How To Have A Productive Day

Productive Day

As illustrated by vacations pics from my trip to Iceland seven years ago.

We’ve all got stuff we want to get done, right? Pretty important stuff even. Stuff that could transform our lives and turn us into happier human beings in general. Yet what do we do when it comes time to do that stuff? We close our eyes and commit to one more hour of sleep or change the channel for a couple more minutes of television. There’s a ton of menial nonsense that we allow to get in the way of pursuing the things that are most important to us and what is the most common excuse for doing this?

Because we’ve got all day!

Well, I’m here to tell you that no you don’t! You most certainly do NOT have all day! In fact, your day is slipping away even as you read this and it’s a day you will NEVER get back. If you don’t pack it full of stuff that will ultimately help you achieve whatever it is you’re seeking to get done, you’ll be just that much further away from getting the things you want the most. And that’s lame.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that EVERY day should be like a Tony Robbins seminar. My whole tag line is “at a comfortable pace”. But on the days that you do choose to get things done, there need to be ways to avoid the typical pitfalls which have lots of us feeling guilty and useless by the time we go to sleep. And since I’m probably the last person who should be writing about making the most of a day off, I decided I was the best person for the job. Because at the risk of sounding like a total cliche, if I can do it, so can you. Here’s how:

Get Up!


Seems simple enough, right? Well it’s not. Most people get up five days a week at a time they don’t want to already. So on your “day off” the last thing you want to do is pop out of bed at 8 a.m. But you have to. Really, you do. Why? Because if you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life only being productive for other people, like your boss. And that shit needs to stop. Did I mention we’re not talking about how to be more productive at your job here? I mean, unless you want to, but why anyone would want to work harder to make other people successful is starting to make less and less sense to me. No, this is for YOU and how to be productive making your world a better place to live in, not your company’s world. I’ve decided recently that I can no longer devote the bulk of my energy chasing other people’s dreams (more on that to come) so that means that for now, I HAVE to get up on the days I have free, in order to pursue my own. Do it any way you can. It doesn’t mean you have to get up and immediately start being productive but it means you have to wake yourself up to the point where going back to sleep is no longer an option. Some people drink coffee, I drink Diet Coke which is awful, but it works. Take a shower, smack yourself around. Whatever it takes. GET UP.

Do Something To Get Your Brain Working


Like trying to make sense of these signs.

I’m awesome at being motivated the night before I have to do anything. Then when I wake up in the morning, I become completely intimidated and overwhelmed by the execution of it all. Something that helps me get past this is around thirty minutes of free association writing. This is where you put your pen on a piece of paper and don’t pick it up until you have three pages done. Don’t pause to think, do not stop to collect your thoughts. Just write whatever comes into your head. I learned this from reading The Artist’s Way. It clears out all of the noise we’re surrounded by and helps to sharpen your focus. You’d be surprised at all of the ideas that pop up. This morning, after I forced myself to get out of bed, I opened up my notebook and jotted down everything that passed through my brain. That’s where the idea for this post developed. That’s why I’m sitting here writing it, instead of watching last night’s episode of Million Dollar Listing.

Read Something That Inspires You


This was the closest pic I could find to anyone reading anything on this trip.

Let’s say you’re having a hard time triggering your creativity. That happens. Sometimes I write my three pages and then look at my cat to see if he wants to play laser tag. Don’t give up! Do not turn on the TV. Do not drift off to Facebook. These are the things that will make it be 6 p.m. before you can blink. Instead, find an article online that pertains to whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. See how other people are becoming successful doing the thing that you want to do. Yesterday I found this article on Why 2013 Will Be the Year You Quit Your Job. (Can you see where I’m going with all this? Stay tuned.) After reading it, I felt compelled to keep reading things that would inspire me, so I checked out The 100 Rules For Being An Entrepreneur. Then I became excited about the direction I was going in and it was easier to direct my energy towards things that would get me there quicker.

Put Yourself In A New Environment


Perhaps not quite this extreme…

This is not groundbreaking advice here, but it works. I get pretty cramped in my apartment. There are really only two places to do my writing. The first is on my bed, which after an hour, puts me in jeopardy of sustaining a life threatening blood clot due to the way my legs are crossed. The second is on the couch in my living room, which is next to the TV, and closer to the kitchen. Way too many distractions. If you have a coffee shop or a library or even a bar close by (sometimes it’s nice to do an hour of work with ONE glass of wine) make them an occasional destination if the kind of work you do involves pounding on a keyboard all day. When I was writing my first television series, I would spend two hours a day at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope with all the other nerds on their laptops. Not only did it help me keep my head in the game, but I liked being surrounded by a bunch of artistic types and I actually met some pretty interesting people.

