One of my kick-ass online clients sent me some inspired questions about productivity recently. He wrote:
“I get the sense that you have a very busy, full life. It sounds like you have almost limitless energy. I imagine you’re very well organized as well. You just seem very productive. Have you always been this way, or was there some shift to that way of being? Did you learn how to be more productive over time, or does it just seem natural? I’m curious because I’m both envious and kind of in awe at your ability to do all the things you do. I’ve realized for a while now that to make some of the things happen that I want to in my life, I have to learn how to do more with less time.”
I’m flattered he was able to deduce this about someone he’s never met in person before, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to give this some thought.
First, the facts...
Important fact #1: While I feel that I must’ve inherited at least some of my mom’s absolutely mind-blowing amount of energy, I feel that 90% of my productivity has been learned.
Important fact #2: My productivity has most definitely not “always been this way”. What’s “always been this way” is what seems like a natural drive to want to do so many different things and cram my life full and work my ass off. Couldn’t tell ya where that comes from. It just exists.
Important fact #3: I have absolutely no innate talent for any of the things I love doing - athletically, musically, or otherwise. If only! Instead, it’s a stubbornness to stick to a regular practice schedule, and practicing with intent in the (usually small) amount of time I have available.
What does Karina's day-to-day look like?
My client is correct in that I do live a very busy, full life. For those who don’t know, here’s a little breakdown of the basics:
» Client work: Monday to Friday, coaching my awesome online clients (coaching calls, workout program design, text/voice messaging communication, filming form videos in my gym). Client work also includes the admin side of things: follow-up items after sessions, check-ins, filing information, regular progress pics/measurements, etc.
» Writing: There's always some writing project or another going on! I often contribute to alive Magazine, for example. I've used my writing time to publish 3 books (with a 4th coming out in 2021!). I also maintain a blog and publish regular email content.
» Podcast: I host the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, with new episodes coming out every 2 weeks. I’m involved in all stages: writing, interviewing/recording, and editing, although I do have an assistant who helps with booking guests and creating show notes.
» Training: I work out between 8 and 10 times per week. A typical week is 6-7 strength training workouts, 2-3 swim workouts, and 1 jump rope session.
» Music: This has always been an extremely important part of my life. I used to play oboe in 2 semi-professional orchestras. Now I focus on accordion (aiming for 4 days per week of practice), Australian didgeridoo (regular weekly jam sessions with friends), and piano (currently a few times per week just to maintain repertoire; not learning anything new right now since my focus is accordion).
» Social life: I spend quality time with my husband every night at (and after) dinner. We take turns making dinner, and about once a week we make dinner together. Then we watch a few Netflix shows (by this point, my brain is so fried from a long day’s work that it’s not up for much else). We also have a weekly date night, usually on Saturdays.
The majority of my interaction with friends is centred around workouts. (There’s honestly not much time left over after factoring in all the above!) One of my 2 weekly swims is with a good friend, so we catch up in the hot tub after our respective workouts. The other swim is sometimes with a group of 3 friends, otherwise on my own. One of my upper body workouts each week is with my best friend (besties since the age of 6!), who also runs her own business so we’re both extremely pressed for time. My weekly track workout and one of my lower body workouts is most often done with another friend (who’s also a client). Otherwise I see my core group of friends (who all run their own businesses) about once a month.
So, inspired by my client’s questions to think about my fundamental productivity and doing-as-much-awesome-shit-as-possible principles, I present to you:
Karina’s Top 10 Getting Shit Done (GSD) Principles
GSD Principle #1: Set priorities. Know which shit needs to get done.
Being productive isn’t about getting the most things as possible done. It’s about getting done what’s the most important.
I use an old-school paper planner (weekly + quarterly) to set daily non-negotiable items. Each day has a maximum of three, but I always choose one as the most important. Everything else is a distraction until I get that one thing done.
GSD Principle #2: Delete distractions.
My seemingly natural drive to want to do a whole bunch of awesome shit means my brain is always on, and I get distracted very easily. Multitasking as a productivity “hack” is a myth. We need to focus on one thing at a time, with all our attention. Research shows that just having your phone in the same room as you decreases your concentration and your work performance, for crying out loud!
I use the SelfControl app to block access to distracting websites (social media, blogs, news sites, etc.) when I need access to the internet to do my work, but don’t want to get sucked into a time-wasting vortex of Facebook scrolling. I use the Freedom app when I’m writing or reading and want to block out all access to the internet. I check e-mail only a few times a day. Otherwise my e-mail application is closed.
GSD Principle #3: A cluttered environment leads to a cluttered brain.
Our environments have a big effect on our states of mind. I can’t stand clutter, so I make a point of “de-cluttering” my living and work space on a regular basis. I like starting the day with a clean desk (and a clean kitchen, for that matter).
I also can’t stand noise “clutter”. I have a strict no radio ads policy in the car (I turn the volume down to zero), and I often wear earplugs even when working at home.
A less cluttered environment means a less cluttered brain. And a less cluttered brain is a more effective – and happier – one.
GSD Principle #4: Use overarching themes to organize your life.
The more you can “theme” your days (or weeks, or months, or even years), the more you can make use of “batching” similar types of work. As you can tell from the summary of what I have going on in my life, there’s a lot of different stuff. Switching back and forth between different types of work takes a lot of mental effort that could otherwise be put toward getting shit done.
For example, let’s imagine you’re a writer working on an article deadline. You have your phone on your desk to receive intermittent texts from friends. Every time you get a text (or even check your phone), you’re pulling your mind away from “writing mode” and into “social mode”. This may not seem like much, but these small distractions add up over the workday. It would be much more effective to have a scheduled time set aside for socializing/texting/Facebooking, and a separate chunk of time scheduled for writing (and only writing).
