A podcast intended to help busy women find the tools and encouragement they need to better manage their lives, their time, their stress, and their stuff, so they can accomplish the things they care about and make a life that matters.
Do the Next Thing
Planning is an important part of a productive life and a frequent topic of discussion on this podcast. This week, though, we’ll talk about another perspective on living a meaningfully productive life.
Planning matters, but sometimes you just have to do the next thing
It's hard for me to fathom that I’ve reached episode 400 of this podcast. That's 400 times I’ve sat down to plan, outline, record, and publish my thoughts about productivity and a meaningful life, or talked with other women who shared their experiences and insights with us. When I went into my closet on July 1, 2014, to record that first episode, I couldn’t have imagined I would still be doing this 400 times later.
The truth is that although I talk about the importance of planning and living intentionally, I didn’t have a plan for this podcast’s future when I launched it nearly 8 years ago.
Similarly, I haven’t had a long-term plan for my life. If I have a plan, it’s always just been this: Do the next thing.
I like to plan. I like certainty and knowing what to expect. But as hard as I’ve tried, I can’t live my life that way. In the short term, sure. I can plan a to-do list or a day or a weekend or a week. But long term, I can’t. Maybe I lack the imagination it takes to envision the possibilities or the discipline to stick with the plan I’ve developed.
“Do the next thing” works for a life. It also works on a very practical level when you have too many things to do and not enough time to do them, or when a crisis has thrown your life and heart into disarray.
Do the next thing
For those of us who value certainty and predictability, who want to have a plan and know what it is, this can be a hard approach to accept.
Here is a quote from a post on The Marginalian, a blog and weekly digest written by Maria Popova (Carl Jung on How to Live and the Origin of “Do the Next Right Thing”)
"We long to be given the next step and the route to the horizon, allaying our anxiety with the illusion of a destination somewhere beyond the vista of our present life.
But the hardest reality to bear is that death is the only horizon, with numberless ways to get there — none replicable, all uncertain in their route, all only certain to arrive. This is why there are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives. And this is why each and every one of them, even the most seemingly actualized, trembles with a staggering degree of doubt and confusion. Uncertainty is the price of beauty, and integrity the only compass for the territory of uncertainty that constitutes the landmass of any given life.
And so the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path. If we have been lucky enough, if we have been willing enough to face the uncertainty, it is our own singular path, unplotted by our anxious younger selves, untrodden by anyone else.”
A song from the Frozen 2 movie talks about this same thing:
~ Songwriters: Kristen Anderson-Lopez / Robert Lopez. The Next Right Thing lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company
Michael Sliwinski, developer of the excellent digital task manager Nozbe, has this to say about this song:
“Anna is right - our duty to ourselves and our community is always “to do the next right thing”
In the post on The Marginalian (a href="https://www.themarginalian.org/2021/12/07/carl-jung-next-right-thing/" target="_blank" r...
Getting Past Monotony
This week we're looking at ways to break up the monotony of our everyday routines, reframe our thinking, and develop new ways of making each day something we look forward to.
Re-engaging our minds and looking at our routines differently can help us get past monotony and improve our productivity
As I was making the bed the other morning I started thinking about the fact that I do it every day, exactly the same way. That led me to thoughts about how much of my day consists of repetitive tasks that I do every day. We often talk about the importance of habits and routines and how they can help us be more efficient and effective--and therefore more productive.
But that morning I started thinking about the downside of habits and routines, something I seldom see talked about in the productivity content I read and listen to: how they can easily slide over into monotony.
What is monotony
Noun; lack of variety and interest; tedious repetition and routine.
One article I read talked about work monotony this way:
“Work monotony refers to performing the same tasks physically or mentally over and over again that become boring, laborious, and less interesting. A monotonous work will have a similar pattern every day, and a person may perform it repetitively without even thinking about how they are performing it.”
This obviously can be true about any aspect of our life, from paid work to work at home to child-rearing to exercise to hobbies to relationships. Every aspect of our life, no matter how much we love it, has those mundane, repetitive elements that have to be tended to.
