move on.
  24. Meditate. Closing your eyes for a few minutes to ground yourself can make a huge difference between getting burned out and staying productive.
  25. Take a walk. Walking for productivity and creativity isn’t just for the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. You can do it too. Take a walk in fresh air whenever you’re stumped by a work problem. You just might happen to stumble upon a creative solution.
  26. Switch to a different task. If you’re on a tight deadline and cannot afford to take a complete break, try switching form a sedentary task typing away on your laptop, to getting up and looking up a reference you’ve been meaning to.
  27. Eat right. Eating clean will keep you alert and active. It will clear your mind of cobwebs and focussed on the task in front of you. Make sure to eat lots of produce, while grains and lean protein. Don’t forget to flush out toxins with lots of water.
  28. Eat on time. So many of us wait until we are starving to start thinking about what to eat. His is the basis of many of our terrible diet choices. Not only is it bad for your health, it also erodes your productivity when you’re sluggish from an unhealthy meal.
  29. Isolate yourself. When working, stay away form distractions. If you’re in an office, put up a temporary “Do Not Disturb” sign to discourage chit-chatting co-workers from barging into your office e or cubicle. If working from home, let your family or roommates know you’re going to be going off to your home office and not to disturb you unless its an emergency.
  30. Don’t stress about productivity. If you keep scaring yourself to death about how little you’re getting done, you’re just going to make yourself miserable and even less productive because instead of focussing on the solution, you’re distracted by thoughts about how you’re going to fail.

 

Your Turn! What’s your best productivity hack? Share it with us in the comments below.

 

greens-266560_640

The Glaring Benefits of A Productivity Pre-Party

You sit down to work. The phone vibrates, you just got a text from a classmate asking you how to solve question #3 on the assignment that’s due tomorrow. Your inbox dings as you receive 3 emails in a row. Your child starts crying at the top of his lungs. You need to tend to your crying child, you need to reply to your classmate and reply to your emails or they might think you’re rude and irresponsible. Your work session comes to a halt before it even started. Could you have avoided any of these distractions? Check out our previous article on creating a distractions and solutions list.

Here’s an innovative and effective way to ensure that when you sit down to work, you actually get stuff done. Plan a pre-party. No, not the kind you have before a night around town. I mean creating an atmosphere, both internally and externally, that will be conducive to a productive work session.

[message_box title=”Ask yourself:” color=”beige”]

  • Why are you sitting down to work?
  • What specific goals do you need to accomplish before you get up?
  • What are the things on your mind which may stop you from focusing on the task at hand?

[/message_box]

I’m going to let you in on a secret- it’s a checklist of the things you should do immediately before you sit down to work.

1. Set a start time. And be firm with yourself. Finish all your menial but urgent tasks, so you don’t have impending doom lingering in your mind. Setting a particular time aside for working will send a powerful signal to your brain that you mean business. If you do it enough times, this habit will become internalized and help you quickly get into “the zone” once you sit down to work.

2. Eat brain food. Nuts, eggs, flax, fresh produce, whole grains. I recently started going to this Yoga class where the instructor talked about eating just enough to sustain yourself and not gouging on junk to satisfy your cravings. The goal was to eat clean, healthy nutrient rich foods in just enough quantities to sustain you thorough your Yoga practice, but not so much that it hinders your movement and takes your attention away from doing what you have to do. The same principle applies to eating before work as well. Eat just enough to sustain yourself. Eat clean, fresh, healthy food. Keep caffeinated beverages to a minimum. If you really need something to sip on, try herbal tea. If you find yourself lethargic or lacking in energy, opt for energy right, nutrient dense foods like almonds, sunflower seeds, dates, raisins and walnuts to keep yourself energetic and focussed. Most importantly, drink lots of water to flush out the toxins and keep yourself vitalized.

3. Gather supplies beforehand. Get yourself everything you need – pen, paper, textbook, laptop, sticky notes. Organize your workstation. There is nothing as distracting as sitting down to work and realizing that you’re missing an essential tool for your work and having to get up repeatedly to gather the things that you need. Even if you sit down motivated and ready to make a dent in your to-do list, constant distractions can erode this motivation and bring you back to a state of unproductivity.

4. Disconnect. Turn off your gadgets and stay away from the Internet. Use programs such as ColdTurkey and SelfControl if you need to stay connected to the internet for the purposes of your work- it aids in blocking distracting aspects of the internet and is not that easy to work around. Read more about using apps and other tools to improve productivity in this post.

