On a cold winter's day last month, I visited a beautiful beach on the New South Wales south coast with my childhood friend and our own children. The beach was covered in the whitest sand I have seen in Australia. The crystal clear water was icy cold, but somehow tempting enough for our two youngest (three and almost three years) to bravely wade out into the gently lapping waves. This would have been fine of course, except it was winter, there was a slight breeze and they were fully clothed.
I've got to say, there is nothing quite like trying to pull salty, drenched clothes from an unwilling toddler as the cold wind causes their skin to prickle and lips to turn an unnatural shade of blue.
It was worth the visit to this sleepy seaside town, with a population barely over 100 residents- not including the playful pod of dolphins that cruised by us as effortlessly as the soaring seagulls above.
On the weekend I spent my time in allocated slots dedicated to playing with Love, editing, baking, cleaning, completing odd jobs and self-reflection. I achieved this by concentrating on individual tasks for set periods of time. My usual habit is to start several things at once but I rarely complete any of them. My To Do list seems to grow longer and it can cause the needle on my anxiety gauge to slide over into the red, stressful zone.
Here's my quick How-To to ensure greater productivity in work and how to adapt it to your daily lifestyle:
1. The key to productivity for work-related tasks is to clearly identify goals and prioritise items or goals on your To Do list by importance or impending deadline.
I started doing this at work some time ago and discovered my time management has improved so I trialled it in my daily life over the weekend with interesting results.
I'm the girl who tends to think about all the tasks I need to complete in order to 'get on top of things'. I start many at once and get distracted, rarely completing any, which is not only mentally draining but can lead to feelings of failure or disappointment.
On Friday I worked later than usual so I could dedicate my weekend time and thoughts to my daughter, without distractions (of course she notices when that happens). Prior to leaving work I scribbled two short lists, the first was a quick note with my work tasks for Monday morning. The second included items to bake a cake (Love's request) and to pick up a mixer tap at the hardware store over the weekend. On the way home from work I stopped by the grocery store to purchase eggs and baking items, happily crossing items off the second list.
When I arrived home to warm cuddles and coos of joy from Love, I was present in the moment. I enjoyed it thoroughly, free from distraction. No work walked through the door with me as I had left it in the office on a tiny yellow Post-It note.
So there's list making and prioritising your time on achieving the tasks that create wonderful results, but what else?
2. Focus on one task at a time
Multitasking is naturally possible with those tasks that do not require much thought. These are the kinds of tasks which are inconsequential or are learnt and become second nature, like walking whilst listening to music or reading whilst clicking a pen. For more complex tasks, like driving in heavy rain or problem-solving under time constraints, the addition of another task can cause one to lose focus and therefore, waste valuable time. It's simple when you think of like this: What do you think is a more productive way to manage your ever-growing To Do list - Alternating between incomplete tasks or focussing your attention on one task until completion before moving onto the next?
On Saturday morning, I focussed on baking a cake with Love. When the cake tin was in the oven, we had 45 minutes baking time to move onto the next task. I set a timer on my phone, which I carried in my pocket so I could hear when I needed to check on the cake. We then ventured down to the garden to scavenge for foliage to make an indoor jungle for Love's toy dinosaurs and African mammals. Not having to worry about the cake burning meant I could solely focus my time and attention on my daughter. We had a glorious time 'on safari' in the garden collecting our natural treasures and plenty of time remaining to assemble the jungle trees using home made play dough and leaves from our garden.
When the timer sounded, Love and I excitedly remembered the cake and she joined me as I moved it to a wire rack to cool. We then returned to mindful play until the cake was ready to slice at morning tea time.
3. Spend time away from technology
This is not always possible in my work environment, particularly when I need to answer two phones, respond to emails and record my work in different computer programs. What is possible is avoiding the unnecessary distractions, like silencing the chime from a new message on Facebook or to signal a new email. Even focussed people can be distracted, however briefly by these little interruptions. The overall result is an interruption to work flow and reduced productivity.
