In our online, globalized age, busy is our default status. But does busy equate to productive? Not exactly. There are plenty of ways to work smarter, and some of the most effective methods don’t have anything to do with calendar organizers or slick technology. Prioritizing your mental health leads to increased productivity, a happy work environment and more cash.
1. Use a journal to clear your head
So many of us jump straight into our days without giving ourselves the chance to unpack our frequently overstimulated brains. We fret about interactions that happened earlier in the week, things we need to finish, conflicts with friends and family, money worries. How can we hope to stay focused and productive with all that rattling in our heads?
Before you dig into your to-do list, give yourself twenty minutes to write down all the thoughts that are left over from the day before and may be distracting you from the day ahead. These notes are for your eyes alone—keep them in a place only for you. Get it all out on paper, and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to roll up your sleeves and get to work. A calm state of mind is essential when you’re going to be handling a potentially stressful set of tasks like budgeting or making large financial decisions.
2. Discover your mental schedule
Even though the 9-5 work schedule is largely a societal norm, it’s important to recognize that not all people work the same way. Some find that they do their best work straightaway in the morning, while others take time to calibrate. Does your mind feel fuzzy until noon, no matter how much you try? Complete your quick, mindless tasks earlier in the day and turn to your bigger projects in the afternoon when you’re at your best. Do afternoons make you feel lethargic and unmotivated? Tackle your most complicated items in the morning and save the later hours for administrative work and one-off tasks.
The key here is not to force it; the more we work against our own rhythms, the more exhausted we’ll find ourselves and the more time we’ll waste. Play to your strengths.
3. Make space for creativity
Our creative pursuits often take the backseat to what we view as more “important” obligations, but in reality, creative time is just as essential as the time you spend answering all your emails. And you don’t have to call yourself an artist to enjoy this exploration—all of us have creative impulses. Creativity can look like knitting a scarf, walking down a new hiking trail or installing that car modification you’ve been dreaming about.
We put off these projects until we have more time, more money, more resources. Here’s the thing: creativity feeds the hustle, not the other way around. Sometimes that journaling session, that afternoon fishing excursion, or that wine-fueled painting session can lead to some fabulous revelations related to your professional life by giving your mind a space to breathe and play.
4. Create a workstation that builds you up
Our surroundings have a significant impact on our mental state; a messy, neglected workstation can drain our motivation right out of us. Are you a minimalist? Keep that desk satisfyingly organized and devoid of clutter. Do you thrive in chaos? You don’t have to purge all your stuff, but organize it in a way that feels cozy and doesn’t interfere with your workflow. Are you outdoorsy? Get yourself some desk plants—snake plants and cacti are having a moment, you know. Any way you want to take it, a personalized workspace makes for a happier, more productive you.
5. Lighten your mental load with a planning mindset
What is a mental load? It’s the amount of things you’ve got whirring around in your head, the things you have to remember to do. What’s the best way to manage this never-ending mental task list? Planning ahead. While it can feel intimidating, the time you put in to organize your needs pays for itself when you consider how much energy and mental space it’ll free up down the road.
And this planning mindset can translate to all aspects of your life, big and small. Prep your meals for the week so you don’t waste time fretting over dinner or waste food you’ve already paid for. Book your fitness or art classes weeks in advance to set a healthier routine and avoid the last-minute avoidance of commitment. Find ways to invest your cash into passive income streams so you don’t have to worry about lean months. Stepping back and looking at your big-picture needs will keep you from wasting energy and money on things that ultimately do not serve you.