Tag Archives: morning routines

How I Maximized My Productivity as a Writer

cell phone

cell phoneIf you’re like me, you can’t read enough about how to maximize your productivity: Deep Work. The Hunter Method. No Meeting Wednesdays. While the optimal time for achieving your best work varies across individuals, there’s a consensus that you need to have laser focus while you’re doing it.

For a while now, I’ve been following that advice. As soon as I decided that I wanted to write a book, I started to devote 15 minutes a morning to doing just that. Over time, those 15 minutes blossomed into 30 and then 45. Once I was laid off, I began devoting several hours a day to my writing.

Even now that the book manuscript is finished (though still not sold – sniff!), I still write every morning. These days, it’s often fiction. Or a blog post. Or my newsletter.

But a month or so ago, I discovered a fatal flaw in my system. No matter how dutiful I was about prioritizing my writing, I did one thing when I first woke up that was absolutely deadly for my flow:  I checked my phone.

To be clear, it was really more of a scan than a deep dive:  I’d quickly scroll through my emails to see if there were any burning platforms…I’d look at any updates on assorted social media platforms…I’d check personal texts and chats.

I told myself that this mini “phone time” was essential. After all, my mother is now quite elderly. Perhaps something happened to her during the night. I’m in close “What’sApp” touch with various friends back in the States, and often miss out on threads that happen while I’m asleep. I’m also self-employed. So I’m always at the beck and call of clients.

But the problem wasn’t the length of time I spent on the phone. It was how distracting it proved.

Because once I’d digested the updates from assorted platforms, I couldn’t turn them off in my brain, even once I put the phone down. I’d find my mind darting back to a meeting I needed to prepare for later that day… a funny tweet I wanted to share on social media…a text I needed to send a friend. Which, of course, defeated the whole purpose of having dedicated writing time in the first place.

Before I knew  it, my  carefully constructed “laser focus” was gone. Or at least diminished.

Then I read this brilliant article by New York Times technology writer Kevin Roose about his cell phone addiction. Roose went so far as to hire a consultant to help him “break up with his phone.” This person encouraged him, for example, to change the lock screen on his phone so that it displayed three questions: “What for? Why now? What else?”

Brilliant.

I didn’t feel that my problem was that serious. But I did know that I had a problem.

So I instituted one tiny change: I no longer allow myself to check my phone until I’ve finished my writing and executed some of the other key markers of my morning routine like journaling, meditation, and stretching. In practice, that amounts to not looking at my phone for the first 1.5-2 hours of my day.

It was really hard at first. Like an addict, I’d find myself making excuses to sneak a peak. But after the first week or so, I began to find this digital detox a relief.

Postponing my phone time had two other benefits. First, I’m an extrovert, so I love being connected to the world through social media. But – much like my rules about dessert – the joy of checking my phone is now all the greater for putting it off. Second, my writing time is also now that much more focused and productive. A win-win, as they say.

I’ve always prided myself on being the consummate multi-tasker. But I’m coming to question whether that personality trait is really an asset for productivity. So I’m wondering: what small habit have you changed that had a much larger impact on your life?

Image: Apple Cell Phone Facebook Google by Tracy Le Blanc via Pexels

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How Mindfulness Apps Energized My Morning Routine

mindfulness

mindfulnessThere are few things I feel strongly enough about in life to champion their virtues to others: The New Yorker. My favorite films about politics. Pop Tarts for grown-ups. But of late, I’ve found that I’ve become an evangelist for something I would never have thought likely: mindfulness apps.

For those not in the know, “mindfulness” is one of the oldest forms of meditation and is rooted in the idea of being consciously aware of being “present” — both in yourself and in the world around you. It isn’t about ignoring your thoughts, but about acknowledging and accepting them (non-judgmentally), while focusing on what you are doing in that moment.

That can all sound very groovy and post-modern, but it’s actually a fairly profound change to how most of us approach our average emotional state, which (I’ll speak personally here) often veers from rampant introspection to frenzied existential flight. While the idea of being more present in our daily lives sounds like something Megan Draper might have given a spin on the verge of the 1970s, a mindfulness practice is very 2015, and I’m glad it is.

