Every day has 24 hours. Yes, this is obvious, but we often forget how productive we can be in this amount of time.
In my absence, I have been hard at work studying. (Who knew that a Law degree would be so damn hard?!) I’m kidding; of course, I knew that, it’s just made it harder than usual to be mindful and positive and happy in all aspects of life. Of course, everybody has down days, it’s normal and it’s allowed – we’re only human! What matters is sitting back and realizing that focusing on yourself is going to make everything that seems terrible, feel so much better.
Although Christmas nearing towards us is normally an exciting time for people, it’s actually quite a stressful period for students; what with coursework, assignments, reports and the horror that is exams. Even for those who aren’t students, this time of year can be equally as stressful; the year coming to a close undoubtedly means work targets, deadlines, Christmas shopping, family get-togethers and all sorts else. So when it feels like we have a million and one things to do, it’s so important to remain calm and composed, and not succumb to the stress that is all around us.
With this in mind, I have composed a number of top tips to use your time wisely this December, so you have the best chances to avoid worry and stress, and be as mindful and productive as you can throughout the busy period.
Sometimes, when you have a million and one things to do, it is easy to feel swamped, drowning in a never-ending list of things to do, feeling like you’re not getting anywhere fast. I’ve been there, and it’s not a comfortable place to be. I’ve managed to overcome this feeling significantly by categorising my list into regular goals. These can be short-term or long-term, whatever works best for you. Writing down your goals onto paper alone can help to lift a weight off your shoulders, and already feel so much better.
Prioritise your goals.
Once you have made your goals, I find it useful to prioritize them. If you order your goals into a spectrum of importance, then you will be so much more productive with your time. When you have lots of things to do, it’s tempting to do the things you want to do, as opposed to the things you need to do. Even though you are getting things done, it isn’t the best way to use your time.
Plan your time.
When you sorted your workload into smaller, prioritized goals, it is wise to delegate an amount of time to complete that goal. Spending a specific amount of time on each task enables you to be far more productive whilst completing each task, as you’re on track with your productivity.
Live in the moment.
This one isn’t directly specific to being productive, but it is essential for being as stress-free as possible. This relates a lot to being mindful, and it helps to reduce stress levels and to concentrate more on the task in hand. (If you want to read more about being mindful, take a look at this page!) Living in the moment prevents stress from worrying about the future, and sadness from worrying about the past, so it means that you are placing yourself in the correct mindset to make the most of your time when you’re busy.
Organise time for yourself.
When you’re busy and swamped with deadlines, it’s easy to focus on getting every single task done, and having the mentality of “I’m not stopping until this is finished!” I have this a hell of a lot whilst I’m studying – as soon as I finish one task I’m straight onto the next one without a moment’s thought, determined to get everything done so that I can relax. However, more often than not, that moment never comes. Even if we accomplish our original list of goals, as time passes, more tasks are added, and before we know it, there is no time to sit back and relax. So, it is crucial to incorporate a bit of ‘me time’ into your tasks – even if this is taking a long bath, or reading one chapter of the book you haven’t picked up in weeks.
Make chores fun.
Whether chores are incorporated into your task of things to do, or whether they’re on top of your work, meetings, deadlines or revision, it is important to make them interesting. We always dread chores, and if you say you don’t then I’m convinced that you’re not human! Especially when we have other, possibly more important things to do, chores are the last things we want to busy ourselves with. That’s why it is important to make them less boring and tiresome, and more fun and entertaining. I’ve heard this is much easier with kids, but if you don’t have children (like me), then listening to upbeat music usually helps massively!
As somebody with anxiety, saying no is something that I have always really, really struggled with. I don’t want to disappoint people, I don’t want to come across as rude, or incapable, or conceited. However, over time, I have realized that saying no does not mean those things. It actually means the opposite. It means “actually, I don’t have time for that right now”, or “sorry, but that isn’t a task that I should be doing”. If anything, it is a sign of strength. You are strong enough to know what is a priority to you, and you are strong enough to turn people down without feeling personally victimized.
Wake up earlier.
I once read a study about how your most productive hours are those before 12 in the afternoon. I don’t know about you, but until now the first few hours of my day were spent lying in bed, getting ready and eating, meaning I wasn’t really ready to start the day until around 10 am, giving me only 2 hours of prime productivity. After coming across this study, I decided to give it a go; and let me tell you, it is a life changer! Now, I set my alarm at 6:30 am every morning. I still spend the same amount of time getting ready and sorting out my breakfast and lunch for the day, but I have 2 more hours before 12 pm to be productive and get tasks done. This is probably my favourite tip – it’s amazing how much you can actually get done in two hours, if you’re motivated and in the mood to do it!
Go to sleep earlier.
