You’re busy. You’ve got lots to do. But you’re always looking for ways to find more time and get more done. We all have the same hours to work with, though.
Sometimes it’s the very things we think will stop us from getting more done that can actually help us to get more done. Take exercise—it takes you away from your business. But it has huge benefits for your physical and mental health. That’s why it’s a priority for a lot of people.
Other things like hobbies and crafts can end up being neglected when we’re busy. This can be detrimental to our mental health which then damages our productivity levels too.
So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some unconventional—and seemingly counterproductive—productivity tips for you to try.
1. Free Writing
Free writing is like a free (ahem) form of therapy. It’s where you write, uncensored, about a topic for either a period of time or until you run out of things to say. It scares a lot of people. I’ve had lots of people over the years tell me that they can’t do it. But that’s because their inner critic gets in the way. Free writing requires you to turn off your inner critic. It’s the only way it will work effectively.
The other thing you need to do before you start is know what you’re going to write about. Start with one topic, and if you go off on a tangent, run with it.
The idea is to write as you’ll never show it to anyone. You don’t need to worry about editing it, or even spelling and grammar. You can even destroy what you’ve written at the end (which is therapeutic in itself).
I’m a big advocate for free writing because, not only is it very freeing, but it also has therapeutic purposes. It’s used as a treatment for mind/body conditions such as fibromyalgia and other forms of chronic pain. The idea is that it helps you to work through issues you may not have even known that you had.
Say you’re a perfectionist. It’s something you want to work on but you’re not sure how. You don’t even know how or when it started. Sit down with a pen and paper or at your laptop. Switch off from everyone and everything else. If you need to, put some music on. Personally I prefer to do this exercise in silence, but if that’s not possible music or white noise is the best way to drown out other stimuli. It also helps to be somewhere you’re comfortable as this can be an emotional exercise.
Then, start writing. You don’t have to have a direction, but you could start out by writing about what things you’re a perfectionist about, such as only releasing products that are 100% ready even though you know MVPs are the way to go to make more money. Break that down: why is it? Could it be the pressure your parents put on you as a child? Is it a cultural thing? Were you bullied for not being good enough at school? Go deep into your emotions and the dark parts of your mind. Knockdown those walls that you’ve put up to protect yourself.
And when you’re done, breathe. Don’t reread what you’ve written. Destroy it, whether that’s by deleting the file or (safely) setting it alight.
The idea of this exercise is to unleash suppressed emotions and past traumas. Quite often the things that hold us back have been suppressed so much that we don’t even know they’re there anymore. This exercise allows you to tap back into them.
If you go deep enough, you’ll feel both relieved and emotional when you’re done. You may need some alone time to process everything.
Don’t worry about dealing with the problems you uncover, either. The idea isn’t to deal with them. It’s about acknowledging and becoming familiar with your emotions. Your emotional pain comes from running from your emotions, not from being unable to solve them.
Entrepreneurship can be lonely. Knowing you have someone to talk to who doesn’t judge can go a long way to making you feel better.
Seeking professional help can eat into your time, which is why some people may find it unproductive. However, talking to a professional about your issues prevents you from bottling them up.
There are lots of kinds of therapies you can try, from talking therapies to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Talking therapies help you to get out what’s on your mind and can help you to deal with specific issues such as how to handle different types of people. CBT is useful for dealing with specific problems such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It will give you tools and techniques you can use in day-to-day actives to control your anxiety. It will also teach you how to work with your mental health issues instead of against them.
Even if you don’t have mental health issues, therapy can still be beneficial. We all have issues we’re not aware of that can hold us back in achieving our goals. Uncovering them in a safe environment helps you to face them and achieve your goals faster. A therapist is also able to give you an objective opinion and advice on how to handle your issues going forward.
It’s easy to neglect socializing when you’ve got bigger things to do, but socializing is good for your mental wellbeing. People who socialize are not only happier, but it can also improve memory and fight off neurodegenerative diseases.
Socializing is another way to get you away from your business for a while and focus on other things. In this case, people you care about.
You also reflect your happiness level on to your employees whether you know you’re doing it or not. It’s always worth making sure you communicate with them in the best possible way so that your moods don’t rub off on them.
We’re a product of the five people we spend the most time with, which means that if you’re spending time with encouraging, supportive people, it will lift you up too. You’ll then be able to achieve more and, by association, so will your employees.
When I say ‘rest’ I’m not just talking about naps, although if that’s what your rest looks like, go for it.
What I mean by ‘rest’ is doing something that isn’t related to your business. When you’ve got clear goals that you want to achieve, it can be difficult to work on anything that isn’t related to chasing those goals. It’s even harder to switch your brain’s focus and not think about your business for a while. However, a blind focus can lead to burnout. If you’re staring at a computer screen all day, it can also lead to eye strain, headaches, back pain, and weak leg muscles.