5. Let others around you know that you will be preoccupied and busy for a set amount of time. A lot of times, lack of clear communication hijacks your efficiency and gets you annoyed at people who keep interrupting. A simple gesture like letting people know in advance can resolve the issue and protect your working time. Letting friends and family know that even though we may be physically present, we will be unavailable mentally and emotionally in order to get an important task done, can help us gain their compliance, respect and even support.

6. Pump yourself up. Both physically and mentally, you need to be in optimum condition in order to work productively. Use exercise, cardio, aerobics, quotes, positive thinking, meditation, visualization – whatever your tonic, make sure you indulge in some tender loving care towards creating a healthy mind and body. The rewards of such self-care will be evident when you start working more efficiently, enjoy your work more and generally feel more engaged when trying to complete a task. Personally, I am a big positive quotes junkie. So if I’ve been experiencing a lack of concentration, I’ll read quotes to remind me about the importance of staying concentrated, how to stay concentrated or really just anything that’s been on my mind lately.

7. Write down a list of SMART goals that you want to achieve this session. SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Example, “I will finish reading section 3.2 in 30 minutes.”

8. Write down all other things on your mind. DUMP so you can think on efficient things. Free up important brain space for the important things you are trying to accomplish. Check out this exercise about doing the Morning Pages to free up your mental and emotional space in order to ramp up your productivity.

 

Here is a checklist for you to print off and use before you sit down to work. 

Share your thoughts, and comment below with any suggestions.

date-62740_640

A simple system for eliminating distractions and staying productive

Distractions are everywhere.

Plus, with all our mobile phones and gadgets, they are ominously inviting. At every turn, they lure you like hawkers at an Indian market, diverting you away from important tasks.

Apparently, distractions cost businesses money too. According to this article , a “2007 study by Basex estimated that distractions cost U.S. businesses $588 billion per year”

Aside form the monetary costs, distractions can also make you frustrated and unhappy creating a vicious cycle of stress and poor performance.

So how can you beat pesky distractions and show them who’s the boss? The answer is laughably obvious. Monitor and eliminate the distractions. Just the act of  writing down your common distractions will make you conscious and attuned to the ways in which you waste you r time during the workday.

Quick plan to end all distractions

  1. Make a list of all your distractions. Write down every last little bugger.
  2. Keep this list somewhere accessible.
  3. Across from each distraction, list a possible solution
  4. Just before you sit down to work, review this list.
  5. The more you use this technique, the more mindful you will become about distractions and the opportunities for eliminating them.

 

Here is what my list of distractions and solutions looks like:

unnamed

 

I found the results of this exercise surprising. Many of my distraction problems had common solutions. This little insight saved me a lot of time in the long run because the million distractions we think we are up against, really only entail tweaking a few common things in our daily routine or environment to optimize productivity and eliminate distractions.

 

So I put together a final list after compiling the solutions that fell under a common theme, and here is my final list:

unnamed-2

Final thoughts

Identifying and elimination distractions is as simple as writing down everything that is keeping you from a productive workflow and then analyzing your results to see if you can come up with a master plan of sorts.

To go one step further and make this even more intense, you can write your final list of distraction elimination solutions on to an index card and laminate it. Keep it accessible at all times near your workspace. Then, review it every time you sit down to work. This frequent review will burn the solutions into your subconscious over time. Eventually, you won’t even need the list in order to tackle the distractions you come up against. The beauty of using repetition to change or build habits is that it doesn’t take much more than a small measure of effort on your part to bring about big changes.

You just have to be consistent.

Change things in small increments until the cumulative effect helps you build momentum towards the new habit(s).

Over to you – List your distractions and solutions in the comments below. What did you learn about your own workflow? Our favourite reply will get a shoutout in the next post.

Happy Sunday!

takebreakfeatured

Spice up your dull routine with small breaks throughout the day

Continuing on with our productivity intensive series, another way to stay productive is taking breaks throughout the day. After having convinced you of the need to take a vacation in yesterday’s article, let’s talk about the benefits of taking small breaks every day.

The first hour or two after I get to work probably go by fairly quickly and I find that I have been quite efficient and feel a sense of accomplishment. But as lunch time creeps closer, I find myself distracted with various irrelevant thoughts and my productivity plummets. Even after lunch, this does not always improve as I begin to feel sleepy and lazy. Have you experienced something similar?

