Learning to say No
Don’t let others put their priorities ahead of yours. Don’t say “yes” when you want to say “no”.
Think about all of your responsibilities and how they fit into your life as a whole—then decide how you can use the available time most effectively.
Sometimes we think other people are a source of distraction. Learning to say no could certainly help you carve out valuable time. But this is only if other people are a source of distraction.
You shouldn’t fob them off. But you can learn to say “not yet”.
When you receive a question that will only take 2 minutes. You know it’s unlikely going to be 2 minutes. Often people follow a path of least resistance, it’s easier to ask a question instead of searching through pages on the intranet, looking for an answer.
If a person who looks for a meeting you can articulate what is blocking them, perhaps a meeting can be a short message instead or sharing a document.
When you are invited to a group meeting, assess if your participation is essential. Working remotely people tend to over-communicate, it’s always easier to invite everyone just in case. To ensure something isn’t missed.
Ask for an agenda or what the meeting expects to achieve to help you decide if you need to be there.Learn Time management Skills
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably busy all the time. Between work, the kids, the in-laws, and the endless errands that seem to pile up every day, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get it all done. So if this sounds like you, it might be time to start thinking about your time management strategy!
I work with developers, and it taught me the value of “maker time”. If want to create something, you need to get into the flow to achieve focus. Concentration doesn’t come at the drop of a hat.
When your finance colleagues are working on budget modelling, a copywriter is wordsmithing and developers are writing code you don’t want to schedule a catchup meeting only because they have a 30-minute slot in their diary.
The same applies to you. Start creating your “maker time”; when you don’t allow any distractions or interruptions. This is your strategic thinking time or creating a pitch deck for investors time; fleshing out ideas or creating a report for your boss.
Don’t kid yourself that you are able to switch gears, take a quick meeting and get back into the flow. According to research we lose between 20-80% of productivity when switching between tasks.
Batch different types of tasks to create segments. Schedule your “manager” time. “Manager” time is when you are available for meetings, respond to messages or attend standups. It’ll help you avoid finishing up a report in meetings when you have a looming deadline. When you have done your “maker time” you can be fully present in conversations with people and contribute to the meeting you are in.
Critically review a meeting invite before accepting it. Does it break up your day into a series of fragmented meetings? Can it be rescheduled to create a block of meetings in your diary followed by 1h or 1.5h block of focus time so you can get some work done?
There is no shame in suggesting an alternative for a meeting, if it’ll help you create a more effective schedule.Get Rid of Procrastination
Easier said than done right? We all complain how tempting it is to keep checking our news feeds. And the allure of infinite scroll is there. Once you open up Tik Tok its hard to stop right?
It’s a productivity black hole. But I’m not inviting you to eliminate it. To stop being on social media feels asocial to me.
I think procrastination and distractions are necessary. Our brains are not designed to function in a constant state of hyper focus. In fact, I promote procrastination for inspiration or when trying to figure things out.
My view is that procrastination needs to be managed.
Just like how you can’t drive from New York to San Francisco without stopping in the middle, you can’t become successful without taking some pit stops along the way. Pit stops are tasks that are not urgent, but make your journey easier and more comfortable — they could be refilling your gas tank, grabbing lunch or making calls to catch up with friends and family.
During the day, when motivation dips or when you enter a phase of low level energy - take a break. Catch up on social news, post a couple of pictures from your weekend. It helps your mind stay engaged and creative in your day to day.
Procrastination gets disruptive when it gets out of control. When you control procrastination it can be a source of inspiration and refreshing your motivation.Family Productivity
We all say family is the most important thing. But do we all walk the talk?
I’ve noticed parents feel incredibly guilty when they have to wrap up at 5pm and walk across the office to catch a train so they could collect their kids from daycare or afterschool.
Have you experienced it when it feels like everyone is staring at you leaving your desk? There is no shame in having kids, and you do have other responsibilities that are time sensitive. Similarly with school drops - your kids have to start at 9am, and if they are not old enough to walk to school themselves or you don’t have an opportunity to hire help, you simply can’t be at your desk at 9am every day.
