In her book The Joy Of Missing Out, productivity expert Tanya Dalton writes about the day she had an epiphany. “For a long time I lived in this world of ‘busy’ and overwhelm, racing around with little purpose or direction in my life,” she tells Be Kind & Co. “One morning I was literally turning in circles in my kitchen, feeling helpless and not knowing where to begin on my mile-long to-do list.” That was when she realized that her idea of how to be productive wasn’t working. “The idea of ‘productivity’ had to be redefined if women were to live their best lives. I set off to conquer that change and redefine productivity for women everywhere.”
Especially in quarantine, while many of us have seen our homes turn into our workplaces, Tanya says women often end up taking up the brunt of the excess workload. “In addition to work and home, women with kids also have to monitor their kids’ schooling now — something I thought I had left behind when I left my teaching career!”
Tanya offers these tips on becoming your most productive you during quarantine, and how it might require you to rethink your definition of the word altogether.
Let Go Of Perfectionism
Tanya believes that women especially have been pressured to juggle it all during the last six months of quarantine. From making sure their children get the best education, to maintaining their careers and feeling pressure from social media, to making the most of their added family time around the house, it can all be very stressful. “That’s a lot of pressure!” she says. “What I will tell women who are struggling with perfectionism right now is to instead use this time to be aggressively imperfect. More than ever I’m seeing true authenticity from people… whether it’s spotting a sink full of dirty dishes in someone’s Zoom background, or a kid walking up behind them, or a dog barking. This is a time where it’s ok to feel vulnerable because we all feel that way. We’re all human at the end of the day.”
If It Dominates Your Life, It’s Not Productivity.
While trying to be productive is great, Tanya says there are warning signs if your desire to produce becomes unhealthy. “I think the ultimate sign is if you’re feeling helpless, or like you do not have control over your own schedule. I often say that feeling overwhelmed comes when you don’t know where to start.”
Tanya goes on to say that a big part of productivity is to “do less, but do it better.” She recommends tearing up your to-do list and creating a priority list instead. “If it’s not a priority, let it go! So much of prioritizing is learning to let go of that extra noise that’s standing in the way of our true goals.”
Tanya points out that it’s important to identify your “North Star,” the constant in your life that guides you. Tanya defines a North Star with three elements: mission (what we’re doing now), vision statement (where we want to be), and core values (how these can be defined by our actions). “Once you have this filter set in place, you’ll find decision making to be much easier. You will erase the time spent agonizing over whether you should say yes or no to a request. The answer will lie within your North Star.”
Take Advantage Of The Downtime To Be Productive
If you’re finding you have less to do now that everything’s closed, Tanya recommends looking on the bright side. “Use the constraint of social distancing to your benefit,” she urges. “Research shows that adding some sort of limitation can really hone your focus so you can deeply explore creative thoughts. Constraints can direct us to make the best out of what we already have.” If you’re experiencing an abundance of free time in lockdown, consider directing some of it towards turning a big goal of yours into a reality.
Silo Your Stress
Tanya wants more people to recognize the things in life they have control over and, just as importantly, the things they don’t. “We cannot control the spread of COVID-19. We can only do our part as individuals: wash your hands, eat healthy, get enough sleep.” She says the biggest thing in our control is something that’s most likely been wreaking havoc on our wellness throughout the lockdown: the news. “Don’t spend your entire day sucked into the 24-hour news cycle if you’re hoping to get anything substantial done at work. Instead I recommend devoting a specific time or two of say to check the news. Refreshing your Twitter page every ten minutes to see what the latest development is will not decrease your chances of contracting the virus, but it will negatively affect your productivity.”
Tanya points to specific research that says that designating a specific “worry time” where you focus on the things that are causing you stress can help keep those worries from dominating the rest of your day. “By choosing a timeframe to take in the news, you can help control your stress.” She suggests going a step further and planning something after “worry time” that will boost your endorphins. “Take a walk, read a book for a few minutes, or call up a friend. Switching your mindset to a positive place will help you focus when you need to return.”
Overcome Your Negativity Bias With Gratitude
According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, our brains are wired to hold onto the negative and let go of the positive. As Hanson describes it, “The brain is like velcro for negative experiences and teflon for positive ones.” This negativity bias means we react more strongly to bad news, and our brains need to experience many more positive interactions than negative ones in order to thrive.
That is why it is a good idea to focus on the good. “When my husband and I realized that the bad news wasn’t going away anytime soon, we decided to start each morning by voicing five things we’re grateful for. I try to include one or two things that have to do with my business or career. That way, when I sit down and start working, I’m reminded why I’m doing it.”
Tanya is currently working on her second book that will focus on helping women live lives of intention every day, even when they are busy. This book will include strategies and tools to make that happen. It’s set to hit bookshelves October 2021.