Monday, April 24, 2017

Mindful Monday: Improving Productivity in your Daily Life

Is it Monday already?

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?

Bella x

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Love Bella xx


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