Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of “Relaxed Productivity”. The past few weeks have been a bit manic. I’ve been juggling multiple projects, chasing new business, creating new products and producing more content than I usually do. It has been a bit crazy.
So last week, I wanted to try a different tact. Or at least, I could afford to try. See, I always have the experienced of being almost at the edge of overwhelm. My fingers are always in a lot of different projects, I’m always doing a lot of work. But that comes with its cost. Eventually things devolve. The work gets a bit sloppy, projects are rushed and I slip into extreme fatigue. Something has to give. I spent most of the other week in a sleep deprived state. I got stuff done and done very well, but it left me exhausted.
In 2018 or so I came across the concept of ‘Working to Live’ and it started to change the way i approached work. The thing as a freelancer, one man band, mercenary, is that it is very easy to get overwhelmed with work. There are always requests coming your way, projects to be finished, projects that were finished coming back with more stuff or edits or changes. There is always more work.
You can also be incentivised to take on more work. Because the more you work, the more you earn. At the same time, it can be difficult to charge as high as is needed, because otherwise then you don’t close the deal, and sometimes you need the cashflow however small so you take the hit. Plus, people almost never pay when they say they will, projects get stuck in limbo or fall off completely. And when they do pay, they want things yesterday. So you get stuck in a loop, taking a lot of work to make the money you desire and then bumping up against time and energy constraints. You end up working ridiculous hours and crashing and burning repeatedly.
Is there another way?
Is what I’ve been wondering.
I have come across local creatives talking about how they are fully booked for months. So I’d imagine they are simply spending the next few months only working on what’s already on their plate. That seems nice, like they already have enough in the bank, or charged high enough to be able to maintain such a schedule. Also it means that they have enough time to really dig into the project and get things done to a high standard.
Must be nice, I want in also.
To Work to Live means to schedule ones life around life as much as possible, instead of work. It means scheduling the things that are important first – like rest, like exercise, and eating, or chores, and then scheduling work around that. Now sure, this is a very privileged place to be in. But if you already have control of your time as an entrepreneur or freelancer then this is a worthy goal to strive for.
What principles would have to be in place?
If your bills and needs are high, then you will always need to be generating income. And if you generate income from your work/labour, then you are going to have to work a lot. Reducing your footprint and reconsidering your lifestyle can give you the space you need to position yourself better and work more sustainably.
Plan at least a week ahead
To have a more relaxed and productive workflow, you need to have clarity over your time, resources and tasks and set things up accordingly. You would need to plan your life at least a week a time and front load it with the right amount of work. Know what needs to be done each week and really be honest about how much time things will take. Any other tasks that come up would have to compete against the already assigned task or move to the next week.
That means probably no rush projects, if you can help it.
Strive to be as effective as possible
If you only have limited time to work, then you have to make sure you are working on the most important things. Prioritise the important things and the things that will give the biggest results. Then you can get around to all the other stuff. Make the time you spend working count.
Be more valuable
To enjoy more relaxed productivity, you are probably going to need to increase your income. And you can do that by increasing your value, improving your skills, and selling your value to the clients who can afford it. You are going to raise those prices to attract and service the right market.
Innovate your business model
To be able to strive to a more relaxed level of productivity, you would need to work differently. Make your business or setup less dependent on you and built upon systems that can run without you. That could mean selling products, hiring people, or leveraging digital platforms. Position yourself for scalable exponential growth and that could earn you your freedom
Enjoy the time off
It can be easy to fall back into old patterns of toxic hustle culture. And there’s a time and place for that. Sometimes you do have to go all out and work like crazy, but when we in relaxed mode, we want to allow ourselves to actually enjoy the time off. For a workaholics like me, it can be hard to turn the brain off and just do something else. But invest the time in yourself, in your experiences, in your relationships and funny enough, it might just make you even better at your work.