This ties in with the previous tip. If you’re going to be waking up a few hours earlier each day, it’s wise to get into bed a few hours earlier. After all, sleep is crucial to feeling awake, productive and motivated. I’ve started incorporating this into my life by getting ready for bed much earlier. If I know I’m not going out again in the evening, I take off my makeup, get into my pyjamas and brush my teeth, so that as soon as I feel tired I can get straight into bed and fall asleep. This has worked wonders, and combined with a chamomile tea , has helped my sleeping routine too.
End things that limit you.
I cannot stress this enough. For so long I have held onto things that damage my productivity; whether it is habits, thoughts, or even people. If you adopt a lot of unhealthy habits and thoughts, they will manifest themselves into your reality. This is part of the foundation of the law of attraction, with the concept that you will become what you think. As well as this, being around people that limit you is just as, if not more, damaging than your thoughts and feelings. Since dropping people that didn’t encourage me, I have been so much more productive, and used my time so much more wisely.
Cancel out distractions.
This is essential for me when I’m studying. As someone in their 20-somethings, it is so easy to be distracted by my phone, by Netflix, by spending time with friends rather than prioritizing important tasks. It’s understandable, especially when everybody around me isn’t as dedicated and motivated as I am. However, limiting these distractions enables me to be so much more productive. Instead, I reward myself with a ‘distraction’ after I have spent a certain amount of time working, or completed a certain task. For example, I usually spend a solid 30 minutes working and then spend 5 minutes replying to texts, or browsing Facebook.
Take advantage of ‘in-between’ time.
When you finish a task, take a minute. I so often rush between tasks because I’m worried I’ll lose my mojo, but if anything this is what is making me lose it. You need to give yourself the time between each task to compose yourself, steady your thoughts and leave room in your mind to focus on the next task in hand. If you rush onto the next thing on your list, you’ll easily become confused and agitated that you can’t get stuck into it, when in reality, this is because you haven’t given your brain the chance to stop and think.
Ask for help.
More often than not, we are too damn proud for our own good. Asking for help is considered to be a weakness, but let me tell you, asking for help is a strength. I, like so many others I’m sure, found this out the hard way. We work and work and work to the point of a mental breakdown, and then wonder why and how we got to this point. Well, now I know that the reason I got to that point on so many occasions is that I was too proud to seek help when I needed it most. It is so easy to succumb to stress, feel in control, but end up in a downward spiral anyway. Seek help. Whether this is from a lecturer, a friend, a family member, a doctor, a counselor; whatever is relevant for your situation, do not be afraid to seek it.
Have you ever been in total work mode, and then all of a sudden your tummy rumbles and all you can focus on is food? Duhh, all the time?! Well, I have found a solution for my fellow food-lovers. Batch cook! This is a lot easier to do when you’re a loner like myself as there are more leftovers, however every time you cook – cook double. Hell, cook triple! That way, when you’re totally in the flow and feeling like if you stop now you won’t be able to continue, get that lasagne from last night out of the fridge, and you’ll be eating a proper meal in no time, without damaging your productivity!
Stick to a schedule.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m busy and overwhelmed with work, I tend to go off on a tangent. It’s easily done, but it definitely isn’t the best way to be spending your time. If you’ve decided that you’re going to finish a set task by the end of the day, then make sure you do it. If you decide you’re going to read a few chapters of your book with a cup of tea in hand, then you damn well do it! Sticking to a schedule means you don’t go off on a tangent, and it also means you don’t ‘let yourself off’ of those horrible tasks you’ve been avoiding for ages.
Take regular breaks.
This is another tip that I cannot stress enough. If you work too hard for too long without giving yourself a break, you’re just setting yourself up for burnouts and failure. Although you might think this is a productive strategy to have, it’s not, trust me. Even science has proven it. A break is not wasting your time, it is making your time more valuable.
Whether you’re a student or working a 9-5 job, weekends often feel like a time to relax. However, nobody ever got far in life by taking too much time out to relax! The weekend is 2 whole days where you could end up ticking off a large portion of your to-do list. If you were to work over the weekend, you would undoubtedly feel less stressed when Monday finally comes around, because you won’t have as much to do throughout the working week. Although I’m not saying you should be spending every waking minute of the weekend on catching up with work – you also need your you-time! Life is all about balance – in your diet, in your relationships, and also in your lifestyle.
Do something while you wait.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I am waiting for something or someone, I waste that time on my phone. For instance, if I’m waiting for my dinner to be ready, if I’m waiting for a friend to be ready to meet, if I’m waiting in the doctors waiting room – I will be sat there, phone in hand. If all of these minutes were to be added up, I can guarantee that it would add up to a large portion of your day. Instead, I try to do something productive. Admittedly, if you only have a few minutes or are out of the house it isn’t always easy to do, but instead of scrolling through social media I try to read the news, look at an article I’ve been meaning to look up, or reading a book (as I’m always carrying one around with me!) Whatever it is you choose to do – be productive!
If you have any other ideas about how you are more productive with your time, feel free to comment below!