Regularly taking a few moments to recollect our thoughts, track our progress and break away from the task at hand can help us feel more calm and content as well as improve our productivity, physical and mental wellbeing.

 

The Facts

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]Maintaining unbroken focus or navigating demanding intellectual territory for several hours really does burn enough energy to leave one feeling drained -Ferris Jabr[/quote]

Studies have shown that performance begins to deteriorate after 50-60 minutes of continuous work. However, taking rest breaks every 40 minutes at least can reverse this decline in performance. Setting a reminder to take breaks has been found to be more effective than breaks taken on an as-you-need basis.

Research has shown that those who work in 90 minute spurts may be more effective and productive than those who do not. Regular, short breaks that involve physical activity also only help relieve physical tension and discomfort built up from doing continuous work. You will return energized and ready to get things done. In the long term, taking small breaks can also help lower stress and reduce risk of accidents, soreness, musculoskeletal disorder and eyestrain. And if you were trying to get back in shape, you’ll be killing two birds with one stones as short breaks are also linked to having a smaller waistline, lower body mass index (BMI), and lower triglyceride levels .  

 

The Logic

Breaks are scientifically-proven to boost focus and productivity. Taking short breaks enhances concentration, alertness and speed & performance. Usually, I put off my projects for as long as possible, then scramble at the last minute to get it done, sitting for long hours without taking a single break- this has often lead to poor insight and the quality of my work has suffered. Do you have any similar habits? Keeping this very basic logic in mind the next time something is due, will save us all from a lot of agony and potential burnout.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]I think people get so caught up in what they’re doing that they feel like they’re going to get behind if they stop. But everything you ever read, it’s always better to get away for a little while than keep going, going, going, all day. You come back with a clearer perspective and it’s more clear after you’ve taken that little break. –Toni Lozano[/quote]

Remember that breaks spent cyber-loafing or social media connecting are not real breaks. You are still sitting in front of a screen probably slouching, your eyes are straining to read the screen, your wrists, shoulders, and back have been in the same position for quite a long time. You need to change up the pace and make space within your body. You need to take active breaks and get moving. People who are more physically active during the day tend to be more productive.

 

What to do on your breaks 

  • Get up and stretch
  • Use the bathroom
  • Go for a short walk away from your workstation
  • Get away from the screen
  • Grab a coffee
  • Snack or drink water
  • Have a conversation with a coworker or a friend
  • Close your eyes and practice visualization
  • Focus on your breathing

 

 

[message_box title=”The Task” color=”beige”]

Bring out a pen and paper and answer the following questions: 

  1. Reflect on the kind of work you do. Is it sedentary or physical, do you have the opportunity to take frequent breaks to switch things up and stay recharged?
  2. Do you take breaks when you have the opportunity? Why or why not?
  3. If not, what are the obstacles you face in taking regular breaks?
  4. How can you overcome these obstacles?

 
And my favourite:

  1. What activities best recharge you (e.g. running, art, writing, painting your nails)?
  2. Identify one simple way in which you can incorporate these activities into your daily breaks.

[/message_box]

Share in the comments below any thoughts or opinions that came up while reading this article.

Quit procrastinating, start early and take lots of breaks to get things done without losing your mind.

beach-84533_640

How taking a vacation can boost productivity

In our busy, everything to-go filled lives, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the impacts of such a lifestyle. First, let’s acknowledge that working too much is bad for you, your employer, your family and friends. Yet it is a lifestyle that so many of us fall victim to. We live under the illusion that everything we are doing is equally important and more often than not, get so drowned in all the important tasks that we completely give up. The busy routines we find ourselves in are not providing ideal lifestyles for our productivity and creativity to thrive.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]A vacation is what you take when you can no longer take what you’ve been taking. -Earl Wilson[/quote]

Every once in a while, get out of your routine. Even though routine is thought to be the core of productivity, often what is missed is the need for a break. It is extremely important for us to take time to take a break. Both on a small scale and a larger scale. In this article, I will convince you on why you need to take more vacations. In the next article, I will discuss the benefits of taking small breaks throughout your day.

The best phase in my life which was coincidentally the most productive one as well was after my most memorable vacation in the summer of 2009. I travelled to India with my family after seven years and was completely rejeuvinated upon return. I’ve noticed after coming back from every vacation since then, there is a magic that follows after every period of rest and relaxation. Leave a comment to share your experience.

