When tasks and to-dos pile up it can become overwhelming and difficult to catch up; and if you’re anything like me, you might tend to procrastinate when you are overwhelmed. It can be hard to stay motivated when it feels like there is no end in sight. Below are the five steps that I take whenever my plate seems to be overfull.
Block at least ten minutes to sit down and do a brain dump. Sit down with your planner, notebook, or a loose piece of paper and write down everything that is on your mind. Tasks, appointments, reminders, notes, projects you want to start, chores, literally everything.
Take that list and prioritize your actionable items. If there is anything on your list that will take you less than 5 minutes, keep that on a list of its own. You will do those items as soon as you finish this planning session.
Time block the day and/or week. Calendar blocking is becoming a very popular method of time management and it’s something that I have resorted to, since high school, whenever I am feeling overwhelmed or behind. Take the tasks you have identified during your brain dump and block them into your calendar. Make sure to start by including a block, right after our done your planning session, to complete your list of 5-minute tasks. And make sure to give yourself 5 minutes per task, so if you have 4 -minute tasks plus 5 minutes for a short break. Therefore, this block should be 25 minutes long. Remember to include travel time, rest breaks, meals, and some buffer time.
Start with your list of tasks that will take 5 minutes or less each. Getting these done in quick succession will help boost your momentum and will motivate you to continue. Take a short 5-minute break.
Carry on through your day, keeping as close as possible to the schedule you blocked out but understand that it can be flexible if need be.
I hope these steps help you out when you feel like your to-do list is bigger than what you can handle. Remember, that simply is not true, you just need to prioritize and do what truly needs to be done first.
A common question that comes up in productivity spheres online is “how do I keep myself accountable?” Which is a great question. It is easy enough to be organized and make plans, but at the end of the day, if you’re not actually getting to your work, you’re not going to be productive. This can be especially difficult in society today due to the digitalization of literally everything. If your work requires you to be on a computer, it is only a matter of time before something on the internet pops up and takes your attention away from what you should be doing. Even without digitalization, it can be so easy to get distracted with things like food, your beloved pets, daydreaming, anything really.
In today’s post I offer you seven tips on how to avoid distractions and how to hold yourself accountable.
The first and one of the most effective tips I have for holding yourself accountable is to tell someone in your world that you’re going to do something. This can include telling your partner, a close friend, or even making a Twitter post. It’s best if you tell an actual person in your life because you can ask them to kindly follow up with you to make sure you have done what you originally set out to do.
My second tip for holding yourself accountable is in the same vein as the first tip, which is to find an accountability partner. This is a good option because it not only provides the other person with an incentive to work with you, but you can also be more sure that they will follow up because they are counting on you to do the same.
Use an app like Forest or some other timekeeping or Pomodoro app. There are so many options out there as far as time tracking apps go. Forest has been a favourite of mine for many years and I have purchased the full version of it at least twice, quite a testament as to how great it is. That said, it is a very inexpensive yet powerful app and it can be quite motivating. Other time tracking apps can help you to track your time, which can not only hold you accountable but it can also allow you to see where you spend your time and whether or not adjustments are needed.
Remove distractions whenever required. Use apps like Forest (deep focus feature) or Chrome extensions like BlockSite to help you remove distractions that you know will pull you away from your work. Oftentimes I’ll use Forest’s deep focus mode to ensure that I don’t use my phone when I should be working, occasionally I will use Blocksite to block YouTube because it is the biggest distraction for you. Take some time to reflect on your workflow and what is causing disruptions for you, then look for ways to remove the distraction.
Use a productivity system that forces you to migrate to-do items that you haven’t done, eventually, you’ll either get sick of migrating it and just do it or you’ll notice how long you’ve been putting it off and make time for it. For example, bullet journalling and calendar blocking force you to migrate items that you weren’t able to get to. This is especially effective if you use an analog productivity system because you won’t want to have to rewrite the same task over and over again.
