The Best Productivity Habit I’ve Added to My Day

Jennifer Wilson

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February 19, 2015

From fundamental habits to specific tweaks, over the years I’ve shared much productivity advice in this space. I don’t see productivity as how to squeeze more hours into the day, but rather, how to make the most of the time you have so that life feels simpler.

Often this conversation turns to energy management because we all get tired – or we’re actually tired all.the.time. And when we’re tired, it’s all-too-tempting to zone out with your technology drug of choice instead of doing something worthwhile. I am no stranger to this!

The thing is, this conversation tends to focus on the beginnings – how we start the day, a project, or a task even when we feel resistance. This is only half the solution. In recent months, I’ve discovered a small step I can take to regain energy and focus when I’ve already been working.

focus

Late last year I started to pay attention to when my activities were only filling up my time and not my heart. Yes, my lowest energy periods (evenings for me) tended to be the worst. However, I also found that I went through cycles during the day. After I had been working just fine and with focus for a while, I would start to drift.

It turned out that the middles and ends of my activities were just as important to productivity as the beginnings. This discovery was not shocking, but powerful information to help me identify this state and shift my behavior. Now, instead of wondering where an hour went, I can take action with purpose. What this looks like is actually pretty simple.

When I feel myself wandering, I check my to-do list to see what I’m supposed to be doing and then I get up. I remove myself from the situation and get a drink of water, walk around the house, or look out the window. Sometimes I’ll even do jumping jacks or other simple physical movements.

I engage my body in order to re-engage my mind. This isn’t about getting your heart rate up, though that certainly doesn’t hurt. Activating your body – even briefly – is proven to increase energy and focus by sending more oxygen to your brain.

It’s taken practice to make this a habit and I am conscious about being gentle with myself. However, it was instantly clear that adding this productivity skill to my day was needed and only takes minutes.

Without any radical changes, I am more alert, more energized, and more focused throughout the day. More importantly, I feel more joy and ease in my life knowing that I am spending more of my time well.

Have you made a small shift that impacted your energy and focus? Share it in the comments.

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11 Comments

  1. Kim Edsen

    I am excited to implement this. I find I do really well with the ‘scheduled’ things of life, but when it comes to getting the odd bits and pieces done, I lose focus. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Wilson

      When I have a lot of small tasks, I find that combining a timer (to get started and create urgency) as well as taking these breaks as a reward/reset works great.

      Reply
  2. HelenH

    I lose focus at work constantly. Currently, I close most of the windows on my desktop and open my to do program. Still, these are the tasks that are the hardest to get going on. (I’ve already tackled the easy stuff!) Getting up and moving would help. Even with the bad weather, there are many different floors and corridors in my building I could use. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Wilson

      Sometimes I force myself to tackle the hardest task first (aka “eat your frog”) and use the smaller tasks as rewards.

      Reply
  3. SueTR

    I find I start strong and then get distracted (shiny!!) by something or (kiss of death) I pick up my phone and then it saps my will to get stuff done…my solution is keeping my phone on vibrate in my purse, in the cupboard, uand sing a paper list so I don’t have to use a screen at all and NOT turning on my laptop until my big chores are done … And, I use a paper planner, not electronic. That has helped a lot !

    Reply
    • Jennifer Wilson

      Yes! Pretty much anything I can do to disconnect – even if it’s just closing my web browser when I need to do computer work otherwise – is so helpful. And that’s exactly why I like using a combination of electronic and analog tools for planning.

      Reply
  4. Diane

    No to do lists for me, they just don’t work for me. When I’ve tried to use them, I don’t get anything much done at all. I do periodically use a timer and do small chores when I feel sluggish or uninspired; and you are right, that small break usually does the trick!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Wilson

      It’s awesome that you’ve discovered what works for you Diane!

      Reply
  5. Connie

    I really like this idea and am going to give it a try. What I find also works for me when I am losing focus on a task is to put music on. It seems like my brain cannot give all of its focus to one task and will look for other things to occupy the part of it that is not fully engaged. (like ‘hey, what’s in the fridge’ or ‘I wonder who’s on FB’ or ‘this might be a good time to sort out the silverware drawer’…). So I provide a distraction for it that does not pull me from my current task.

    Thanks for the tip Jennifer.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Wilson

      Ooh, that’s a great insight Connie. I will often use music too and I think you’ve discovered why it works so well!

      Reply
  6. Gab

    I’ve recently re-committed to learning Mandarin – by doing just 5 minutes of an online course per day. Previously I was trying to do more time than that and got frustrated when I wasn’t doing it. 5 minutes is an easy and achievable change to my routine

    Reply

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