Life and Health

Five Tips to Help Build Productivity

Whether you’re trying to accomplish personal or professional goals, many of us struggle to meet those goals. Since we’ve attempted to move on since the pandemic, I’ve noticed that many of us seem to be struggling with getting our lives “back” in order. It seems that our attention is divided and our focus is constantly being pulled in different directions so we’re never quite able to sit and get the things done that we need to get done.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Even as I try to write this post I am bouncing between the writing of it and weekly planner sheets I designed to try and share it with you but as I bounce between these two activities they both suffer. Neither one is getting my full attention so it’s actually taking me longer and I’m doing a poor job with both of them instead of telling myself to focus on one task, finish it, and then I can focus on the other. So here I am trying to focus on the top five tips I’ve found helpful to make the most out of the time I have to get $hit done.

  1. Prioritize tasks — one of the things I’ve realized that keeps me from maximizing my productivity is that I think all tasks are equally important and deserve to be treated as if they are the most important thing to do. This is a fallacy that keeps me from getting things done in the best way possible. All tasks are not created equal — some are big and time consuming, some are small and time consuming, some are big and don’t really take a lot of time, and so on. By treating all of the tasks on your to-do list with the same weight it feels like there is a lot more on your plate than what’s really true. By prioritizing or categorizing tasks based on their importance and their time commitment you can get things done in a way that matches your energy availability and time to spend to get the most bang for your productivity buck.
  2. Use time-blocking — Time-blocking is a method where you block out your calendar in such a way to maximize your time. Once you’ve prioritized your tasks based on how important they are and how much time they’d take up you can put them into your time-block and work on them. I explore that more in this post where I talk about how I’ve divided my preps up into creating new content and grading (the two most important and time consuming tasks for any teacher). By using my prep to focus on just one of those things at a time I get more done because I’m not switching gears and my brain isn’t getting lost in the process. (Just like telling myself to stop trying to share the weekly planner designs so I can actually WRITE the post).
  3. Take breaks — We have been conditioned to just WORK, work through the block, work through the need to pee, just keep going but the research shows that breaks can be just as important for creative and critical thinking as well as overcoming roadblocks. I personally really love the Pomodoro Technique where you work for a set period of time (I generally use twenty minutes in class) and then take a five minute break. I discuss this technique more in this post. Some of the students don’t take the break but you can see the ones who’s focus is about to crash at the end of the twenty minutes and the relief when they get their breaks. It also generally keeps them off their cell phones because they know the opportunity is coming which leads me to number 4….
  4. Eliminate distractions — We like to believe that we can multitask but the reality is every time your attention switches from one activity to the next you have to mentally reorient yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean listening to music or other background noise (although when I write I prefer lo fi beats on Spotify so the lyrics of the music aren’t competing with the words I want on the page) but don’t try to do too much at once. As you switch from task to task without ever finishing one, it gets harder and harder to keep each one straight; focus on what you’re trying to do until you’re done.
  5. Learn to say no — One of the problems I see with a lot of people is that they try to do too much or agree to too many things (or their kids). There was a period of time when all humans did was facilitate survival (hunt, gather, farm) and rest. Meals could be slow social affairs, we sat around fires telling stories, and just generally being with each other. In today’s modern world of go-go-go we’ve lost these moments and by saying no you might be able to bring some more of those moments back which help us recharge and be ready to tackle another problem on another day.

Being productive doesn’t mean having to work all the time, and I’d argue that we shouldn’t work all the time. I know I’ve felt like a confused, distracted mess who can’t get anything done because I’m often trying to do too many things at once. By prioritizing tasks, using time-blocking, taking breaks, eliminating distractions, and saying no when I had to I’ve become more efficient with my time which allows me to work smarter, not harder. These tools allow me to get more done when I need to so I can have more time for the fun things I want to do.

Life and Health

5 Tips When You Feel Uninspired

As humans, we all experience periods of time when we feel uninspired. It can be a frustrating and disheartening experience, especially when we are trying to be creative or productive. Whether you are an artist, writer, student, or working professional, feeling uninspired can affect your ability to come up with new ideas, find motivation, and complete tasks.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

As I stare at the blank screen looking back at me before I started typing, I am currently feeling this way with all the ways that life is being really life-y at the moment. It’s both things big like the existential dread about the world collapsing when I have an almost 7 year old who will have to live in whatever mess is left and small around things that are specifically affecting me through work and other things.

Here are a few tips to that helped me overcome feeling uninspired and finally putting some words down on a page:

  1. Take a break — Sometimes when I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall trying to solve a problem or move past something I need to step away from it for a few minutes or days while I get my head back in the game. Unfortunately I am not programmed to step away from problems (or fights) and it takes a lot for me to stop for 24 hours (or whatever) before I continue. My intellectual, rational self knows I need to take a break but my stubbornness wants me to finish it. I have found that taking a break and a breather really helps me come back to the problem with fresh eyes and fresh energy.
  2. Change your routine — Executive functioning craves routine but routine starts to feel like monotony and habits start to feel like rules. Being able to create “spontaneous routine” has been a process as I try to keep the habits that support a healthy and happy life but can sometimes feel like chains. I have started booking “movement time” in my calendar instead of a specific workout. This way I have the habit of movement but I’m not chained to one particular thing.
  3. Get out of your comfort zone — Sometimes, we can feel uninspired because we are too comfortable with what we are doing. Push yourself to try something new, take a risk, or challenge yourself. This can help you break out of your comfort zone and find inspiration in new experiences. I started using a journal with prompts in it that I found in the “book cellar” or whatever Barnes and Noble call their cheap books now. I haven’t used a journal with prompts before so by focusing on specific sentence prompts or questions I have to think and write about what the journal wants me to, which can sometimes feel uncomfortable.
  4. Seek inspiration from others — I often fall into the egotistical trap of “it’s just me” or “I’m the only one”. As human beings (or maybe just the US) moved away from community centered care and thought we get trapped in our individualism. Except the problem with individualism is you’re just like everyone else. Hot Topic had (has?) a shirt that says “You’re unique, just like everyone else.” And right now that hits home as the US grapples with the struggle of rugged individualism or pull yourself up by your bootstraps with the desire to become more community centered and focused (just look at the fight we had over the pandemic). When feeling uninspired, going out there and reading content from others (or…gasp…books!) sometimes you get ideas from the most random places.
  5. Set achievable goals — Setting achievable goals can help you stay motivated and inspired. Start with small goals and work your way up to bigger ones. Celebrate your achievements along the way, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t achieve everything you set out to do. Celebrate and give yourself the gold star for the goals you set and achieve. We all need a carrot on a stick once and a while to keep going but sometimes we have to make our own carrot.