Set goals for yourself that are attainable but still under a time constraint. You might even want to go as far as to plan a reward if the goal is achieved, similarly to how the CleverFox Planner does. Just remember, that any rewards you plan to give yourself shouldn’t work against the goal or any others. For example, if you also have a goal of getting more fit and healthy, it might not be a good idea to reward yourself with cake. Or, if you are trying to save money, it may not be ideal to set a reward that requires you to spend a large amount of money.
The last tip I have for you for holding yourself accountable is probably the most important and one that a lot of people don’t think about and that is to reflect on why you need to do something or what you will achieve by doing it and why you want to achieve that. For example, if you have a goal to lose 20 pounds, you will want to ask yourself “Why do I want to lose 20 pounds?”, make a list of the reasons. And don’t worry about the reasons being vain or selfish, it really doesn’t matter why as long as the ‘why’ matters to you. You might want to lose 20 pounds so you can fit into your favourite pair of jeans again, or maybe you want to improve your sex life, or maybe you’re worried about the long-term consequences of being overweight. Whatever it is, as long as it matters to you, it will motivate you to keep going.
At the end of the day, the only thing that can truly hold you accountable is you, but I do hope these tips have pointed you in the right direction on how to make that happen.
I have been using the Clever Fox Pro Planner for just over a month and a half. Although I was skeptical at the beginning, I have found that this planner has been effective for me and in combination with the rest of my system, it has nearly solved my planner peace problem. If you want to know more about how this planner has helped along my planner journey, keep reading for a full review, a quick TLDR pros and cons breakdown, and my final recommendations.
I heard about the Clever Fox planners through Amazon, since I was struggling with my planning system, I was often browsing Amazon and other sites for a solution. I found the Clever Fox Planners and would put different ones in my cart and then would delete them, and this went on for a couple of weeks. Finally, once I sorted out my work solution, I decided I wanted a pre-printed planner (as opposed to a notebook and the bullet journal system) and I wanted to try out one of the Clever Fox Planners. I searched through Amazon and compared each planner and all of its features to find the one that I thought would work best for me. I landed on the Planner Pro, a very difficult decision for me because it is huge. Previously the biggest planner I had was the A5 Filofax Fusion and that was half the size of the Clever Fox Planner Pro. There were also a couple of features that I didn’t really see the point of (and I’ll get into that later in the review) so I was a little bit skeptical. But I went for it anyway.
Keep reading for a walk-through of the features of this planner.
The planner I chose was the Planner Pro and it is in a beautiful and bright yellow colour. This planner is A4 or 8.5 by 11 inches in size, and it is huge. If you plan to get the Pro keep this in mind. The Pro is also shipped in a beautiful box, it comes with a ‘How to use this planner’ guide and five pages of stickers. The planner is made of sturdy, vegan leather material. The paper in this planner, is high quality and is essentially bleed proof and does not have any ghosting, except for when I use the Sharpie S-Note markers. The back envelop is very strong but is not big enough to hold a full sheet of paper unless you fold it. There are three ribbon bookmarks, all coloured differently but they match the colour of the planner well, and there is an elastic band to keep everything closed. The Clever Fox Pro can also lay flat straight out of the box.
The most interesting and unique features of this planner are the goal-setting features. This is fairly new to me, I usually set my goals in a casual way, only and when I felt lost or like I need to refocus. But for the past month and a half, I have truly enjoyed having my goals laid out on paper and being able to visually track and measure my progress has been motivating.
The planner starts with a page for ‘Awareness and Self-Discovery’ it asks you some journal prompt-type questions to get you thinking about your purpose and goals in life. I will be honest; I haven’t done this yet. But I appreciate that it is there and intend on doing it sometime soon. The next page is for ‘Daily Rituals’, another page that I haven’t quite used to its potential but have started filling out. These pages are followed by a ‘Vision Board’, I’d like to say I will fill this in eventually, but I honestly can’t, SMART goals are more effective than visualization in my opinion. These couple of pages were part of the reason I was hesitant about getting the planner. I didn’t really see the need for these pages, but I figured it is only 6 pages total, if I feel like I don’t need them, I won’t use them. But the next couple of pages edged me toward buying the planner, and I am glad they did.