On Sunday, I raced into the hardware store to purchase the last item on my weekend list, the replacement mixer tap. I then texted my tenant to arrange a time to install the tap and for the next few hours, I silenced my phone and turned off the vibration function to deliberately ignore notifications. No calls or emails, just driving with my family to the beach. Once there, we enjoyed fish and chips, before swimming and building sandcastles. Next, we ran with our little dog Coco and finished the beach day with a visit to a seaside playground, full of swings, slides and laughing children. There were no unrealistic expectations to be anywhere else. What's more important, there were no distractions from social media or phone calls. I was present with my family, which felt relaxing and just as it should be.
4. Be organised and realistic with allocated time frames
Writing a To Do list with unrealistic time frames to achieve important tasks is one sure-fire way to create unnecessary stress. Some tasks require longer than others so allocating set times to work on a task before moving onto the next can be very helpful, this still ensures focus on one task at a time even if you can't finish one task first. I apply this strategy when I have reports or edited photos due so that I may focus on set tasks for say one hour, then move on to allow time to work on other tasks, which might also rank quite high on my list of priorities. This also allows time for others to respond to me if I've requested additional information. If a task will take a long time, it's better to start it, rather than feeling concerned over what is left to do.
In my home life over the weekend, I allocated blocks of time to cater to meal times, play time, cleaning, replacing the leaky tap, educational toddler activities, self-reflection and importantly, rest. I wasn't worried about what I should be doing. When I showered, I enjoyed the shower. When I baked, I enjoyed the little sticky fingers helping me to scrape the cake batter into the tin. When I cleaned, I loaded the clothes into the washing machine, then vacuumed and scrubbed until the washing was ready to hang out to dry. Each task had a separate block of time and at no time did I allow myself to begin to worry about what was next. There was a natural order to each task, without self-imposed pressure.
I realised very quickly that I paid more attention to Love when she called out for mama - I answered her the first time. She felt listened to because she appeared happier, more talkative and keen to show me new things. When she took my hand during play time, I followed her. It was genuinely one of the best weekends I have enjoyed with Love since I can remember. Which brings me to my final tip for improving productivity...
5. Ensure you have adequate rest
What I love most about autumn is how easily it comes to me to embrace slower daily rhythms. We give our bodies time to rest and heal from minor illnesses with the cooler change in season. We savour warm, comfort dishes; we read more and visit the library every other week to replenish our books. We gradually become homebodies, but continue to venture outside in the middle of the day to visit the beach or river or garden before winter arrives.
Rest is vital to ensure we can concentrate, to improve our immune response and to improve our mood. Without adequate rest, productivity and happiness suffers. It naturally follows that rest time should be incorporated into daily work and lifestyle routines. Rest can take the form of sitting with your child to read a book, practising deep breathing, going to bed earlier on weekends, enjoying lunch away from your computer or having quiet time.
The overall results from my weekend were very positive. So much so that I have continued into the working week with the same approach. It works for me and I'm finding with time, I am completing tasks much faster by following the above easy steps than if I were to revert back to the juggling act.
I'm keen to know if you have other tips for improving productivity in your daily life. What's your best tip?
One moment we were living week to week in dry, lip-cracking, skin prickling heat. Then the rain came with the tropical low from Ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie. We live south of the Queensland border so the rain and wind which battered our little house only snapped a large tree branch in our backyard, the very same branch I had climbed with Love the week before the cyclone made landfall. Thankfully, the flooding was minimal in our town but others further north weren't so lucky. You only need to search for the town of Lismore in Google to see the devastation caused when the levee was breached in the dark of the night. I lived in Lismore for a few of my teen years and it flooded then, but nothing of the magnitude of the last flood. We've donated blankets and clothes, including some of Love's items, which she has long outgrown but parting with those items was difficult for me. The sadness eased when I thought about the families in need who would receive our package.
Now it seems the autumn cool has settled in and as we pull up our woollen socks, research the best places to source our firewood and set the crock pot on the kitchen bench, it's new home for the next few months, our daily rhythms have slowed to allow our bodies to adjust to the shorter days.
On weekends we continue to venture to the beach however, now we carry extra blankets under our arms, rather than surfboards and damp towels.
The wild wind lashes the coast, bending the trees and howling passed us in hurried gusts. Probably racing to the mountains to warn of impending coastal storms.
We've all suffered the inevitable sniffles, feverish foreheads and dull aches as we transition from the blistering hot summer to this new season.
I adore autumn.