[message_box title=”Exercise:” color=”beige”]Think back to your last vacation. When was it? What is your best memory from it? On a scale from 0-10 think about how badly you needed that vacation. Now stop reminiscing and come back to the present. How much do you need a vacation now? Do you constantly feel irritated, anxious, tired, frustrated of it all? How close to burnout are you? [/message_box]

 

The Facts

An estimated average of 9.2 vacation days were left unused by Americans in 2012. More than 6 out of 10 Americans reported working through their vacation. While advocating for more vacations, Tony Schwartz, Energy Project CEO compared energy to time. “Like time, energy is finite; but unlike time, it is renewable,”  he wrote in the New York Times. “Taking more time off is counterintuitive for most of us. The idea is also at odds with the prevailing work ethic in most companies, where downtime is typically viewed as time wasted.”

 

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it”  Jim Goodwin[/quote]

 

The Logic

Our bodies are very flexible and accommodating of what we put them through, for the most part. However, living with chronic stress which comes along with our busy lifestyles hinders the body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and its ability to avoid injury. When we’re stressed out and tired, surviving on only a few hours of sleep and a poor diet, our immune systems become weaker and we are more likely to become ill. Chronic stress also has impacts on our mental health. We become more irritable, depressed, and anxious. It is also linked to memory problems and poorer decisions.

Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We need to take breaks in order to allow our bodies to recuperate from all the insults and catch up on rest. During the vacation, we gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. As the vacation ends, there is a sense of empowerment; we emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again.

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]The purpose of a vacation is to have the time to rest. But many of us, even when we go on vacation, don’t know how to rest. We may even come back more tired than before we left. – Thich Nhat Hanh[/quote]

 

Benefits of taking a vacation

  1. Recharge and enjoy life
    • Avoid burnout
    • See the bigger picture
    • Gain more energy
    • Experience new things
    • Strengthen family ties
    • Allow for personal growth
  2. Increase productivity
    • Enhance job performances
    • Increase focus
    • Promote creativity
    • Improve mental skills
    • Gain new perspectives
  3. Stay healthy
    • Relieve stress
    • Improve mood
    • Catch up on sleep
    • Reduce risk of depression
    • Boost heart health
    • Promote well-being

[message_box title=”Try this…” color=”beige”]What is the one place you have wanted to visit since you were a child? Why haven’t you been there yet? What is the one activity you have been thinking of doing? Take a few minutes to plan your next vacation. If you don’t have the money or time right now, plan a stay-cation budget trip. Take just 2 days from your busy life where you will just let everything go and exist in the present- worry free.[/message_box]

Pack your bags, cut out the routine and take a vacation, and watch your productivity fluorish in the weeks that follow! Stay tuned for an article on planning a vacation.

striped-core-354528_640

16 Experiments to clear mental chatter and stay productive

Its 3 am and these scary, creepy, toxic thoughts start creeping into your mind. What if you fail and the project you’re working on tanks? What if your best friend is backstabbing you?What if he is cheating on you?  What if?

We go through life with so much negative mental chatter, its a miracle we survive at all. From the moment we are born, we are cautioned and protected. Watch out for that sharp edge of the kitchen counter. Be careful not to climb up too high on that chair. Don’t speak to strangers.

Most of us are lucky – our worst fears never come true.

The funny thing with mental chatter is – the more you entertain it, the more it  flourishes, like a  parasite eating through your brain until you have nothing left to give.

The fear-mongering limits us, clips our wings and makes us doubt who we are and what we stand for.

The only way to stop that debilitating mental chatter is to go to the source and cut it off from the root – your mind. Consider these common sources of negative mental chatter:

 

Family

In the groundbreaking book, Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman talks about how our families and upbringing shape our destiny.

Early in childhood, we begin to form lasting perceptions about the human relationships around us. Countless moments of negative talk and harsh criticism over the course of childhood can shape some of our most fundamental ideas about ourselves – essentially determining the course of our lives.

While you cannot change your upbringing, studies show that even in adulthood, we have the power to change our emotional patterns and become adept at overcoming our negative thought patterns.

 

 

Significant Others

Often our closest relationships – lovers, spouses, boyfriends and girlfriends – bear the brunt of our toxic  emotional conditioning. Even a small reaction such as a contemptuous expression can cause an increase in the other person’s heart rate, with prolonged conflict leading to a host of health problems. Since most of us live with a spouse or partner in adulthood, how we interact in our most significant relationship has a massive impact on our productivity and motivation.