At the time of writing this, it is February, we already just over a month into the new year. And if you are reading this, you are probably the type of person to have made goals and set targets for this year.
How are you doing on those by the way? Are you still excited and eagerly chasing after them or have you fallen off yet?
Most probably the cracks have started to show. Most people approach goals with the intention of making these vast sweeping changes at once, like they suddenly developed a new personality once the calendar flipped over a new year. Unless you have a ridiculous amount of will power, this is typically an exercise in failure.
To stay consistent and actually stand a chance of reaching your goals, you need to focus on tactics that make the changes a bit more subtle, consistent and lasting. Things like focusing on building the right habits, starting small, building new routines and feeding your motivation.
But there is one simple reason we tend to fall off our pursuit.
As stupid as it sounds, many times we lose track of a goal because we literally forget about it.
Every day is a struggle, with multitude of stimuli, questions, requests, demands, and distractions. It is very easy to start off the year with good intentions and then have things just trail off. I know, it happened to me many times.
We get busy, we get distracted, sometimes we even distract ourselves with ‘good’ things. It is often easier for me to just bury myself in work than face something I don’t want to yet. But we must fight to be aware of this tendency, and to take steps to mitigate it.
We do this by keeping the goal in front of us. Having a totem, a reminder, something physical, tangible or otherwise always in front of us that reminds us of what is important, of what we are moving towards.
In this way, when the demands come at us, when the distractions come, we are able to glance over quickly, and have our goals firmly at the front of our minds and thus we can respond appropriately.
My personal experience
2018 was the year I started blogging consistently, and by the end I was able to point to a full year of almost weekly updates. It was the year I really pushed my personal brand forward and made many strides in my life and work. I even released two books in that time. It was a year of incredible focus and consistency.
Up on to this point, I had struggled with pursuing some of my goals. I would start the year eager to get certain things done, and look up months later to see that although I was very busy doing many things, I had completely lost track of what was most important to me.
So what changed in the pivotal year of 2018? Many things, but one of the most powerful things I stumbled upon was changing my diary for the year into a totem. In the front and back inside covers, I had printed out and stuck sheets that highlighted my new personal brand, life philosophy and the multiple projects I wanted to get done.
Every time I opened that book, to take notes in a meeting, to plan, to keep track of tasks, I was reminded of the person I wanted to be, and the goals I was pursuing. It was inescapable. Having that constant reminder changed my life.
Here are 3 ways keeping your goals visible can change yours.
They serve as a constant reminder
Like I mentioned earlier, we often lose track of our goals because we just forget about them. Keeping your goals visible and close by serves as a near constant reminder of where we are going and what we are trying to get done. If we then choose not to pursue them, it is a more conscious decision as opposed to it just getting buried under the pile of other things vying for our attention.
They stimulate our minds
When our goals are perpetually in front of us, reminding us, our brains are constantly thinking about them, churning up ideas in the background, working on ways to achieve them, or build our lives around their pursuit. And if we enhance this by designing your environment in such a way that orients us towards our goals, it all combines us to move us steadily and automatically towards those ends.
Having your goals always in front of you also keeps you primed and sensitive. So that when opportunities come up, or chances for synchrony happen, you are ready to recognise and take advantage of them.
They build motivation
Seeing the vision constantly helps to cultivate burning desire. Something that is essential to helping you stick it out over the long run. Sometimes we set the goal we want, but we don’t want it enough to do whatever it takes. Keeping your goals in front of you stimulate the visions of it in your mind. They help you visualise having it and becoming the sort of person that achieves it. They also help fan the flames of desire until you are going after it with all you got.
Keeping your goals front and centre in your daily life is a small thing, but can have outsized effects. You can do this in many ways. You could keep a vision board close by, in your office, in your room. You could do as I did and dedicate pages of your daily planner to it. You could make it your phone or computer wallpaper, or place post-its all over your apartment. Whatever works for you.
Keep your goals in front of you, and they becomes that much easier to follow through.
