Productivity, a buzz word that describes the collective attempts of human workers to get stuff done while minimizing the urge to watch dogs doing funny things on YouTube. I read, write and consume so many articles on a daily, weekly basis on the subject that sometimes the sheer number of tips that exist on maximizing efficiency is overwhelming. What’s interesting is that a lot of what’s out there that’s supposed to help you become a more productive person is actually so amazingly off the mark that it’s kind of ridiculous. I don’t know about you but I just don’t find hearing that Mark Cuban doesn’t take a meeting unless someone’s cutting him a check particularly compelling or that Tim Ferris thinks you should find a way to only work four hours a week. It’s as if the majorities of the people who write about productivity think that the rest of us are all destined to run startups, become entrepreneurs or have the audacity to just tell our bosses we’re only attending meetings from now on that we’re actually interested in. Give me a break. I actually find that the biggest productivity bad asses are the men and women who are bosses in their own right providing for their families, while doing their best to advance their careers forward. You think FedEx knows logistics? Coordinating four families from across the country to take a simultaneous trip to Disneyland for a family reunion? Now that deserves an award. There is no amount of lemon water in the morning that is going to make an out sized amount of work in an already incredibly full day disappear.
I am far from perfect in how I manage my time (I think only robots would ever be truly perfect) but as a real life person who is married with a child, earning a PhD while working in the lab full-time, running this blog and writing for various publications along with co-managing my home; I have learned a thing or two about how to be as productive as possible while not feeling like all I’m doing is living my life checking items off a to-do list (at least not every day anyway).
Bar none, the most important habit that has allowed me to be incredibly productive in all areas of my life is to delegate as much as possible. Gone are the days when I first got married and thought that in order to be a ‘good’ wife I needed to take on more of the share of household labor like I had seen in my own home growing up. Nope, not having it and you shouldn’t either. My husband and I trade days when we cook for our family on the nights when he isn’t working in the evening. I don’t mind a little readjustment if someone is staying late at work or had a super busy day and just needs to crash but overall, if it’s your turn, it’s your turn. Household responsibilities are likewise shared close to 50/50, although some tasks tend to go to one person, like laundry for me and dish washing for him. I will say that my husband’s standard of cleanliness and general upkeep are lower than my own so he doesn’t tend to notice that the kitchen floor needs to be mopped whereas I’m a hawk for that kind of stuff. As long as a gentle reminder gets him sweeping in the near future, I am a happy wife.
On the work front, my biggest productivity secret is that I only do work at work. I know a real shocker. Since work, like time, will expand if you let it and in my field it is really impossible to ever be truly done as there is always a new paper to read or some more data that could be analyzed, I made a conscious decision when I was first in graduate school getting my Master’s degree that I was not going to take extra work home with me. Whatever needs to get done needs to be finished within the span of time when I am physically at work. I also do not check work email in the evenings or on the weekend. Period. I do routinely work some hours on the weekend, but that is more of the nature of conducting experiments. I also take regular breaks and make it a point to take short walks around the buildings where I work when the weather is nice, which allows me to clear my head especially when I have been staring at a computer screen for hours on end.
Finally, I make time for my writing by utilizing the time when my husband works late in the evening instead of just coming home and watching TV for hours on end or playing on my phone. I will usually come home and take a break of 30 minutes to an hour where I decompress either by playing with my dogs or sitting on my porch swing. Once I’m in a more relaxed state of mind I will start writing or editing pieces I have already written. Sometimes I use this time to research topics I would like to write about, or like tonight where I took a webinar on social media marketing. I also don’t do this every single day as sometimes I am just not feeling it and forcing myself to think creatively would just not be healthy (last night was one of those nights, watched the original Twin Peaks for the first time instead). Another thing that helps me be productive on the writing front is to take one or two nights a week where instead of going straight home after work, I will hit a coffee shop and spend about an hour there writing. Even five minutes of getting something written down can mean the difference the next day between having a piece finished or having to start from scratch. I also write and edit on the weekends but rarely both days. Instead, I leave one whole day of the weekend to completely decompress where I might just do a few light chores but mostly read, watch TV, or go on an outing with my family or friends.
It’s an ever-evolving challenge (I like to think of it as my own personal Ninja Warrior obstacle course) to be able to do all of the things I need and want to do. I know that I may not be as efficient as the people in mainstream productivity literature but as long as I am feeling a degree of harmony between by professional and personal life, I am happy.
Is there anything you do to be productive that you won’t find in a self-help book?