I found a quote recently that really hit home…
And I thought about how many times I have confused being busy with being productive. The amount of times I have declined an invite or wished I had the time to do something, when I am of course ‘far too busy’ to be able to do it.
Actually being productive, not always.
Yes, I am a busy person, I work full-time and have a smallholding to run on the side, so spare time isn’t plentiful. However, a lot of the time I am filling my spare hours with unproductive tasks that just aren’t achieving anything. I am also not using all of my spare time to it’s full potential, too often I have a spare half an hour here, or an odd hour that I just waste away because I feel that it isn’t enough time to get anything very worthwhile done.
So here are the changes I have implemented since going back to work in 2019, in a bid to make my days more productive and free up time elsewhere for other projects.
1. Something I have always done and am a little more strict about these days, is keeping a to-do list. I have different categories in my to-do list, for example Work, Business, House, Personal, which helps me to select appropriate tasks for the time I have available and my location; for instance there’s no way I can clean the oven when I am at work and there’s no way I can design my new business cards in the time it takes for the pig’s water trough to fill up. Having a to-do list allows me to quickly see what I need to do when I do have some spare time, which means I do not waste precious minutes wondering what tasks I should be getting on with.
I don’t know about you, but when I am busy all I think about is the million and one other things I could be doing, yet as soon as I have day off they all fly out of my mind and I sit there trying to remember what was on my list.
If like me you have you phone/laptop with you pretty much everywhere you go, it is a good idea to save this list on there. There’s no point having a list if you keep leaving it at home, just add ‘write a to-do list’ to your to-do list and get it ticked off first.
2. Something completely new that I have added to my routine, is when I get in from work I now give myself a dedicated hour of “productive time”. And I know life is hectic and you need to give yourself a break every now and again, so for me this is just a Monday-Thursday thing and it is extremely flexible when it comes to what that hour contains. Sometimes it can be me doing the household chores (hanging up the washing, emptying the dishwasher, putting out the bins etc.), other times I sit down at my laptop for the whole hour and get on top of my emails, some days I research a topic that’s on my mind and look up every article and video out there to develop my knowledge (last week that was legislation for turkeys – fun I know) and most of the time I work at developing or organising something for my new business (such as website content, blog posts, supplier comparisons). My only strict rules for this hour are no social media (unless I am scheduling business posts, in which case I use Twittimer to avoid getting distracted by notifications) and whatever I am doing must be “productive”, which means increasing my knowledge, ticking something off my to-do list or helping towards completing a task.
The great thing about giving myself the allocated hour, is that once I am in the mode of not slouching on the sofa in my pjs, I often overrun and find I can be productive for a lot longer. The temptation for me is that as soon as I get home I just crash out and all productivity levels are at zero until the next morning. My trigger for this happening is when my pjs go on, so I purposely put this off for as long as I can manage. Comfort = zero productivity in Katie-land.
I know there are entrepreneurs out there that do this sort of “dedicated productive hour” by getting up an hour early each morning but anyone that knows me well, knows that I am not a morning person and that is never going to happen. Find a time that suits you and can work around your personal life. And people with kids, I honestly have no idea how you would do this, I am just in awe that you manage to brush your teeth and have a shower most days.
3. Quite often in my job I find myself waiting around, only for say for 5-15 minutes, (e.g. while the water trough fills up, the abattoir staff pack up the van or the packing machine warms up). Previously I would have whipped out my phone and flicked through liking posts and pictures until I was able to get on with the next task, I now go straight onto YouTube and my ‘Watch Later’ playlist.
How is this any better? I hear you ask. Well, what I have done in my spare time on a different day is saved a tonne of videos that I want to watch but either haven’t had the time or opportunity to do so yet, and because I am pretty sad, they are all educational farming videos. These videos are all aimed at developing a skill or understanding how something works, basically I am allowed a YouTube video binge if I am learning something from watching them. For example, this week I have watched videos on curing bacon and using electric poultry fencing with pigs, two topics that I knew little about before today and now I have a little extra knowledge that may just pop into my brain at the time I come to tackle those tasks (being an ex-teacher, I know I may have to revisit this topic several times before they become embedded – but I have made a start!).
The other brilliant thing about a ‘Watch Later’ playlist when you have YouTube on your phone, is that once you have subscribed to channels you get notifications throughout the day when their new videos are uploaded. Too often the temptation would be to open the app and half listen to the video there and then. This is not productive in any way because firstly it has taken your attention away from whatever you were doing in the first place and secondly you are not dedicating yourself to watching the video and really hearing what they have to say. This is why when a new video pops up that I like the look of, I simply add it to the ‘Watch Later’ playlist and leave it for a time when I can get the most out of it.
4. I have also started to use my lunch hour in a productive manner. In the farming world, especially in Summer, it is unusual to get a lunch break, let alone a whole hour. However occasionally, especially during January for me, I do! It takes me 15 minutes to get my lunch out, make a cup of tea and take my muddy wellies off (but remember this is what your lunch break is for so don’t feel guilty for this) then the remainder of the time I always look to my to-do list or use my time to do a bit of electronic house-keeping.
