Have you ever had a week (or month) that’s so busy you just don’t know how you’re going to manage it all?
Summer has been busy, to say the least—and heading into August, I had a particularly busy week that tested my limits. I’d accepted what we’ll call a “perfect storm” of client work that was piled up to my neck, and I was also about to launch my first-ever online course.
All of these tasks needed to be buttoned up before we went to Connecticut for a little socially distanced outdoor family vacation. I was massively looking forward to the trip after the year we’ve all had, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to relax if I defaulted on my to-do list.
I buckled down and got it all done! I actually vlogged the process (documenting helps me with accountability and motivation) and noted down all of the helpful productivity tips that I could along the way. Those tips are below. I thought it might be easier for you to bookmark and reference them at a later date in their own post. Let’s dig in!
And yes, I’m holding a Clorox wipe in this opening photo. That’s my life now. There’s always one in my hand. 😅
Here are my most helpful productivity tips:
Wake up early. Even if you’re not a morning person, it can be easier to get things done before the world wakes up. Aim for 5:30-7:30 AM. It might be difficult at first, but remember: it’s only for a week or so while you tackle this particularly busy time. Just be sure you’re also going to bed early so that rising early doesn’t become a detriment to your day.
Hydrate! Drinking water improves focus, alertness, and attention span. It also keeps you alive, so, yes. Important. Also, consume foods that will keep your energy levels high. Heavy meals make me exceptionally sleepy, so those are a no-go for me. But everyone’s digestion patterns are different. Getting to know how your body and mind react to different foods can help you plan your meals accordingly.
Don’t get stuck organizing your to-do list at the beginning of the day. Start with one thing you know you need to do and tackle it. This increases momentum. It’s tempting to sit down and organize your tasks (I find this very satisfying) but it’s often a way to put off the actual work at hand. Starting off the day in distraction mode is drastically different than starting in output mode. The mode you choose will ripple into the rest of your day, so choose wisely.
On Monday mornings I like to make a list of what needs to be done that day, so I have it in front of me. Again, no “to-do list organizing”, just jotting down the key tasks. Sometimes Asana can be overwhelming since it shows you everything coming up for the week, so a simple notepad is helpful here. You might choose to do this the night before, so you can start working as soon as your coffee hits the coaster.
If you caffeinate, drink a high-quality coffee with benefits. I like Four Sigmatic coffee with chaga mushroom and lion’s mane. It increases focus, memory function, immune response, and it won’t make you jittery. Plus, it’s delicious and has an amazing rich coffee flavor. It’s pricey but I think we should allocate funds toward the things we consume/interact with daily, like coffee and bed linens!
Get to work.
Set milestones! The day will blur together into one intolerable struggle (I speak from agonizing experience) unless you break it up into smaller work sessions. Try working in 30-minute sprints, or 2+ hour chunks of intensive work, if that’s better for you. It tends to take me more time to get into the zone, so I like longer sprints of work punctuated by breaks. Whatever you choose, make sure you set target times to stay on track.
Stay focused. Easier said than done? Maybe not! Just close out of all distractions, especially inboxes and social media. I have a bad habit of leaving a movie on low volume on the TV, just so “something is in the background” while I work. But your brain cannot focus if there are other engaging things happening around you. Put a nice smooth soundtrack on, and turn off other notifications and distracting visuals.
In order to avoid distractions, switch up your work location. Sometimes my PC feels like a playground of possibilities (it’s where I do most of my creative projects, after all) and I need to step away. When I work at the kitchen table, for example, it’s easier to stay on task. But if I try to work there all week, I will find things to distract me, like suddenly deciding it’s time to peel and chop all of the carrots in the fridge. That’s when I switch things up again.
Set the perfect “work mood” with playlists and aromas that make you feel ~in the zone~. Music can be the perfect transition from the rest of your day into the work zone. Some of my favorite genres are jazz, lo-fi beats, and ambient electronic. When the stress is on, there’s nothing like a simple soundtrack of rain to calm me down and keep me focused.
Be flexible and adjust as you go. Don’t get stuck or feel defeated when things don’t go to plan. A workday is a living, breathing beast that must be tended to all day long. Don’t forget that you’re a human, not a robot! Sticking to the plan doesn’t always happen. Mentally beating yourself up for going off track isn’t going to help. Instead, take a breather and recalibrate so you can get back to business.
Stuck in a rut? Clean your desk! Physical clutter causes mental clutter. Tidy up as you go to avoid an overwhelming mess. Don’t mistake this for other kinds of cleaning, which may be pure distractions. Your desk is where you work, so the physical state of it matters.
And that brings us to our next point! Be aware of procrastination triggers. There’s no reason, for example, to clean your inbox in the middle of the day except to avoid working. It’s different than cleaning your desk — just close your inbox completely and see if you feel the same urge to get to inbox zero after your work is done.
Use an online or physical timer to help you work through the day. It can turn a stressful task into a fun game. I really like the Pomodoro Technique, which you can use for free here. There are many different timed work tools, so look around and find the right one for your working style.
Make things easier on yourself on days when you have a lot of work to do. Order groceries for delivery or pay a Task Rabbit tasker to help you with some chores. We all know the world doesn’t stop just because you have a busy day, and other things still need to get done. We think of outsourcing chores as a luxury, but sometimes it’s just about prioritizing our own time and energy.
You can also hire a Virtual Assistant (or two) to help you complete tasks. I found my little dream team on Upwork! Be sure to vet carefully and pay fairly. Popular advice online for a while has been to find freelancers for $3-5 per hour, which is pretty blatant exploitation. Be the collaborator you’d want to work with.
If you hire a team to help you, be sure to create clear instructions for them to work effectively, or they’ll be checking in with you all day, defeating the purpose of outsourcing things off your plate. If they don’t know what to do, that’s on you! I like to create videos with voiceovers to walk them through each exact step.
Take breaks. Really good ones. If you try to go-go-go, you’ll just crash and burn, and then you won’t be productive a tall. Listen to yourself. If your mind and/or body says it’s time to stop working, it’s because you need to rest. Your quality of work may suffer if you don’t heed this warning.
When you do take breaks during your workday/week, make sure it’s 100% leisure time. No semi-working. No studying. The brain cannot recover if it’s still given challenges when it’s supposed to be resting, so take a REAL break. For example, I like watching movies that make me laugh really hard! Laughing is one of the best ways to relax.
Go outside. Fresh air has a magical way of clearing your head and hitting refresh on your focus. Whether you sit on your stoop for a few minutes or take a walk around the block, there are many benefits to getting out of your computer chair and letting the sun hit your face.
It can be tempting to shove everything in your life aside when a busy week hits, but this is a big mistake. Even when the stress is on, don’t skip meals or self-care habits. A strong finish requires a strong breakfast, after all! Do your face mask, get on the yoga mat, and do whatever else is needed to ensure you’re feeling your best.
After a stressful workday or week, consider why it was so stressful and figure out how to avoid similar situations in the future. For example, you might avoid adding so many tasks and deadlines to a single week, or having client work and personal project milestones aligned on the calendar. Usually, you’ll be able to pinpoint some causes for the hectic atmopshere in retrospect.
On Sundays, make a loose gameplan for your week and try to figure out your priorities for each day. It helps to have an overarching view of your week so nothing surprises you when you’re in hustle mode. I say “loose” because my gameplans often change.
I hope some of these tips are helpful to you! If you’d like to follow my latest productivity vlog, where I tackle client work and an online course launch in one week, check it out on my YouTube channel or watch it right here:
What’s your #1 tip for a productive day? 📝☕️✨ Share it in the comments below!