Every day, I struggle with the time available and how to be more productive. When I run out of hours in the day before all my tasks are complete, I am merciless on myself.
No one is ever as mean to me as I am. I have a feeling that so many women face this same internal “takedown” so I’d like to talk about the series of events that brought me to a much-needed epiphany.
It’s been a crazy year. Not always good, not always bad. Cycles happen but they don’t have to end up in the negative column. How you deal with adversity truly shows what you’re made of and gives you an intense focus about what you want…and what you don’t want.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my life is the value of time. There is never enough of it. The more you have, the more you fill up. Sometimes you fill it with good things that grow you and sometimes that time is filled with distractions that slow you.
In my personal life, there have been three distinct avenues competing for my time. My health writing business, my fiction writing business, and what I refer to (mistakenly) as “everything else.” Everything else includes my (now adult) kids, friends, pets, housework, bill paying, etc.
Something consistently missing is ME.
I’m not a priority. I’m not on the list. In my efforts to be more productive, I eliminated what I considered “frivolous.” Not for a week or a month or even a year. In the last five years, I’ve eliminated all focus on myself from the equation of time and productivity.
It happened slowly. Sleep was the first thing to go. How could I possibly sleep when I had so much to do? Next, I jettisoned eating more than one meal a day. That was gone without even realizing. Then I cut out leaving the house. There was no time to socialize, sightsee, or relax (not with my task list!). Finally, I shed the last connection to a balanced self. I stopped coloring my hair. I stopped shaving. I stopped even bothering to change out of whatever I slept in.
I gained about 25 pounds of pure fat in just three months because I was eating “fast” meals so I could get back to work. Sometimes, I microwaved food and ate at my desk. I hid my increasing withdrawal by talking to my friends on the phone, texting, Facebook messaging, and the rare (almost forced on me) visits from others.
One day, I turned on my laptop and went to work. I did that every day. No days off, no outside relaxation…I woke up and started working within a few minutes. Right after I started my daily caffeine supply (I might as well be pumping it into a vein) to negate the effects of not sleeping much.
Work wasn’t done (in my mind) unless I finished everything on the list or I started falling asleep at my desk. All day, every day, sitting in a chair. Getting up often enough to refill my coffee or smoke a cigarette (yes, I know).
That’s the description of my life (with very few exceptions) for years. There have been periods of extreme emotional upheaval. A marriage already on the rocks worsened (and ultimately ended), I felt pulled in too many directions with too many responsibilities, and some days I was so sad I just wanted to go back to bed.
I didn’t. I never did. I scratched and clawed, desperate to get to a level of success that would enable me to cut back on client work and redistribute my time. If I felt doubt, I pushed harder. If there was confrontation in my real life, I purged the stress and sadness in my writing.
Three months ago, a period of epiphany started for me and in the time since, it’s changed my entire life in every way. I came to the realization (a real “duh” moment) that sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and working outrageous hours every week weren’t opening my productivity window any wider.
That window was as wide as it was going to go.
The reality was there were no more hours to find, there was nothing else I could cut, and I was completely exhausted. True fatigue coupled with borderline depression (that I “resolved” by distracting myself with more work) sapped me but I kept pushing.
Unwilling to love myself or be kind to myself.
I got sick. Sicker over a few days than I’ve ever been in my life. I don’t have health insurance (I’m in a Medicaid Gap state) and I didn’t want to go to the emergency room. I was so sick with fever and a pounding heart that I thought I was going to die. That’s not being melodramatic. I was scared my heart was going to quit on me. My twenty-year-old son got me through it with fluids and helping me stand and checking on me constantly.
It was the first time in years I was literally unable to sit up to work and it went on for five straight days. Something had to change. At 44, I knew I was going to kill myself with stress to my body (or one of the physical side effects of stress) if I didn’t stop.
I was overwhelmed, I’d taken on too much, so I had no clue where to start. By grand plan to work for myself and be more productive blew up in my face. I’d painted myself into a corner.
“If I can’t work anymore hours, how am I going to get caught up? How will I pay this bill or handle that necessity?” My solution each and every time I’ve been strapped financially has been the same since I was a little girl: work more.
I hadn’t left myself any wiggle room. Working more wasn’t an option for the first time so I needed to figure out what options I did have. I needed to figure out a better system, get on my feet after starting over in a new place, and determine how I was going to move forward.
I finally realized that none of my goals would happen without a specific and sustainable plan.Make a sustainable realistic plan, get to work, and kick ass. #GetToWorkClick To Tweet
In February, I stepped back from my entire “empire” of words. I won’t pretend that it was easy because it (still) hurts. On the cusp of a new universe, a new series, I had to stop the world for a minute. I stepped away from social media, churning out books, and writing lots of short stories in between. I cancelled all book signings for the next two years.
