I am a big fan of making small tweaks to your lifestyle for the sake of efficiency and productivity. At the same time, I am also a big advocate for knowing your limits and maintaining good mental health as you go about work.
Over the last couple of years, I have been a full-time student as well as a full-time employee at a custom software development company. So saying that I have achieved a work-school-life balance would be a blatant lie. More often than not, I get overwhelmed with chasing after my goals.
And while I have several occasions where I reached burnout, I believe each experience improved my ability to manage how much work I can realistically take on and not risk my health. I want to share with you a few of the most valuable practices that I picked up over the years so that maybe you can avoid the same pitfalls.
My interests are all in different fields. I study web design yet work in content marketing. On the side, I have a great interest in the arts as a hobby, such as music and painting. Additionally, I find great value in physical activity and aim to live a healthy lifestyle.
Needless to say that finding a balance that helps me fulfil my needs and is sustainable has been difficult. So I have often been not only tempted but greedy, in taking on more than I can handle. As much as I want to work on all fronts, sometimes it is just not an option.
So I make it a point to evaluate all I have on my plate when I consider taking on something else. For example, I usually take singing lessons, but as I have exams coming up along with work, I postponed them until I pass my semester. As I have limited time, I changed my workout sessions. Instead of training four times a weak for an hour or more, I started putting in a simple 20-minute stretch routine every morning.
The key is to be fluid with what you take on at a time. Balance your commitments by evaluating which ones you can leave out, as opposed to which should be a priority right now. The alternative is severe burnout that would inevitably render you incapable of achieving any of your goals. Adapt a marathon-not-a-sprint mindset, and you will get much farther than you would think.
Respecting your limitation and responding to your body's signals is the most valuable piece of advice I can give you. Learning to put a commitment on the back burner for a while, and pick it back up later, is eventually going to allow you to be much more efficient with managing your responsibilities.
That is not to say that it is impossible to balance a few demanding responsibilities. In fact, there are some great ways to go about it. So I will follow up with the most practical tips I have adapted in my day to day life. You do not have to give up anything that is important to you; just remember to take care of your health while you are at it.
The bigger the project, the more intimidating it is to get started. And the more intimidating it is, the more difficult it is to achieve results, as we are often paralysed by fear of not being able to handle it.
If this is the case, the first thing to do is to break it down. For example, instead of thinking you have to finish the software demo for a month, simply focus on achieving a key function that works well over a week. And do the same next week. Little by little, you will have a finished product.
Even once you have broken it down into pieces and compiled a to-do list of small tasks, it can still be scary to get started. So make it a point just to sit down and only work on something for two minutes. While you probably won’t be able to do it all in two minutes, chances are you will get that push you need to get started.
Once you start working on a solution for a problem, you pique your curiosity you wouldn't want to stop working and as a result, end up getting something done. Taking the pressure off just to get started makes all the difference.
Let's say you got started on a project you are working on. Let's say your goal is to work on it every day for a certain amount of time. Essentially you are aiming to build a habit. And every habit is based on repetition. You can do great for a very long time, but once you miss the train a couple of times, the practice begins to fall apart. It becomes harder and harder to do the same things that would normally take very little energy to start.
The two-day rule states that if you decide on a frequency for an activity, you are allowed to skip when your circumstances demand it, but never two times in a row.
For example, if you decide to train five days a week. If you have to skip because you aren’t feeling well or you need to catch up with work and studies, the worst-case scenario is that you will train every other day, putting in a total of three sessions. This helps maintain your frequency and your habit.
As much as getting started and being able to maintain frequency is a game-changer, your practice is not complete unless you distribute your tasks. Merely doing something is not always the right thing. You need to decide on priority for tasks and also choose the order in which you perform your work.
The more various tasks you have, the more challenging task-switching can be. In my life, I have a hard time switching from work to lectures to university projects within one day. But if I implement batching to get through a large portion of similar work I produce much better results, while having a much more sparing effect on my mental health.
Here are some examples of how I use this in my day to day life. I write all of my articles for the month one after the other, then I dedicate time to outreaching and publishing each one. The same way, I group practical assignments that use similar techniques or software one after another until I finish them all.
You can also do this in different ways. How often do you check your emails? Every hour? Every two hours? The constant interruptions hurt your workflow and ability to concentrate. So try to go through all of your emails all at once. Dedicate 30 minutes in the morning to sip coffee and respond. Then ditch the email for the rest of the day. Chances are, if something is urgent, you will get a call, rather than an email.
Now, you can practice all the productivity tips in the world, but unless you actually sit down and apply them in your work, you cannot hope for significant results. It does help, however, to be more intentional with how you approach your commitments to make the process healthier and less stressful.
At the end of the day, we all need to grow, improve and excel in the areas we have chosen as important for ourselves. But being smart about it and valuing our health and well-being in the process is the most important thing.