 

Workspaces

Since most of us spend majority of the week working, our workspace can also be a significant source of stress that detracts us from being productive.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University found that social integration in the workspace employment and peer support are potent predictors of the productivity, quality of life, and surprisingly even mortality. When the focus is on the drama and conflict at work, it can be incredibly difficult to focus on the project at hand and be productive.

Negativity in the workplace wastes time, hinders creativity and innovation lower morale and decreased productivity.

 

Commuting

The average American spends 51 minutes a day commuting to and from work. A Swedish study found that long commutes increase stress levels and reduce productivity.

Earlier this year, the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its report on Commuting and Personal Well-being. The study found that “commuters have lower life satisfaction, less pride in their work, less happiness and higher anxiety than non-commuters.”

In fact, a 2012 study by the New Cities Foundation, San Jose found that if travel time could be made more interesting and less stressful then commuters would be more productive.

Internet and Other Media

Watch this TED talk to understand how social media is negatively impacting our internal dialogue and making us lonely. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, sociologist and MIT professor talks about how our mobile devices aren’t just changing what we do, but also who we are. Social media has become so powerful that we don’t use it just as a tool to share our lives with other, but that technology has taken over our lives and we now simply find things to do so we can post them up. Our superficial interactions online have left us without the skills for self-reflection or face to face conversations. Turkle asserts that we are so lost now without social media that we cannot stand the discomfort of being without the constant online chatter when we are temporarily disconnected from our gadgets.

Joel Bain of Sour Grapes Winery puts it beautifully:

We are closer to each other than ever before, yet more distant emotionally and mentally than has ever been seen in human history.

These five common sources of negative mental chatter and toxic thoughts : family, spouses, workplace commutes, and social media are a testament to our increasing distraction from out own lives with constant, negative mental chatter. This constant chatter is what keeps us browsing, sharing, surfing all day –  and yet, we have nothing to show for our ‘hard work’ at the end of the day.

Not only do these sources erode our productivity, sucking our energy, ruining our quality of life they also impact our morale and mental focus.

Listening to Authentic Voices

Your search for inner motivation and creativity can be counterproductive when all the information you are consuming is created by other people. Whether it is your family, spouse, or the negative thoughts that spring form your workplace, commute or social or other mass media media that are influencing your thoughts – know this – In order to access your inner strength and sit down and do some authentic work, you need to block these outside influences (even if it is temporary) and listen to your own little voice of dissent.

Below are 16 practical experiments you can do to eliminate mental chatter and toxic thoughts from your mind to unleash your productivity today:

  1. Go on a social media fast
  2. Take a vow of silence for a day
  3. Listen to a positive audiobook on your commute
  4. disconnect from the internet
  5. have a heart to heart conversation with a friend or family
  6. Make eye contact when you talk to someone – give them your complete attention
  7. Catch yourself criticizing or judging someone – give them a compliment instead
  8. Create an hour of solitary time just to be alone with yourself
  9. Make a cup of green tea – take each sip mindfully
  10. Sit on the couch with your spouse. Do nothing else.
  11. Hug your parents. Call them if they are far away.
  12. Write a letter to an old friend
  13. Do a walking meditation
  14. Roll your shoulders, close your eyes, look up and take a deep breath
  15. Play with a child
  16. Go for a run outside – especially if the weather is bad.

 

Which ones did you do? Tell us about your battle with mental chatter in the comments below!

maldives-262515_640-2

Why Ditching Your Desk Will Make You More Productive

Do you really think you will be content, day in and day out working in one place, your trusty notebook, computer and pen in hand, writing down notes faithfully posting them on the bulletin board above your desk?

As a writer I can vouch for the fact that writing in different places gives me fresh new ideas, new ways of thinking and sheds light on problems I have been thinking about for a while. I suspect that this probably applies to other kinds of working activity as well.

Before I embraced the portable life, I manically obsessed about creating THE perfect workplace. I tried the kitchen table, I tried my bedroom study desk, I even tried the coffee table in front of the TV (some very bad choices, I know). Since I’m writing this article today, you can probably guess how that went.

I finally gave up and tried a different approach. I bought a smaller laptop (a MacBook Air, for the curious) ditched my ancient writing notebook for a small memo pad, grabbed my phone, pen and thinking cap and headed outside in search of an exciting new pace to work in.

