productivity, motivation, planning

I’ve mentioned in the past how since I was young, I’ve always used my free time for all sorts of creative pursuits. There have always been two distinct sides of me. There’s my studious and “by the book” side, that is the side that studied really hard for exams and was disappointed with three As at A Level (as none of the As were accompanied by a star), the side that was heartbroken with a 2:1 at university because – 1st class… where? The side that did internships, and landed in a finance related role straight out of university. Then there’s my “creative” side – the side that meant that I started writing stories at age 5, making websites at age 10, and longed to be a famous actress during my teenage years… filling up my holidays with theatre shows, and spending my evenings learning scripts.

It’s not always that these two sides coincide, but as far back as I can remember, these are two parts of my personality that have really defined me.

Balancing these two sides when I was young was super easy – I’d go to school from 8 to 3pm, have maybe an hour or so to spend on my homework, and all the other hours outside of this were mine to play with. I don’t even remember spending tons of time on the weekends doing homework growing up, my weekends were typically mostly a time for me to work on my websites or my stories, and exams really only ticked around periodically, meaning that the intense work could be saved for the summer. I wasn’t going out a ton either (as if my African parents would let me go out on a weekly basis), so it at least felt as though I had all the free time in the world.

As I’ve gotten older, my free time had dwindled drastically. I probably have less free time now than I ever have had in the past. I start work at 8am and finish by 7pm on a good day. I have 25 days of annual leave. And, when we’re not in a pandemic, I have a lot more weekend (and post-work evening) engagements than I did as when I was younger. Working from home as definitely helped me reclaim some lost hours, as the time and tiredness that coincides with a commute, frequent travel and weekend plans, have no longer been a concern. However, despite my having less time to tend to my creative side these days, I am getting more out of my hours and minutes than I ever have before. I’m actually doing more right now that I ever have in the past. I get asked often how to “balance it all” (especially with a demanding job), and I’ve definitely written a post about in in prior years, but I wanted to share a few updated views on how to get shit done efficiently and effectively with a few tips I’ve learned more about as time has gone on.

Do things you actually enjoy

If you’re going to take anything from this post – definitely take this point. Spend your spare time doing things you actually want to do. When you’re doing something you want to do, because you enjoy it, it doesn’t even feel like a chore. Whilst it’s not as relaxing as binging your favourite Netflix show in the evening, it definitely can be as enjoyable.

I have in the past tried to fill my spare time working on things that I realised I didn’t enjoy. It could have just been a business idea that I believed in, but perhaps wasn’t the right person to carry out. If you’re working on your OWN project, and are dreading working on it, then that’s a major red flag. I know that when I’m really into something, I will find the time to do it and most importantly, I’ll really want to do it, so if I’m trying to get something done but really struggling to find it within myself to get motivated for a long time, then that’s usually a sign that maybe it’s not something I should be doing.

Doing what you want to do makes the idea of being productive 10x easier to digest.

Master the art of multitasking

You can tick more things off your to do list at once if you learn the skill of multitasking. One of the main ways I multitask on a daily basis is actually listening to my Audible book as I workout – by the time my workout is done I can tick both “do a workout” and “read a chapter of book” off of my to do list. But there are other ways I utilise multitasking when I’m super busy. For example, it could be getting late in the day at work, but I really wanted to edit and post a video on my fitness page. Say I had 10 emails to send out, or 5 slides to update, I’d tell myself that after each 1-2 emails, or each slide, I’ll edit together a clip for one of the exercises in my workout, I plug away at these one after the other, and then I’m able to meet my (self imposed) posting deadline, even if it means stretching out the corporate working day for another 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Don’t spread yourself too thin

When it comes to the things I work on outside of my corporate job, I really try to set myself very manageable expectations (and even still, tasks sometimes spill into the next day or the next week). When I first started working, I almost expected myself to commence a whole other half day of work after finishing a full and intense day in the office, and I would end up on my laptop until the early hours of the morning literally falling asleep and typing gibberish. These days, I keep my to do list a lot more simple, especially on the weekdays. For example, I could just set myself the goal of posting an update on my fitness page, and doing some research for a project I’m working on, and call it a day after that. It means I don’t burnout, but can still move along with my goals steadily and get the things I want and need to do get done, done.

Plan your days, including your downtime

I spoke about this in my rethinking my productivity post, but I like to note down exactly what I want to get done during the day. This means that I don’t forget things (as I can be quite forgetful), and it also means that I can better plan my days around the time that I have (e.g. if I have somewhere to be in the evening, I know exactly what I need to get done before then). This also means that you can also better plan for some downtime, e.g. if it’s 5pm and I have 2 things left on my to do list for that day, I know that I can enjoy a guilt free and speedy Friends-binge, because I’m well on my way to completing everything on my list for the day. I found that when I wasn’t writing to do lists, I would feel a bit more guilty during my off time, as there was a voice nagging me that there was definitely something more important to be done. Also, when I wasn’t write my to do lists, a lot of things would slip – for example, writing a blog post every week.

Set realistic expectations for yourself

I couldn’t end this post without mentioning the need to be realistic. There are 24 hours of the day, and around 7 of those hours at least should be used for sleep. Ideally, there is more I’d like to do – for example, I’d love to take up dance classes right now, but I actually think I’m at full capacity in terms of what I have on my plate, so I actually just don’t have the time. If I really, really wanted to take up classes, I could definitely shift my priorities around – for example I could drop 1 of my 4-5 workouts per week and use that session instead for a dance class (clearly, I’m not that fussed as I haven’t done this). It’s always important in any case to reposition and reassess over time – I had probably around 1-2 slack years on this blog, and now I’m going back to really pushing myself to post weekly, so this year, blogging is taking up more of my time. However, when I was first working full-time, I was actually blogging twice a week (one of those blogs really crappy quality, but I digress), so on net, over the years blogging has started to take up less of my time. This has meant that I’ve been able to pick up other projects – such as my fitness page. Or I’ve been able to start learning a new language. Or I’ve been able to start working on a project/business idea. And even though I am balancing a lot of different things right now, I find that if I just plug away and implement these tips above, I end up covering quite a bit of ground.

You figure it all out as you go along, but there really is no major secret to getting a lot done. It’s a mix of being organised, being motivated, and really wanting to do what you think you want to do. And that’s where these tips come in. If you want to get more out of your hours, then there are always tweaks that can be made, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that you can’t sleep anymore. At the same time, if you’re happy with how you’re utilising your time at the moment, then that’s fine too.

And with this draft of my blog done – I’m going to watch an episode of friends (downtime – check), and get back to some of the other things I want to get done today after that (check, check, check).

Photo: Unsplash

  1. I find planning my time really helpful, not only does it make you accountable to yourself, but it also makes it easier to see the things that you’ve been neglecting and hopefully make some changes. And having realistic expectations is always important! You need to know you can’t do everything in a day.

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