Thank you for your attention and reading this to the end. If you enjoyed this post, please share with someone who you think might benefit greatly from it.
In a previous post, I shared my experience with upgrading my living space, and as I mentioned then, the experience has inspired me to take a closer look at productivity as a whole. Although I am already fairly organized, I know there is still plenty room for improvement.
And as I dive down the rabbit hole and nerd out on productivity tools and frameworks over the next couple of weeks, I will share ideas on how to improve how we get stuff done and stay on track with all our concerns.
I find myself asking questions like. What does my workflow look like now? How do I stay on top of everything? How do I become more effective and efficient? How do I ensure I do the things that usually tend to fall through the cracks? What systems do I have in place to capture all the ideas, tasks, requests I have and be able process them well?
How do I read more and retain information? How do I gather my notes in such a way that it is easy to access and apply those insights? How do I keep up to date with all my projects and make sure they are moving forward?
A lot of questions I’m sure I will have a lot of fun trying to answer. But even now, there are some quick ideas I can think of to help take your productivity to the next level, and make yourself even more effective.
Have a prep/planning day
If you don’t already do this, then you need to set a day and a time to plan your week. Every week.
If you are able to build the habit of checking in with your goals, intentions, tasks and priorities weekly, you stand a much better chance of staying aligned to it over the long term.
This is the time that you take to review the week that has passed and look over the one coming. You can do this on a Sunday before the week officially starts, or on Monday morning, or whenever really. As long as it happens every week.
In this time you get to empty your mind of all the reminders, and tasks and requests that have been swirling up there and objectively sift through them to prioritise the most important things to get done in the coming week.
This is absolutely crucial if you want to keep your plates properly juggled.
Make your calendar your best friend
I’m not yet great at this, but in my research, I have seen quite a few people swear by having a calendar. It is a vital component to your productivity and time management.
The idea is to make sure that every appointment, call to make, birthday, event to attend, you want to make sure all of that is captured in your calendar so you don’t forget. Instead of having to keep all of that in your head, all you need to do is pull up the calendar and be reminded of what you need to do by when.
Another powerful use of the calendar is to use it to time block. You can actively plan your day hour by hour the day before according to your prioritised todo list, and actually block off time for each task. So when you start the day, you have a clear game plan, and at any point in the day, you know what you should be working on.
Obviously you can move things around as you need them, but having a plan in the first place is invaluable in putting you in control of your day. It eliminates distractions and keeps you focused and accountable.
Organized productivity boils down to a few main principles
When trying to be organised and productive, people often worry about the details – what tools to use, what apps to download, what is the best notebook, etc. But truth is, the tools are less important than the underlying system and principles.
There are a few main principles to getting things done, those boil down to – capturing, filtering, scheduling, evaluating. You want to be able to reliably and consistently data dump all requests, tasks and ideas into appropriate apps and notes. You want to be able to filter and prioritise all that stuff. Then you need to be able to schedule the most important tasks or steps of your ongoing projects. And you also want a system where you can monitor what you are doing and review and adjust as needed.
Once you have these main things in place, it doesn’t matter exactly what tools you use, just that they work for you.
Invest in your tools
Whatever you do for work or creativity, there are the tools of your trade that you use regularly. You probably use a computer, you might need a camera, or a ring light, or some notepads and pencils. Evaluate what you do, and what you need to get it done. Invest in improving your tools from time to time. Get things that are durable, as top of the line as you can afford, as nice as you can afford. If you enjoy using your tools, you will enjoy your work.
The day I switched from a PC based set up to Mac was a game-changer for me personally and I haven’t looked back since. Getting an extra screen boosted my workflow and productivity. The Logitech MX3 mouse I started using this weekend is already having quite the impact on the way I work and design.
Invest in your tools and leverage them to become better at what you do.
It is all about reducing friction
I mentioned this already in my post about upgrading your environment, but it bears repeating here. What being organized and improving productivity is all about is making it easier and more fun to do what we need to get done.
