6 Weird Tricks I Use to Boost Productivity & Attention Span

Working from home is awesome for many reasons: comfy clothes, extra time to let hair masks set in, and being able to do my laundry at a snail’s pace. But, it comes with a whole host of new distractions.

Distractions are the drug of procrastination-prone people. And, if I’m being honest, I’m basically the poster-child for anxiety-driven procrastination. I love a good distraction because sometimes it can be so hard to send that pitch or update my site or write a freaking blog post. Of course, a day of procrastination is a day wasted. And that wreaks havoc on my mindset in general.

It was clear early on that I needed to find ways to make it psychologically and physiologically easier to get tasks done. This is beyond making a to-do list and prioritizing tasks. This is about giving myself the best possible conditions to thrive.

So weird as they may seem (some aren’t that weird) here are strategies I use on the regular to keep spirits high and fingers typing.

1. Listening to ASMR on YouTube

Okay, let’s start with the weirdest one first.

I think by now we’ve all at least heard of this strange phenomenon: people whispering and making soft sounds into a microphone will make your head tingle. It seems like a really weird thing to listen to, but hear me out.

I get distracted easily. My mind wanders frequently, which has been a blessing in many ways but also poses an obstacle to my work and a threat to my business. I’ve used ambient noises, classical music, and what I can only describe as spa music. These have all worked, and I do continue to use them all, but…

ASMR works better than anything else I’ve tried.  

You may have guessed that I have an anxiety problem (i.s. I probably told you already). At one point the problem was so debilitating, I couldn’t drive for fear of getting a panic attack. Almost anything can set me off. Although I have developed some seriously time-saving coping techniques* when it comes to the fear of putting myself “out there” as a writer? It easily becomes messy given the chance.

The thought goblins come together at full force to remind me how absolutely untalented I am. It sucks. It wastes my time. One of the ways I prevent the thought goblins from ruining my day and toppling my mindset is by listening to things that relax me while I write.

I have a playlist of videos of “no talking” videos that are close to the 20-minute mark. This provides me with a sort of timer to remind me to stretch and move around.

2. Get Up & Move

A few years ago a study came out and caught fire. Its claims about the danger of a sedentary lifestyle minced no words. Basically: it’s bad for you to sit still all day. Period. Their recommendation was to get up around move around every twenty minutes.

The popularity of the study convinced many to purchase standing desks or to swap their chairs for yoga balls. But, physical health isn’t the only major benefit. Your attention span will also thank you—because it works naturally with your brain’s natural ability to pay attention to one thing.

Ever heard that the average person’s attention is roughly 20 minutes?

* 20 minutes *

But it’s not 20 minutes because we can’t pay attention. It’s not because there is something wrong with us. As Alejandro Lleras, a research psychologist at the University of Illinois, says “you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not a problem.”

The problem is that our brains get bored with a task after about 20 minutes. Hence the popularity of the Pomodoro Technique and apps like Tide. (I really love Tide, btw).

So, I get up about every twenty to thirty minutes to refresh my brain, do a random household chore, and stretch. As an added bonus I suffer less from stiffness and body pain, while keeping a clean home.

But somedays a five minute break just isn’t enough.

3. Taking a Nap

Somedays, I burn out more easily than others. Usually, it’s because I didn’t sleep enough the night before. When that midafternoon slump starts to hit me and I feel droopy, I know that a nap is the best cure.

Sleeping on the job may sound like a real waste of time. Especially in a culture that equates hard work (and being overworked) with intrinsic value. But it’s absolutely key to keeping my brain fresh.  

As a writer, not only do I write a lot, but I read a lot. I draft and work on several projects at the same time. And don’t forget that in addition to my writing business, I also write as an artist. I have to make considerations about submissions, pitches, line-breaks, blogging, marketing—all  of these tasks require different mindsets.

They also require bandwidth. The best way for me to keep that bandwidth running at top speeds is to ensure my brain is well-rested. And the only way to do that is to actually rest.

