I’m not published yet but on all my writers’ loops, I get the message from writers on deadline: it’s a nightmare for many. Even when deadlines are not part of the equation, the day job, the kids, the meals, the shopping: trying to be productive can be stressful.
But even if I’m not published, I still aim to have a high productivity in my everyday life. Some weeks are awesome, others, not so much. When I slip up -watching too much TV, not walking the dogs, not training at the gym – I find the less I do, the less I do. But on good weeks, I realize the more I do, the more I do.
Does it make sense?
REVOLUTION HEALTH RADIO
When I need to stock up on healthy food, I drive to the next big town and that’s an hour away. I use that time to listen to my favorite podcasts – is that productive or what? I switch up between Balanced Bites and Revolution Health Radio. This latter show is offered by Chris Kresser, a licensed acupuncturist in California who practices integrative medicine. His latest subject spanned the time frame of two podcasts: How To Be Insanely Productive Without Destroying Your Health.
Chris Kresser is also finishing writing his book, Your Personal Paleo Code. It’s easy to relate with his current lifestyle, juggling parenthood, his career as a practitioner, maintaining his websites and podcasts, and his writing life. Sounds like what many of us go through.
So what does Chris do to be insanely productive without destroying his health? He kicks off part 1 of the podcast by naming his five strategies to be highly productive:
- Move your body
- Clear your mind
- Plan and prioritize
- Rest and rejuvenate
- Play and have fun
I’ll summarize each strategy (and treat you to my commentary) but I recommend, if the subject appeals to you, to head over to Chris Kresser’s website and listen to the podcasts.
MOVE YOUR BODY
Being a writer involves sitting. A lot. Unless you are super disciplined and use a sit-to-stand desk, or a treadmill desk, the nature of the job requires butt in chair for fairly long period of times. Did you know sitting too much can actually kill you? And if you don’t die from a sore bottom, many other ailments can make your life miserable, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It’s important to move our bodies, whether we go to the gym, or practice a sport or simply walk. Many might think, ‘I don’t have time to “move my body”, I’ve work to do!” It’s a trap we might fall into, and Mr. Kresser has three ways to avoid this.
First is to sit less, and he suggests a treadmill desk, or a standing desk. I have a cool sit-to-stand desk, out of necessity. I have shooting pain in my L-4, L-5, and standing gives me great relief. If a side effect is to sit less, that’s my gain. But even with a standing desk, it’s imperative we take breaks from being at the desk, every 40 minutes or so, if only to take our eyes off the screen for a few minutes. There are programs that helps remind us to take breaks, like Time Out and Workrave.
Two is to increase our non-exercise activity. What does that mean? Every time we have a chance to “move our body”, take it. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or biking to work if possible, walking to the store, parking far from the entrance. Those are all small occasions we can take to move more.
Three is to have distinct periods of exercise. Plan a full session at the gym, both cardio and weight lifting once a week. Or go for a 30 min yoga class twice a week. Or practice a sport that will require you to schedule the time, like tennis or soccer, or volley-ball.
CLEAR YOUR MIND
It’s difficult to be productive when we are stressed, unfocused, and our minds are like a whirlpool of things to do and things not done. Mr. Kresser strongly suggests the practice of meditation to help clear the mind distraction and become more productive.
For me meditation was a frou-frou- new-age nonsense I’d never would have tried if not at the limit of my patience. In a moment of total mind-distracted weakness, I decided I had nothing to lose and I tried to meditate.
Wow. Just wow.
It takes practice, especially to get “in the zone”, and I’m happy to report that my zone comes quicker to me than a month ago. Meditation is about “being in the moment”, to focus on the breath, and to let go of errant thoughts. Meditation can help (enormously) in our everyday projects by focusing our attention to one task and to get it done.
How many times do I let distractions disturb me? Way too many. With my meditation practice, I have the tools to focus my mind and the discipline to disconnect the distractions, mental or otherwise.
Mr. Kresser recommends using Rescue Time, a program that tracks what we do on the computer and reveals how much time we spend on social media, or games, or work. I’m not quite ready for that yet, I’m way too scared to see the results!
PLAN AND PRIORITIZE
This strategy seems simple enough, but if I don’t write down my goals for the day, month, year, I get lost and I get nothing done. It’s a discipline I still struggle to acquire. I don’t know why I don’t do it everyday. I’ve proved to myself how effective it can be, over and over.
One word that Mr. Kresser used is “busyness”. Not business, busyness. “One of the biggest pitfalls in terms of productivity is busyness that doesn’t get you closer to accomplishing your goals.”
We might be busy, but is what we’re busy with makes us more productive? Brings us closer to our goals?
I stand to gain so much clarity once I’ll define my goals for the coming year, month, week. When I have a “good week”, it invariably starts with my notebook, where I revise my weekly goals, then break them into daily tasks. There’s so much satisfaction in checking off something off my list.
REST AND REJUVENATE
In North America, the work week doesn’t end at five. With all the new technologies available, we check emails and voicemails at all hours. Even on vacation. What’s wrong with us? In North America, we get one or two weeks of vacation per year. More if we’ve been with the company a long time. In European countries, the entry level job includes four weeks of vacation.
Our brain needs downtime to function properly, day in, day out. To keep our productivity at a high level, it’s imperative we stop, and rest. If not, if we keep trudging on thinking we’ll produce more work, the opposite happens in the long run.
We need to rid ourselves of the guilt projected upon us by the societal view that if we don’t work all the time, then we are lacking.
Plan vacations, short or long, plan downtime, be it a weekend or a few hours. Your brain needs it. Your brain deserves it.
Another aspect of rest and rejuvenate is sleep. Let me quote Mr. Kresser: “Poor sleep has numerous effects on cognitive function, like decreased short-term memory, reduced learning capacity, decline in mental stamina, inability to sustain attention, and decreases in performance in tasks that require more complex thinking. So, it’s really as simple as this: If you don’t sleep enough, you won’t be productive, or you won’t be as productive as you could be, period.”
There are a lot of research of the negative pitfalls of sleep deprivation. Make sleep a priority. Get rid of television, laptop, iPad from the bedroom. Darken the place as much as possible. If sleep doesn’t come, listen to nature sounds, or even a sleep meditation podcast – my favorite.
Sleep is not important just for the brain, but for the whole body. That’s when our bodies go into repair mode and fight infections. Four hours of sleep doesn’t cut it for humans. We can still function after a four hour night, but not every night. It always catches up to us and we build a deficit that’s hard to get back.
So go to bed at a decent hour. Sleep is a beautiful thing.
PLAY AND HAVE FUN
Play is not only for children. Games may be different for adults, but the need is fundamental. Fun and pleasure keep our minds positive and flexible and makes us more ready to face changes in our lives.
“Play has been part of our evolutionary heritage. It emerged and became prevalent in warm-blooded animals with larger brains, and in fact, the smarter an animal is, the more it plays,” Mr Kresser mentions.
So go play. Play with the dogs, the kids, friends. Pleasure and fun should not be forbidden, laughter is healthy.
I hope you found this article useful, even if it took 10 minutes out of your busy day. Comments? Thoughts? Please share below!