I have a pretty fraught relationship with the concept of productivity. I have that socially inculcated feeling that each and every day of my life should be productive, and if it isn't that I've failed somehow. If it's an unproductive week, even month, this can compound into a seriously real mental health dip. I've been trying to fix this over the past few months (though its bloody hard to unlearn some of this stuff) and to realise you don't always have to be busy, or working. Rest is not something optional that takes away time from your projects, but something integral. I'm also trying to show myself that a productive day does not have to be a fourteen hour day where I'm rushing mindlessly from task to task. So in a way, this post feels like a bit of a betrayal of that shift away from the go-go-go mentality. Plus, I'm no expert in productivity! However, I thought maybe I could put together a few things that I find helpful to keep me on top of things, whilst still maintaining achievable goals that allow me enough rest and downtime as both a student and self-employed person.
- Plan. Is everyone sick of me talking about my bullet journal yet? I want to make some sort of specific BuJo content but I don't know whether to do it in video or blog post form; which would you prefer? Planning is absolutely key to productivity (and also rest!), and in turn a planner is key to this. After all the planners I have tried over the years, I am finding the bullet journal system by far the best, because it is so easily tailored to your needs. I bought the thing along with a How-To calligraphy book and honestly, who on earth was I kidding? I am completely useless when it comes to drawing or art, so now I use a very basic system and a black ballpoint pen. I make a plan generally every Sunday or Monday for the week, assigning tasks to each day like a structured to-do list. I'm also currently using a habit tracker, and a YouTube/Blog content tracker too in various different layouts (the joys of the BuJo). Plus I'm keeping on top of my finances and tax in there. All in all I'm loving it and I'm fast running out of pages in my current one. One of the main reasons I haven't created any bullet journal content so far is because I am somewhat embarrassed at the level of detail I go into on this thing, which I find so important even to get quick little tasks done that I would otherwise procrastinate on. Another thing I find useful about the bullet journal is that if I complete my tasks for the day, where before I might have pushed on to do as many as I can (after all, in my head if it wasn't a fourteen hour day it wasn't a productive day), I can tick those off and say that I've done what I planned. So it can really work both ways and force you to take the time off, too.
- Listen to your body and put the planner down. Having said all of that, sometimes I know that I should not look in the planner. If I'm feeling particularly fatigued or generally foggy, I know that my body is trying to tell me to rest, and take the day off. In this case I don't look in my journal because I know it'll just make me feel bad about all the stuff I'm not doing. When you're a student (particularly in humanities where you have so few classes) or self-employed, it can be difficult to remember about ~weekends~ and other nice normal days, so it's okay if you need to take a day or two off here and there. Never forget to listen to your body when it tells you to slow down because ultimately you can just make things worse trying to push your limits. I find it really important to get some perspective in these moments, too. Yes, I've scheduled to write this blog post today, but it's only me that imposed that deadline, not anyone else. It's not integral to do anything right now if you're not feeling up to it.
- Exercise. A new one for me, lads! Who knew exercise could make you more energised and get you out of your head for a little while? I was so worried about fitting it into my routine but it certainly makes me feel better about myself and my day so those hours I spend dedicated to it are beyond worth it. I don't think it even has to be intense, a walk will do!
- Remove distractions. Turn off your phone, get off Instagram and try to make your working hours as effective as possible so you can get that downtime. If you don't want to actually turn your phone off, I have used a little app called Forest before that stops me looking at anything apart from the most urgent stuff. It incentivises you by getting you to 'grow a tree' for a particular period of time; if you leave the app, your tree will die. Sounds a little silly but it does seem to work.
- Routinely book in rest and play time. These days I'm taking most of my evenings off. There's still a couple times a week that I might push it back, but more often than not after dinner is my time to chill or go out and have fun. Maybe yours is the morning, maybe it's the evening, maybe you'll make sure your weekends are free of work; however you do it it's so important to have that regularly to make sure you're more productive, yes, but also just for you.
- Find a good workspace. When I was at uni in Edinburgh this was definitely the library, which was light and airy and full of my friends who I could have breaks with and spend time with whilst also getting work done. Because London is a lot more spread out, and there are lots of libraries to choose from (many of which are a little dingy), I've been working from home a lot more. I'm getting used to it, and I've managed to distinctly separate my work space and chill space, so that when I'm sat at my desk all I'm doing is work. This can really help psychologically.
- Find out how you work best. Do you really work better with music on, or does it just make the process less painful? I would love to listen to music whilst I work but I find that it really distracts me. Also I used to be a night owl and work better at night (and when it gets down to the wire for essay writing this still tends to be true), but I've shifted my body clock back as much as I can so that my daytime, particularly the morning, is a productive time for me. I'm also more task-based than time-based, so I'm more likely to get something completed and then take a break rather than do a couple hours work and have a twenty minute break. It's all about experimenting with your routine and seeing what works best for you.
- Dress right for you. There is something to be said for dressing up to do your work, even if you do it from home. But I have found that sometimes that just seems like a lot of faff for no good reason, plus I like giving my skin the chance to breathe without makeup more often. And nobody is going to sit at their desk at home in jeans. However, I do think separate comfortable loungewear instead of pyjamas is a good move, especially if you might want to pop out for a coffee. Now I can just get up, shower, change and I'm ready to go at my desk within half an hour.
- Remember to go easy on yourselves and try not to get too caught up in your productivity levels. I know I'm very lucky to choose my own schedule and that I literally can have time to chill, and I know that isn't the case for everyone, but if you ever need help or feel like you're drowning under responsibilities or pressure, ask for help! Everyone needs it sometimes.