Hey, are you calmly being productive in your work and personal life in these apocalyptic-feeling days? Hats off to you.
I am not.
The general aura of anxiety that imbues my every day life bloomed into a full on meltdown near the end of last week, where all I could do was scroll the news and share wide-eyed looks of shock with friends.
(Now we are sharing those looks of shock over video conferencing software.)
As Oregon heads towards what seems like an inevitable lockdown, though, I’m starting to realize that the world is not going to become less *waves hands vaguely* like this. I still have deadlines with clients. I have a BOOK coming out next week that I still need to market or whatever (oh my God you guys are we still marketing our books right now???).
And, hey, if I’m going to have all this new free time I’d like to make some progress on the novel I’m currently writing.
I need to get my head on straight again.
I need to get back to the practices that used to keep me organized, sane, and on track.
Here’s what I’m doing this week — maybe it will help you?
Note: Or, seriously, don’t be productive. Read a book and binge Netflix or whatever, no judgement — take care of yourself. But if you want some tips, read on.
1. Morning Pages
Set a timer and write for 20 minutes.
(Long hand’s great if your wrists aren’t evil. Or type. Or dictate? Doesn’t matter.)
The words you’re producing don’t need to make sense. You can just hold down the “u” in “fuck” for twenty minutes if it makes you feel better. The idea is just to get all the thoughts swirling around in your head captured someplace where they seem more manageable.
Your morning pages are like the ghost trap in Ghostbusters, vacuuming up the chaos in your head first thing in the morning.
2. Freedom App
Install Freedom on your computer and phone, and say, “Get thee behind me, Twitter.”
(Note: that’s an affiliate link because I am so, so into this useful little app.)
You can set sessions to run automatically and limit your social media time to certain hours (like lunch, for me). Or you can set Freedom to block out the entire internet (or certain distractors) for a set period of time.
Like if you want to work on your book for the next hour.
I used to have a timer set on my phone to go off every day at 11:50am. I would then dutifully sit down, fire up Calm, and meditate.
When I was on a meditation roll, I found that it was much easier to simply let frantic, anxious thoughts slide off me. Like a duck on a water slide.
So why did I stop this marvelous practice?
Who the hell knows. I got busy. I got stressed out. I didn’t have time? I was too anxious??
All things that meditation helped me with.
So as of today that timer’s back on my phone.
4. Brain dump
Similar to morning pages, but you can do a brain dump at any time of the day. (Morning pages can only legally be done first thing in the morning, obvs.)
The way a brain dump works, is you just sit down and write down all the discrete tasks, ideas, worries, to-do list items, etc that are cluttering up your brain.
This lays them all out so you can take action on them, rather than trying to hold all that information in your head.
Get in the habit of doing this before you sit down to do distraction-free work, then keep a pad of paper nearby so you can easily capture additional items that pop up while you’re working.
I got the idea from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and talk more about how I use it in my book, From Chaos to Creativity. (Shameless plug!)
Going on an afternoon walk used to clear my mind and make me feel calmer about life. So why’d I stop?
Two big reasons:
- Ugh winter, enough said
- I got a treadmill standing desk
Because of the treadmill desk, I’m actually walking 2-3 hours every day, whereas before I would go on a ~45-minute walk outside each day.
So, yay, I’m getting exercise while I work? But the flip side is that I’ve just been at my desk all day long instead of actually taking time off from work.
I’m reinstituting the afternoon walk, stat.
6. Breaking the notifications habit
I have been sooooo distractible lately, and it doesn’t help that I’m constantly checking my notifications on phone and email.
I used to be so good about this — but now I have Slack and Teams and Gmail open throughout the day, and all three of them are dinging me with distractions.
Plus, my phone has all these little red bubbles telling me that Things Are Happening on Twitter and Instagram and all those other super important places.
I’m turning notifications off, and closing down communication programs I’m not actively working in.
7. Setting timers
I used to be all about the pomodoro method: setting a timer for 25 minutes of focused work, then letting myself get distracted (or doing chores) for 10.
Time to get back on the timer bandwagon. My favorite app for that is Forest, because you plant a little digital tree, and if you look at your phone before the time is up, the tree DIES.
It’s very motivating, I feel so bad if I kill one of those virtual trees.
Especially since the dead tree stays in your monthly “forest” screen, reminding you that you COULDN’T NOT LOOK AT YOUR PHONE FOR EVEN 10 MINUTES YOU SLACKER???!!
Yeah, I definitely need to start using Forest again to time working sprints.
That’s the list.
Have you tried any of these methods in the past? What’s working for you now? How are you getting your brain back on track during these trying times?
Let me know in the comments.
And stay safe out there.