Resting helps to slow your brain down. It offers a change of pace, reducing your stress and anxiety levels.
Resting can take many forms. It could be doing arts and crafts. It could be walking the dog. It could be reading a book. What’s classed as rest for one person may not be for another.
For example, I’m a writer. That means whenever I watch a TV show or movie, or I read a book or news article, I’m not just ingesting its content, I’m also analyzing it. This isn’t always a conscious decision, it’s just how my mind works. I’ve heard from musician friends that they feel the same when listening to music.
Of course, to rest, you don’t actually have to do anything. You could sit and close your eyes for a few moments. I’m not even talking about meditation here, I’m just talking about disconnecting from your visual surroundings to give your eyes a break and make sure you’re breathing properly. Breathing properly can help with alertness, memory, and more. Now that Apple Watch prompt makes so much sense, doesn’t it?
Most people get meditation wrong. They think it’s about clearing their mind. If that were the case, nobody would ever meditate successfully.
Meditation isn’t about clearing your mind. It’s about calming it. The trick is to focus on your breathing. When you find your mind drifting off, acknowledge the thought or emotion, then go back to your breathing. That’s it. The more you pressure yourself to clear your mind the harder it will be to do so and the more you’ll struggle to meditate.
Guided meditations really help. Headspace has some free meditations that walk you through the basics with a really calm, soothing voice. If you have chronic pain, Curable has some good ones that can help with that. Calm is another meditation app to try. YouTube also has plenty of free guided meditations to experiment with, along with some meditation music you can put on in the background if you’d rather not meditate in silence or want to drown background noise out.
Meditation has been proven to be more effective in dealing with anxiety than medication or exercise. It’s a longer term investment and requires regular commitment for it to work, but if you give it enough of a shot, it can really help with anxiety, depression, and anger.
6. Single Task
Multi-tasking used to be seen as a way to get things done. However, more and more studies have emerged that prove multitasking is actually really bad for your brain and your productivity.
Multi-tasking is whenever you do more than one thing at once, whether that’s talking to a colleague while writing a pitch, or having a conversation while replying to an email. These require more focus than your brain has capacity for.
That’s because of the processing power it takes your brain to do the tasks. Switching between the tasks requires even more processing power. That means it’s using more energy to switch from one task to the other and back again. It then takes you longer to get back into the task, making it harder for you to generate ideas or work out what you wanted to say. Not only that, but when you do this, you’re more likely to make errors in your work, such as typos in your email. Not a great look when replying to a prospect.
The solution is to single task. Go deep and focus on one thing at a time. If you struggle with concentration, try something like the Pomodoro technique, where you focus on a task for 25 minutes, take a break, then come back to it. If 25 minutes is too long for you, you could even start with just five minutes then slowly increase the time as you get better and better at concentrating.
The only time multi-tasking works is when you’re doing something automatic with something that requires concentration. For example, ironing a shirt while listening to a podcast, or walking the dog and dictating a blog post. Ironing and walking can be done autonomously, which means you can process the information from the podcast, or use the thinking part of your brain, without exerting any additional strain.
7. Practice Self-Compassion
We all know what self-care is. Some of the steps above have been examples of it, such as meditation or socializing. Self-compassion takes things one step further. Self-compassion is when you treat yourself with the love and affection you’d use on your best friend, significant other, or child.
Let’s say you lost a major client because of a stupid mistake. The perfectionist in you would dwell on the mistake. You’d beat yourself up. You’d replay what happened over and over and over again, making it hard for you to focus on anything or get anything else done. You’d be so busy beating yourself up that you wouldn’t be able to focus on anything.
When you practice self-compassion, you don’t do anything of those things. Instead, you acknowledge that you made a mistake but give yourself the space to move on. You might say that there are lots of other clients out there, or that there are lessons you can take away from what happened. Maybe you’d take yourself out for a meal or go to the hairdresser’s. Anything that makes you feel better about what’s happened and allows you to move on from it.
Productivity isn’t just about doing the right thing at the right time. It’s about prioritizing your own mental and physical wellbeing so that you’re always performing at your best. Not only that but when you’re at your best, it has an impact on your employees too. They see how happy and enthusiastic you are fulfilling your company’s mission and they want to be a part of it. Atmospheres like that are contagious and should never be underestimated. It leads to happier employees and a more engaged workforce. That then leads to better quality job applicants and a higher employee retention rate.
Disconnecting from your business, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, can helps you to problem-solve more effectively. It also helps to lower your anxiety and stress levels so that you can focus on the tasks in front of you instead of letting your fears take control.