If you’ve ever read an inspirational book before, along the lines of something by Malcom Gladwell or Angela Duckworth, you might find a sudden urge to be extremely productive or to Get It Together like an adult would. But I often find that those routines and adrenaline-fueled mindsets don’t last longer than a meal; so what’s the key to making them last? A lot of blogs have tried to answer this question before, and here’s why I think none have prevailed (in my opinion, honestly):
What’s your goal?
The only person that could create a productive schedule for you is you. Blogs and apps serve as tools to help you create a routine, but the routine itself needs to be uniquely doable for you. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m a highly competitive person; I work hard, I’m an early riser, I have high expectations of myself and of those around me. However, apps that help jot down my hours worked don’t work for me; blocking off 9:00 am – 2:00 pm straight to write (I’m an author) don’t end up being full work hours. I usually throw away my digital schedule and end up playing with my dog instead. What I’ve learned over the years in my attempt to use technology as an aid to increase productivity is that I work best with a manual, hard-copy to keep track of my hours and my goals. So what works for you? A daily goal? A weekly goal? Some people are disciplined enough to have a year-end goal. I would say those people are far and few. I have about three daily goals and a main weekly goal because I thrive in short-term goal settings. I can’t tell you the number of goals you need to have to be productive. Know yourself. The best way to reach your goals is for you yourself to instate them.
Unless you’re an intense scientist in a lab all day, you’re likely going to get bored or burnt out (whichever happens faster). Either of those factors will affect your mental health and productivity. Break up your day. I’ve heard this from many career coaches as well; breaking up your day doesn’t mean you need to have a regimented schedule that’s different every day. Be realistic! I like to be productive for two hours (again, my short-term discipline really plays into effect here) and have twenty minutes to do whatever I please. This doesn’t mean watching Netflix, but rather, cut up a few vegetables for dinner so that’s two less I need to cut in five hours, or read one chapter of my current book. Give your mind a real break, not a lazy break. That said, you can schedule in your lazy break at some point in the day, so you know you have an allocated time to lounge around. All work and no play is not a popular idiom for a reason. It isn’t realistic, not if you also want to enjoy your days.
Health is wealth.
We’re living in a pandemic. Did you ever think you’d live through a global pandemic? That’s the sad reality and while our amazing healthcare workers, delivery workers, and leaders work tirelessly to protect this world and help us move forward from what will unsurprisingly become our PTSD one day, our personal health – emotionally and physically – is largely up to us. Yes, stay indoors, wash your hands and be smart. But mental wellbeing is just as, if not more (in some circumstances) important. This is another question that only you can answer. What improves your mental health? Reading a lively book? Cooking up a storm in the kitchen? Making art? Pick something that may take more time, such as painting, but pick also more accessible things, things that can be done in short bursts of time. I do fifteen minute yoga sessions at home. Last Sunday, I took a digital disconnect day. Being virtual has allowed for many conversations – all great things – but have also led to endless rabbit holes of the news and too many dialogues. Close your eyes and sing a song. Take deep breaths ten times. Prioritize yourself in a way that will improve your mental energy and emotional positivity. It will go a long way.
Be realistic. Show yourself grace.
No one is expecting anyone to write the next Great Novel. Yes, you’re home all day, but it isn’t by choice. It isn’t a staycation. The mental and emotional toll of this pandemic is as a real as the virus itself. A lot of us are out of work and it’s a tough time for the American economy. Show yourself grace. Creating a manageable schedule will help you feel productive at a pace that won’t burn you out. But the key is to know yourself. Try new set ups and see what sticks. And who knows? Maybe you will just end up writing the next Great American Novel.