Having been to the other side, I have come to believe that wielding concentration in a serene, undisturbed place is highly overrated. Only monks and sadhus of old have the luxury to meditate on mountaintops or on the eden-esque banks of a quiet, clear brook. The rest of us mundane folks have to find this esoteric focus in our own backyards as we mow the lawn, as our children clamber over our notes to steal our Swarovski crystal pen, and as they spill bright orange carrot soup over our prized laptop.

My point with all this funny talk is this – the romantic notion of a peaceful, organized bolted-to-the-floor desk is becoming something of an ancient myth.

As an advocate of a portable lifestyle, I beg, implore and empower you to be a new-age renegade! Free your work from the stone, wood, iron and concrete walls of your home or office. March out onto the streets with your laptop bag and smartphone. Infiltrate local parks, seize malls and cafes, and skip through the woods with your iPad to see your grandmother.

Why your workstation is obsolete

It’s boring. Lets face it, sitting at the same desk, decorated with the same post-its, and next to the same bookcase with the same old books everyday can get old pretty fast. Even if you are blessed with an awesome view to daydream out the window. Think of it this way, did you leave your 9-5  cubicle prison to live in your home office/basement prison?

Fresh air boosts creativity. Its easier to describe scenery when birds are chirping around you, trees are waving gently in the wind and your dog is running around sniffing at every suspicious looking flower. Likewise, it is easier to describe a casual dinner as you sit in a coffee shop with its clinking spoons and steaming cups. Even if your setting doesn’t match what you are working on, fresh, new places tend to give you new insights and innovative ideas. At the very least, you get to see something interesting when you look up.

It forces you to focus. If you can train your brain to focus on the work no matter what is going on around you, the irritating noises and distractions will fade into the background and you will be able to get into “the zone” faster and stay there longer.

Portability is awesome. These days I don’t feel stumped by a cluttered desk or if I left my favorite pen at home.  I just open my laptop bag, empty its contents and get to work. No fuss, no mess. And weekend getaways? Its awesome working in a new place without having to worry if u left anything important behind!

Be a minimalist. The fewer items you have, the simpler your life is. Give yourself the permission to ditch the burden of working with more stuff. Instead focus on doing great work. With less stuff around there will be fewer distractions. The best part? You will not be able to use “Let me clean up first” as an excuse and actually get some work done for once.

Six Tips for Creating a Portable Workspace

Invest in a good laptop. I know some of you love working on tangible paper, but the rest of us tech-savvy folks have a distinct advantage. Our laptops double triple, quadruple as a personal assistant, calculator, research, entertainment breaks and music center and the ever-useful post-its. Plus typing is much, much faster.

Carry accessories but make them lightweight. By all means, get a pocket notebook, tiny little colored markers and index cards, but make sure you wont curse every time you have to hoist your bag on your shoulder. A lightweight laptop is a blessing as well. Another great lightweight alternative is to carry a tablet like an IPad that syncs automatically to your main computer when you get home after an adventurous day of portable work.

Carry a trinket you would put on your fantasy desk. I like to keep a small seashell that I collected on my honeymoon. Working with it reminds me of happy, positive, productive times and instantly puts me in the mood for prolific working. I finished my masters’ thesis hanging out with my husband on a coral-strewn beach in Huvahendhoo, Maldives. I didn’t make that name up and the whole experience was much more work than it sounds like.

Don’t forget your charger. You will find it very challenging to get stuff done on a dead laptop.

Practice getting in the zone quickly. Learn to tune out distracting people and sounds. Word sprints, speed reading and other quick, timed activities that require hyper-focus are great for turning off your inner procrastinator and getting down to business.

Bring headphones just incase. You can concentrate and meditate all you like but there are times when you need a helping hand. When I really need to focus, I tune into some gentle music. Coffitivity (www.coffitivity.com) is another great resource for when you need to block out unwanted sounds.Go on, take your work to the streets right now!

pen-and-paper

A Low-Tech Way to Boost Productivity

The humble pen and paper. 

They seem to have lost their popularity in our tech-immersed era, but there is a lot to be said about working with simple tools that will open up your creativity and make you come up with innovative solutions for your problems. 

There is something organic about using pen and paper that makes you  come up with unique solutions to your issues. From learning a language to coaching football players, more and more of us seem to be drawn to the organic nature of pen and paper in a world where everyone else is opting to streamline their work and learning onto laptops and tablets.