What is our psychological response to monotony
Monotony can result in lethargy and a lack of motivation or energy. As one article in Psychology Today puts it, “our minds are wired to respond to monotony by inducing a state of ennui; that utter weariness and feeling of 'why does it matter?' . . . [M]onotony-triggered tedium is tough. Boredom leads to a loss of concentration, inhibited responsiveness to both internal and external stimuli, lack of productivity and inability to fully enjoy life. Chronic boredom can dull your mind. It presents a greater risk for weight gain, overconsumption of alcohol and even mild depression.”
The article goes on to refer to a study published in the BMC Neuroscience journal that
“inquired into a relationship between monotony and emotional maladaptation. Its findings suggest that monotony does, in fact, adversely affect mood changes, and that disrupting a monotonous environment – through the introduction of novel objects – can help prevent the development of depression-like traits.”
How can it affect our productivity?
Our productivity is directly affected by our state of mind and our mental well-being. If monotony leads to boredom, stress, and anxiety, it will affect our performance. Even for those of us who prefer predictability,
Productive Use of Our Time
This week we discuss ways we can use our time productively and make more time for what matters most.
Making the best use of our time can help to increase productivity, reduce stress, and challenge our minds
Time management is a traditional component of how we think about productivity. Although we can’t “manage” time in the sense of creating more of it or banking it or moving it around, we can manage how we use our time--what we do with the 24 hours we have in each day--and we can learn to be more effective in how we do that.
We all get to choose what we do with our time, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each of us can decide how to make the best, most effective use of our time given our circumstances: our age, stage of life, personality type, relationships, and so on. There are, however, certain universal concepts when it comes to using our time--some uses are more productive, others are less.
What should we plan and why? We should do regular planning for our day and week, as well as planning for projects and events. Planning increases awareness. Make sure you’re clear on what you’re doing and how it lines up with your intended outcome. Planning also helps to avoid lost time due to oversights, such as missed steps or missing materials.
What should we learn and why? We should focus on learning new skills, both personal and professional, and new information. Learning is always something that can contribute to our productivity, both in the sense of getting things done that matter to us and making a life that matters. Learning leads to personal growth because it can boost self-confidence. Learning something new can reignite our motivation and widen our perspective and expand our understanding of the world. Learning can lead to career advancement by making ourselves more useful.
According to an article from Walden University, “Only 25% of hiring managers say job seekers have the skills their company needs. If you want to increase your chances of getting a good job, you’ll want to take the time to acquire the skills employers are looking for.”
Learning can keep our brain healthy. Many studies show that continuing to challenge your brain by learning new things can help keep your mind sharp as you age. (Check out Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Blog post: Back to school: Learning a new skill can slow cognitive aging.)
What creative activities should we pursue and why? It can be anything you might enjoy - writing (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenplays, letters, journals), painting, singing, playing an instrument, needlework, gardening, dance, bullet journaling. I’ve bought a Cricut (cutting machine) and have been having fun learning how to use it to create greeting cards, labels, and tons of other things. I've never been artsy or crafty before, but I'm really enjoying it. Creative pursuits can lead to personal satisfaction and happiness.
“You’ve probably heard of flow — it’s the state you get in when you’re completely absorbed in something. Have you ever been working on a project and completely lost all sense of self and time? That’s flow. It reduces anxiety, boosts your mood, and even slows your heart rate.It’s not just being in flow that helps your happiness. Repetitive creative motions like knitting, drawing,
Personal Mantras for Personal Productivity
In this week's episode of The Productive Woman, we talk about a way we can use words to refocus our thinking in more productive directions--by developing personal mantras.
Having personal mantras can help us get through the tougher days and also increase our productivity
In last week's episode we discussed manifestos for a life that matters and this week we're talking about mantras. Specifically, devoloping mantra's for personal productivity.
What is a mantra?
(originally in Hinduism and Buddhism) a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.
a statement or slogan repeated frequently.