One of the most interesting spreads in the planner is the ‘What Do I Want My Life to Be Like’, which breaks down your 1-year, 5-years, 10-years, and 20 years goals. While I don’t think planning 20 years ahead is necessary, it really does help align your present-day goals with your ultimate life goals. Thinking this far ahead can also orient you in a way that whenever you’re planning, even daily tasks, you are made to think about how these tasks contribute to achieving the future you see for yourself. Following this page, is a spread that breaks down your 1-year goals by the area of your life (i.e., health and fitness, business and career, personal development, etc.). This spread is awesome. It gives you an opportunity to think about the 1-year goals you set for yourself on the previous page and break them down into smaller, bite-sized goals. The most important feature of this page is that it reminds you to ask why you want to achieve a goal, and this is so important and motivating when setting goals.
One of the great features of this planner is that it is completely undated. The monthly and weekly spreads are undated, so if you need a month’s break or know you will have a week that is too busy to plan or not busy enough to plan, then you can skip it without wasting pages.
To start the monthly section, there is a spread for ‘My 3-Month Goals’ and there is a spread for this every three months. I absolutely love this, it gives you space to really reflect on your goals each quarter, how you intend to achieve them, and what reward you will get (or give yourself) once completed.
The monthly spreads are quite standard. The most wonderful part of them is the size. With monthly spreads, I usually feel crammed like there isn’t enough room. The boxes are big enough to write whatever I need to, and I can even use stickers without losing too much writing real estate. There is also a column to the left for notes, and a huge section on the left page for more notes and on the right page there is a little spot for goal-setting prompts.
After each monthly spread, you are given a place to review your month. You are given a space to reflect on the biggest wins, lessons learned, areas of your life that maybe weren’t given enough attention, and more. This spread also has some cool graphics that help you to visualize your progress.
The weekly spreads are where this planner really shines. The left-hand page is your space for daily notes, to-dos, and reminders. There is a small amount of space for each day, but I find that it is more than enough for me. Within each daily section, there is a space to put your day’s goal and the three top priorities for the day, which is a practice I did in my later years of university. On the right-hand page, there is space your overall goals and priorities for the week. There is space for a work to-do list, space for a personal to-do list, and a habit tracker. The space for the work to-do list is one of the features that I absolutely love about this planner. When I am at home planning my personal tasks and a work task comes to mind, I have a place to jot it down so it doesn’t get lost. It is so important to dump things from your mind that aren’t relevant to what you are doing in that moment. So that is what I do, I dump work items there and when I come into work the next day, I am able to transfer it into my work book.
The habit tracker is blank so you can decide on a week-to-week basis what habits you want to track. This is a great feature, after a few weeks you may have made a repeating task habitual and can replace it with a new task that you would like to make a habit. Then there is a life-balance to-do list and a section for things you are excited about. Followed by a blank dot-grid section for random notes. Lastly, there is a section for wins, lessons learned, and ways to improve next week. This last section is very powerful, it gives you an opportunity to quickly reflect on the week and think about how you can change your workflow to better achieve your goals.
The dotted paper in the back of the planner is great for bullet journal-esque spreads. I haven’t used too many of these pages yet, but it is nice to have them there when needed.
Pros and Cons
See the table below for a quick summary of the pros and cons of the CleverFox Pro Planner.
Inexpensive and accessible
The size. This planner is huge and can be hard to carry around.
There are so many planner variations to choose from
There is an overwhelming choice of various planners
The back envelop can’t fit an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper without folding it
Has a lot of writing space
Paper is thick, almost completely bleed and ghost-proof.