Look at the following surprising benefits of using pen and paper:

Boosts Memory and Recall 

In a recent study, researchers Pam Mueller (Princeton) and Daniel Oppenheimer (UCLA) found strong evidence suggesting that laptops, even when used solely for taking notes (as opposed to shopping on Amazon), can impair learning and facilitate shallower processing.

Contrast this to pen and paper, whose slower pace seems to solidify understanding and promote better recall

Slows You Down

The slower pace of using pen and paper can actually help you process, understand and create content that is deeper and of better quality. In fact, David Allen, the author of the book Getting Things Done talks about the productivity benefits of slowing down in order to overcome the busy-making nature of our work-lives in order to really step back and put our priorities into perspective.

So paradoxically, by slowing down, you’re setting yourself up to work more efficiently.

Boosts Creativity

Author Lee Rourke talks about his twitter conversations with other authors and speaks to the creativity that stems from creating slower,  more thoughtful work where the focus of the writer is more on creating good sentences and prose than on tap-tap-tapping away on a laptop in a state of corporate-like anxiety. 

I have to agree. As a fiction and non-fiction writer, I often feel anxious staring at a blank screen and then even more anxious when I hear myself pecking away at the keyboard in a frenzy of half-baked ideas. 

Facilitates Unexpected Connections

The organic nature of writing is highly conducive to doodling in the margins, drawing circles, squiggles and creating unexpected connections that you ouldnt even notice on a laptop, mobile phone or tablet. In fact, this high school teacher encourages writing creativity in his students by asking them to doodle stick figures into the margins of their writing notebooks. 

Unmatched Portability

How easy is it to grab a pocket notebook as you step out the door? No batteries, no charger cords, no desperately looking for power outlets in public places. Most importantly, no worries about losing expensive gadgets if you leave them lying around at a table while you go grab another coffee. The portability and novelty of using pen and paper in our constantly connected world is unmatched.

No Delete Button

That’s actually a good thing.

The fact that you can’t instantly edit and hit a delete button can help you salvage those crazy ideas that may first seem far fetched, but on second thought might be potential nuggets of brilliance! Ali Hale, a freelance writer for the Daily Writing Tips blog, says that the inability to delete when using pen and paper also forces you to take a bit more time crafting your sentences and word choices.

More Personal 

For those looking to stand out in networking relationships (and lets face it, who doesn’t need networking?), using pen and paper to reach out to clients, co-workers and even potential mentors can make all the difference between creating a memorable connection, making a sale and landing a lucrative deal or letting your connections go cold and die out.

In the networking world, the novelty of pen and paper can also be used to persuade, to sell and to convince stakeholders. Roger Dooley, a contributor at Forbes magazine talks about the selling power of pen and paper. 

Declare a laptop holiday for an hour. Or make the room a computer/tablet-free zone, if you can get away with it… The people who use pen and paper will absorb more of your content and your message will be more persuasive.

In an era of permission marketing and the soft sell, the ability to convince your audiences to use pen and paper while you are at the podium is as valuable as that ubiquitous email list of customers.

Pen and Paper Exercise

If you are not used to pen and paper, using them can feel clunky and awkward at first. An exercise I found highly rewarding when I first started out using pen and paper was Julia Cameron’s famous Morning Pages exercise. You sit down every morning, writing three pages of free writing. No stopping, no stalling until you finish your three pages of legal paper. Just do a colossal vomit of all your thoughts and worries. At first, it will just be a jumble of complains and worries that you can’t tell anymone else. But as you keep at it, looking back you will get a lot of insights, creative ideas and even solutions to complex problems that you will be able to use in your everyday life.

This simple exercise from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artists’ Way, has been the single most effective productivity hack I’ve tried in the past 5-10 years. The Morning Pages essentially got me started with the daily writing practice that eventually launched my freelance writing career.

idealdayfeatured

Make Your Best Day Ever A Reality

[quote align=”center” color=”#4bac58″]
The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours – it is an amazing journey – and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins. -Bob Moawad.
[/quote]

Ever sit down to work, and there is so much going on that you don’t know where to start? I used to struggle with beginning new projects because there were so many things flying around in my head that I couldn’t possibly handle them all at the same time.

Writing down all our to-do items and prioritizing the most important ones of the day is one way to clear all the mental clutter, but sometimes when you’re really swamped, long and complicated to-do lists can become a dead-weight around your neck.