Sometimes I just spend the whole time ordering my groceries, even so that is much more productive than staring into space and just think, rather than trawling around the shops after work, I can get on with being productive at home. Obviously being at work and perhaps being interrupted during your lunch break means what you can do in this time is limited but perhaps dedicate a section of your to-do list just for this situation and only include tasks that you able to do at this time.
5. Just before I went to bed every evening I used to check through my emails and all my social media channels, which I have heard isn’t a great thing to do just before you fall asleep due to the brain stimulation and light. Now I bring a book to bed and a read a few pages before I drift off. I am typically a non-fiction reader and you guessed it, I love a farming book. I pick them up cheap and second-hand off eBay and Amazon, which has allowed me to build up quite a collection.
Whatever type of reading tickles your fancy it is a great way to guarantee a good night’s sleep and allows that little time between going to bed and falling to sleep to be a bit more productive. Whether it is improving your vocabulary, making you more cultured, increasing your knowledge or simply helping you to relax, they are all helping you to achieve something from what could otherwise be a wasted time period.
6. If you are working 24/7 you can easily burn yourself out, which seriously decreases your productivity, therefore it is important to have some allocated downtime. I am notorious for not being able to switch off and feeling guilty when I do so, however overall this lowers my productivity because I am working at 60% for not ever giving myself a break. Allocating a specific time for relaxing, which for me is after dinner on weekdays and as soon as I have finished work on a Friday, means I do not make myself feel guilty when I am just chilling out in my pjs, eating Dairy Milk and watching Goliath. It also means that in my up-time (is that a word?) I can give 100% because I have allowed my brain and body to switch off for a while in-between.
I have burnt myself out before and believe me it is not fun, so even during the really busy periods, value complete relaxation as being productive because it helps in the long run. Perhaps dedicating a whole day a week for you would be easier (with farming it is a little difficult to do that). I know a lot of business owners force themselves to do nothing business related on say a Sunday and it keeps them going at a high pace during the rest of the week.
7. It may seem from this post that I am completely criticising social media and spending time on it, which is far from the truth. I believe social media is a great tool for staying in touch with friends, making new friends, increasing your knowledge, keeping up to date with current affairs and networking. But social media must be used in the right way and you have to follow the correct accounts. I spend a tonne of time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, my business uses it a lot to sell produce and my blog relies on it to generate readers and followers (Hi guys!). So I would be a fool to tell you that the key to increasing productivity levels is to delete all of your accounts. This is not the answer and will probably only work shot-term, until you re-signup and you are back liking, posting and sharing again.
The way to use social media in a productive way is to follow the right accounts; follow accounts that inspire and educate you. If you are following accounts that make you laugh and tell you what happened in the last episode of Eastenders that’s great, but that’s a downtime exercise. If you are following accounts that give you business advice and share stories of inspiring people, then this can help your productivity. I follow people that share similar values to myself and businesses that sell similar products to me, this can help give me ideas and also find gaps in the market. This is a way to use social media to your advantage.
Another way is to follow bloggers that write inspirational or educational posts, She Can.She Did is an example of a blogger that does just that, she writes about British female business founders and shares their honest stories of how their businesses started and where they are at now. Every time I read one of her stories I am inspired to push further with my business, sometimes it even gives me new ideas.
There are good sides and bad sides to social media and you just need to train yourself to use it in a positive and productive way, which may mean a bit of tweaking on your timeline and follower list. If at any point you find yourself mindlessly whittling away hours on it without any real benefit to your life, you’ve not found that method just yet.
8. To be productive you need to know what being productive means to you. This is very important and I don’t know why I left it until last if I am honest. To some people productivity is based on how many things they have ticked off a list, to someone else it is how much information they have recalled, to another it is what they have to look at at the end of it. Your definition can be task dependent or it can be person dependent but either way you need to find out what makes you feel like you have had a productive hour/day/week.
I am a list-lover so I love ticking things off my to-do list but when I have completed a task that wasn’t on my to-do list that doesn’t always mean I have wasted my time. For me productivity is when my time has been better used than if I had done nothing and by nothing I mean sitting around, staring into space, watching telly etc. basically aimless living. The problem with this sort of sedentary lifestyle is how absorbing it is, spend too much time doing it and it is all you’ll do. Then before you know it days, weeks and months will pass and you’ll have nothing to show for it. Productivity to me is fighting against this and completing tasks in an efficient way.
And remember productivity is different to being busy. Busy is filling your time, whereas productiveness is making the most of your time.
Hopefully these suggestions mean that my spare time is used more productively and in turn I have more free time to play with so I can stop using the ‘I’m too busy’ excuse. So far some changes I have found easier than others but I will let you know how I get on throughout the year. I do already feel like I have learnt a lot more this year though and we are only a few weeks in!
Starting a new business, having a different job and creating new blog/vlog content this year means I will have to be careful not to burn myself out, which is why I am even more keen to ensure I have dedicated downtime to keep my routine sustainable and that all my time is used beneficially rather than wasting away precious time. This plan is in no way set in stone but I believe it gives me a guide to start the year off right.
I hope this helps those of you wishing to be more productive this year too, let me know how you get on too!