Finally figuring out this work-life balance thing.
Last month was probably the busiest month I’ve had since law school finals. I was in a different city every weekend, constantly stuck at airports, and stringing together 14-hour workdays during the week.
Oh, and attempting to move out of my old apartment.
My sleep schedule was awful, my love handles entered Precious-territory, and I had stress-related neck pain that caused the bottom part of my jaw to go numb.
In short, it was not cute.
Five Steps to Productivity
I renovated my approach to work this month and my life has become drastically better. I made five simple changes and wiped a lot of unnecessary stress from my plate.
1. Start Writing
After watching a Claremont Colleges TEDx talk, I dusted off my old Moleskine notebooks and started carrying at least one with me at all times. Productivity coach David Allen recommends writing down every nagging “to do” or worry so it is not hogging mental bandwidth.
This casual note taking allows me to be fully available for tasks as I do them. It’s like anxiety meds that you don’t have to creep into CVS for.
“Don’t use your mind to accumulate stuff and avoid it. If you do not pay attention to what has your attention, you will give it more attention than it deserves.”
2. Annoying Things First
Every morning I do the most irritating or dreadful projects first.
If I don’t get them out of the way first, they are just going to stress me out throughout the day.
I inevitably find myself starting these put-off projects around 6:30p.m. at Dunn Brothers, completely burnt out and hating life.
I also get annoyed because procrastinated projects are rarely as awful or time-consuming as I expect.
It reminds me of that Brenda Ueland quote from If You Want To Write:
“When you will, make a resolution, set your jaw, you are expressing an imaginative fear that you won’t do the thing. If you knew you would do the thing, you would smile happily and set about it. And this fear (since the imagination is always creative) comes about presently and you slide down into the complete slump of several weeks or years – the very thing you dreaded and set your jaw against.”
3. Match Your Work Tasks to Your Mood
The gift and curse of being a content strategist is that there always a million things I could be doing. One moment I’m writing a press release or article, another moment I’m tweeting or syndicating content on Google Plus.
I arrange my tasks based on my energy level.
I do my heavy writing in the morning when I’m feeling fresh and invincible. As the day progresses, I switch to more tedious and less mentally-challenging tasks like scheduling out tweets, looking at analytics, or clicking through workflows. This allows me to maintain productivity even if I’m tired.
4. Go to Lunch
I hate lunch breaks.
I prefer just eating at my computer and continuing to work, but I’ve stopped doing this. If I work through lunch, I’m completely burnt out and drooling on myself by 3 p.m. – what I do instead is drive somewhere to pick up lunch. The quick drive is usually enough of a break for me to feel refreshed throughout the afternoon an into the evening.
5. Stop Working and Don’t Feel Guilty About It
Instead of working until my head hits the keyboard, I try to enforce a hard stop at 13 hours. I then go to the gym for an hour and cook myself dinner and eat while doing some non-work activity – like blogging for myself or watching Top Model. (Or both!)
The most important part of this “me time” is that I do not allow myself to feel guilty about it. The work laptop is closed and off my mind until 6 a.m. the next day. I do break this rule occasionally for my California clients, but for the most part, if it’s not a true “fire,” it can wait until tomorrow.
Exercise and unwinding before bed are also apparently good for you. I am no longer staying up at night fretting about a procrastinated task or big project – that’s what the Moleskines are for.