I’ve always, always, struggled with procrastination. I will procrastinate on procrastinating, even. Yes, that’s right. I’ll be sitting on the couch, scrolling through my phone, thinking I should be writing, but maybe I’ll play a little Stardew Valley first, and then instead of actually playing Stardew Valley (instead of writing,) I WILL KEEP SCROLLING THROUGH MY PHONE.
I’ve tried a lot of things over the years that have worked to combat this, temporarily, but this year, I’ve been on a quest to find some methods that will stick. I’ve been reading books, listening to podcasts, trying out various apps . . . and though I wouldn’t say it’s been long enough for me to positively declare, “Yes! These things definitely work for me! I will use them forever!” I can say that several things are showing promise. And not all of them are intuitive.
This subject is going to be a two-parter. The first part, which I present to you today, will deal with time management and energy levels. The second will discuss ways to cut down on distractions. Yes, those are mostly going to be digital distractions. But not all. And I promise, I’m not going to tell you to delete all your social media accounts or anything like that. There are ways to keep your social media and keep from getting distracted by it.
1. Know and Understand How to Work With Your Chronotype.
Knowing and understanding your personal chronotype is SO helpful when it comes to managing and working with your energy levels throughout the day, which in turn, can increase your productivity. I recently read a fascinating book called “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” by Daniel H. Pink,* that discusses all the scientific research that’s gone into chronotypes, and how to use that research to your advantage, whether you’re an Early Bird (a Lark,) a Night Owl, or what Pink refers to as a Third Bird, which falls somewhere in the middle. If you want a quick and dirty way to determine which chronotype you fall under, this article about Pink’s research is a good place to start. There’s also a chart there that offers a simple break down of what type of work to do when, depending on your chronotype.
I’m a night owl. Big time. No matter how tired I am, I can rarely fall asleep before 1:30 am. Unfortunately, the rest of my family doesn’t work under that schedule, so I always end up getting up about two hours earlier than my body clock wants me to. But I’ve found a work-around. After I get the kids off to school, I’ve started going back to bed for a couple of hours. (If you’re an early bird, you might find that an afternoon nap is better suited to your needs.)
At first, I felt like I was being lazy doing this, but I’ve found that going back to sleep rather than trying to prop myself up at my desk and fight my tired brain, allows me to focus harder and get more written (and written better) in a shorter amount of time later on. I actually get more done during the day overall on the days when I go ahead and take that extra-long nap.
Now, I do realize this is not something everyone can do. If you work outside the home, or if you have young kids that aren’t in school yet, you don’t have the leeway to just go back to bed whenever you want.** But even then, knowing at what times you’re most able to focus on certain types of tasks can be immensely helpful when it comes to organizing your work day. The key here is listening to your body and giving it what it needs when it needs it. If you need a nap, and you can pull it off, just take the darn nap. It’s not the waste of time society has conditioned us to think it is.
Yes, I’m sorry, but you must.
I’m just kidding. You don’t have to. But it would be a really good idea. And it doesn’t even have to be a lot of exercise. You don’t have to go get a gym membership or jog for an hour every morning, or anything like that. I have fibromyalgia, so I need to keep my exercise sessions short and light, or else I risk a flare-up the next day and ain’t nothin’ gettin’ done when that happens. But I’ve found that even doing just a few pushups and crunches, or going for a short walk, increases my energy levels and ability to stay focused throughout the day. What you’re doing here is getting the blood flowing to your brain, which helps it do the thinky-magic that helps you do the concentratey-things.
And don’t forget to take short breaks throughout the day and move around a little more. Do some stretches, wander down to the kitchen and make some tea, do the Risky Business slide up and down the hall,*** whatever. It gives your brain a mini-break so you don’t burn out, and it keeps that blood moving through your veins.
3. Create Short, Focused, To-Do Lists
Every morning, while the kids are getting ready for school, and I’m drinking my coffee, I write down the three most important things I want to get done that day. The last couple of weeks, my typical daily “Top 3” consisted of x number of words I wanted to get through with my revisions that day, calling to make or reschedule appointments, and 1 big chore that was getting out of hand.
I also make a second list each day for personal things too–like “read 50 pages,” or “knit for 30 minutes,” which reminds me to carve out relaxation time as well. You know, work / life balance and all that. It’s important!
I started making these Top 3 Work and Top 3 Personal to-do lists after reading about them in Chris Bailey’s book, “The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy.” Referred to as “The Rule of Three,” the idea is to narrow down your main, most important (to you) goals for the month, then the week, and then the day. Doing this helps to reign in your to-do list to keep you from getting overwhelmed by too many to-dos at once, and I don’t know about you, but once I start feeling overwhelmed by all the things I have to do, I tend to become paralyzed and do none of them.**** I do have a very large to-do list, but I keep that separate, adding to it whenever I think of something, then I pull the things that I feel are the most urgent and do-able within my current time frame to make up my Top 3’s.
And there you go! Those are the main ways I manage my time and energy to get the most out of each day. I listen to my body and work with it, I make sure I get in some movement each day and throughout the day, and I keep a short, manageable to-do list that I keep flexible by updating each morning when I have the best of idea of what my day is going to be like.
Please join me next time for Part Two: How to Stop a Distract-Attack
*Does anyone else find it reeeeally interesting that the author of a book about timing shares a name with a Doctor Who character? Anyone? Just me? Ok.
**And I won’t have that leeway soon anymore either, because summer break will be here in less than two weeks, and my early bird children will be home allllll day. Makin’ noise. Askin’ for stuff. Insisting on being fed and cared for. The nerve! No more morning naps for me! Le-sighhhhh.
***Because most writers don’t wear pants, obviously.
****This is a manifestation of perfectionism. “If I can’t do it perfectly, or if I can’t do all of it right now, forget it, I’m not doin’ it.” I do this. All. The. Time. And yes, I am well aware it doesn’t make any sense.