For the majority of us free time is scarce. My challenge is squeezing in all the things I have to do so I can fit in a few of the things I actually want to do. Here’s the weird thing—we all have the same amount of time (probably not news to you)! There will always be 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week for everyone. So why do I sometimes feel like I am spinning my wheels; always ridiculously busy but not feeling like I am being productive at the end of the day? I tend to get in this rut a few times a year. I have found a few things that work to get me back into the right state of mind.
Stop the comparisons!
Nothing makes me feel worse than comparing myself to other people. “That guy gets way more done than I do” is both self-deprecating and most likely a lie. We are always our harshest critics, distorting our perception of reality. The truth is, you don’t see everything “that guy” accomplishes, and you’re likely not privy to the quality of his work. Besides, it is always easy to dissect our shortcomings while discounting our strengths. Get back to recognizing that you have unique talents and attributes that make the way you do things more valuable than the volume you get done!
Take a break (not right now, finish reading this post first!)
Routines can become exactly that…routine. This is not to say that a routine is bad, but everybody needs a change of pace every once in a while. I’ve learned that my breaks need to include some alone time to energize me, but you might be energized by a party with all your friends…to each his own. Removing yourself from a routine gives your brain a well-deserved rest and a chance to think about other things. This can be particularly helpful when you have been studying or working on one concept or project for a while. When you’re working on one thing for a while, it can be easy to get stuck—similar to writers block.
Your break doesn’t have to be an 8-week holiday; it can be a weekend or just a day away from studying, even a trip to the movies. The idea of a break isn’t about planning a busy vacation but about giving yourself some “me” time so you can re-focus when you hit the books again.
Evaluate your schedule
Balance is the key to a healthy and productive schedule. Consider long-term productivity, working 12 hours one day and zero the next day because you’re burned out is not productive. Try including activities that allow you to enjoy each day rather than packing the day full of work. For example, exercise is a big deal that is many times tossed aside because people don’t have the time, but the endorphins from exercise are fantastic at making your day a little brighter. Blocks of focused work time interspersed with leisure, errands, and other projects is a balanced and sustainable approach that will make you more consistently productive long-term.
Build realistic expectations for yourself. No matter how well I plan my week, it is inevitable that one of my daughters will just have to go to the mall at some point or she’ll “like seriously die.” You can’t punish yourself for not getting something done if it means saving a teenager from impending dramatic death—priorities are important. Don’t dwell on things you don’t get done or goals that aren’t met; start over tomorrow without regret.
Work and study the way you do best. Focus on your work quality and productivity, not someone else’s. Add regular breaks and healthy distractions from your work to prevent burn-out and foster long-term productivity. Set realistic goals and expectations with priorities in mind. Don’t punish yourself for saving your teenager from a drama crisis.
Turn the tables—rather than dwell on what you didn’t get done, give yourself credit for the things you do and the unique way that only you can do them. Flip the script—“I have such a limited amount of time” can become “The time I have is a valuable opportunity for me to get things done.”