“What's the difference between a mantra and an affirmation? Your affirmation should be a declaration that either compliments who you are as a person, or confirms who you want to be. Mantras are chants repeated multiple times during a spiritual session, like yoga or meditation. Mantra means to “release the mind” in Sanskrit terminology.” [from Affirmations vs. Mantras: Pros, Cons, & Differences]
“We are the stories we tell ourselves. We are the thoughts we repeat and the words we come to believe. We do not attract that which we want, but that which we are.” [from 4 Self-Care Morning Mantras to Boost Your Confidence]
“The magic of the mantra is in the repetition. Mantras remind us of our truth, calm us, reassure us, bring us back to the present, and over time, they have the power to change our entire belief system. Instead of allowing your mind to run wild, like a loosey goosey, use a mantra to focus your concentration, to create with ease, to lighten up and to live life more elegantly.” [from 80 Mantras for the Elegant Lady]
In episode 361, Using Words Productively, one of the ideas we talked about was using them to train your mind. Here’s what I said back then:
“Words are what our minds use to create thoughts. Our thoughts create our emotions, which drive our actions, which produce our results.
Thoughts are words; choose them intentionally. Thinking and saying things as simple as I get to vs. I have to can make a big difference. It’s a subtle change in words and mindset and we can choose which one we want to have.
If you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. We can change the way our minds use words by persistent, intentional practice.”
One way to do that is by developing our own mantras--words or phrases repeated persistently and intentionally--to address areas where we want to retrain our thinking. Following are examples of mantras that I use, or intend to add to my repertoire, for various purposes:
1. To train my mind to be present rather than wandering elsewhere, I love this one suggested by contributing writer June DiMelo in the June 2022 issue of Real Simple magazine: “Be here now.”
2. To get myself to do things that are hard or endure difficult situations, I use one or more of the following:
I can do anything for a while.
This too shall pass.
I don’t have to like it; I just have to do it.
3. To correct my thinking about time and priorities, I remind myself: There is enough time to do what matters most.
A Manifesto for a Life that Matters
This week I'm sharing some things I believe with respect to living a meaningfully productive life--a life that matters as I define it.
The productive exercise of creating a manifesto for making a life that matters
A manifesto is defined as “a public declaration of policy and aims”. It's most often used in the context of organizations or even political campaigns. For me, this is a statement of some of the things I believe are crucial components of a life that matters.
Notice that I call it a manifesto, not the manifesto. These are things I believe. I’m not telling you you must believe the same, but I hope these will inspire you to think about, and even write down, what you believe about what constitutes a life that matters as you define it.
Some of my core beliefs, and how these beliefs relate to making a life that matters
1. I have my beliefs and opinions about various things--some of them very strong--but I always keep in mind the very real possibility that I might be wrong.
For that reason, when encountering people or ideas I disagree with, I need to listen to understand, not to refute. I recently saw this quote in a cartoon:
“Most people don’t really want the truth. They just want constant reassurance that what they believe is the truth.”
2. It’s impossible to be happy if my focus is on what I don’t have instead of what I do.
This is true as to material possessions, skills and talents, physical attributes, and options. As Eckhart Tolle has said:
“All stress is caused by being here, but wanting to be there.”
3. Growing older doesn't automatically equate with maturity, and maturity is a key component of a meaningfully productive life. I agree with something I recently read in an old Dear Abby column:
“This is maturity: To be able to stick with a job until it’s finished; to do one’s duty without being supervised; to be able to carry money without spending it; and to be able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.”
4. My life today is the result of the choices I made yesterday and the day before and 10 years ago and 10 minutes ago. If I don’t like where I am today, I can make different choices to change the trajectory of my life.
In believing this I'm not trivializing the impact of outside circumstances, and I recognize that there is a difference between options and choices. An option is a thing and a choice is an action. We don’t all have the same options at any given stage of our life. Our options might be different because of our environment, our background, etc.
But we all have choices. And sometimes our choices limit our options. For example: If I choose to work hard and get good grades in high school, I’ll have more options when it comes to colleges and scholarships to help pay for them.