I’ve themed each day of my week, and I try to batch together tasks under those themes as best I can. This means each day has an overarching focus, and I’m not constantly wasting mental energy jumping from mode to mode.
» Monday: Responding to client check-ins and touching base with every client.
» Tuesday: Client coaching calls and speaking with prospects.
» Wednesday: Working on long-term projects.
» Thursday: Client coaching calls and speaking with prospects.
» Friday: Learning day. I read, research, and learn new skills.
» Saturday: Fun day! I work on whatever I feel like working on, or I don’t work at all. Date night with the hubby.
» Sunday: Planning day. Groceries and food prep for the week, planning out my week in Google Calendar, and planning out my priorities, daily non-negotiables, and other weekly to do’s in my weekly planner.
I also theme my weeks, months, quarters, and years. For example, this year is all about building my online business. Everything else is a distraction. This quarter is all about putting together a new e-book (which fits into the year's goal of building my online business).
GSD Principle #5: Get serious about scheduling.
I use Google Calendar to schedule everything. I have separate calendars for each of the following:
» Clients: coaching sessions online or on the phone.
» Business: meetings, events, or other non-client business stuff.
» Personal: hangouts with friends and family, appointments, etc.
» Workouts: self-explanatory. My workouts are always planned at least a week in advance.
» Meals: I schedule what we’re eating and when.
I also have a “Business reminders” calendar and “Personal reminders” calendar. These keep track of client/friend birthdays, anniversaries, and more.
As one of my business coaches always used to say, "You need to treat yourself as your own best client". Schedule your work, and then show up for that work (as you would if you were meeting with your best client).
GSD Principle #6: Make self-care non-negotiable.
I need to present my best self at work and in the rest of my life, and I’m not at my best unless I’ve properly rested, fuelled, and trained. That means sleeping 8 hours every night (no exceptions), making eating and prepping nutritious and whole foods a daily priority, and ensuring I get in my weekly workouts.
We need to stop glorifying ‘busyness’. We need to stop equating lack of sleep with dedication to work or productivity. Find out what you need to do to function at your best, and do it!
GSD Principle #7: Be accountable to yourself, and call bullshit on yourself.
Getting shit done is going to take at least some level of self-discipline. That means doing what you know needs to get done, even when you don’t feel like doing it. It also means forgoing what you want in the present moment (e.g. a bag of chips) in pursuit of what you want in the future (e.g. losing 10 pounds).
To help me be accountable to myself, I use the Streaks app to track 6 metrics important to me this year: meditation, accordion practice, strength workouts, corrective/physio exercises, core training, and one arm chin-up practice. I’ve set intended frequencies for all these, and I can see when I’ve completed each and whether I’m on track.
I also use RescueTime, which tracks everything I do on my laptop and shows me how I’ve used my time. Here are some recent screenshots:
One drawback of RescueTime is that it can't differentiate between business-oriented productive social media time, and time-wasting Facebook scrolling. This particular week was very successful for my business in the social media department, but it shows up as "distracting" time.
You don’t need apps to be accountable to yourself, though. Just remember to regularly check in with yourself (weekly, daily, hourly) to ask yourself whether you’re working on what really needs to get done.
GSD Principle #8: Be OK with some level of chaos.
In order to focus on what’s really important, you need to be OK with other areas in your life existing in a state of chaos.
“You just cannot mess around with the small stuff if you want to build an amazing business or amazing career. You've got to be OK with a little bit of chaos. And it's going to happen. If you see any truly successful person, there's always a little bit of chaos in their wake and they're OK with it if they're doing their one thing.”
I always have a background list of approximately 64731037 To Do’s that don’t get done. My kitchen is always a mess. I don’t have time to clean my house between professional cleanings every 2 weeks. But I’m working with my amazing clients, kicking ass at the gym, and making time for music – things that are much higher on the priority list, and thus much more important to get done.
If practicing accordion on a certain day means not having a clean kitchen, so be it. I can’t realistically do both. If adding online clients to my roster means not having time to go for a manicure, so be it. I can’t realistically do both. If it’s a choice between getting in my daily workout or answering 10 e-mails that just came in, the e-mails will need to wait. You get the picture.
GSD Principle #9: Get help.
An outside perspective is a valuable way to get new insight into your work and your life. It’s an opportunity to discover ways of making your work more effective (and your life more awesome) that you may not have thought of yourself. Seek out friends, colleagues, and mentors who can help you. Hang out with people who already have what you want or are already doing what you want to do.
I strongly believe that all coaches should have their own coaches. I worked with an incredible business coach for many years, who helped me to develop many of my most strongly held lifestyle and work habits.
I also work with an amazing strength coach when I can make it to her side of the city, and follow strength programs she puts together for me. She has me doing things I’d never think of doing on my own, making my time in the gym much more effective. Having another coach take care of my programming also means I don’t have to do it myself, and I can put that mental energy toward helping my clients instead.
GSD Principle #10: I’d rather be good at many things instead of exceptional at one thing.
This is merely personal preference, and you may feel differently. I have so many varying interests, and the drive to pursue them all, that I need to be OK with the fact that I’ll never be world-class at any of them.
If you’re multi-passionate like I am, you need to find the best approach that gives each of your interests focused attention. I try to find a balance between interests like music, athletics, and writing, with the understanding that I’ll never be a concert accordionist, will never break any chin-up or jump rope world records, and (more than likely) won’t pen any New York Times best-selling books. That’s not being negative or cynical, that’s being realistic. And I’m OK with it.
If you want to be absolutely exceptional at a certain thing, you need to make that thing your “One Thing” and have an entirely different approach.