How I Get Stuff Done

I get a lot of emails asking me how I get things done around here.  And, because getting as much done in as little amount of time as possible, while also maximizing the relaxing and taking care of myself is a major concern of mine, I wanted to address it here.  Since I was a little kid, I was the kind of girl who liked to work when I was working and play when I was playing.

Meaning: I’m a fan of getting shit done, and then kicking back and enjoying the heck out of my life.

I am also a fan of running my life and my business in a way that privileges taking time out to do things that are important and fun and exciting.  And, making time for taking care of me as much as anyone else.

When you are thinking about your days and weeks, and I know many of you will want to say, “but Mara, there are only so many hours in the day and there are NEVER ENOUGH.”  To this statement I offer this fact: each and every one of us has 24 hours in the day and 168 hours in the week.

What is important to you?

What do you want out of your life?

How have your ideals and values and plans and dreams and visions for your life been represented in your very own 168 hours this week?

Do you make time for yourself, or are your dreams the ones that keep getting shoved to the back of the line?

Do you say no, when you really, really want to?

1. Cultivate a baseline of self-care, and schedule that in first.

Your business and life only work if you do.  This means, you are only able to tend to your life with your whole heart and every fiber of your being if you are caring for the daily needs of your body.

For me this includes: drinking enough water, eating a savory breakfast, keeping my caffeine intake to a dull roar, taking the time and space for having fun, and making sleep a priority.

What does it mean for you? What do you need to make sure that you take care of, prioritize, carve out space for, or permit? 

2. Prioritize the things that keep you sane, make you whole, and fill you up.

Think of the things that make you really happy – like to the tips of your toes happy.  So often when we are stressed the second thing that we take a pass on is engaging in activities that suddenly seem frivolous or extraneous. (Ahem. It goes without saying that the first thing to get chucked out the window in moments of stress is our self-care.) However, have you ever noticed how much better you are at your job, how much more engaged you are as a parent, or what a better partner/friend/lover/sibling you are when you take the time to recharge and enjoy something in your life?

For example, I get my absolute best product, service, and post ideas when I am out in public, listening to others talk, and engaging with my loved ones in spirited dinner conversation.

In other words, when I am out living my life. I readily encourage blocking out time for doing things that are FUN, necessary, joyful, physical or those things that we generally tend to think of as “non-productive uses of time.” Doing so will enable you to bring so much more of yourself to the other aspects of your life that you have to get done.  Block it out in your calendar. Put it at the top of your to-do list. Schedule it in.

3. Make a list and check it twice.

I live by my lists – they make me really happy and keeps me remembering what the heck I’m supposed to be doing at any given moment. However, if I let them, my lists absolutely become a tool for torture. They can become the measuring stick that I will never live up to and the standard for success that I will never achieve.

They can become yet another way that I tell myself I am not enough.

But I don’t let them do that, because I love to list! I wouldn’t give up my lists for anything in the world. However I do keep my list only to the things that a HUMAN BEING can reasonably accomplish in a day. That means that items like “figure how to fix your life in 2013” don’t make the cut, because I like myself and I want to have a day that wonderful, successful, and loving. This also means that things like “go to the grocery store” do get put on, because I do have to do them and they do take time. Got it?

4. Keep a calendar.

This one is crucial.  Like with listing, my calendar could be a place for me to be mean to myself, but instead I choose to view it as a necessary and useful tool. In fact it supports my best efforts by keeping track of everything so that I don’t have to keep all of that information in my head. I use an online calendar which syncs to my computer and phone, so that my schedule is accessible to me wherever I am. This means that I can check in, add coffee dates with friends on the fly, and free myself from that gross feeling of what was I supposed to do today.

This may seem ridiculously obvious and not worth mentioning, but even though I always had a calendar, I didn’t always use it. I used to trick myself by keeping some dates “in my head” and inevitably I would forget them and then feel awful.

Write it down. Spare yourself the excess energy of trying to hold it all together all the time. Again, you are a human being who deserves as much setting up for success as possible – make things easy for yourself by keeping track of all your odds and ends as much as possible.

5.  Play to your strengths.

How much of your time is spent doing things that you really hate or things that you aren’t any good at? How is dreading an aspect of a task holding you back from completing it?

How might you delegate some of your most loathed tasks to create a little space for yourself in your day?

I used to do absolutely everything myself, because I was (am?) a control freak and I thought I was the only one who could do a job right. I muddled through tasks that made my heart and inspiration shrivel up, and stressed me out to no end. I used my loathing of these tasks to keep me from completing the things that I wanted to complete.

I changed my entire life when I hired myself an editor and a designer to finish up Body Loving Homework. Yes – I probably could have done it myself, but the truth is, that logic had kept that project on the back burner for two years. Yes – it cost money, but it also allowed me to make money.

The point is, when you are able to delegate tasks that you really dislike, you are able to play to your strengths by creating more space and room to do the things that you LOVE.

6.  Decide when enough is enough.

Part of the amazing thing about using a list and calendar effectively, is the external reminder that you are done for the day! You want to create a container for success so that you are setting reasonable expectations and meeting them. Once met, feel free to relax! Celebrate a day well done by spending extra time relaxing or caring for yourself in your off time. If you are reading this and realizing that you don’t have any “off time,” because you take your laptop from your office to your couch to your bed, I’m curious: how does this make you feel?

What if you were able to set up your day so that there were times when you could shut down and stop checking your email?

What if you were able to cross off everything on your list and then skip to your car, relishing a job well done or a successful-feeling day?

When you are able to distinguish what would be enough work for one day, your mood instantly improves because tasks are manageable and there is an end in sight. You are able to feel better and more productive, because you know that you won’t just be working forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

Self Care that Works

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3 thoughts on “How I Get Stuff Done”

  1. Hey Mara. I know someone who has lots of trouble getting stuff done, but the problem is, he’s in college, and the stuff he hates doing is things like “homework” and “anything in classes that bores me.” He has to take these classes because they’re the dull requirements he has to do before he gets to the fun classes in his major. He procrastinates all the time and wastes time going “I *should* be doing this work” and then sometimes just doesn’t get it done as a result.

    I have all the sympathy for hating boring work, but I am one of those iron-discipline people who get things once I know they *have* to get done. He isn’t. What advice can I give?

  2. Mara,
    Thank you for a great post! I have having a crap week – felt awful (headache for a month plus now) and was at home resting every night in an effort to get better (and cancelled plans with friends to do so). Last night I couldn’t handle it anymore, said screw it, and went out with coworkers and perhaps had a few too many glasses of wine. I felt great last night, my mood was instantly lifted, and today I feel better – more productive and happier – than I have in weeks.
    Long story short, at some point you need to say screw it and have a little fun. Surround yourself with people who feed your soul and make you laugh. All work and no play makes Carmen a dull girl, I guess!
    Thanks for a great post, as always.

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