Being Productive Doesn't Mean Being Busy - What I've Learned From my Struggle with Anxiety
This post is really close to my heart, I felt really emotional writing it because it took me back to those struggles I first encountered from dealing with anxiety. If for some reason you’re feeling less productive than you usually are, I really hope this post offers some tips to help you stay productive while you're working through a tricky time. Most importantly please remember that being productive doesn't mean being busy. It's focussing on the stuff that counts that makes you productive, not hours at a desk.
In the spring this year I started to struggle with panic attacks and anxiety. Boom, it came completely out of the blue when I was away for a weekend in France. Struggling to breath and feeling completely panicked.
Over the following weeks it gradually got worse, the panic attacks became more regular and the feelings that come with anxiety, the pins and needles, the feeling that something terrible was about to happen at all hours of the day, meant I really struggled to sleep.
As I started learning more about how to manage it, I also had to come to terms with having less energy each day for my own work
At first I was annoyed with myself. I’d beat myself up because I wasn’t as productive as usual. I’d write a long to-do lists and feel disheartened when I couldn’t get everything done.
Coming to terms with being able to get less done each day is a really hard thing to accept. But the big thing I've learned from this experience is that being productive isn’t about being busy and getting lots done, it’s about doing less and focussing on what really makes a difference. Hours sat at a desk don't equal productivity, ticking hundreds of actions off a to-do list doesn't equal being productive, it's focussing on the tasks that are most important that makes me productive.
Here’s a few ways that I adapted my working habits to stay productive while I've had less energy for work:
Accepting that I had less energy
Acceptance is the first step. It sounds like a cliché but maybe that's because there's a lot of truth in it. As soon as I accepted that I had less energy and I needed to look after myself better I felt more relaxed and started looking at the tasks that I needed to do in a more pragmatic and less emotional way. I would look at my to do list and ask myself, what's most important, what's the one thing I can do today that will make the biggest difference.
Being forced to prioritise in this was was a real game-changer and helped me spot tasks I was doing even though they weren't making a huge impact on my business.
I noticed after a couple of months that even though I was getting less done, it wasn’t having a detrimental effect on my business. My audience still grew and I was still consistent with my content, because I was focussing on the tasks that were most important.
I started listening to my body
I started doing the things that my body was telling me it wanted. I got out for long walks, I went back to yoga, I started riding again and all of these things helped me sleep better. I also looked after myself by taking long baths and I stopped drinking caffeine. I would close down my laptop in the evenings when I could feel my body had done enough for the day.
Self-care wasn’t something that I was prioritising until I saw it as a way to relive my anxiety. But by making it a priority and looking after myself better I've also noticed how much more productive I am each day at work and in my business when I've looked after my own needs first.
Adapting my routine
Creating a daily routine is something I rely on to make myself productive. As I've just mentioned, making my morning routine a priority before work helped me feel so much better throughout the day and the quality of my work was better.
I also introduced an evening routine of turning off screens and going to bed early to read by the soft light of my bedside lamp. This helped me sleep better which in turn recharged me for the following day.
This also reminded me that if you want to do more of something the easiest way to do it is to make it part of your routine. I love my half an hour of reading now, whereas before I wouldn't have made time for it.
Getting better at planning ahead and being prepared massively helped reduce my anxiety. When I have my blogposts and podcasts scheduled for the next three weeks and my social posting loosely planned out, it helps me feel a lot calmer about things and if I have a rubbish day I don’t need to stress about what needs to go live or go out that day. So, I have a day a month for writing content and a couple of days a month to work on my podcast which helps me get ahead.
You might be able to do the same with making up stock, planning out your social media posts and emails or preparing your packaging ahead of time.
I upped my sleep game
When I went through a bad week with anxiety my sleep would always suffer and when you start lacking sleep you really do turn into a crazy-emotional person! When you're short on sleep there's almost no point in trying to do the type of work that requires brain power. So sleep because super-important to me.
In terms of getting back into the routine of sleeping after a few weeks with about 4 hours sleep a night there were a couple of things that really helped. Going all out and buying a new feather duvet, pillows and bed-side lamp was one of them. It might sound frivolous but after a few weeks of awful sleep I was at the point where I'd do anything for a good nights sleep. Making my bed feel luxurious and a lovely place to be helped me look forward to bed time and I started going to bed early to read in my big poofy pillow. Plus, taking more exercise in the day helped me sleep, I always find long, windy walks along the top of a hill wears me out as well as tops up my 'soul-points'.
Changing my plan for the day if I woke up feeling like crap
Some days I wake up feeling like crap, don’t we all sometimes? I started to accept it rather than fight it and do some easier tasks on those days as well as turning off my laptop earlier. Essentially, when I you wake up feeling rubbish, the best and kindest thing you can do for yourself is change your plan for the day.
If I'd have a sleepless night I'd be good to myself and let myself do the tasks that didn't require much energy. For me this was things like pinning my blog images to Pinterest or editing my photos. Things I could get done from the sofa. For you this might be completely different tasks but think about the things you can do without thinking too hard and let yourself just do those tasks when you have a crap day.
Even doing the easiest tasks on a day when you feel like crap can be really satisfying to look back on. If you're really feeling rubbish though, grant yourself the day off. Sometimes we just need a proper sick day to let our bodies repair themselves so that you can get back to work the next day.
If you’re coming to terms with having less energy for your work at the moment, whether it’s due to health, your circumstances changing, family changes or whatever I hope this post has given you some reassurance that it’s OK to slow things down and just focus on the few, really impactful tasks rather than feeling like you should be busy all of the time.