Having a neat and clearly define place for everything allows you to easily find what you need when you need it. Using your calendar allows you to free up mental space to actually be creative or problem solve with the peace of mind that nothing is falling through the cracks. Having a proper note taking system allows you to access the information you need when you need it. Designing and fine-tuning your workstation to your needs make its easier to plug in and get things done.
Keep evolving your productivity practice and finding ways to reduce friction and you will find it easier to breeze through your work and reclaim the time and space you deserve to enjoy life.
It is something that we all strive for. We want to improve, be better. We would love to radically improve our lot if we could. That is why we chase the products, the programs, the latest book or fad. We seek the insights that would change the game.
Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we come across a gem, an idea, a method that does truly change the game, that enables us to transcend previous limitations. Many times, we are left dissatisfied, with yet more broken promises and dashed dreams.
Over the past few weeks, I have noticed a marked difference in how I operate. I have felt clearer, more focused, a bit more balanced. I mean it is not perfect, and I still dip in energy and vibration. But all in all, I am able to cycle right back. With this has come new ideas, new ways of engagement and opportunities to pursue.
So I sat down one evening and thought to myself, wait, why do I feel so good? And how can I capture this state or at least the recipe for it so that when I needed it, I could go back to it. Have I possibly found the secret? Is this is actually the way? Do I have an answer for the question – How to break through to the next level?
Perhaps. I think I do, I mean it’s still early to tell. But so far the results look promising. So this is me sharing my epiphany, my recipe. And we’ll see if time is kind to it.
In my opinion, and experience, to level up, to break through to a new level of acting and being, you have to take a three pronged approach – you need an exposure to greatness, you need to maintain and raise your vibration and you need to do the work.
Expose yourself to greatness
Things started to click for me in an interesting way, when I stumbled on a few classes on SkillShare and videos on YouTube. I was introduced to a couple of content creators who are very successful, and also shared their mindset and methods as to how they are able to get so much done and be productive.
And just watching these pieces of content showed me that yes, it was possible to be creatively productive and prolific. That many people had developed hacks, and tactics and put in a great deal of work to make sure that their workflows moved as smoothly as possible, and made it possible for great quality output.
It opened up something in my mind, and so I had a close look, I took some classes, made some notes and implemented them. And that loop has been great – being exposed to what success in the field looks like and learning to mirror that.
We are social creatures. We are heavily influenced by the people we engage with and the content we connect with. They do not just bombard our conscious mind with information but also work on the subconscious to tilt us towards certain things and away from others. Monkey see, Monkey do, is a real thing.
If we expose ourselves to greatness, which means to be able to observe and learn from the best, or at least from those who embody that which we want to be, we are able to learn deeply not just the mechanics of things, but also the nuances, the attitudes, the execution, that feed us all the information we need, consciously and unconsciously to get there ourselves.
And more importantly, they provide us with key proof, that the thing we seek is attainable.
Raise your vibration
Weeks prior to coming to this recipe that I’m sharing now, I realised that I had fallen out of using the law of attraction. Not that I think that I can magically manifest whatever I want out of thin air.
But there is great power in recognising that your mind and your emotional states affect your mood, your energy, what you feel is possible and in turn the action you take, the energy you put behind it and eventually the results you receive.
I typically tend to default towards some level of anxiety. My mental state is usually drawn towards the reality I don’t want to create. How things could go wrong or not work out. So I have started to deliberately hold on to the energy I want, and when it dips, to work to maintain it and pull it back up.
I imagine things working out, I visualise what I desire. It is important to actively hold an expansive and powerful energy within. Rise up above the noise, and see good things happening.
Connect with the things that inspire and uplift you. Pray, meditate, consume high vibration content. In so doing, you will draw in opportunities, connections, audience, open doors, creativity, collaboration, and so forth.
