Take a look at your to-do list. Come on, we all have one. Whether pinned to the fridge, nestled inside a notebook or mentally penned in our minds, there’s a never-ending list of tasks that we look to complete in a day.
During the last few months, there are times that said list has become our nemesis. Should we be doing more? Where does homeschooling fit in? Did we remember to feed everyone? Did we even eat today? In truth, having a ‘productive day’ has gained new meaning for many during this global pandemic.
The Cambridge dictionary definition of productivity reads: ‘The rate at which a person, company, or country does useful work’.
But who decides what ‘useful’ work is? If you were able to feed your family and pay your bills today, do we deem that a productive day? If you managed to get out of bed, get dressed and keep your mental health in check, is that useful? Is it productive?
We spoke to four women, from different walks of life on how they’re tackling 2020.
‘I’ve altered my expectations of myself’
Vicky Balfour, 45, runs Vicky Bikes, a mechanics and mindset coaching business to empower girls and women to enjoy cycling and the tools that come with it. She and her husband have been juggling busy jobs, plus taking care of their two teenagers during lockdown.
“I’ve gone from valuing quantity to quality in my productivity over the last few months,” says Vicky. “I no longer set myself a huge to-do list and get upset when it’s not achieved. Some days I might only get one thing done and that’s the washing – but it’s enough for that day. Other days I get a variety of jobs done.
READ MORE: What is a bullet journal and do I need one?
“I’ve altered my expectations of myself and shored up my values. I’ve learned to say no and actually quite enjoy it now. In essence, I’ve learned to dance to the beat of my own drum – not other people’s.
“My advice? Be kind to yourself. Use a bullet journal to track your ideas and jobs and plan out your week.”
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Milly Salsbury, 22, has just graduated with First Class Honours from her Applied Psychology with Clinical Psychology degree. She completed her dissertation while living with her parents and sister during lockdown.
“I’ve found exercise incredibly therapeutic,” says Milly. “Home workouts meant that when writing my dissertation, I had mental clarity and I felt far more focused.
READ MORE: Enjoy one of our three exclusive workouts
“I also decided that I needed to stop working from my bed, no matter how tempting. Having a separate workspace meant that I enjoyed my bed at the end of a long day.
“I also found that working in the same room as someone else stopped me from getting distracted for too long and kept us both on track. Although with five adults all working under one roof, it had to work – we would have run out of rooms!”
‘I stop working’
Teri Woods, 59, is a Clinical Nutritionist and owner of IN2U healthy Lifestyle Coaching, based in Tuscan, Arizona. She says that productivity generally only comes when you take care of your mind.
“The key to unleashing your creativity and increasing your workflow doesn’t come from squeezing a million tasks into your day,” says Teri.
“I know, it sounds crazy. But to stay productive, you’ve got to stop working. Every day I unplug, once or twice for 15 minutes. I sit quietly, eyes closed, focused on my breathing. Some days I’ll have music in the background and other days I’ll just listen to the birds in my backyard.
“I feel free – no longer distracted and dominated by all the ‘what-if’s’ of living on the planet right now. And it works. It makes me feel happier, more present, generous and loving – not just to the people in my life – but to myself. The best part? I feel satisfied at the end of a long day.”
Jennifer Woods-Blee, 35, started a new head-of-department role just one week before lockdown. She lives with her husband, their four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.
“For me, it’s being flexible with when I do my tasks. As long as I hit my deadlines, it doesn’t matter if I’m working at 8am or 8pm. I don’t think I’ll ever feel truly productive though. My to-do list is never-ending, and I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough.”
READ MORE: Beating post-lockdown anxiety
She adds: “I really relate to the phrase ‘Only one of us can look good at a time. Me, the kids or the house’. What works (i.e. what stops me from throwing Iggle Piggle out the window) is prioritising. The kids are having a bad day and I’ve got a big project to complete? OK, well the housework can wait. I just have to hope I’m productive enough that I get to the housework at some point…”
Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life: Before 8AM, says in his book: “Focused, productive, successful mornings generate focused, productive, successful days – which inevitably create a successful life.”
Sure, you can rise at 5am and complete a few more tasks on an extra coffee. You can wake with a positive mindset, even. But remember, your notion of ‘useful work’ is what YOU deem useful.
You define what success is for you.
And never forget to tell yourself, no matter what – ‘I did a good job today’.