Take A Break

Blue Lagoon

This is huge. Your brain needs time to recoup after extended periods of activity. I always find that if I’m writing and I get stuck, something as simple as taking a shower will restore the flow of ideas. Recently I’ve been listening to these blogcasts in the bathtub. However, this can also be done by going to the gym, taking a yoga class, a quick walk around your neighborhood or even cleaning. Cleaning is a big one for me. In fact, I can’t even begin to get any work done until my apartment is clean, but the process of doing it can be productive as well because it gives me time to mull over the projects I have lined up in the near future. Don’t turn on the TV though! There will be time for that later. If you’re feeling tempted just ask yourself, is watching whatever stupid show you’re about to put on, worth delaying your dreams? Unless it’s Vanderpump Rules, probably not.

Go On A Date


I don’t always want to leave the house. In fact, I pretty much never want to leave the house when it comes time to actually do so, but I force myself to go on Time Out dates on a regular basis and I’m almost never disappointed that I did. Outside of that, I’m subscribed to a ton of newsletters that give me updates about screenings, concerts, food events, panel discussions, gallery openings, craft nights, networking opportunities, and all sorts of stuff that may inspire me creatively. Also, you never know who you’re going to meet. I think one of the ways to speed up your productivity levels is to always be connecting. Surround yourself with motivated people and you’ll find yourself picking up the pace as well. And they don’t always have to be doing exactly what you’re doing. Recently I’ve expanded my professional circle to include web designers, cinematographers, artists, entrepreneurs and people in the hospitality business. All of which have the potential to be collaborators on various types of projects. Even if I never work with any of them, just exchanging ideas gets my brain working in a way it’s not used to and then I find I’m more enthusiastic about my own work.

Break Tasks Down Into Smaller Parts


Sometimes I don’t know where to start. I feel like there are so many steps I have to take in order to achieve a goal that how I should take them, becomes unclear. That’s why recently I devised a more manageable system. In my case, one of the things I’m trying to do is build a successful blog. I wrote down a list of stuff that I can do to make that happen. Some of them are big things that take up a lot of time, like writing this post. Others are small things that take very little time at all, like reading and commenting on other blogs. Then I numbered them all and told myself that I had to pick three a day. Even if I’m too busy to do the big ones, choosing three small steps a day makes me feel like I’ve been productive and that makes me want to be productive again. Which brings me to my last point:

Be Productive


But the whole reason I’m reading this is because I’m having trouble being productive! Yeah, I know but sometimes the act of simply doing something will want to make you do it more. Motivation begets motivation. My brother told me this recently. That often just starting is the hardest part, but once you’ve taken that step, your brain feeds on the satisfaction you’ve gotten from doing so and wants to do it more. So suck it up and get to work! It’s not easy being disciplined, but then, neither is going to a crappy job you hate and being miserable all the time. Whatever it is you’re being disciplined for is leading you to a better place than the one you’re in now. So it’s worth it.

Reward Yourself


Do this with anything that makes you happy. A drink, a couple of hours in front of the TV, going out to dinner. Whatever it is you do, I promise you, it will be ten times more enjoyable if you feel like you’ve earned it.

So that’s it. A practical productivity manifesto. Written by someone whose greatest joy in life is doing absolutely nothing. It’s funny, it was never my intention to become an inspiration to dozens of people on the internet, I suppose it’s just turning out that way due to my revitalized interest in financial independence.

Honestly, why hasn’t Oprah called me yet?

P.S. Looking at these pictures makes me feel like it’s time for another group getaway. Who’s comin’ with me?! Anyone?

  • DQ

    I couldn’t have loved this more!! Granted, the stroll down memory lane was wonderful but I also spent most of this weekend trying for force myself not to be such a lazy waste of time and space. I was pretty unsuccessful….so I’ll be taking your advice.

    Count me in for another group getaway!!

    Oh, and the only thing I think we read while in Iceland, was the cooking directions on those frozen pizza boxes.

    • Kelly

      I found a picture of that! But it was only the box itself as we were trying to read it. Didn’t do the concept of “reading” justice.

  • Anne

    Wow Kelly, looking forward to hearing more about what you are up to and you’re making me feel all motivated…there are 63 days left in 2013 (well, 62.5) and I still have things on my to do list from 2009!!! Just whittling away at them sloooowly but you are so right, television is the enemy. I got sucked into the X Factor finals last night when I should have been writing about a rare bone disease in cats.

