Setting the Stage for Productivity

how to be productive

Setting the Stage

If there is one thing I have struggled with consistently, it is a sense of not feeling that my mornings are productive enough. I am committed to giving first priority to my list of “most important things” (MITs) in order to keep my life on course (see Planning Your Day With “The Big Picture” In Mind). My goal in doing this is to give proper time and attention to those things that will matter later today AND in five years from now, too, and then to move on—property grounded and empowered—to my second tier of important things. Even though the MITs get first priority, that doesn’t negate the fact that there are other priorities I must work on each day, as well. And this was my problem. I seemed unable to move to the next tier of important things in a timely manner. Even getting up 30 minutes earlier did not enable me to move on to tier 2 of my to-do list 30 minutes sooner than usual. Something was definitely amiss.

At this point in my life, my MITs are as follows (MITs change with the seasons of your life):

  • Bible Study
  • Review Teaching Notes from Previous Sunday
  • Write (for at least 30 minutes)
  • Exercise
  • Study Spanish (Rosetta Stone)

The order that I have been implementing is Bible Study first, then review notes, then exercise. Up until the past two months, thanks to my two most recent 30-day challenges, I tried to work writing in some time in the afternoon or evening. About 50% of the time, it did not get done or it was done at such a poor time of the day, creatively speaking, that it was not very quality writing. As for Spanish, I saved that for the afternoons, as well, but that was not working, either. I don’t keep a log, but I estimate that I was studying Spanish maybe 5 days a month (certainly not sufficient to learn it), maybe even less.

Even though it had its weaknesses, there was “strategy” behind the order in which I practiced my MITs. I NEED to get into the Word and into my notes first thing in the morning in order to “set my mind” for the day and to build internal mass for my future (See Changing the End-point—Thinking Very Long-term). This is a non-negotiable for me, the most important of my most important things. As for exercise, it has somewhat the same effect except in my body rather than my spirit. It reinforces my study time, developing in me an attitude for action. If I let those things slip—study time and exercise—then the rest of my day is vulnerable to lethargy and the mundane. As for writing and Spanish, well, because I had taken so much time on the first three MITs, I had to set those aside till later in the day because my second tier of important things was screaming for my attention. Unfortunately, more often than not, Spanish and writing got omitted altogether.

On paper, I had plenty of time to get all five MITs completed long before noon (an hour-plus for Bible and note study, an hour-plus for exercise and post-exercise stretching, 30 minutes of writing, 10-25 minutes of Spanish). So where was the problem? What was I doing wrong? I made some major discoveries in this area back when I kept a time log (See Measure Your Time for more on time studies), and consequently I changed some of my morning behavior to seal up some time leaks. Still, I was spinning my wheels, so more analysis was needed.

After giving serious thought to my “spinning wheels” issue, I came to the conclusion that much of the time that I am spending on the MITs is not really productive. I narrowed down the wheel-spinning to my Bible Study and note review time. I realized that even though I might be spending a couple of hours during the read/review phase of my morning, it was not producing sufficient return to justify that amount of time. It’s not that the Bible and the notes weren’t worthy of the time; my MIND was the problem. I was not focusing. My mind kept wandering to all the things that I needed to do that day: errands to run, letters to write, real estate deadlines to meet, phone calls to make, etc. I had to acknowledge that just sitting with an open Bible and a notebook did not qualify as “study”!

Having identified the problem as one of FOCUS, rather than TIME, I made a plan.

Shake Things Up!

I started a new experiment to gain control over my mornings, to complete my MITs in a timely, but productive manner, and then to start chopping away at my remaining to-do list shortly thereafter (see Be Your Own Guinea Pig). Since this was always my intention, I knew I needed to shake things up a bit, I needed to do something different. Obviously, my current methods were not working.

The first change I made was where I start my morning. This is a fairly common productivity hack. My modus operandi has always been to do my reading in my easy chair in the living room. This is one of my favorite places—very comfy chair (as Goldilocks would say, “Not too big, not too small, but juussstt right!”), very convenient (just steps outside my bedroom, just steps from my coffee pot which I frequent during my morning hours), and in the wintertime, right next to my gas-log fireplace. Very nice! I got to thinking that maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe I was too comfy there. Maybe I needed to create more of a work environment rather than a relaxed environment. This wouldn’t be difficult, as I have a home office. Aside from the fact that it is under the same roof, it has all the things going against it that my easy chair has going for it:

  • It is in the basement, which means a trip up and down 18 steps every time I want to refill my coffee cup (not so convenient).
  • My office chair is a typical, cheap desk chair on rollers that gets no marks for comfort (unlike my Goldilocks chair).
  • Though heated, the basement is cool enough in the winter that I have to dress warmer to do my studying down there (no glow and warmth from the fireplace).

It sounds like a recipe for failure, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, however, moving to the office for my morning routine has been very effective. Those trips up and down the stairs to refill my coffee cup serve as mini-exercises to keep my blood flowing and to keep me alert. They also provide mini-breaks to re-focus my mind after 15-20 minutes of studying (I have read that 20 minutes is actually a good timeframe to commit to serious focus before needing a mini-break). Sitting at the desk does, indeed, put me in the frame of mind to study, and not sitting by the warm, cozy fireplace is probably also good for keeping me alert (though I really do miss that particular aspect). All in all, this is probably going to remain my new study location for the time being.

I realize everyone does not have a home office to resort to, and so maybe you are already eliminating this idea as a possibility for becoming more productive. There are lots of different ways you could practice the same principle. If you work in an office, you could arrive at work early and do your studying there. Or you could start your day in a quiet corner of a restaurant or coffee shop. Or you could move to the kitchen table instead of your easy chair. Or from the kitchen table to an easy chair! By all means, don’t try to start your day reading in bed (not if productivity and action is your goal)!

The point is, if something is not working, then figure out what will work! Don’t just give up, and don’t perpetuate the ineffective!

In my next post, I will write about three “tools” that I added to my morning routine that have had significant impact on my ability to focus, and consequently, on the time I am spending on my MITs. So stay tuned!

Do you have any “hacks” to share on how you get more time out of your morning? Please do leave a comment—even if you think it is nothing. The simplest suggestion could make a huge difference for someone.

Photo compliments of Chris Smart via Compfight

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3 Responses to Setting the Stage for Productivity

  1. Pingback: Three Productivity Strategies That Work | My Pleasant Places

  2. Cindy Lofton says:

    Diane- I can’t even put words to how well you hit the nail on the head in this post. I can relate to EVERYTHING you shared. You worded it in such a way that it some lightbulbs clicked on in my head as to why I feel like I’m spinning my wheels so much of the time as well as how my MITs affect everything else (specifically spiritual & physical exercise). Your phrase of ‘don’t perpetuate the ineffective’ really spoke to me. I keep thinking of the verse in Matt.11 that says “the violent take it (the kingdom of God) by force”. I see that same intensity in you as you engage in each day, and I want that, too. Focus is definitely key!!! I am eager to apply these things and flesh them out. I don’t have any personal ‘hacks’ to share yet. I know I WONT be checking my email or facebook first thing anymore. I’ll at least start there. Thanks again. This was exactly what I needed to read & consider.

    • Diane says:

      Thanks for the comment, Cindy. Let me know if you see a difference in your productivity by simply holding off on email and facebook first thing in the day. I’ll be very interested in hearing your results. Thanks, too, for the encouragement. Your comments are always so encouraging and make me want to keep blogging. 🙂

I love to read your comments!