I don’t know about you, but the majority of the time I feel like I’m in a constant hamster wheel of things to do, people to see and places to go; I’ve become an expert at just keeping my head above water, focusing on the next momentarily relief in the diary to keep me focused and moving forward. But you know what? That’s not healthy. We’ve become so accustomed to ‘busy’ being a permanent state, rather than a temporary moment that passes, that it’s hard to know how to slow down and breathe. I’ve always been known as someone who burns the candles at both ends (and in the middle) and who finds it incredibly hard to just switch off and slow down; to be honest that work ethic has gotten me to where I am today – but that doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. As I get older I’ve started to take pleasure in days off, in knowing that I don’t always need to be ‘doing something’ and that working hard four days a week allows me to do what I want on that fifth. Stress can play havoc with our bodies (and has been proven to have a negative effect on everything from blood pressure and fertility to ageing and food intolerances) so we need to collectively slow down, simplify and focus on what’s important. But how do you even start?
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO
Maybe it’s something that comes with age, but I no longer have that ‘fear of missing out’ I once did. I’m not afraid to say no to a meeting, turn down a collaboration or decline a dinner invitation in favour of a night on the sofa; although it’s great to see your diary bursting at the seams and to feel like you’re bossing it, the reality is burn out. I’m much more likely to be found with a cup of tea and a Netflix documentary than I am at a cocktail party, and I’m ok with that. The same applies to work meetings and events: unless it’s absolutely necessary, I’d much rather have an email conversation or Skype call than battle into London for an overpriced coffee.
PRIORITISE YOUR TO-DO LIST
What do you actually *need* to do, what would you *like* to do, and what’s on there just to fill up the page? It’s vital to start prioritising your to-do list and tackle the biggest and most urgent things first; once you’ve got those ticked off you can start working on the things that enhance your own position or are the things you really want to focus on. Spending time dedicated to one task and giving yourself a deadline is the best way to get sh*t done – even if it’s just as simple as getting out the hoover and putting that pile of washing away.
I read once that it’s actually impossible for us to multi-task, we just simply flip from one task to the other and slow our overall rate of productivity. I’m so bad for flipping between three things at once, but increasingly I’m trying to ‘batch work’ by focusing on work complete task at a time. Whether it’s taking myself off to write a presentation and not starting anything else until it’s done, or putting aside a whole morning to take photos, it really helps to focus the mind and ensure you’re being as productive as possible – without distraction.
REDUCE YOUR SCREEN TIME
Admittedly I need to adopt this mantra more myself, but having a career that revolves around the internet makes it incredibly hard! Scrolling through pointless Twitter arguments, reading infuriating articles on the Daily Fail (it’s my weakness and I hate myself for it) and liking pictures on Instagram that make me feel all kind of jealous isn’t healthy for anyone. Leaving your phone on charge in another room will help you focus on the task in hand and prevent you being distracted; having phone free evenings, or promising to put away your laptop by 7pm is a good habit to get into, ensuring you can really enjoy the time you have with either yourself or your loved ones.
CLEAR AWAY THE CLUTTER
I’m a huge believer in ‘tidy house, tidy mind’ as having clutter and mess everywhere really does make me anxious; a messy desk prevents me from working at my most optimum, while a messy home leaves me wondering what I should be doing instead of watching The Apprentice. Clearing away your clutter (even if it’s just shoved into a cupboard!) and ensuring your living space is as pleasant as possible will really help you to relax. Take cathartic pleasure in tidying so you can really enjoy your downtime.
EMBRACE THE ROUTINE
For the longest time I battled against having a set routine, preferring to fly by the seat of my pants and see what cropped up every single day, but this year I’ve definitely started to embrace a regular routine and it’s definitely worked out for the better. Knowing that Monday involves scheduling, planning and writing, Wednesdays are usually spent in London and Fridays I have the flexibility to work through emails and general admin stuff, really does help. I spend less time faffing, fewer late nights working and more time actually enjoying what I’m doing. The same goes for those things I actually like doing: Mondays are about acupuncture, Sundays we go to the gym and Friday nights we’re more often than not at the cinema. I love a predictable week!
TAKE TIME FOR YOU
Honestly, this is something I really struggled with in my twenties – but it’s oh so important. Taking some time away from the grind (and your devices) makes all the difference, helping to clear your mind and relax your body so you not only sleep better, but your concentration and productivity is enhanced when you come back. I’m a big fan of a long hot bath, an early night with a book, or a movie night in with my husband, but often it’s just recognising that my brain is frazzled and taking an afternoon off to have coffee with a friend or treat myself to a manicure. Forcing myself to be creative, or work on something I’m not in the mood for, never works – so step away, take some time for you and come back when you’re feeling much fresher.
This is by no means a complete list, but instead a place to start if you feel the need to slow down and be more productive with your time.
But the key is absolutely just to breathe deeply and take a moment to look around – because often that’s all it takes to realise we’re stressing or getting flustered over something that really doesn’t matter.
How do you slow down? How do you ensure you’re being productive with the time you have?