    • Kelly

      Hi Anne! It’s so hard though. I know you put in a lot more hours at your job than I do at mine. I’m lucky in that I only work three days a week at the spa, so for most people, who are handling a full load at their jobs and then trying to do their own things outside, it’s overwhelming. I’m just tired of working for other people. In the end, it has never been beneficial to me. It’s keeping me stagnant so I’ve decided it’s time to move on. Just not quite sure how yet. But I’m getting there.

  • Amber

    This is so relevant to me right now. I have two competing personalities in me – the lazy procrastinator and the productive student. As much as university has probably raised my cortisol levels to an unhealthy high, it has really made me appreciate the value of time. When there’s always something to do, I think really carefully about how I’m going to fill the free time I do have. So I fill my free time by painting or writing for fun or, like you suggested, reading something that inspires me. I feel like these things are more worthwhile than lying on the couch in front of the TV. However, TV still has a special place in my life – I keep that option to counter the cortisol after handing in ridiculously stressful essays. Thanks for showing that being productive actually CAN be fun!

    • Kelly

      Yes, I feel like you and I are possibly in the same frame of mind when it comes to what we’re devoting our time to. That’s why your post on Do You Ever Hate 34 Percent Of Your Life rang so true to me. Thanks Amber!

      • Damien

        There is some really solid advice here! I always tell my students to reward themselves for work done. The trick is NOT rewarding yourself if you don’t get the work done. haha. Is it bad that beer and Becherovka is almost always my reward? I should probably talk to someone about that…

        • Kelly

          Thanks Damien! Sometimes I reward myself before I get my work done. Yesterday my motivation was somewhat compromised due to all of the rewarding I done the night before in the form of Chardonnay and Maker’s Mark. (I’m getting queasy again just writing that) My reward just kind of carried over into the next day and so here I am at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning back to work! That’s what I get.

          • Damien

            Oh my God. I love Maker’s Mark.

  • Maggie

    I stumbled upon your blog and the first thing I see are a bunch of pictures from Iceland! Tell me more! I’m from there, so when people out in the big rest of the world know anything more about it than that we don’t live in igloos, I feel like I’ve just made a friend. Haha. Hope it’s not too stalker-ish.

    • Kelly

      Iceland was nuts. One of the coolest places I’ve ever been. I’ve never seen people party quite like they do in Iceland. I’m glad you feel like you’ve made a friend! Thanks for stopping by!

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  • AwesomelyOZ

    Sure, where do you want to meet? 😛 I find work keeps me more productive, I’m more productive in these 8 hours than I am the rest of the week.. mainly because I multitask between what I’m legitimately hired to do and what I need to do for myself. The tv isn’t my kryptonite (although, I love watching HGTV and old Seinfeld re-runs.. don’t get me started on Golden Girls) but my laptop.. I will Google anything.. Literally. Happy Tuesday (damn that’s it.. c’mon Friday!) -Iva

  • Anne

    Ohhhh Golden Girls. So good. I have been trapped in that vortex before!!!!

  • Kelly

    You must like your job. In that case, work can be motivating. When you dread it, on the other hand, it’s a complete energy suck. In my case, what I do at my job is not what I want to do with my life anymore and I feel like giving that amount of time to other people’s goals is a disservice to myself. Also, I have a DVR filled with Golden Girls episodes. As if haven a DVR filled with The View wasn’t fodder enough for constant harassment from my brother, now he comes over and sees this?!

  • Gabriele

    There were 2 times in my life when I went through what you are going through. The first was when I was encouraged to open a flower shop. I took a lot of the steps you recommended. I was also around your age when I was “transitioning”…and opened my own flower shop by the age of 38. But when I went through my 2nd transformation, part of that came from “Journalism…” I did mine at night. Turned out the lights, lit a candle, and wrote in a journal, and wrote, and wrote. I also read a book recommended to me by my daughter…in it it quoted Shakespeare: “Unto thy own self be true.” That influenced me as well. I wrote a plan and took baby steps (still have the book I reminds me of how far I got) as I ended up going back to school, and got my 2nd bachelors degree, this time in nursing, at the tender age of 45. Although I’m working for someone, I’m in a place with wonderful people, constantly challenging myself. Good luck with your goals. You are such a creative talent, I know you’ll do well.

  • AwesomelyOZ

    Tell your brother to eat and be merry, what you do with your DVR is your business but yes I have seen every episode of Golden Girls more than I’d like to admit. However, who can deny how adorable and awesome Sophia is?? C’mon! Hey, if you feel your job is depleting your mental and emotional resources start planning an escape route! What I do isn’t exciting but it is interesting and makes me think and I enjoy the challenge — besides, after you’ve picked up dog poop for a few years you appreciate having an office desk!