This article is a guest blog I wrote for Jessica Strohm.
Ever have one of those days where you feel like you’re floating through time: struggling to start a project, lacking the motivation to get out of bed, facing a blank screen without a clue what to write.
That’s where I am this week. Sometimes, when I feel stuck like this, I don’t even know what day it is!
It can be difficult to pull ourselves out of the cycle of overwhelm, confusion and disinterest.
The good news is that there is one simple thing we can do to give our brains a break and let inspiration flow naturally: practice self-care.
It may seem counterintuitive to allow yourself the time to step away from your work when you have competing deadlines and demanding clients. But it’s time to lose the guilt.
Making time for self-care will improve your productivity because it allows you to focus on the most important asset in your business – you!
Here are 5 ways to use self-care to improve your productivity:
1. Practice the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that uses a timer to break up work into chunks. It’s one of the most popular productivity hacks today because of its simplicity – all you need is a timer (Francesco Cirillo, creator of the method, used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, thus the name Pomodoro)!
The philosophy suggests budgeting each project or task into 25-minute chunks. You work on the task for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break. Each round of task and break is called a Pomodoro. The 25 minutes isn’t set in stone; think about how long your tasks usually take for you to complete. It could be 45 minutes for a blog post before taking a break or 30 minutes for recording a podcast. This method ensures maximum focus and creative freshness, allowing you to complete projects faster with less mental strain.
It is especially helpful if you're doing something technical or time consuming. For example, recently, I was trying to add my custom domain to my online school and having issues. I was starting to get frustrated, so I stopped, took a break, got a snack, then came back to it with a fresh perspective. Once I stepped away and came back, it was so simple, I wondered why I got so flustered in the first place!
If you don’t trust yourself to set a timer (guilty!), there are lots of great apps out there to help you. I personally use Focus Keeper. It gives you the option to set your task duration and both short and long breaks. You can also set a daily focus goal (the number of “Pomodoros” you want to achieve for the day) and how many sessions you will complete before taking a long break.
2. Start a morning routine
I love Hal Elrod’s book, The Miracle Morning. In his 20s, Hal was the top salesman in his company and even trained other employees in his methods. One night, a car accident changed all of that: he was pronounced dead on the scene, but after weeks of intensive care and months of physical therapy, he recovered. But it took time for Hal to bounce back from such a terrible accident. He lost the motivation that once earned him sales awards in his company. At the advice of a mentor, he decided to start a morning routine, waking up just one hour earlier than usual. He started small with running and slowly added other activities to round out his experience. Those activities – exercise, meditation, journaling, reading, affirmation and visualization – make up The Miracle Morning.
After reading the book, I knew this is exactly what I needed to give my day more structure. I’m not a fan of exercising in the morning (who are we kidding – I’m not a fan of exercise period!), so I started out with everything but that. I wrote down a plan for how I would incorporate everything into one hour (you can download my free workbook here), choosing the order that made the most sense for me: reading 10 min, journaling 10 min, affirmations 5 min, visualization 5 min and meditation 15 min. I choose books, journal prompts and affirmations that are relevant to my goals, then follow up with visualizing myself accomplishing these goals. I wrap up my morning with either simple meditation or qigong (chi-gong), a form of meditative exercise.
Starting a morning routine is a simple way to set the tone for the rest of your day. I’m more productive, happy and focused on the days I complete my morning routine. If you’re ready to give it a shot, start with this free morning routine workbook.
3. Get creative
Think about what you loved to do when you were a child. Was it playing with dolls, building model airplanes, solving puzzles, coloring? Here’s a secret: the things we loved doing as children are the same things that can bring us joy and inspiration as adults. We don’t have to give those things up just because we grew up.
If you loved arts and crafts, make a vision board, scrapbook or collage. If you loved puzzles, break out your favorite or buy a new one to challenge your mind. Grab a fresh piece of paper and start doodling. The limits to our creativity are only set by our own beliefs. By allowing ourselves the time and space to release our creativity, we open ourselves to receive the insight, inspiration and ideas we need to push past our mental blocks and get productive.
4. Take a mindful shower
If you’re anything like me, then some days a shower is the last thing you have time for. As a busy entrepreneur, you’re focused on delivering exceptional service to your customers, and working online means you don’t have to look presentable (or even human) to do that. But bathing is a simple self-care routine that can have a big impact on our productivity.
Skeptical? Think about the last time you had a major breakthrough for your business. Was it when you were furiously typing away at the computer, or was it when you were doing something mindless like watching TV, driving or brushing your teeth? Many creative ideas are spurred when we shift our attention to another activity.
We can take that logic one step further by applying it to a mindful activity. I mentioned earlier that meditation is a great mindfulness technique I use to jump start a successful day, but taking a mindful shower can be just as beneficial. As business owners, we tend to rush through many self-care activities like bathing and eating, but taking time to slow down and pay attention to what we’re doing takes our mind completely off the stress of work.
Try this: the next time you’re in the shower, really pay attention to how the water feels against your face, the pressure of your fingers lathering shampoo in your hair and the fragrance of your favorite body wash. If your mind wanders to your upcoming deadline or an email you forgot to send, bring it back to the temperature of the water or the sensation of your razor scraping against your leg. This practice isn’t limited to showering! The same goes for eating, brushing your teeth, doing your makeup… any self-care routine that feels a little too, well, routine.
5. Sleep on it
Sometimes, we take this for granted, but sleep is an essential part of self-care. Many of us, especially women, don’t get enough sleep: one third of American women get less than seven hours of sleep each night and 25% of women say they rarely wake up feeling refreshed.
Sure, staying up late or waking up super early can help us power through financial statements, marketing campaigns or customer service requests, but it’s costing us big time. Sleep restores all of our bodily functions, keeps our immune system healthy and reverses the signs of aging (seriously – it’s my best-kept beauty secret).
It’s easier said then done, but it’s so important to make time for sleep. Schedule it in your planner or online calendar as a date with yourself. And when something unexpected comes up and bleeds into your precious sleep time, don’t panic. Going to bed thinking you won’t get a good night’s sleep is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Simply thinking “I will wake up tomorrow refreshed and renewed” is a simple way to bring more positivity and reward to your sleep routine.
When you feel unproductive, keep moving forward. Get active. Start a new routine. Build something. Distract your mind from whatever it is keeping you stuck.
When we allow ourselves to be consumed with feelings of overwhelm or disengagement, we are not living to our fullest potential.
There is so much joy to be had in living an inspired and productive life. We can transform our mindset into ignoring overwhelm and fear, pushing through those feelings until we reach the other side.
When we live an inspired life, we discover who we really are. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Discover who you really are with my free BE Alive Passion + Purpose Workbook!