When you accept this is your reality and stop judging yourself for it, you’ll be able to find flexible solutions sooner.
Block off your calendar so its visible you are doing school drops, perhaps your partner can be scheduled for collections. Or pick specific week days when you are not available for an early start. If its an all hands or a team meeting, you can always dial in from your phone off-camera. Most bosses have kids, and at some point they were in this position. Make it known in your team but don’t apologise for being a mom or a dad.
Kids also get sick and when they do you can’t send them to school with sniffles. Since the onset of the pandemic schools have gotten very vigilant, a sign of cough, temperature or blocked nose means kids will be sent back home. It is a bummer when you have a looming deadline but it is the reality of being a parent too.
Doing high focus work and home-schooling children has its limitations. You can only do your best. And if you happen to be on a call with senior leadership and your toddler rocks up into the video frame, plunk them on your knee and continue the call. Executives are also parents.Being Present with Your Family
There are too many distractions we allow to come in between us and our loved ones. Have you checked your email during dinner with your family? Like most of us, I’m sure you did. Was it a burning fire you had to put out? Most likely - not.
We browse our phones when waiting in a queue. And we do it during family time. Sounds familiar?
We’re all guilty of getting caught up in our day-to-day lives and letting go of opportunities to connect with our family members. After all, it’s just a phone call or sending a quick text—how much time can that really take? But over time, these small acts add up.
Not only it prevents you from being present in the moment with your family its probably not very productive either. Kids protest, they want your undivided attention. If you need to login back in for 1h in the evening its fine, but do it after you’ve engaged with your family.
Being fully present will be hard at first, and as any new habit it needs creating a new routine. Itt is like a muscle that can be trained once you make a choice of device-free family time.Your Self-Care Routine
Self-care isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a necessity. It’s even more important when you’re swamped with too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. Self-care doesn’t mean getting pampered, although that can be part of it. It means taking care of yourself—your body, your mind, your soul—and making sure you are still there for everyone else when they need you.
I take a full hour for lunch when I can, and most days it is not a working lunch. I cook lunch. Frankly, I welcome this break to recharge and disconnect from the intensity and hyper-concentration.
How do I do it? Weekly planning, sometimes ingredients prep an evening before, being smart with dinner leftovers. But more importantly, I don’t feel guilty about needing to have lunch. Lunch is self-care and I don’t skip self-care. Not long-term.
Feeling happy and whole means looking after your needs.
Job satisfaction is critical to avoid clock-watching and being disengaged due to work conditions or environment. I’ve written an article on work motivation here. By self-care I mean the activities you need to introduce into your life to support and nourish you. Here are some suggestions on how to get started:
- Fit in at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day.
- You don’t have to start training for a marathon or spend hours in a spin class—just move more, go for a walk.
- Investing time in yourself starts here! Practice mindfulness each day. I’m not inviting you to sit in a lotus position and meditate for hours. Stop what you’re doing every hour (or two) and focus on your breathing for three breaths. No matter where you are or what else is going on around you, being aware of yourself will help keep stress from building up and eating away at your self-control throughout the day.
- Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you hit eight hours sleep.
- Do activities that replenish your energy each day like listening to music, reading a novel or journaling about how remarkable you are to give yourself a confidence boost.
Productivity and procrastination are often seen as opposites, but they don’t have to be! You can build time management skills that allow you to enjoy your time and stay on task at the same time that doesn't feel stressful or overwhelming!
It can actually help you enjoy your day more by using time wisely by scheduling your focus time and your catching up with people time along with controlled procrastination. It will help you balance your work life with what makes you happy and productive.
Being productive is not about trying to do more, its about optimising the time available to you to get things done efficiently without sacrificing the fun things in life or your self-care needs. Create a self-care routine that you can do every day without fail—and make it fun! Your future self will thank you in years to come.
Time is precious, be purposeful how you chose to spend it. Be bold, be brave and move forward toward living your best life!