Space dedicated for work to-do list
Made from vegan leather
I would consider buying this planner again, but I don’t know if I can commit so far as to say I would without a doubt. I might want to try a different CleverFox planner or branch out and try something new entirely. I would recommend this planner to a friend or colleague, especially to a young professional who is sorting out their life and career goals. For now, I will continue to use this planner for as long as I can and hopefully it will continue to help me stay aligned with my ultimate goals.
I hope you have enjoyed this review of the CleverFox Pro Planner. If so, subscribe to my blog and stay tuned for more!
Microsoft Outlook is one of the most prominent email clients out there. Almost every business I have worked for or have been a part of was using Outlook and the rest of the apps within the Microsoft suite. The university I attended also used Outlook as their email client which gave me a little bit more exposure and helped me learn how to organize my Outlook.
What really pushed me to learn the ins and outs of Outlook was getting the job I am in now. Most (but not all) of the tips I have on how to make Outlook a productive space, I have learned while working this job. I have a very high volume of emails coming in on a daily basis. I am a member of various email groups and I receive several automatic reports, some are daily and some are sent every few hours. That is a lot of emails. And if my email client wasn’t sorting this out automatically, it would all get lost in an exponentially growing unread email notification. Email can be a significant source of stress at work so it is important to master your email client to make it do the majority of the work for you.
Try to keep your email inbox at zero. To help do this, unsubscribe from email blasts that no longer serve you and do this regularly. When going through your inbox you’ll recognize patterns and can eliminate emails you have no intention of reading or referencing. You’ll also find newsletters that you do want to read, organize those to so you know where to find them when you are finally ready to browse through them.
Tasks will often come to you through your email. I have found the best way to handle tasks in email is using the flag function in Outlook. Flag an email if there is any type of action associated with it, even if the action is to file the email. This will ensure that nothing is missed. If the task will take less time than 2 mins, do it now. I often get commended at work for how quickly I respond to emails. This is because I always respond or action the task right away if I know it would take less than two minutes to complete. Work to get your task list as close to zero as often as possible. I also use flags to set reminders of recurring tasks for myself at work. For example, I do two types of payroll, one is done weekly and one is done bi-weekly, setting to-do reminders using the flag function helps me to ensure these tasks are not missed.
Never delete emails unless they are truly irrelevant and will never need to be referenced. To be safe, archive instead. I can’t count how many times I have needed to go back and reference an email that a team member deleted not realizing we would need it again.
Set an ‘Out of Office’ (OOO) auto-reply if you are going on vacation or will be away from your emails, this way anyone emailing you will know not to expect a response until your return. You can set automatic replies in the settings of Outlook, on the desktop app, the web app, and the mobile app.
My Biggest Outlook Tip and it Works for Both Work and Personal Inboxes
Folders and rules are so important to keeping any 21st century inbox manageable. The way you set up your folders will also adapt and grow as time goes on and as you notice new patterns. Make sure to make a folder for every person, type of email, and topic, coming into your inbox on a regular basis. For example, I receive emails from my boss on a daily basis and want to access them easily, so I make a folder for him and set up a rule so anything he sends me is put automatically into that folder. In my personal inbox, I have folders for various aspects of my life, for example, any emails coming in from my part-time gig are filed into a folder and I have a folder dedicated to emails related to By The Scales. I also have a folders for receipts and another for tax returns because I usually file online. If the email is important, not a newsletter, subscription email or from a retail business of any kind file it right away.
If you do set up folders and automatic rules, make sure you keep an eye on the unread notifcation for every folder so you are aware when something new comes in. Automatically filed emails won’t trigger a notification, so you will need to keep a close eye, But this is particularly handy for when you are at home and not wanting to receive notifications for every email coming in.