I set a timer on my phone, which calms any anxiety associated with, “but what if I sleep all day!” When I hit start, I easily slip into sleep mode—of course, this is years into being a nap-regular and practicing yoga. For others, napping may be really difficult at first.

With time, you will become accustomed to it. You might consider an ultra-calming guided meditation to begin. I highly recommend giving it a try (and I would love to know if you do give it a try!)

4. A Two Hour Lunch Break

That being said, I don’t need to nap every day. I’ve been blessed with an undue amount of energy (keeps me up and anxious). If I’ve slept well the night before, I usually don’t get the midday sleepies.

But, I never work the day through like I once did in my 9 to 5.

Back then, I returned home generally too cross-eyed to read—a large reason why, for much of my working career, I’ve tried to leave my mornings open for my writing—and generally feeling like a sack of potatoes.  

Nowadays, it’s a matter of getting to my desk by nine and completing my most important tasks by 1 o’clock. Currently, this means writing for clients or my blog. Then my break followed by three to four hours of work that’s less creativity-dependent, like revision, media planning.

During my break, I can read and relax, go for a hike, take a nap, pet the cat, go grocery shopping. Basically, anything that can be done in less than two hours. Once the break goes beyond that mark, I find it exceedingly difficult to return to my desk.

5. Sip Something

The truth behind this one is that I am a smoker. I don’t smoke anymore (tbh: for now) but I loved smoking. I mean, I loved everything about smoking except smelling like an ashtray. It was key to my productivity in college—a period of time where I worked two jobs to stay afloat.

I’d work for an hour and then take a smoking break. It’s where my best ideas came to me. All the better if I could smoke on a roof. I rolled my own cigarettes. There was a lot of ritual involved.

But, smoking is terrible for the lungs. And I don’t have great lungs to begin with. So, now

I sip tea.  

Tea solves a lot of problems. It’s hydrating, provides antioxidants, and there is a ritual. I love rituals. Plus, it comes in so many flavors that I can’t get board.

Oh, I also drink a lot of coffee, too. I just have to be careful about caffiene.

If you’re trying to cut back on smoking, I’d give tea-substitution a try. There’s nothing like taking a victory sip after finishing that email or a perfect sentence.

6. Wrap Party aka Look for Something to Celebrate

This one took forever for me to really put into practice. I used to think to myself, what you did today didn’t really warrant a celebration. But now I know that taking a moment for some self-support, especially to say thank you to myself, is a small action with a HUGE impact.

Why shouldn’t I be grateful that I showed up? Why shouldn’t I be proud of my efforts? Why shouldn’t any of us allow ourselves to be inspired by our own courage, action, and resiliency?

I’m not talking about self-delusion; I’m talking about self-encouragement. Self-encouragement is my secret to ending a cycle that looks like this:

I love when I check things off my to-do list, but sometimes the day doesn’t unfold the way I wanted. And I needed to develop the humility to deal with this sort of ‘loss’ instead of consuming myself with thoughts of self-doubt.  

One of the ways I transform this situation into something motivational is to:

  1. Look for what I did well and celebrate it. Every day I know there is at least one thing I did right. I discover what that is—if I can make a list, all the better. And I thank myself for making that effort.
  2. Find the opportunity. I try to figure out where I went wrong when I didn’t check the box. Usually, it’s a case of procrastination (fear) or overwhelm (too big a task). These are areas of opportunity for improvement.
  3. Plan for success. Once I discover the opportunity for improvement, I make a plan to work new strategies into my life to avoid a failure in the future.

A good thing to remember is that we never really run out of opportunities. There is always a next level we can aim for once we’ve mastered the level we’re at now.

Final Thoughts

You may have noticed that basically everything on this list is as much self-care as it is “productivity hack.” That’s definitely by design. I firmly believe that self-care is the path to accomplishing anything great.

