I was a mess last year. I took on more work than my planning system was set up to handle, and ended up getting buried under everything.
This year, I want to do better — live better, work better — and get more intentional about how I'm spending my time. Anne-Laure Le Cunff talks about "time anxiety" on her blog, and I must say, it really compounds the suckage when personal productivity drops because time anxiety drives you to analysis-paralysis.
Anyway, this is what I've been experimenting with for the past couple of months. Can they really be called hacks? Let's just say I'm trying some things and this is how they've been working out so far...
Scheduling emails to send when I'm less distractable
A common email productivity tip is to set aside a time for checking your emails. The idea being you can get more done if you're not dealing with constant interruptions throughout the day. This has been useful, but I thought I'd try going a step further.
In addition to only checking email at certain times, I also schedule my replies to send after I expect my email session to be over. This increases my chances of actually getting through the day's email before someone's reply to my reply upends it all. It's a trick that's helped when I've had to get through a giant backlog of email, and has generally been a nice addition to other tactics like unsubscribing, snoozing, and categorising my inbox.
Naturally, this "delay send" doesn't apply to urgent, time-sensitive or blocker issues, and you'd be surprised at how many emails don't fall into this category. Actually, if you manage your own email in the 21st century, you probably wouldn't be surprised at all.
Adapting my work to my mood
If I have to fight myself to do work, it tends means my brain's in a "shallow" mood. Antithetical to getting creative deep-focus work done, but very well-suited to planning and admin. This is almost always the when I'm in an environment that requires extraversion (eg. open-plan offices, noisy places), but can pop up in quieter spaces too.
Conversely, there are times when my brain dives in almost instantly once I settle down. I'm not 100% on this hypothesis yet, but being relaxed and in dimly lit settings seems to encourage this perfect mood for writing and creative stuff. When it all lines up, I find I can get a ridiculous amount of stuff done in a short time without burning out.
I can't say I've had an easy time with this hack. "Normal person" routines and schedules don't tend to favour such optimisation, though I've heard of very progressive companies that design their culture and process around a higher maker-to-manager ratio. Running my own business, I often have to context-switch between maker and manager mindsets, which also brings about challenges of its own.
Taking walk breaks whenever I need them
This isn't a new thing, but a trick I've promoted to being a go-to option rather than a last resort. I saw some infographic a few years ago that said walking is a way to get freshly oxygenated blood into your brain. More credibly, there's also research that suggests spending time in nature is good for the mind.
Walking has been fantastic for when I encounter mental blocks, creative frustration or anxiety, or when I have to do complex concept work like building narratives or planning user journeys. It's a chance to take a step back, loosen up, and get a sense of things beyond thinking.
Forcing myself to stop working
This one has a bad backstory 😅 At the start of the Christmas break, I found I'd get irrationally angry about not getting any work done because my days were booked up with fun things and relaxing passtimes. If that doesn't signal something being wrong, I don't know what does.
I'm not prone to addiction, but some similar mechanism seems to kick in when it comes to my work. It's like habit or inertia or something. Anyway, I took time off over the holidays to get clear of the work context, and am now trying to establish a new habit of taking time off more regularly.
Like, on a daily basis and the end of a work day 😅 Some days I can do it without feeling guilty. Some days I can do it while also feeling satisfied. Huzzah! Healthier times are on the way! 🤞
Putting a hard cap on my to-do list
This one's a no-brainer, but before consciously doing this, I'd been using to-do lists like a dumplist. Big mistake. Those lists would grow to as long as my arm, rarely get completed, and I'd wind up overwhelmed and grumpy.
Now, I cap my daily tasks to just five things per day, plus maybe a cheeky extra one or two if the tasks are small and manageable. And both my mental health and bullet journal are better for it.
Other tricks that have been useful...
Asana — Specifically, Asana.com's Calendar View. It's been a good match for my day-to-day task-level thinking and a great compliment to my bujo. Thankfully, Calendar View is available with a free Asana account.
Fibery — Fibery.io is where I maintain an organised project-level view. I like it better for this than Asana because of its flexibility, since I work on different kinds of projects that need different internal structures for organising (think content marketing versus a project with clear start, progression and end phases). Plus, their brand communications really resonated with me. If I could ever go full-remote for a tech company, I'd want it to be this one.
OneTab — A Chrome extension that lets you dump all your open tabs into a list of links. It's not just a memory-saver, but a mental cleanse. Done for the day, or just ready to braindump and pivot? Hit the button and go.
I don't know if these hacks will go the distance, but they're holding up okay for now. Even that mood-matching one isn't too bad, despite the hurdles, and I'm compelled to keep tweaking until I get it right.
Can one be productive as well as healthy and happy? I'd like to hope so.