Over the years, I’ve been learning and experimenting with various productivity systems, in the quest to live a life of ease and abundance. In that time, I’ve discovered and implemented several habits and rituals with decent success.
However, I still found myself getting overwhelmed, and every so often, it was paralysing. You know that vicious cycle where you have so much to do that you feel you can’t do anything? Which means the list – and your anxiety – just keeps growing!
So many ideas and so many action points – not enough boundaries and not enough focus.
Of course, there were other things at play too – scarcity mindset, people-pleasing tendencies, misdirected excitement and more. But those are topics for another day because, one simple set of habits has made a profound difference in helping me:
- Have a clear mind
- Stress less
- Build the confidence that I’m effectively working towards my goals
- Get the important things done
- Create more
- … aaaaaand: enjoy the process!
I appreciate not everybody seeks out productivity porn (and I know those who do love to explore the systems of others). That’s why I’m sharing the system that’s helping me be more creative, less overwhelmed and live a more pleasure-filled life!
A productivity system to clear your mind, build confidence and create more
Truly, these tips are simple and you’ve likely heard about them before. For me, the magic is in using this combination of actions and doing so consistently.
Brain-dump for the week ahead
I usually do this in the quiet of Sunday nights. I check in with my goals and then do a categorised braindump of things I want and need to do in the coming week.
What do I mean by categorised? I list the action points under different headings that relate to priority areas in my life. Here are some you could pick from:
- Product development
- Client projects
I created a free template which you can use to do this. You can access it when you join my mailing list. It includes space for 5 categories. I think that’s a good maximum that challenges you to simplify (less but better!).
In this same vein, the template has a fixed number of action point slots, to help the overambitious ones amongst us, to restrain ourselves a little.
Once I’ve listed everything, I’ll star the non-negotiables. These will then be the first things I insert into my Creative Confidence Planner.
Write down your action items for the next day
That’s the next thing: assigning the action items from the braindump to specific days, in my paper planner. I used to attempt to completely fill in pages for the entire week, on Sunday, but I found myself having to change too much around.
Often, unexpected opportunities and things requiring your attention will come up. While they hopefully won’t displace your intentions for the week, some may require flexibility on your part.
Thus, on Sundays, I schedule in the non-negotiables and anything else that is somehow time-bound (standing meetings, appointments etc.). I then update the planner for each new day, at the end of the previous one.
What I love about my Creative Confidence Planner (and yes, you could say I’m biased because I designed it), is it forces me to approach my days holistically. It helps me think about what I’m doing for my wellness, relationships, creativity and gratitude – every single day. Previously, I would only consistently plan work tasks but, I decided that’s not the kind of life I want to lead.
Key to enjoying every single day of your life is infusing each day with the things that are important to you.
Thinking of all this on the day before, helps you to go to bed confident you have a good plan for moving forward and for taking care of yourself.
It also allows you to hit the ground running in the morning, when you’re likely to be at your best. No need to let your genius be wasted by decision fatigue.
(On that note, there are other things you can do the night before, to accelerate your momentum in the morning. For example: planning your outfit, preparing your lunch, packing your bag)
Number your action items
There’s one more thing to do, on the night before. Once you have your actions for the next day down on paper, number that list to reflect the order you’ll do them in.
Let this order be guided by a mix of:
- Your priorities (action number one!)
- Your deadlines (urgent but not always most important, in the long term)
- The enjoyment factor (you may want to front-load the things you’re going to enjoy less as, most of us tend to have more motivation at the beginning of the day. Also, the more fun activities can be your treat!
Now you know exactly what you need to do, as soon as you begin work the next day.
If you’ve reached this point, you just might be overwhelmed by what seems like a lot of work. I want you to trust me: the focused time that goes into planning will save you a ton of headspace throughout the week! The condition of having headspace means there is an absence of stress and you can use all that lightness and clarity of mind to flow and create more.
Work in sprints
I’ve talked about this in a bit more detail before and I’ll reiterate just how powerful it is.
Set a timer, block all distractions, focus on the next numbered item on your list. It really is that simple. Quiet the voices in your head that want to derail you (I sometimes have plenty!). It’s just a relatively short chunk of time (currently, I’m doing 1-hour blocks). You can do this.
To sweeten the deal, reward yourself with the more restorative items on your agenda, during the breaks.
I actually don’t number my wellness, relationship and creativity items. I spread these throughout the day, in the spaces between my sprints.
It’s a constant celebration of getting things done!
This one has been a real game-changer!
I realised that it’s impossible for me to sustainably have two high productivity days in a row. Sure, once in a while it would happen but, I’d soon pay for it in days needed to recover and get back to a reasonable schedule of getting things done and creating.
What if instead, my weekly plan was designed to roll with my rhythms? What if my weekly calendar had time-blocks built in, where I only did the things that restore me? You know, the work tasks that are always a joy to engage in and the personal activities that renew.
That’s what I’m doing: high productivity and minimal windows for distraction, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; re-energising things I love on Tuesday and Thursday mornings (e.g. content creation and forest walks) and meetings on those afternoons.
What’s your working stamina like? How can you design your schedule to allow for low-energy and low-motivation moments?
A winning productivity system
This productivity system has truly enabled me to clear my mind, build confidence and create more, thanks to the following outcomes:
Removing what drains me
The braindump forces me to be critical about what needs to be done. Having that visual picture of how much I’m trying to get done (which is still often too much), gives me the confidence to say “no” and assert my boundaries more.
It also helps me to analyse what needs to be done by me. I’m then better able to ask for help and delegate tasks, in good time.
All of this helps to clear my mind by removing unnecessary, often self-imposed pressure, allowing more space for creation to take place.
A weekly p/review of what’s most important
It also reassures me that I’ve considered the actions that are going to be most valuable, in moving towards my goals.
And that I’ve done so in a holistic fashion – taking into consideration my professional and my personal priorities.
Managing my own expectations better
My actions are better aligned with these realities and desires:
- I am not superwoman. There are 24 hours in a day. I would like to spend at least 7.5 of them asleep. The balance of them should involve more living than working
- I would like the space and energy to get ahead of my content creation and product development schedules. I need to actively create the necessary conditions (by saying “no” to other things)
- Creating just-for-fun renews me but also feeds my creativity for work. It needs to be given priority
- Ease and abundance are mine, if I make the decision to access them. This requires some tough choices
What difficult decisions might you have to make? Why are they worth making?
Reaffirming that I’m a person who gets things done
Let’s not underestimate the confidence-building power of accomplishment! Confidence that will seep into all areas of your life.
The completion of each tiny sprint is a triumph and the reward for each triumph is a delicious slice of living a full life.
Having more to show
At the end of each day, I feel I’ve made an impact in my life (which is a requisite for making an impact in the lives of others). Even on the slower days where the focus is on rest and rejuvenation – that underrated but potent combo!
This feeling of success inspires more of the same: more intention, more focus, more flow, more creation.