This is will in no way replace doing the work. But it will put you in the right frame of mind to approach it effectively and supercharge your efforts.
Do the work
There’s no substitute for it. You have to do the work.
Do what you know you must do. Take right action. Take the right steps. Because nothing will happen if you don’t move, if you don’t push. Be prepared, be focused, be unrelenting in the pursuit of that which you seek.
It is in the application, in the practical, in the work that the lessons we learn from greatness really sink in. It is in the doing that new insights are gained, that we move from knowing the path to walking it. Here, the learnings become embedded in our bones, in our routines, in our very selves.
But I don’t just mean work work. Although that is a part of it. I also mean The Work. The important stuff. the thing that makes your heart sing. The one that deeply fulfils you. The work that exercises your true gifts, stimulates your true interest.
We might not all be fortunate to do what we are passionate about and make money from it. Many of us have to make money in different ways. But it is important to make space for passion in our lives. To hold space for purpose.
We are all here for more than just to eat, sleep, consume, work and die. We are here to breathe, to love, to dance, to laugh, to cry, to feel, to be. To claim our little speck of existence. To be fully human. And a big part of that is giving our gift, giving our message. Adding our true selves to the tapestry of human existence.
For me, that’s this blog, and all the other spaces I make content. It is my privilege to plumb the depths of the human experiences as it presents itself to me and try to make some sense of it. As I teach, I learn and I grow. It is as much for me as it is for you reading this right now.
And that’s what i believe we all have to find. For each of us, the work is different. Some want to save the planet, we should all try to save the planet. For others, the work is family and relationships. For others still, it is invention. For some, it is to entertain, for others it is to help. Whatever it is. We have to find that work, and do it.
It is in the expression of our full and highest selves that we find deep fulfilment and purpose.
In doing so, in holding these three principles in mind, we can make sure we are receiving the right stimuli, sharpening our minds, habits and perceptions. We are able to hold a strong center, keeping our energies focused and rising to the occasion. We are disciplined in action, and steadily levelling up.
Does your life feel like a raging dumpster fire of problems with no way out? Are you constantly moving around in circles unable to make real progress? It might be an issue in how you manage chaos.
It is impossible to make real steady progress towards a goal or an intention if every time you take a step forward, you get knocked two steps back. Unfortunately, this is the lived experience of a lot of people.
Perhaps you feel unable to pull yourself out of your present situation – a life stuck in unhealthy patterns with no hope of meaningful progress. You keep trying and failing to get your shit together to no avail. And while there might be real external and systemic factors against you sure, a large part of that can be boiled down to how much chaos there is in your life.
Here is the thing, if you want something, like really want it, then you would invariably orient your whole life towards it. You would think about that thing all the time, obsessing over it, eventually streamlining your time, your environment and your actions towards the goal of getting that thing.
You would take steps to achieving your goals and dreams, day by day, week by week. Ideally, you would take these steps consistently over time, letting them stack and build and take you towards where you want to be.
Unfortunately, for many of us, the journey to what we want is instead a series of false starts, detours, and failures. With days, months, years passing us by, while we make no real progress.
Because we have neglected to manage chaos effectively.
In the context of this piece, I am going to define chaos as the vagaries of life, the unpredictable factors and events that happen to us.
Chaos is neither good nor bad. It is just a thing. It can win us the lottery, leading us inexplicably against all odds into some incredible things, opportunities and positions. It can also wipe us out with sudden tragedy.
Depending on how we manage it.
And how you manage chaos is about how you organise and orient your life.
You can never completely reduce chaos to zero, and neither should you. Too much order will leave you rigid and stale. Sometimes you need to shake things up. But the better you are at managing chaos, the smoother your life would be.
If you have dreams of being successful, but you are in an environment where you can’t even think or be productive – a crowded studio apartment with too many room mates, you have too much chaos in your life.
If it is easy for friends to call you at anytime and completely derail your state of flow, there is too much chaos in your life.