Someone once told me that you are most fond of the season in which you were born and as I sit here, draped in a soft blanket, sipping my chai, I'm comforted knowing that this season - the foliage in rich hues and warm cuddles with my daughter - this season feels like home.
Sometimes the best gifts are those we can enjoy quietly together, after a swim at the beach to wind down before our afternoon nap. Wilderness by Hannah Pang is a colourful children's book with illustrations by Jenny Wren. I adore the name Jenny Wren, it reminds me of my childhood watching the Blue Wrens and Jenny Wrens fly about the garden from my grandparents verandah on their old dairy farm.
I was visiting the lovely store, Lily & Sapphire, in Coffs Harbour on New Years Eve with Love. She was very interested in a tea set, much like the one at home however, this book caught my eye.
We don't usually purchase gifts on a whim but this one seemed like the perfect book to read with Love on New Years Day, at her current age of two years and four months.
She is beginning to learn the names of different species of animals beyond Old MacDonald's Farm and with her vocabulary growing every day, she is already forming sentences, which I understand (for the most part). Now she can say 'narwhal' and I'm pleased to share that I learnt something too. Did you know, for example, that the tooth of the male narwhal, the unicorn of the sea, grows into a long spiralled tusk which can exceed more than three (THREE!) metres (9 ft)? I know I'd swim into all sorts of trouble with a tusk like that! When we flip the book open to the page with the narwhal, Love extends her arm and makes bubble noises, it's quite adorable.
If you are looking for a gift for a toddler, books are usually safe options, especially those with pop-up pages, with little cardboard flaps and not a battery in sight.
Wilderness - An Interactive Atlas of Animals, introduces over 100 animals in their various habitats all over the world.
If your little one shares a love for the natural world, this is sure to bring a smile to their face as they turn each luxuriously thick page filled with colourful habitats and wonderful creatures.
I'll be sharing other gift ideas and activities for little ones over the course of 2017 and would like to hear your suggestions.
One thing we've both noticed since moving to this new town is how much we miss the sea and the salty breeze from the east. As the last, humid days of spring rolled around, the days gradually grew longer and the impending summer heat could be felt radiating from the earth in blurry waves. In the evenings, tall storm clouds drifted up from the south, floating low and dark over this riverside town.
The temperature tends to soar before the storm breaks, reaching the high 30s (that's in the mid to high 90s for you delightful northern visitors). The bonus for the brief half hour or so following the rain (providing there was no hail) is that puddles rapidly form, making the best wet playground for Love to slosh, skip and splash in the potholes of our quiet cul-de-sac. Most days I need to hide her bright orange gumboots when she naps, otherwise she'll insist on wearing them, and only them in all her birthday suit glory (cute bum, though).
This month Love taught me that yoghurt makes for a sweet moisturiser, if you don't mind the stickiness. Which, unfortunately I do. There's always a risk leaving her unattended with a small tub of yoghurt for even a second as it will usually end up smeared in creamy patches across the table, oozing down her arms in gloopy drips. On the plus-side, she smells amazing and usually enjoys a shower afterwards. Downside? She usually picks the most inopportune time to up-end her tub, like when we're getting ready to leave the house and she rarely wants to dress post-shower so I often find myself dripping naked chasing a dripping naked toddler as she runs, screaming hysterically from room to room.
We managed to visit the coast every weekend, staying in our old beach house. We attended a relaxed beach wedding together, which was a treat for me as I'm usually the photographer, rather than a guest. After the ceremony, I drove Love to a nearby headland and she fell asleep in my arms as the sun was setting over the mountains. Sunset is my favourite time of day in the spring time; a celebration of nature and light, warm air and hopes for the summer. I especially love the Christmas colours. Deep hues of red with the natural greens one can find on any coastal headland or beachside forest on the Mid North Coast.
I spent one night apart from Love this month when I travelled to Brisbane for a live show (Kooza by Cirque du Soleil). Though I felt the beginnings of a cold, I rested in every available moment, enjoyed Korean barbecue with my company, drank tea and allowed myself to sink into my seat, absorbing every colour, light, stunt and musical note from the live performance and band. I'm grateful I went and the reunion on my return? Well it was the perfect way to begin summer.
What are your traditions at this time of year? Are you ready for Christmas?