Feeling uninspired is a natural part of the creative process. However, with a little effort and the right mindset, you can overcome it and find inspiration again. Remember to take breaks, change up your routine, get out of your comfort zone, seek inspiration from others, and set achievable goals. With these tips in mind, you can break through your uninspired feelings and get back to creating your best work.

Photo by Stainless Images on Unsplash

Don’t be afraid to get back out there in life; inspiration and motivation can come from the darnedest places but you have to keep your eyes, heart, and brain open to finding it.

Life and Health

Homework, Wal-Mart and Consequences

A couple nights ago, we had a big blowout meltdown here over consequences. I asked my child if she had homework — she knows she’s supposed to finish her homework before she watches TV. She told me no, did all the other things she had to do (get ready for dance, hang her bag and coat up…normal stuff for a 6 year old) and then asked if she could watch TV. I said sure because we had about 30 minutes until we had to leave for dance. About 5 minutes before getting ready to leave, I look in her bookbag and stumble across the ignored homework. I tell her to turn the TV off and she loses her mind. “I forgot!!” She keeps telling me and whether it’s good or bad, at this point I dug in. Nope, no TV until you do the homework.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

On our way to dance she’s still having an epic meltdown and I explain to her that there are consequences for when we forget things. I, for example, had forgotten to order paper straws for a lab I was doing with Marine Biology students and instead of sitting in a coffee shop writing my post while I usually do when she’s at dance, I now had to brave the wilds of Wal-Mart to find some paper straws. I tried to explain to her that I too now had to do something I didn’t particularly care for — shopping in person AND shopping in Wal-Mart — instead of doing what I wanted to because I forgot something.I sent her to dance with a twinge of parental guilt…. So many questions:1. Was she just really tired and that’s why she had such an blockbuster meltdown?2. Should I have been the sweet, comforting, everything’s alright mom instead of the tough love mom tonight?3. Is she going to bear resentment to me all night long?4. What is she going to say about me in therapy years from now?The list went on and on…. 

We spin ourselves up in guilt or shame because we somehow think we’re doing it wrong if our child has big feelings instead of realizing that big feelings, mistakes, consequences and dealing with it all is a part of life and children need to learn how to do it for themselves. 

Often when children are young, the mistakes they make are cute or not a big deal so it seems that people choose not to correct them; I could have easily told her “well next time….” In hopes that she would somehow magically learn her lesson without me having to do anything about it.I have a distinct memory of watching Maury Povich one day when I was home sick from school (like you did in the 90s) and it was one of the episodes where parents were begging for Maury to send their child(ren) to boot camp to straighten them out because at 12, 13, 14, etc… their behavior had gotten so bad the parents felt at a loss. But there seemed to be a common thread amongst the parents that when the child did something wrong when they were 2, 3, 4, 5 years old, they were never corrected or felt any consequences from their actions and children do what they know. If you haven’t taught them x, y, or z is wrong and they haven’t experienced consequences teaching them those actions were wrong they will continue doing those same behaviors as if nothing is wrong. And as children get bigger, behaviors get bigger, problems get bigger, consequences get bigger and sometimes out of our control.

Photo by Bradyn Trollip on Unsplash

We’ve also come into a time where, for whatever reason, parents feel judged if their child makes a mistake and someone (a teacher or coach for example) attempts to call their kid on the mistake. “Oh not my child,” or “well, because they were dealing with x, y, or z so expect them to misbehave or make mistakes.” There is a litany of excuses parents (or other adults) give to excuse a child’s behavior instead of working to correct them. We are the adults, we build the fences and create the boundaries that the children are supposed to try to cross and then we teach them why they shouldn’t cross those lines.They are supposed to test us, we are the adults and thus supposed to help them learn the lessons of why those boundaries are in place. “No honey, you should not touch the hot stove because it will burn you.”That’s not to say we can’t have compassion and grace for children when they make said mistakes (because they will) but we can be strong and compassionate at the same time. Remember that discipline has it’s roots in learning, not punishment. Dealing with consequences are part of the learning process and we need to help children learn to deal with consequences for their actions because if we don’t in a loving and compassionate way (most of the time, not saying I don’t lose my cool….she is a feisty one) someone else out there (i.e. police, mortgage company, etc….) will do it in a very heartless way. If they don’t experience consequences early and learn to understand them, they will learn later in ways that might be more harmful to them.I suffered through my consequence of having to shop in person and picked her up from dance. She got in the car, “I’m sorry mommy.”“I’m sorry too honey,” because I had done my own fair share of poor communication. “What are we going to do differently if you don’t know whether you have homework or not?”“Check my folder.”Stay tuned for whether she remembers or not.