BONUS: Online and Mobile App Features
Sweep is a brilliant feature that basically allows you to choose from a shortlist of rules that would help clear out the unimportant mail coming through your inbox. I use this to clear my inbox of promotional emails mostly. For example, I had unsubscribed from ‘BestBuys’ emails, then I highlight the last email from them, click sweep, and select ‘Move messages older than 10 days from the inbox’. Then Outlook will go through your entire inbox for email from that specific sender (so usually, any receipts or customer service emails from the same company won’t be included, because they all use different emails for different purposes) to whatever folder you set it as, in this case I would choose to delete the emails.
“Do Not Disturb”, the do not dsiturb function is another very important function if you are worried about keeping your personal life and work life separate. I have set this function so it automatically turns on for evenings and weekends. I do occasionally check my emails when I have a spare moment during these times, but overall thanks to this feature, I am not getting notifications and being distracted at home by work.
Mastering applications like Outlook is not only good for your productivity at work but it can also help you organize your personal life. Making your work and personal inboxes can also help to keep the two worlds as separate as possible. It is so important to keep your inboxes as organized and free from clutter as possible, this will help increase your productivity and will be less overwhelming on high email volume days. I highly recommend slowly implementing these tips to your inboxes you will notice a huge difference.
As always, I hope you all have found these tips helpful! Thanks for reading and until next time, keep on keeping on.
When I was a full-time student in school, I would have to sit in front of my computer writing or sit at a desk reading for hours on end. When trying to stay productive for long hours, it is important to take breaks. However, sometimes, depending on how long the break is and what you do during the break can, taking one can interrupt your flow and momentum.
For me, I learned that it was best to take a break by doing something else that is productive but not in the same stream of work. To put it in other words, I would change the task at hand but I would make sure whatever I’m doing is either mentally or physically stimulating, energizing, or productive.
If you vary the type of work you are doing in a session, you can make your mind and body believe you are taking a break, even though you are still being productive, one way or another.
Below are six suggestions on types of productive breaks you can take that won’t kill your momentum!
Do a low intensity workout. It really doesn’t matter what the activity is, but if you are doing a long study session, it’s always a good idea to get up and get some exercise.
Play a mentally stimulating video game. I play challenging video games like Civilization and X-Com, these are both games that encourage strategizing and problem-solving. Skills that are important to develop no matter what you plan to do in life and working on these skills is stimulating enough to keep your momentum going. After about an hour of gaming, I go back to my essay or studying feeling like I’ve just taken a break, but my brain hasn’t gotten fogged up or listless after consuming passive entertainment like TV or scrolling through social media.
Go for a walk. This is a wonderful option because it means your going to get some light exercise and fresh air. If you take a walk while the sun is out you’ll even get some added benefits of Vitamin D. Vitamin D can fight disease, reduce depression and boost weigh loss (Healthline, 2017).
Use your creativity. Creative outlets like painting, drawing, colouring, knitting, and other mixed media and crafting, can have the same effect as playing a stimulating video game. Studying for two hours, taking a thirty minute break to use your creativity, will feel like taking a break without making you to return to the task at hand.
Learn a language. If you are hoping to learn or are trying to learn a language or two, you know that it can be quite difficult if you don’t stay consistent and ensure you are working on it in some capacity every single day. It can be easy to add it to your study sessions without having it feel like work. For example, don’t pull out your beginner language textbooks if you were just studying for your English class. This will feel far too much like what you were just doing and you won’t feel like you just took a break. Instead, pull out a language learning app, a book, TV show, video game, whatever type of media it is, as long as it’s not in your first language your brain will find it stimulating and you won’t get sluggish or unproductive.
Refuel. Eat a snack and have some water. Keep in mind, it is important to have only small snacks or a light meal mid-session, eating heavy food or too much food can cause you to become lazy and lose momentum.
