Productivity Without Extra Stress

I think a lot of people worry that as soon as they start investing time and energy into self care and stress management, that it means that their performance is going to go down the tube.

Quite frankly… that’s bullshit.

I know a lot of busy people, my former self included, who are just that – busy. Busy doesn’t mean productive. Busy doesn’t mean they are excelling in their job, that they are happy, that they can regulate their emotions. Busy doesn’t necessarily even mean they are achieving the things that they want. They’re just busy.

I’d rather you be focused than busy. Focused means you can hone in on what matters most and do that first.

If you’re participating in the Stress Less Habits Challenge, you’ll know that this month your daily habit is to create your list of Top 3 priorities for the next day. This could be solely work, solely home, or a combination thereof. It’s your list.

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This list originated back in my days in oil and gas when I was constantly busy, had a list a mile long and I was getting burnt out. I remember going for coffee with a mentor who inspired me so much – and still does to this day, so much so that my daughter’s middle name is my mentor’s last name.

She told me, you’re never going to get it all done. If you’re even trying to get it all done, you’ll constantly feel like you’re failing and falling behind. She told me at the end of each day to write down my top three priorities for the next working day.

These weren’t just “to-do” items, but these were the things, she said, where if I only did them and nothing else, I could still call it a good day.

Here’s what happened. Most of those items, then and now, were things that were big-ticket items that I’d been putting off. They seemed intimidating or scary. They seemed tedious. They seemed important, but always fell down the list below bullshit tasks like emails or errands.

Once I started re-prioritizing my list and doing those things first… the game changed. I got so much done, and not just in quantity, but in impact. I moved the needle rather than spinning my wheels.

And then I started doing this in my personal life as well. I did it for my business.

Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed and like it’s all too much, I come back to my top three list. And things start to fall into place.

Because 90% of the time you’re going to get more than those three things done, you just will, but you’ll be getting the most important things done first. When you prioritize the important things, quite honestly the stress starts to dissipate. Part of that is because we don’t really realize just how much low-level stress we carry by even just thinking and worrying about when we’ll finally do “the thing”. If you do the thing first, it takes a huge weight off your shoulders.

So, the first step is to write down those three things at the end of each day so that when you start the next day you’re laser-focused. But that’s not all.

The next step is to set yourself up for success the next morning. Can you avoid emails for the first 30-60 minutes of your working day? Obviously it depends on your job. If you’re in journalism or you’re an issues manager or something similar, you may need to be connected in order to have a successful day. But many of us can go at least 30 minutes without checking our emails.

Use that time for your big-ticket items. You would be shocked at how much can be achieved in a distraction-free thirty minutes.

So set up the systems. Set your Outlook so that it defaults to your calendar when it opens instead of your emails. Or simply don’t even touch Outlook. Place your priority list on your laptop/computer so that it’s your reminder first thing. Maybe this means starting and ending your workday earlier so you’re not distracted by coworkers. Do what you need to do to be productive without taking on the useless badge of busy.

And if it helps, add in a reward system. When I complete my three items, then I get… whatever it is. Your second coffee? A five minute meditation? A quick walk around your office? You do you, whatever feels rewarding enough. If you don’t want to tie your list to a reward, that’s also cool. You know your needs better than I do.

This isn’t to say that you don’t take a look at the needs of your week or your month. Because we all know that fires are going to pop up. That’s why I said this works about 90% of the time. You can extend this by on a Friday looking at the week ahead and outlining the weekly priorities. That list can then feed into your daily lists. See what I mean?

This is not time consuming. It might sound like it, but for me the daily list takes less than two minutes, and what I gain is sometimes hours of time back in a week by having a clear focus and purpose. No direction, no productivity. We’ve all sat down at our computer on a Monday morning and gone… okay… what am I doing again here? The top 3 priority list is a game changer.

If you’re struggling to make it a habit, download the calendar (if you haven’t signed up for the the Stress Less Habits Challenge, do so, because that’s where you’ll get the calendar!), and then place that somewhere prominent. It’ll remind you to check it off each day. Alternatively use tools like calendar reminders or your alarm clock to prompt you.

We can’t expect to remember all the things all the time. Use technology to support you.

I’d love to hear how this system works out for you. Feel free to snap a photo of your top 3 lists and tag me on Instagram @stresslessladies or even DM them to me if you don’t want to share. I love cheering you on as you work to be productive without burning out. We can have both, but we need the right tools and systems in place.

You’ve got this. Have an amazing week.

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