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, or writing help activate flow, and are all tasks that create a result. And when you succeed at creating a result, no matter what it is, your brain is flooded with dopamine, that feel-good chemical that actually helps motivate you. Whether or not you’re aware of your increased happiness, the hit of dopamine you get after being in flow will drive and influence you toward similar behavior.” [from Forbes.com]
Pursuing creative endeavors improves mental health. That same Forbes article notes that:
“Studies show that creative engagement not only reduces depression and isolation, but can also help people with dementia tap back in to their personalities and sharpen their senses.” and “A creative act such as crafting can help focus the mind, and has even been compared to meditation due to its calming effects on the brain and body. Even just gardening or sewing releases dopamine, a natural anti-depressant. Creativity reduces anxiety, depression and stress . . . and it can also help you process trauma. Studies have found that writing helps people manage their negative emotions in a productive way, and painting or drawing helps people express trauma or experiences that they find too difficult to put in to words.”
Being creative can challenge your mind. For example, according to that Forbes article,
“Studies show that people who play instruments have better connectivity between their left and right brains. The left brain is responsible for the motor functions, while the right brain focuses on melody. When the two hemispheres of your brain communicate with each other, your cognitive function improves.”
There are many more examples from Why Is Creativity Important and What Does It Contribute? (from the National Youth Council of Ireland):
- Engages the mind
- Enables alternative ways of thinking.
- Creates empathy.
- Connects us to ourselves.
- Nurtures confidence
Doing kind things for other people
Doing kind things for others can be a very productive use of our time. One writer describes it as “choosing to do something that helps others or yourself, motivated by genuine warm feelings.” [from the UK Mental Health Foundation’s Kindness Matters Guide]. You can do kind acts for those in your household, for friends, coworkers, for those in need, and for strangers. The UK Kindness Matters Guide suggests volunteering, doing something for a good cause, or just general acts of kindness. Some of their specific ideas (check out the article for even more):
- Volunteer for a local community organisation
- Offer your expertise and support as a mentor for those who are struggling
- Check in safely with a neighbour who is isolated or shielding
- See if there’s anything you can do to support your children’s school or nursery – offer to read stories by video for example
- Involve your friends and neighbours in community projects
- You could start up an online book club or film club
- Offer to skill-share with a friend via video call – you could teach guitar, dance , or a new recipe.
- Call a friend that you haven’t spoken to for a while
- Tell a family member how much you love and appreciate them
Why should we do acts of kindness and how does it benefit us? According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s good for our physical and mental health:
“Kindness has been shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and compassion, and improve mood. It can decrease blood pressure and cortisol, a stress hormone, which directly impacts stress levels. People who give of themselves in a balanced way also tend to be healthier and live longer. Kindness can increase your sense of connectivity with others, which can directly impact loneliness, improve low mood and enhance relationships in general. It also can be contagious. Looking for ways to show kindness can give you a focus activity, especially if you tend to be anxious or stressed in some social situations.”
“Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being, and cause the pleasure/reward centers in your brain to light up. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released.”
Another article summarizes 7 Life-Changing Benefits of Being Kind: Boosts your immune system; is good for your heart (“Oxytocin, which we now know is boosted by being kind, also expands your blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure.”); can reduce anxiety; helps you build your village; gives you a sense of control over your own life and emotions; gives you a break from stress and anxiety.
Pursuing excellence at our job
Being good at our job could mean “Performing at your highest level” [from 10 Approaches to Pursuing Excellence]. This isn’t about perfection, but excellence. None of us are perfect and all fall short of that ideal we have set for ourselves in our minds. Pursuing excellence and having a good work ethic is always a good use of time. One writer has said,
“Excellence takes my ego out of the equation. It means divorcing my output, my salary, and my followers from my self-worth. It means pursuing an activity for its own sake, deriving my happiness not from the result of my work but from the work itself.” [from Forget success, pursue excellence instead]
Nurturing our relationships with others can mean spending time, energy, and attention with other humans and listening to understand. For most of us, it’s the relationship with other people that give our life meaning.
Taking care of our body and mind
Taking care of ourselves is always a worthwhile activity and a good use of time. We need to sleep and rest, move our bodies, and have quiet/meditation time. We need to do these things because when we aren’t taking care of ourselves, it’s hard to create or enjoy our lives.
Less productive uses of our time
- Social media scrolling (often done because we haven’t planned better uses of our time). This is different from the intentional and well-managed use of social media to convey information or maintain connections.
- Judging or criticizing yourself; beating yourself up for your real or imagined mistakes. This isn’t the same as objective awareness of our own weaknesses IF done with kindness and an intentional plan to change. Instead of dwelling on our failures or inadequacies, we can acknowledge our weaknesses, recognize our humanity, and start to identify new habits of thought and action that will help us be more like the person we want to be.
- Criticizing other people or trying to get others to change (at home, at work, or in the world). A better use of time is to focus on our own personal development. I heard a moving and thought-provoking talk this week about this from an unlikely source — actor/comedian/thinker Russell Brand, who posted a video of his talk on Instagram. Among the other things he shared, he mentioned that he tries to think, every day, about how he can make the life of each person he meets that day a little better. I am trying to do the same.
- Dwelling on what you don’t have (money, talent, beauty, skills, whatever). Instead, focus on what you do have and on being grateful for it. (And perhaps developing a plan to achieve the things you want.)
Remember Brooke Castillo’s exercise of making a list of 20 things you want–and every other thing on the list has to be something you already have. For example:
- I want to take an extended trip to Europe.
- I want a loving, faithful husband–and I already have one.
- I want to lose weight.
- I want a comfortable home that I enjoy living in and sharing with others–and I already have one.
What is a productive use of time? I think we’re using our time most effectively when we invest it in activities that are in line with our personal priorities and our guiding principles, and that move us in the direction of accomplishing our goals and creating a life that matters as we each define it for ourselves. This requires deep awareness of what that (a life that matters) means (to each of us individually), of how we’re actually spending our time, and how it lines up with those priorities, principles, and goals. It also requires intentional monitoring and re-evaluation, and adjustments where needed as our life, priorities, and goals change.
What do you think?
What do you think are the most productive uses of your time, and how are you ensuring you’re making those a regular part of your schedule? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me
Resources and Link
Productive Woman episodes
- Laying a Foundation: Primary Values & Guiding Principles – TPW377
- The Big Picture: Priorities & Guiding Principles – TPW002
- Focusing on Priorities, with Deedra Determan – TPW088
- Professional and Personal Priorities, with Demetra Liggins — TPW067
- Intentional Priorities, with Elizabeth Benton – TPW305
- Here’s How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health
- Why is Creativity Important and What Does it Contribute? – National Youth Council of Ireland
- How Creativity Positively Impacts Your Health
- The art of kindness – Mayo Clinic Health System
- Kindness Matters guide | Mental Health Foundation
- 7 Life-Changing Benefits of Being Kind – Graham E. Farless, DDS, PA
- 10 Approaches to Pursuing Excellence – dummies
- 8 Ways To Be Excellent In The Workplace
- Forget success, pursue excellence instead | by Ana Dean | Medium
- What is Lifelong Learning? Its Importance, Benefits & Examples
- The Many Benefits of Lifelong Learning | Walden University
- Back to school: Learning a new skill can slow cognitive aging – Harvard Health
- Top 10 characteristics of a lifelong learner
Help Spread the Word!
Tell a friend about The Productive Woman podcast. Share an episode using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post, and consider leaving a review in Apple Podcasts
Click here to discover my favorite apps!
I would love to have your help!
Royse City, Texas