By Lisa Heay, Director of Business Operations at Heinz Marketing

I’m not a productivity expert. I wish that I was. There are many out there who are who I am in awe of. But productivity is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. How can I balance everything on my to-do list and keep my sanity, too?

Are you Tired? I am!

As a full-time working mom of two young boys, I feel like my hair is on fire all day long. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep, I feel like I am rushing through life to get everything done. Yet I still feel like I’m not doing enough with my time. My to-do list never seems to get shorter.  

My typical day looks like this: Get up, make the kids some breakfast, work out (this is something new I’ve been trying to work into my routine for the past couple of months! Fingers crossed it holds), shower, walk the kids to school, work my full-time job, pick the kids up, go to whatever after school activity is current (this season it’s baseball!), eat dinner, get the kids in bed, do dishes/laundry/whatever chore has piled up, and usually by 9:30 or 10:00pm, flop down in a heap on my couch, turn on a show, and immediately fall asleep.

Rinse, repeat. The next morning, it’s the same thing all over again.

The middle, “do my job” bit, is a time where I get to sit in one place. But that doesn’t mean I’m at peak productivity. My brain says, “Oh! you’re sitting! It must be time to check out.” Nope. And I’ve been working on ways to push through that feeling.

Tips I’ve Found to be Helpful

Some things that have helped me:

Health and fitness. Drinking water and exercising has done wonders for my brain. But they are easy things to ignore.

Taking breaks. Get up and walk away from your desk. I’ve found that working from home, it’s so easy to hide myself away at my desk all day. But it’s important to take care of your own needs, too. Get up, go for a walk, eat your lunch somewhere other than your work area.

Be protective of your focus time. Set calendar meetings for yourself to work so that your time isn’t claimed by other people. Turn off Slack, close your notifications. Put your phone aside, or face down so that each Instagram like doesn’t immediately distract you.

I’ve read many things that have said to shut down your email. I tried it, and honestly, it didn’t work for me. I’d shut down my email, but then need to open it back up to find an attachment, or find the context for something, or check my calendar. And when I opened it back up, I’d be immediately sucked into responding to all the new mail that has come in while shut down.

But I was clued into this little life hack that I didn’t realize before. You can set your email to “Work Offline”. This allows you to leave your email box open. You can still see your calendar and get meeting reminders, you can still search through messages for context and anything you need for the task you’re working on. But what this does is freeze any new messages from coming in or going out. You can compose new messages and they’ll sit in your outbox until you’re back “online”. Game. Changer. Having the ability to receive new messages when it is convenient for ME is amazing.

Pay attention to the times of day that you feel at your best. There are studies that say morning is best for most people, but for me? My brain really kicks in in the afternoon. Maybe it’s impending deadlines that force me into action, or maybe my coffee finally kicks in, but I get the most done in the afternoon (when all my coworkers are in their post-lunch coma).

Don’t overcommit. I’m guilty of this all the time. I tell myself it’s possible to accomplish a dozen things on my list in a day and it has never once happened. Why do I keep doing this to myself? I’d be better off choosing the one thing that is most important to focus on and sticking to it until it’s complete. 

Resources from the Professionals

Here are some productivity resources to consider from the people who are the experts:

Atomic Habits by James Clear is the guide for breaking bad behaviors and adding good ones to your day, proving that small, incremental routines can add up into a large positive change over time.

Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. A metaphor for tackling the most challenging task of your day, this book reminds  us that if we eat the frog first thing each morning, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that it was probably the worst thing you’ll do all day. Or in other words – identify the tasks most critical to do first and have the most impact.

Secrets to Productivity, Work/Life Balance and Success. You know I had to squeeze in a Heinz Marketing resource in the list, right? But this is where I got the Outlook “Work Offline” tip that has changed my work life, so it’s legit. Matt Heinz is productivity-obsessed and offers some great tips in this guide on beating procrastination and making yourself efficient right now. Check it out.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen and James Fallows is a guide for stress-free productivity with lists and reminders so you can free your mind from having to remember all the things you need to do.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This one is sitting on my desk as we speak. This book examines the internal obstacles to success so that readers can identify and overcome the inner barriers to creativity.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. This is one that came highly recommended by a coworker. This one explores the idea of developing a habit around deep work—the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task.  

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School by John Medina. By the end of this book, you’ll understand how the brain works and how you can harness its powers to get the most out of it.

If books aren’t your thing, there are many short courses, podcasts, and articles on the art of productivity and overcoming procrastination, as well. Don’t wait—get to it!

What are your productivity hacks? I’d love to hear it.