How many times has this happened to you: you have a great weekend, you’re ready to go for Monday morning, and then something happens, and it all hits the fan. You’re behind before the week even begins and your sour as heck. It really shouldn’t be this way, but this is the reality of life.
What can you do to stay ahead of the game and push through even the most annoying distractions to your productivity?
Here are 10 suggestions to help empower you to stay focused and make the most out of your day, or to tackle those moments when life throws you a curveball.
1. Be a Noticer
To start, you have to learn to pay attention to what you’re paying attention. Why?
Because you can’t change what you don’t notice! Observation is the critical principle of mindfulness, and it’s no joke. It can change your life, but it takes practice.
Learn to cultivate a broader sense of awareness of your habits and behaviors, both on and off the job. The key to noticing is slowing things down.
Some things to start paying attention to include, seeing your attitude, your ability to stay focused, your ability to stay on task, how much bandwidth you have in managing stress, or difficult people, and what coping strategies you use when things go south.
The most important thing you can do for yourself in this high-stress culture is to learn emotional regulation. The best way to do that is thorough conscious regulation of your breath. I know, it sounds corny, and you don’t want to do it, but it will change your life.
When you get activated, your sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert. The best way to calm yourself is by engaging your parasympathetic nervous system.
It acts as the brakes to calm you down. We do that through deep diaphragmatic breathing. There are lots of websites where you can learn how to do this practice. Google it and practice, practice, practice.
Any good mindfulness practice includes a time to reflect. Start your day off right by doing some deep breathing and meditation. This quiet time can be used to reduce stress, calm the mind, develop patience and rewire your brain!
Studies on meditation have shown it can create longevity for a better life, give you a more positive attitude, help you cultivate gratitude and keep you rock stable. Just be aware that when you start this practice, your mind will want to wander, and you’ll get impatient and want to quit.
Don’t give up; the benefits are too high. It’s ok if your mind wanders, notice it and bring it back to your breath. Try having some music playing in the background, or listen to a recorded guided meditation. If you stick with it, you’ll see amazing results in your mood and general well-being.
4. Have a Game Plan
Sure life happens, but if we have some set in stone things that we try to commit to every day that empowers us, it will prepare us for whatever our day may bring. These set in stone rituals should be things that you need to fuel your body, soul, and spirit.
They prepare you to face the stresses of daily living. Therapists call it good self-care skills. Things like a good physical workout, a quiet time of meditation and prayer, reading something that might be intellectually stimulating and fueling your body with healthy nutrition.
5. Set Goals Daily
We know that goal setting is important, but lots of folks think regarding setting long and short-range goals, not daily goals. Start by making a list the night before of the things that are priority accomplishments for the following day.
If the first three get done, you’re good. If more get done, that’s an added benefit. To set daily goals, you have to plan for obstacles. That means you may have to say no to certain distractions or requests.
It means you may have to delegate duties to others. If you have trouble doing these, you need to be curious as to what’s driving that behavior.
6. Be Flexible
We all love to plan. But when our best-laid plans go up in smoke, we have to flexible and come up with creative ideas to make things work at the moment. Flexibility requires that we learn to control our emotional responses.
We can’t go around freaking out when things happen, because that won’t change anything. We have to learn adaptive ways to calm ourselves and focus in the middle of the storm. Things like learning to control the breath and muscle relaxation help. I also teach my clients to scan their bodies for tension at least twice a day. This requires you sit quietly for 10 minutes and focus on each part of your body starting with your head and ending with your toes.
You want to scan for tension and any other sensations you notice. Then develop strategies to release that tension. Simple things like movement or breath work can make a big difference. Staying calm and focused is the key to a successful day, not to mention your health and overall well-being.
7. Take Breaks
Some of the best minds out there know that to be productive and foster creativity, you don’t need to spend endless hours sitting at a desk. Creativity happens as you’re out there doing life; hiking, walking, meditating, or journaling.
Experiencing life gives you ideas and gets your creative juices flowing. Notice what fuels you. Notice what gives you energy and ideas and start doing more of that.
8. Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
If you know what your good at, do it, if you know where you suck, learn to delegate. This will save you lots of time and energy. If you’re a visionary, you need to spend more time thinking and creating.
If you suck at managing details, then have someone else be responsible for those. Using your strengths and the strengths of others on your team is a win, win for everyone.
9. Get Rid of Distractions that Weigh You Down
This one is hard. How many times a day are you tempted to answer your phone, check your email, or Facebook page, or shoot out a tweet?
Productivity won’t happen if you’re constantly being interrupted by dings, pings, and boings. So turn em off! There will be plenty of time for them later.
You also need to beware of people who are time suckers. Sure you want to help everybody, but some people will talk all day long if you listen. Know who is draining you emotionally and make the necessary adjustments to deal with it. Time management is the key to productivity.
10. Go the Heck to Sleep!
Turn off the TV, the computer or your iPhone and go the heck to sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep you’re your ability to problem-solve and be productive will be dramatically reduced over time. You may be able to pull off 6 hours a night when your young and don’t have a family, but sooner or later, this one will catch up to you.
Sleeping helps you to heal and repair your body. Chronic sleep deprivation correlates with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. Sleep also helps your brain to function optimally and improves learning.
None of these practices will guarantee life and work will always go smoothly. The irregular rhythm of life assures us of that. But when we’re on our A game, we can handle most of what life throws at us and keep the ball rolling.