There was a time in my life when, from the moment I woke up, usually groggy until my first cup of coffee, to the time I went to bed feeling completely exhausted, I felt like I was always running. It was as if there was a clock incessantly ticking inside my head, reminding me of the time that was passing by and all the things that still needed to be done.
It didn’t matter how effective I was at time management, at the end of the day, I was always left feeling anxious, stressful and drained. It’s like swimming upstream; it doesn’t matter how efficient your strokes are, all the energy still gets sucked out of you. And, you are never quite satisfied with the progress you are making as you chase an ever-growing list of to-dos.
Once I set the intention to live with more mindfulness and awareness, things started to change. I was able to experiment with and find ways to bring more joy and energy to my day. As a result, not only was I able to get more done, but because I brought more present-minded awareness to what I was doing, I enjoyed what I did that much more.
Here are 5 things that have proven to be most effective for me:
1. Plan Ahead
The best way to set yourself up for a successful day is to start the night before.
At the end of the day, make a list of the three most important things you would like to accomplish the following day, and perhaps a list of three secondary goals. The end of the day is a great time to do this because you’re in a good position to review how things went for you that day and will have clarity on what needs to be done the following day.
The most powerful thing I find about planning ahead is that it allows me to wake up without feeling anxious about everything that I need to do that day. When you are calm and less distracted by nagging thoughts of what needs to be done, you can be so much more present to the things you actually do, such as slowing down to enjoy every last bite of your breakfast, instead of scarfing it down while juggling multiple to-do items in your head.
Plus, the latest science about will-power has revealed that will-power is a finite resource until replenished. By conserving the brain energy that you would have used in the morning to make various decisions about your day (and decision-making, we know, uses up considerable will-power), you now have that energy available to you to make better decisions the rest of the day, and that could be anything from eating healthier, working-out to negotiating better.
2. Get restorative sleep
Sleep may just be the single biggest contributor to productivity. Science has shown that everything from our confidence to creativity to our leadership skills can be enhanced if we simply get proper sleep, which for the average person is at least 8-9 hours of sleep. While lack of sleep can lead to the opposite from negatively impacting our mood, to loss of focus, weight gain and stress, according to the Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.
Quick tip – to make sure you get the rest you need, start setting an alarm, not to wake up, but to remind yourself to go to bed! Or, if despite your best intentions, you still struggle to get adequate rest, try and squeeze in a power nap or two, which has also been found to prime our brains to function at a higher level. A few other tips suggested by sleep experts include:
– Make sure you have a comfortable pillow and mattress
– Keep all electronic gadgets out of the bedroom (laptops, smart phones, TV)
– Avoid caffeinated drinks after 2 p.m.
– Take deep breaths before going to sleep
3. Follow a Morning Ritual
One of the most powerful ways to set yourself up for a productive day is to take control of those first few precious hours as soon as you wake up. Of course, there are huge benefits to waking up early and there is a long list of successful people who begin their day at 5 a.m. from Oprah Winfrey to Michelle Obama. But, even if you are not an early bird, don’t worry, not all is lost. All you need to do is give yourself enough of a buffer, even as little as thirty minutes before you launch into your usual routine for the day, to set a strong foundation for the rest of your day.
A morning ritual can be anything that gets your mind to a calm yet focused place, so you are ready to take charge of your day with a positive mindset. It can take many forms. For some, it’s exercise followed by a healthy breakfast. For others, it’s a period of quiet contemplation that includes meditating and journaling. Personally for me, I love to start off my mornings with a cup of green tea and journaling, which includes writing a daily list of 3 things that I am the most grateful for, followed by light yoga.
4. Move your body
“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” – Henry David Thoreau
If you’re feeling stuck, lethargic or tired at any point in your day, the best thing you can do to improve your cognitive performance is to go for a walk. As Arianna Huffington notes in Thrive, “between our minds and our legs, one of them is going to wander. Sit still and our minds want to ramble. Get up and start walking, and our minds can slow down and be more focused.”
A short walk can do wonders for your mind and body. Even a 10-minute brisk walk can reduce your risk of stroke by 10%. And, if you amp that up to a 20-minute daily walk, that’s been shown to increase the production of white blood cells, which are essential for fighting diseases like cancer. Not only that, around the 20-minute mark, your body starts to lower the stress hormone cortisol from your body, while at the same time increasing the happy hormone – endorphins – that make you feel good.
So, what are you waiting for? Instead of having lunch at your desk today, go for a walk. Or, instead of meeting in a conference room, take your meeting on the road, and talk while walking. It will spark your creativity and your sense of wonder!
5. Do something everyday that brings you joy
It’s so easy to make your work your life and put off all enjoyment or recreational activities until after we complete a project, or after we achieve a certain milestone.
But, what’s key to living a full and balanced life is to have activities outside of work as well. Things that bring you joy, in big ways or small, whether that’s listening to your favorite kind of music, going for a run, or spending time in nature. For me, it can be as simple as having tea in a calming environment, whether it’s my balcony or a beautiful cafe, and for that time to completely immerse myself in what Thich Nhat Hanh calls tea meditation – the idea of savoring every sip, taking in the aroma, and being present to how that feels.
Things that bring us joy lower our stress, and they also stimulate our bodies and minds in a different way, which ultimately makes us more creative and productive. Make a list of activities that bring you joy, and schedule them into your day, every day!
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any tips on how to bust through the day feeling like a super woman? Please share in the comments below.