If the basics of your life are not sorted, shelter, food, clothing, if survival is your main concern, you have too much chaos in your life. You have no control, and no leverage.
The path to success starts with reducing this chaos. In racking up the small wins to create calm and control in your life.
Our ability to live intentionally, to go for what we want, to have all of our life working together towards a harmonious whole, lies in our ability to manage chaos.
So, where does chaos show up and how can we manage it?
Reduce chaos in your time
Take a good look at your life. Does your day-to-day routine help you move forward or does it hold you back? We all have the same 24 hours in a day. How do you spend yours? Is it deliberately and intentionally spent in the direction of values you have chosen, or is it at the mercy of forces outside your control. If you cannot have extended periods of time to be productive, to take real directed action, it will be nigh impossible to get the results you want. Outcomes that can build on each other and snowball into greatness.
We push back chaos by being organised, by planning, by managing our time, appropriately allocating it to the things we should do to get what we want.
Reduce chaos in your environment
Is your environment designed to help you reach your goals or is it a major stumbling block? I remember the times I shared living space with mates. They were boisterous, fun loving friends. Nothing against it, it was a lot of fun, with something interesting almost always going on. But it becomes hard to do the things you really want to do, to invest time in working or learning or creating when there is steady stream or activity of people around.
We have to take control in our environment, building a space for ourselves, or carving one out. A space for us. A space that allows us to do that which we must do. It is the study area, it is the quiet time, the productive space, the rejuvenation spot. They serve as lighthouses of calm in the raging sea of chaos.
Reduce chaos in your relationships
Do the people around you, the company you keep, help you be the person you want to be? Or are they a source of drama, low level distractions and thinking? We have heard the proverb, show me your friends and I will show you who you are. It is cliche for a reason.
The people around us influence us, consciously and subconsciously. And for better or worse, the closer we get, the more entangled and enmeshed we become. Entangling with the wrong people is a recipe for disaster over time.
If your relationships are filed with drama and constant conflict, that will wear thin on you causing strain and making it difficult for you to move forward in the way you should.
By mending and managing our relationships, being careful with our connections and who we align with, we can reduce chaos and move with those we can build with.
Reduce chaos in your mind
How is the state of your mind? Are you calm and collected or are you wracked by anxieties and worries, beset by a continuous stream of problems? If your mind is in turmoil, you are living in chaos. It is these stresses that make it so hard to progress. It is these storms that we must calm.
Being mindful of our mental space, taking time for ourselves, to rest, to reflect, to nourish allows us to bounce back from the troubles of life. They give us the resilience to handle strain, to practice courage, to stay optimistic and bring our best selves to life’s challenges.
Be mindful of what you feed your mind, being trapped in the news cycle or social media feeds especially in a tumultuous time like this is the path to overwhelm and shut down. Take care of yourself. Reduce the chaos.
Reducing chaos in your actions
Don’t do stupid shit.
You know those people, the ones who never seem to catch a break, the ones who are walking magnets for problems. Most times of their own volition. If there is a wrong decision to be made, they will make it.
The decisions you make and the things you do will either increase or reduce the amount of chaos in your life.
Decide to go home after a long day of work to a home cooked meal, relaxation and full night of sleep…that will give you some calm and set you up for the next day.
Decide to go to the pub instead and get belligerently drunk, and your chaos meter goes way up, with the possibility of your face being rearranged in a bar fight.
If you are able to reduce the chaos in your life, you are left with calm, you are left with empty space. The space to breathe, to think, to learn, to correct, to plan, to create, to put to action.
If you manage chaos in this way, you will build a calmer and more relaxed life. A life that is aligned with your higher intentions. You will still face problems and challenges, but they will be the obstacles standing directly in front of your goals, good problems, problems to learn and master in getting what you want.
You will not be distracted and derailed by avoidable problems, and you will save yourself from unnecessary stress.