In his book, “Your Best Just Just Got Better” Jason Womack talks about imagining your ideal day, then writing down word for word what that would look like in order to be productive, successful and get more out of life. Sceptical at first, I did some research of my own to see if this was true:

Is it possible to visualize an ideal day, where you work productively, and actually enjoy doing so, and then, to go out and make this ‘ideal’ day a reality? Brain studies seem to point to a resounding “yes” to that question.

If you’re a skeptic like me , you’re going to love this article in Psychology Today about Natan Sharansky, an inmate in solitary confinement who visualized the moves in a chess game with himself for years – who –  brace yourself –  actually beat a world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1996.

 

The Power of Imagery

Most of us jump into our day without giving much thought to exactly what we are trying to accomplish. Its funny that many of us are addicted to making elaborate long-term plans, but when it comes to implementing them in the day-to-day, we are incredibly lazy.

Maybe it isn’t laziness, though, that keeps us from taking steps everyday and create conditions in which we can work productively to make our ‘ideal’ life a reality.

Maybe its our recurring thought patterns that keep us unproductive. Brain studies reveal that thinking about an action fires the same pathways in your brain as doing it. So if you’re in the habit of visualizing failure and struggle, that’s exactly what you will get served. The popular book, “Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain“,  covered a multitude of studies pointing to the fact that mental imagery influences motor control, attention, perception, planning, and memory. In a way, your brain is being primed for actual performance during visualization. This simple method of  creating a mental “reset” can enhance motivation, increase confidence, improve motor performance, prime your brain for success, and get yourself into the “zone”.

So, indeed, visualizing your best day can definitely help you turn it into a tangible reality!

 

Actionable Exercise: Your Best Day Ever!

Envision the best day of your life. Think in specific goals, outcomes or experiences. The day where you can choose to do anything, or be anyone. What will you wake up and do in the morning? What is the weather like, the smells, the sounds. Really get in there and imagine the detailed  elements of the situation as if you were really experiencing them right now.  Engage as many of your five senses as you can while you hold his picture of the ideal day. What are you feeling emotionally? What is your physical environment like?

Now, make a list of these “real” elements. How many of these can you incorporate into your day tomorrow?

My list looked like this:

I wake up, stretch gently, sneak out of the room while the baby is sleeping in the dark room shielded from the bright Indian sun by heavy canvas blinds. Pad to the bathroom where the extreme heat of the shower jolts me awake and refreshes me for the rest of the day. Grabbing my Macbook and iPad, I head down for some Chai Tea while I check on the Liftree website and spend some time attending to my social networks.

Spend some time with the toddler when she’s up, then get dressed and leave to work outside. Previously, I’ve taken my gadgets to work in a gym, a mall, my husband’s office, our home-theatre basement and once, even to a cocktail party where I received strange looks.

You may not be able to do all of these things. Maybe not even most of them. That’s okay. You are stepping onto  a new path towards this fabled ideal life. Like with everything else, it will take time and experience to reach where you want to be.

The most valuable insight I gained form this exercise was that your day can be anything you want to make of it. Obviously, we are all limited by our lifestyles and our means, but rather than use it as a crutch and an excuse, why not stretch out of your comfort zone and aim for what you really want? If you focus hard enough, you just might get it!

 

Reflect on this…

If you really want to be productive, you can be. You need to remind yourself everyday that productivity is a choice. Your desire to reach your dreams must be stronger than the desire to stay in your old ruts, falling back into mental patterns that don’t serve you.  Reflect on the following to get the most our of the “Best Day Ever” exercise:

What will your morning be like? Describe the sights, sounds, smells of your ideal morning. Do you smell coffee brewing, do you sip your green tea staring out at your backyard garden?

What things will need to be in place before you embark on your day’s journey so you can be really productive?

What will it take to keep you motivated and inspired? Music, an accountability buddy, bribing yourself with red-velvet cupcakes. Anything goes!

 

Next Steps

As I leave you with this first article of our productivity intensive, I want you to really start thinking about where you want to start heading in our work and personal life. I want you to start looking at where you are right now, and imagine where you want to be. If you feel comfortable, share  this with us in the comments below: What does your “Best Day Ever” look like?

Our favourite reply will get a shoutout in tomorrow’s post about quieting your mental chatter to make space for productive thoughts.