I sat down with a calendar and a calculator. I evaluated the hole I was in and what it would really take to get out of it. I knew that in the short term, I needed to focus on health client work.
Nothing was going to get better if I didn’t start with my health. I knew I wouldn’t have anything without that. Years of writing about what healthy practices were best became an exercise in “practicing what I preached” and the results have been so much more than I hoped for initially.
Shayne’s 7 Tips to Be More Productive
1. Adding sleep back into my life wasn’t exactly my choice but after I recovered from being sick, my body made the decision for me…and I admit to feeling so much better. I can tell you that after two solid months of getting seven hours a night, my memory isn’t as bad and I feel more “sane” during the day.
2. Drinking more water became a big deal. I cut my coffee consumption in half (much harder than I thought it would be) and supplemented with lemon water every afternoon and evening. I was amazed at the difference in my mental clarity. While I’ve written many articles on the dangers of chronic dehydration, I outright ignored this basic need.
3. Eliminating junk food eased the aches and pains (added on top of never moving) that were getting way too common. I changed refined sugars to raw sugars and got rid of most of the grain products (pasta, rice, and breads). I’m never going to eat much but I’m eating better foods again and that’s critical. I eat primarily clean proteins (to help keep my brain chemicals strong), veggies (to boost my immune system), and healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado, and fatty fish) for better energy and focus. I also upped probiotic intake with excellent Greek yogurt.
4. No more task lists from hell. Now, each month, I make an overall list of things I need to accomplish and pin it to my bulletin board. Each week, I break down the actual “necessary” tasks that have to get done then chop it up further into a short daily list of three items. I’m not ideal at this yet. It’s going to take a while to train myself in these better work habits. Not fixed but a definite improvement.
5. Incorporating downtime was completely foreign to me at first. I found a couple of shows I enjoyed on subscription streaming sites. At the end of the chaotic workday, I used the reward of watching a couple of episodes as an impetus to stop work for the day. To step away from my computer and do something mindless (that usually makes me laugh).
6. There’s no real exercise “routine” in my life yet (I’m working on it). I do stand more throughout the day and break up long periods of sitting with housework, yard work, or running errands. I’ve noticed a lot of changes in my leg and back pain since I shortened the length of time I sit without movement of any kind. Some days I stretch but I’m still training myself to remember. I’m a “hit the ground running” sort of workaholic.
7. Simple meditation techniques were something I always enjoyed (and drifted away from in my too-busy life). Now, I use it to help slow my mind and relax my body before sleep. I shut off all electronics (phone, computer, kindle, etc) and lay in my cool, dark room. Closing my eyes, I use a visualization method to purge frantic thoughts from the day about not getting enough done. My sleep quality is so much better on the majority of nights I do this. It only gets forgotten when I have a day where I go so late that I crash the moment my head hits the pillow.
These simple tips help lower stress (and the resulting inflammation), increase your natural production of dopamine (the motivation neurotransmitter), and improve overall focus in ways I knew but didn’t apply (to myself) until I hit bottom.
I recently ordered a cold room infuser to utilize my peppermint, lavender, and basil essential oils. When I stayed with my BFF Alex for several months, she ran them constantly and while they smell amazing, it also helped stimulate feelings of calm and concentration.
Being more productive isn’t easy and my personal journey to true freedom from my own unrealistic expectations is far from over. I still beat myself up if I take too long to do something, that I can’t write the fiction I really want to write, and that I haven’t shed all the new weight I gained. It’s okay. I’m a work in process.
This week, I tamed my eyebrows, colored my hair, and rid myself of the winter hair accumulation on my legs that remained too far into spring. I did some deeper cleaning and organization. I interacted with friends and family on the phone more.
Baby steps. I can do this. I’m living on my own for the first time in 25 years without a roommate or husband to split the expenses. I have my own (humble) business. I love what I do and I’ve forgotten my love of it in the drive for financial stability.You control your destiny. #QOTDClick To Tweet
You control your destiny and I forgot that. There’s nothing “simple” or “easy” about the process. Some days, I considered quitting. I endangered my health with my inability to balance my work life. You get up, you try again, you keep going…and you love yourself.
Without a love and appreciation for the human being you are, your life will spiral out of control because you’ll drift in everyone else’s waves around you. Anchor your mind, heart, and body in love for who you are, what you want, and the skills you have to get you there.
Then make a sustainable (realistic) plan, get to work, and kick ass.
Shayne McClendon is an author and positivity practitioner. Shayne believes love crosses all boundaries, social castes, races, genders, and belief systems. If you are lucky enough to find soul-deep love, you should fight for it. Life-certified, reader approved.