5. Disagreement isn’t hate; hate is hate.
A safe space isn’t one where no one disagrees with me; it’s a place where I can disagree without hatred. I can love someone and still disagree with something they say or do. On the other hand, I can’t inspire someone to love by spewing hate at them. As I’ve said before, no one’s mind has ever been changed by someone standing at a distance and throwing rocks at them. The ability to influence anyone stems from a relationship with them.
6. The only way to get through life without constant misery is to extend grace to each other and to ourselves.
What it means to extend grace to each other is to give them the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best until proven otherwise. We tend to interpret the actions and words of people we don’t like in the worst possible light, but those of the people we know and love in the best possible light. When someone we’ve decided we don’t like someone,
When Life Isn't Fun Anymore
What do we do when life feels monotonous and predictable and our work becomes drudgery? This week we talk about ways to re-inspire yourself, perk things up a bit, and reapproach your life with renewed interest and enthusiasm.
Life may not always be fun but there are things we can do to renew our energy and enthusiasm
Nothing is fun all the time. Even when everything about our life is just the way we want it to be, life can begin to feel like a monotonous, repetitive cycle: Get up, get self and/or kids ready, work, tend to the house, meals on the table, laundry, etc., and do it all over again the next day. Even the things we’re most passionate about can become drudgery.
in Merriam-Webster dictionary: “dull, irksome, and fatiguing work: uninspiring or menial labor”
in Cambridge dictionary: “hard boring work”
on collinsdictionary.com: “You use drudgery to refer to jobs and tasks which are boring or unpleasant but which must be done.”
Why it happens
To a point, it’s part of being an adult. There are certain things that have to be done, whether or not we enjoy them. Mark Twain said,
“Do something every day that you don’t want to do; this is the golden rule of acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain.”
It’s unrealistic and counterproductive to expect to always feel joyful, inspired, and engaged about every aspect of our lives. In fact, those feelings actually have meaning only in comparison to their opposites.
Sometimes we just discipline ourselves to push through. That's part of being an adult.
Sometimes, if it’s a specific area of our lives (our job, for example), we decide to make a change. But if we’re feeling stuck in a phase where our life in general, or some aspect of it, just feels joyless and monotonous most or even all the time, but we don’t want to do something drastic, what are some steps we can take to refresh and renew our mindset and find more joy in our work and in our life.
What we can do about it
1. Renew your energy - mental and emotional energy is affected by physical energy and it’s hard to feel good about life when we’re exhausted.
Fuel your body
Take a walk
Take a nap
Visit your doctor
This is true for us all, but especially for moms of young kids. Take care of yourself, too!
2. Refresh your space - living and working in a cluttered, disorganized environment that doesn’t appeal to us aesthetically or ergonomically makes our work/life more taxing. Sometimes we can perk up our mood by making a change to our environment.
Move furniture around
3. Renew your enthusiasm
Take a break - walk away, not forever, but for awhile
Talk to a friend
Try a different technique or approach--this can break the monotony of doing by rote something you know so well you can almost do it in your sleep.
One article recommends: “Take 15 minutes a day to do something you love.” She recommends making a list of things you enjoy doing and then creating a small window of time each day for one of them.
4. Refresh your perspective
Change locations and take your work to a different spot. If you work from home, leave your office and sit on the porch or in the kitchen. If you work in an office,
Loved this episode 398 as it made me reconsider what productive use of one’s time can look like including self care with learning and creativity and more. I’m looking forward to listening to future episodes
#1 Productivity Podcast
If you’re seeking “the tools and encouragement you need” to be more productive, search no further. Laura does NOT take the militant approach of “Get up off your butt and never sleep and sacrifice all your relationships!” to productivity. She does not promote being busy for the sake of being busy, or mile-long to-do lists. She helps you in defining YOUR top priorities, and gives practical, relatable, genuinely helpful, and doable direction in “mak[ing] a life that matters.” Guests are equally inspiring, and her book reviews are wonderful. No other podcast I’ve heard compares!
Misheard a person’s name who was quoted. Sending my apologies for the low rating. New listener and looking into this podcast now looking forward to discovering this content.