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I am not like some Ricochet members who seem to thrive on constant productivity and accomplishment. Instead, I’ve waged a war against hints of laziness in my make-up and have spent time puzzling out the difference between idleness and honest daily rest. I believe that not only are we designed for some breaks from the weekday grind, but also that turning our attention to rejuvenating activities is a privilege we can make use of, now that we no longer live in a harsh subsistence culture.
That said, I’ve been listening to videos with productivity tips as an enjoyable way to wind down at the end of the evening—and get inspired to better tackle more household tasks, serve the team and families at my job, and get around to what I think of as my many “clerical tasks.” I thought I’d list below my own collection of tips. These are regular habits and inclinations that have been helpful to me, and I encourage you to describe routines that have made a difference for you in your own wrestle against inertia.
1. Do a little bit of the task. If you have something on your plate, large or small, it’s helpful to address even just a small part of it while you’re thinking of it. For example, I needed to text someone yesterday, but I knew I needed to look up her phone number, a step that can be an obstacle for me. So Friday night when it was too late to text, I went ahead and found her contact info, which I copy-pasted into an accessible location. The next day, I saw the copy-pasted number and was able to complete the process in a short time. Boom.
For larger chores, such as long, involved projects at work that have proliferated for me recently, anything you do along the way makes a difference. Have the meeting. Take the notes. E-mail an update. Sit and think about it. Open and name a document. Make a list. Do the fun part with the graphics. As the due date draws nigh, you’ll be thanking yourself for taking these steps instead of doing nothing, guaranteed.
2. Believe that your increments matter. Along the same lines as tip #1, doing a little at a time over days, weeks, months, and years makes a huge difference over time. I think back to when I thought being a writer had to do with sending proposals, waiting for responses, getting rejected, closeting myself away in a disciplined manner, and so on. Instead, thanks in great part to the power of the Internet and to Ricochet, writing has simply been about . . . Writing. It’s been sitting down with keyboard and doing the thinking and composing I enjoy, sometimes once a week, but oftener just when the mood hits me. And now, through the magic of increments, I have 500 posts to work with.
3. Rest. I don’t fully understand rest, as stated above. I think that the best rest is intentional, and not something that you just slide into because you opened Facebook to check something and were distracted for the next 45 minutes. On the other hand, sometimes when you’ve just finished something huge like Christmas or a project for a massive deadline, your body and brain won’t let you focus for awhile. When this happens, I think we do what we can, but lean into our body’s request for rest.
With that said, we remember that there are different types of rest, and not all of them have to do with sleep (a concept put into words by a TedX blog post about seven kinds of rest). Our brains, bodies, souls, and social dimensions need to stop and recharge sometimes. For me, a solitary walk on a beautiful day, a slow weekend of small cooking projects and pleasant family distractions, and even a little shopping trip helps me draw in that breath and just feel good to be alive before I dive back into supporting others.
4. Sleep. In the last few years, in spite of sleep complications, I’ve done everything I can to get that deep slumber. When something goes wrong, I keep adjusting my approach, dialing in, I hope, to the ideal eight hours. I even give myself the privilege of sleeping later into the morning, since it can take me a couple of hours to settle down, or I might get wakeful in the wee hours. This prioritizing of sleep has paid off. Although I still get sleep-deprived and often can feel foggier than I like, I don’t experience the near daily demoralizing fatigue I fought in my younger years. Afternoons are no longer where the day’s goals go to die, and by evening, I’m still tinkering around on this and that chore. Now I need to work on letting go of my to-do list and getting to bed earlier.
5. Use timers. Timers have been helpful to me on occasion, whether for cleaning house quickly or for focusing on a procrastinatable work goal for thirty minutes at a time. And what do you know—getting something done is magnitudes better than getting nothing done. I would like to use timers more often, but I seem to have to be in the mode to do so. Perhaps I could work on making these a weekday habit.
6. Listen to something pleasant as you do physical work. This is another luxury of our era, but I remind myself that radio has been available for around a hundred years, so housewives have had their ironing chores lightened with piped-in drama and music since my grandmother was a baby. I listen to Mike Winger’s engaging Bible commentary in the mornings when I’m getting ready. The housecleaning music playlist my daughter created makes vacuuming and exercising fun. And then informative little videos or an audio book grace my late evening routine.
7. Provide masking “white” noise for demanding mental tasks. I cannot concentrate at my job when there is any noise in the background. Even low-level family activity such as putting wood on the fire or chatting with the cat distracts my mind, let alone conversations about ordering new Internet and the like. I have to mask the sounds to get anything done, and since even classical music is a bit much, I pick rain. I’m trying to train myself—rain on, I work; rain off, I can indulge in a few minutes of distraction. I find that covering up household noise allows me to get deep into a project for long intervals.
8. Allow your subconscious to work. Sitting there staring at where you got stuck in your work project isn’t going to help. Get up, get a snack, pet the cat, and your answer might suddenly come to you. Or, if you can, quit that project for awhile. Take quiet walks, shovel the snow off the back porch with no input but the activity in your brain, or just go do other parts of your life. You’ll be surprised at how a way through will make itself known, even when you’re not consciously thinking of the problem. (Especially as the deadline approaches, my mind can make it seem like it was all so simple and obvious, right there in front of me the whole time.)
9. Team up with people. I find that it’s powerfully motivating for me to have boss and co-workers who are relying on me to do my part. Sometimes, I hardly recognize the industrious me arising from focus on goals in a team project. And with my seemingly intractable house clutter and grime, working with my younger daughter provides wells of energy and momentum I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
10. Get things done. I’ve noticed that almost nothing beats the feeling of looking back on hours of working through challenging, high-priority projects. The sense of accomplishment gives me a buzz and satisfaction that not even intentional “resting” can equal. Of course, too much focus without coming up for air, such as when I work evenings and weekends to meet goals, can make me feel suffocated. But I know I would benefit if every day I sought this high—the pleasure of just getting things done.Published in