The great thing about shaking up how you take breaks, is that it gives you an opportunity to keep things fresh and make every day different. This can increase your overall, long-term productivity becasue it will take longer for you to fall into a rut. Every work session will look different and that is great. When I was a full time student, I would get an essay done, infiltrate an alien base, and paint all in one hours long session. I’d take short five or ten minute breaks to have snacks, go to the bathroom, or stretch my legs. This is the reason I was always working ahead. I would be well-prepared for most due dates well in advance. Unlike a lot of my peers, I would start studying for an upcoming test for weeks in advance.
I think it is so important to keep how you work fresh so it is easy to stay inspired and motivation to keep on keeping on!
Work-life balance is the equilibrium between your career, its impact on your life, and its relationship with your personal, home life. Work-life balance in the sociological lens generally has a stronger focus on family-life for working mothers and fathers. The sociological lens outlines the difference between paid work and unpaid domestic work and the impact of women’s paid work on families. I don’t have children at the moment, so I can’t really relate, but I can say I can only imagine the numerous challenges that mothers and fathers face when they go back to the workforce and essentially double their workload. But, for now, that’s not really what this post and blog is about.
You do not have to be a parent or have kids around to have a need for work-life balance. Everyone needs equilibrium between how much focus and energy they put into their work versus their home life.
Why is work-life balance important?
If you do have kids, you should find a way to balance your work life and family life for the betterment of your children’s lives. Finding this balance would contribute to a healthy and happy family. For a lot of professionals, that means keeping your paid work at work and focusing on your family when you’re at home. Make dediciated time to your family when you are off, so you can focus on and build those relationships.
Prioritizing work-life balance would also help with making your relationship, if you’re in one, stronger as well. If you’re not in a relationship, finding a good work-life balance will give you time to date.
Prioritizing work-life balance is also beneficial, for most importantly, yourself! It means you’re prioritizing your own physical and mental health. It means you are putting your happiness first in all aspects of your life, without hindering your career progress or your personal relationships and health.
How do we achieve a work-life balance?
Making time for the people in your life. Foster a strong support system at home for yourself and your family by focusing on them when you have the time. Put your emails on quiet mode when you’re off so you are not needlessly distracted at work. If you’re like me and are in management you may need to keep an eye on your emails, so make an effort to check once an hour or two instead of having notifications on. Another email tip, if you use Outlook at work, set rules to automatically file emails into relevant folders. This will not only keep you organized with less effort, but it will also limit the amount of notifications coming your way. If something is automatically filed, you won’t get a beep notifying you of it.
As someone who works in management, I have found that it can be really difficult to set aside time to sit down and eat your lunch. Set aside a lunch hour and either close your door or physically leave the office for lunch. If you can’t manage to do this, your meal will likely be interupted.
Same thing goes for getting exercise, which is especially important and difficult if you work at a desk. If you have an hour for lunch, I would highly recommend setting aside half of it for eating and relaxing and the other half for getting some exercise. Go for a walk around or within the building you work in.
Make sure you are prioritizing your health over your work. Eventually, your health will catch up with you and impact your work, so it is best to prioritize it and prevent any health issues that can be prevented.
Obviously, if you work a physically demanding job, exercise is less important. But, meals are even more important than those who work at a desk. Your body needs fuel to support your work and if you don’t supply it, you’ll be running on empty. You’ll likely lose weight too fast and won’t gain any muscle mass. In the long term it can cause you to gain weight because your body will get into the habit of retaining fat in order to burn calories to support your work.
Mental health is also very important to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I highly recommend meditation as a means of bringing your mind back to a settled place. Meditation can look different for everyone, there is no right way and no wrong way to meditate. As long as you are working to clear your mind, you are on the right track. Journalling, or some other source of reflection is highly recommended as well. It is important to touch base with yourself regularly and reflect on whether you are on the right track to meeting your goals.
If you’re interested in achieving a work-life balance, stay tuned! I will be consistently posting about the topics above and how they contribute to a healthy work-life balance. Let me know in the comments below if there are any topics in particular you’d like me to dive deeper into.