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive Global

Image: JohnHain via Pixabay

Tips For Adulthood: How To Be Less Impatient With Your Kids

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I offered suggestions for how not to over-parent. This week’s list addresses a different parenting dilemma:  how not to lose patience with your kids.

Because we’ve all been there, right? Those ready-to-pull-your-hair-out moments are the very stuff of raising children. Your daughter won’t eat a thing at dinner. Your son refuses to practice the piano.  She won’t wear anything in her closet. He’s chronically late. As parents, sometimes we’re tempted to throw our hands up in despair and just…scream.

In our household, the latest please-don’t-let-me-strangle-you issue is bedtime. I recently read about a study which found that what matters when putting your kids to bed isn’t so much what you do (e.g. nursing, telling a story, reading a book) as how you do it. When the mother did those actions while feeling warm and positive, the baby slept well, on average; when the same types of things were done by a mom who was irritable or brusque or distracted, the children were more likely to sleep poorly.

But lately, because my kids have had some trouble adjusting to the new house…the heat…the sunlight…the everything, they haven’t been going to bed easily. Which has made me, well, “irritable and brusque” might be putting it mildly.

That’s not the parent I want to be. So here are five strategies for not losing patience with your kids when they aren’t doing what you want:

1. Tell yourself it’s a vacation. When you’re on vacation, anything goes. You stay up late. You lie in bed. You read novels and eat tons of food. The normal rules don’t apply. That’s precisely what makes it a vacation. Lately, I’ve tried employing the same strategy when my kids won’t go to bed on time. Even though they’re still in school (British schools have a different holiday schedule than the U.S.) I tell myself that they’re already out of school so that I don’t get tense when they’re up past their bedtime. Because if we’re already on vacation, who cares if they’re up late? (I used the same strategy when I took a week off of blogging to send my novel out to agents. I treated the week “off” sort of like a sick day so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about not blogging.) The idea is that by changing your expectations, you change your behavior.

2. Leave the room. Literally. Or the house, if another adult is there. This is a particularly good strategy if you feel yourself losing your temper and don’t want to blow your stack. Go into another room and give yourself a time out. Or go for a walk. The distance itself will help you cool down.

3. Change the incentives. This follows directly from Gretchen Rubin’s 8th Happiness Commandment, “Identify the Problem.” For a long time, my kids used to eat breakfast right when they woke up. That was fine, except that it meant that when we went upstairs to get dressed, something invariably went wrong (usually with my daughter, who’s exceptionally fussy about what she wears). And so we’d end up barely managing to get dressed, brush teeth, brush hair and get out the door to school without a major blow-up. Then one day a light bulb went off. What if they got dressed first? And they wouldn’t be served breakfast until they had their clothes on? Boy, did that minor tweak in our morning schedule change behavior. My son now flies into his clothing so that he can dive into that bowl of cereal. My daughter still takes way longer to get ready, but rarely so long that it makes us late. And I’m much less irritable as a result.

4. Count backwards from a four digit number. This is a new one to me but a friend swears by it. You pick a number – any number, but it has to be four digits  – and count backwards by at least five. It’s sort of like the proverbial “count to ten” rule one often hears with regard to managing children’s tantrums, but apparently the complexity of the numbers and needing to go backwards makes it more effective.

5. Identify with them. Sometimes when I catch myself being frustrated by my kids’ behavior, I try to remember an instance where I behaved similarly in my own childhood to see if – by identifying with them – I can feel less annoyed. This is obviously a tough strategy to implement when you’re in the thick of a conflict, but it can be profitably employed when you sit back and take a long-term view of a situation. My son’s been going through some peer-pressure related stuff of late and I found myself getting exasperated and just wanting to go in and “fix” his social life. And then I remembered a time when my parents expressed dismay about my friendships and how frustrated I’d felt that they didn’t understand where I was “at” at the time. And once I did that, I immediately felt much less impatient with my son.

How about you? What strategies work for you when you want to be less impatient with your kids?

Image: a sleeping kid by mitikusa via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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