I also recognize that for many of us, offering ourselves some care and kindness can be shockingly difficult. It was for me! Yet, with time and humility—and plenty of IDGAF about the how—I have been able to develop plenty of ways to keep productivity up and spirits high.   

What do you think? Is self-care part of your productivity? Let me know below.

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* I have had the help of several amazing therapists over the years. I encourage anyone to seek the counsel of a therapist, especially if you have a history of anxiety, depression, or trauma. Zoc Doc and Psychology Today have many listings to choose from.

How to Keep a Positive Mindset While Pursuing Big Goals

A freelancing friend texted me the other day, “So much on my to-do list, but I’m wallowing in my own inadequacies again!” Like me, she’s had a lot of trouble maintaining a positive mindset as she pursues bigger goals with her business. So we contact each other when we hit a mental block and offer each other support.

The thing is that taking on big goals is scary as hell. Especially when thought gremlins start telling you that everyone else has it figured out while you’re lagging behind. Broken and woefully inadequate.

But you don’t have to be consumed by negative thoughts. I should know. After years of struggling with self-advocacy and self-esteem, I’ve developed several strategies to change my mindset and get things done.

Below, I outling six tips I use to cut down on wallowing time and even avoid the wallow altogether.

Accept where you are right now

The first step to real change is to start where you are. Accept that everything is a process. Whether you’re at the start or in the middle of trying to accomplish a goal, you need to embrace that nothing happens overnight. Success happens because of a series of actions you take to get you closer to your goal.

If you haven’t already, identify your goal. Maybe you want to get out of debt, make new friends, or change careers. Maybe you feel “fine” but you want more from your life. You may want to change a negative behavior or build a new skill or make it to the next level.

Now, ask yourself where you are right now in relation to that goal. This isn’t the time to rage with harsh self-criticism. This is the time to be open with yourself. If hard numbers are involved, be sure to write them down.

Be honest, but stay emotionally neutral. Refrain as best you can from taking your findings and turning them into your self-worth. The point of this exercise is to assess where you are so that you can create a game plan to get to the next place.

If you already have a plan in place, your reflections will help you tend to that plan and make adjustments if necessary.  

Put self-care at the top of your priority list

When I started writing full time, I quickly realized that there are absolute physical limitations on my ability to write. And I don’t mean words per minute.

I found that if I was sleepy, my writing process slowed to a trickle. If my body hurt from sitting too much or bad posture, I was unable to concentrate for longer than a few minutes at a time. If I wasn’t mentally calm, I couldn’t focus on anything.

I needed to bump sleeping, exercise/stretching, and nutrition to higher priority levels. My brother, a tanker in the military, likes to quote a cavalry proverb, “feed your horse first.”

In this case, my brain and body were the horse. Sure, I could sleep like shit and eat like shit, but then I’d write like shit. So I set boundaries. If I am tired, I rest. When my body starts to hurt, I get up and stretch. I stretch before bed as well, and I make sure I get a full night’s rest.

I promise that if you make your self-care a top priority, there will be a trickle-down benefits for you. But again, when approaching how to set yourself up for success, refrain from turning your findings into reasons why you’re not enough.

Imagine your success in full color

Success doesn’t come by chance. People who reach their goals get them by accepting the hard work has to be done, and they are the one to do it. But to understand what tasks lie ahead, they also need to understand what the end of the road actually looks like.

If you can see the destination, you can find the road map.

Additionally, if you can visualize yourself in that successful place, you can combat the negative voices telling you that you don’t belong there. Just be careful not to get too carried away by the fantasy. This is for motivational purposes, not to distract you from taking chances.

Change the inner narrative

What inner dialogue is holding you back? How do you treat yourself within the confines of your mind? If you’re reading this, then I’m going to imagine it’s similar to me. Here are some common, but problematic inner narratives:

  • I’m not worth it.
  • I’m such a poser and everyone will know.
  • When I inevitably fail, I’ll never recover.
  • No one will want to be my friend after this.
  • I don’t deserve to get what I want.
  • No one wants to hear/see/work with me.

