Do you feel like you have to choose between bossing working life and having a happy actual life? The world sometimes seems divided in two: the girl boss brigade and the self-care camp. Grace Beverley, a former fitness influencer and now the founder of two successful businesses (TALA, an activewear brand, and fitness app Shreddy) with a million Instagram followers to boot, saw this divide and became frustrated that the nuanced need for both wasn’t being discussed. “I’d share a productivity tip and get comments saying I needed to relax and chill out, but when I’d post a picture of myself chilling out, the other side would pop up saying, 'If you don't come out of the pandemic having learned a new skill, it’s proof that you didn’t lack time, just discipline.' I couldn’t win.”
Believing working hard and hardly working to be two sides of the same productivity coin, Beverley created a new productivity blueprint that forms the basis of her new book, Working Hard, Hardly Working. Here’s she tells us how how to get more done while also giving yourself time out.
Plan your time
Time management is the first step towards doing everything you want to do. I love the Eisenhower method, a prioritisation plan which helps me work out what is urgent and what is important, and therefore what order things should be done in, and whether I should be doing some things at all. Take a page of your notebook and divide it into four. Name each quarter: 1. Urgent; 2. Important; 3. Delegate; 4. Don’t do, then put each of your tasks in the most relevant box. This will help you to work out the content of your tasks (quadrants 1 and 2), and which you should be skipping altogether (quadrants 3 and 4). I’m so used to doing this now that I automatically do the ‘urgent-important’ classification in my head to figure out how to spend my time. It may seem like adding an extra layer of 'list admin', but by figuring out what actually needs doing, it'll make your daily to-do 'list' (see the next step) much shorter and more organised.
Swap your to-do list for a to-do table
Why does your to-do list look like the Top 40 music charts? All your tasks are not the same: they are not of equal priority. Once I've done the Eisenhower method and know which tasks actually need doing, I feed each into a to-do table at the beginning of every day. It also includes items that aren’t going to get done that day but that I need to keep an eye on. Divide your table into three columns: ‘Quick ticks” (things that will take five minutes or less); ‘Tasks’ (that take up to 30 minutes); and ‘Projects’ (the big boys you need to be conscious of). Break down ‘Projects’ into smaller steps to complete each day, because you’re never going to do something in one day that’s going to take 12 hours overall.
Block your diary
Once I’ve established each thing on a to-do table, I put each into my calendar as a block of time, a technique calling ‘time blocking’. They can be half an hour or four, whatever works for you. I plan these around my meetings and do specific tasks in each. This approach helps me concentrate on longer tasks while avoiding being sucked under by the admin demon. Admin can be a form of procrastination, so if you do it within pre-assigned blocks of time rather than sprinkling it throughout your day, you’ll be more productive.
Get into ‘deep work’
This concept was developed by Professor Cal Newport. Deep work is about reclaiming concentration and committing to work that avoids the constant ping of notifications. It’s basically the zone you’d get into if you had an exam at school, where you’re so ‘in’ the task that you do it intensively for a period of time. Get into deep work by doing a ‘related task’ first - If you’re writing an article on renewable energy, for example, you could trigger deep work by reading an article or watching a YouTube video on the subject for inspiration. Deep work’s superior cousin is ‘flow’ – the state we reach when we’re concentrated on a task which we’re skilled at.
This is relevant whenever we're working, but especially when we're doing deep work. Our working worlds revolve around tech so we can’t go offline forever, especially now so many of us are working from home and can’t shout across the office. But we need to use tech in a productive way that enhances work, rather than detracting from it. I like using focus-enhancing apps – my favourite is Forest, where you grow a virtual tree for a set amount of time and can’t go on your phone during that time. If you’re competitive, add your friends on the app and let the focus tree-growing Olympics commence.
There are two types of ‘doing nothing’ – ‘planned nothing’ and ‘fuck-it nothing’. Doing nothing has become a solution for burnout, but in order to not get there in the first place, it should be a planned exercise within our lives. Maybe you keep two weeknights free or spend a whole day at the weekend just for you and your partner. That’s planned nothing. 'Fuck it nothing' is the understanding that you're never going to get it completely right, so you give yourself permission to ditch the evening of work you’d anticipated or say ‘fuck it’ to that exercise class you thought you might do but really don’t want to. Allowing for ‘failure’ within your structure is the only way to make it realistic.
Figure out what makes you feel good
I used to get to the end of the working day, realise I had a dinner planned, and cancel it. I thought that made me feel good. Don’t get me wrong – occasionally, it was the right thing to do because I would have been terrible company. But the majority of the time, I’d go along and feel much better afterwards. Learning what activities recharge you – what makes you feel good - is an active process. On top of that, know what gives you instant versus delayed gratification. Here’s how to do it: find a double page spread in your notebook, and label one page ‘Things that make me feel good’ and the other ‘Things that make me feel bad’. Then create a right-aligned side heading next to each called ‘Limits and exceptions’. Right now, going on walks at the end of the workday is in my ‘feel good’ column, as are Friday nights in front of the TV– the ‘exception’ to that is when I genuinely have too much work on and feel overwhelmed. Write yours down and fill your time spent doing nothing with things that make you feel good.
Put boundaries into place
Once you know what makes you feel good and bad, you need the discipline to make sure you do them – and that means boundaries. Boundaries are personal, but they're probably time-related, space-related, or task-related. They might be having a different working area from where you sleep, or a boundary related to not working on weekends. You’ll know better than I do what you need – the key is being strict when it comes to enforcing them.
Beware social media
If I’m having a down day, or I get to the end of the day and don't think I'm good enough, I've usually been on social media too much. Recently I was ill and realised I’d been overconsuming information, so I set limits on my apps. Even if I ignored them, they made me more mindful of how I was using social media. Saying “Do away with it all” isn’t realistic, so consider how you can implement boundaries without feeling like you're constantly failing because you haven't deleted your social media accounts.
I’d say that ninety per cent of the time, we know we’re self-sabotaging as we’re doing it. We recognise that we would feel better if we went for a walk, but we don't. But are you self-sabotaging, or is it what you really need? Force yourself to do it and if it doesn’t make you feel good, then you were right. The more work we do on establishing what self-care means for us, the better we can understand when we are self-sabotaging and when, actually, our instincts were right. When we get it wrong, the worst thing to do is self-criticise, so don’t – move on, and learn from it.
SHOP NOW Working Hard, Hardy Working: How to Achieve More, Stress Less, and Feel Fulfilled by Grace Beverley is out 15th April (Hutchinson)
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