These kinds of thoughts don’t go away overnight. They’re a habit our minds engage with because, even if it hurts us, these beliefs keep us “safe.”

Now, I’m not saying that they actually keep us out of harm’s way. In fact, they harm us a lot more than they help. However, the reason we hold onto them is that we are trying to avoid pain altogether.

When you feel a breakdown of spirit coming on, pretend you’re on fire.  

Stop: pause all self-flagellating thoughts for at least a minute. Just set a timer, breath, and politely dismiss all thoughts that aren’t “in 2,3,4 out 2,3,4”

Drop: give yourself permission to let go of those ideas. If this is an acute problem, you may want to actually give yourself permission to think those things for 2 minutes, setting a timer, and at the sound of a bell, let it go. However you have to do it, get to a point where you can let those thoughts go.

Roll: Reframe your negative thoughts into something helpful and roll with it.

Get your support network together

It’s hard to offer yourself encouragement during a setback or a period of wallowing. You’ll need to get your cheerleaders and your mentors together to offer you support and encouragement when you can’t do so. Your parent, teachers, bosses, besties, and even strangers on the internet can offer support.

Reach out to your network regularly. This will help you stay motivated, and the inevitable giving back you will do will give you a sense of purpose and community. Win/Win.

I also want to note that if any of these sources of support are actually not sources of support — if your mom is the kind who might subtly put you down, your friend’s blame their problems on others, your facebook group is full of spammy self-promoters, and you don’t have a mentor.

Well.

You need to find someone else. Join a different facebook group. Attend networking events. Get out there like your life depends on it. Because in many ways it does. If you’re on the fence about whether or not a loved one is supportive ask yourself this question:

After speaking with X do I feel:

  1. Energized and ready to push further.
  2. More informed and clear about what I’m trying to do.
  3. Like the goals I wanted to achieve are actually kind of stupid.
  4. Like I don’t have the X to achieve my goals.

If your answer is A or B, your loved one is a source of support. If your answer is C or D, your loved one is not a source of support. Whether you want to continue a relationship with an unsupportive person is up to you. But I advise that, if you can, cut ties with people who actively undermine your sense of self.

That also goes for people so wrapped up in their own lives that you’re constantly offering them support without getting any support in return. Life isn’t tit-for-tat, and sometimes your loved one is going to need your support waaaaay more than you will need there’s. But, if their life is always in shambles, proceed with extreme caution.

Okay? Okay. End of rant.

(Re)Frame the Game

Lastly, it’s time to check back in with your goal planning. (Again) if you haven’t actually explored what goals you’re focusing on and how you will accomplish them, then you need to add that task to the top of your to-do list. If you have a plan in place, now is a great time to assess your plan.

A word of caution, though. While goals to occasionally need a good tweaking,they also need to be worked through. If you are in a trap of constantly altering your goals, you need to address that. I’ve been known to work toward something for a few days, only to abandon the strategy in the middle of its process.

You can’t get anywhere if you keep stopping.

However, you may need to assess if your goal planning is getting you the results you want. That’s why it’s so important to think in the long and short term. I break my goals down to the daily actions I need to make. This way, I actually have something to assess when looking at my progress.

If I’m coming up short, chances are something about my daily to-do list needs to change.

Big Picture

For many of us, fear and shame seem to rule our lives. I know that these two ruled my career for years. I know so many people who have refrained from asking for that promotion, refrained from moving somewhere they love, even refrained from dating due to the self-limiting behavior of wallowing in their own inadequacy.

But none of us have to be chained by negative self-talk. And none of us deserve that sort of treatment.

In fact, if we can approach our wallowing with positive coping, we can cut our wallowing time in half. And someday, eliminate it altogether.

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Do you have any tips for building and maintaining a positive mindset? Please share below!