2020: New book releases in the field of productivity and personal development

Let’s have a look at a few new books releases that seem really interesting: 

1. 10 Days to Overcome Procrastination Addiction: Take Action & Get More Done by A. Andrews

10 Days To Overcome Procrastination Addiction: Take Action & Get More Done by [Alexander Andrews]

This book was published this month. I think sometimes there may be a fine line between recharging your batteries and procrastination. However, even procrastination can sometimes be quite good for you and, according to scientists, it is a natural and normal developmental stage in teenage years. It can lead to creativity and make our life better as we can find solutions to problems more easily, re-consider our goals, and so on. Of course too much procrastination isn’t good for us. 

In January this year 1,000 people participated in an online Google survey. Nearly 30% admitted that they procrastinate sometimes … which seems fine, right? A little over 22% said they do it often and approximately 20% of people do it every day. That’s a bit more than we would like, I guess. 

What’s interesting is that around 22,500 people a month ask Google ‘How to stop procrastinating?‘. There are many others who look for answers in books or perhaps ask for advice from a friend or family member. It is a common thing, nothing to be too ashamed about but as with everything else we need a healthy balance. If we feel like we procrastinate too often, this book may be very helpful. 

2. Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything by Bj Fogg.

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It’s true, isn’t it? Many of us know that small changes can make a huge impact in our lives. This book will take you through various topics such as motivation, ability, emotions and other aspects that have an impact on creating habits. The emphasis in this book is on the word ‘tiny’ so it seems doable and not overwhelming. 

Most authors agree that we need 30-60 days to create new habits; however, it’s worth remembering that according to scientific studies (e.g. P. Lally) it can even take up to 254 days! I’m not saying this to discourage you, but rather so you bear in mind that quitting shouldn’t be the best solution if the new habit doesn’t seem to be formed within a month or so. We may give up for a day or two as it may be hard to continue doing something that is new to us. However, if it is important for us, we should re-consider if there are any other ways of doing things (maybe instead of running 30min every day it would be better to start with 3-4 x a week?).

3. The Declutter Challenge: A Guided Journal for Getting your Home Organized in 30 Quick Steps (Home Organization and Storage Guided Journal for Making Space Clutter-Free) by C. Aarsen

The Declutter Challenge: A Guided Journal for Getting your Home Organized in 30 Quick Steps (Home Organization and Storage Guided Journal for Making Space Clutter-Free) by [Cassandra Aarssen]

I’ve included this book in the list, because having an organised space and environment around you makes life so much simpler and work so much more productive that it can reduce your housework by… 40%! If you can’t find things you need, and you feel like you have a million things at home and many don’t have their proper dedicated space, then it will draw lots of your energy and you will often feel frustrated, angry, guilty, anxious and stressed! Organised space can make you feel much calmer and more energised. Think of all the extra time you’d have for your family, projects, hobbies, work or simply for yourself, your personal growth perhaps. This book by C. Aarsen is out since 14th May. 

4. TimeCrafting: A Better Way to Get the Right Things Done by M.Vardy

The author promises that time-management does not have to be complicated and complex. He offers a method focusing on Mindset, Method and Mastery. The book is filled with real life examples so it may be easier to identify with some of the scenarios and see how the method can best work for us. The title will be released on 30th July and it will cost £16.95; however, if you’d like to see what the author has to offer you can also check out his e-books which are only £0.99 (Beyond Trying and (Pre)Productivityism). 

Do you feel you may find one of these books useful? What topic in personal growth and productivity fields interests you most?

* Sources: organizedinteriors.com, amazon.co.uk, microbizmag.co.uk

How to avoid distractions?

A simple distraction such as a notification (often not important at all!) on your mobile means that each time you lose your focus and, according to studies, need 4 to 15 minutes to concentrate and motivate yourself again to keep working effectively on your tasks!

It was found that office workers are distracted every 3 minutes on average!

Data from 2016 indicated that 3 out of 4 employers believe that every day an average employee loses 2 hours of work due to distractions. While you are doing your work, write down all the distractions that happen for a week or two and analyse them. Think what you could do to minimise or avoid them!

We get easily distracted when we are tired. Remember about taking regular breaks, going for a walk and catching some fresh air. Breathe, eat well, drink a lot of water and some green tea. These SIMPLE (but often neglected!) pieces of advice will help you to stay calmer, more focused and more patient.

If you can, and surely sometimes you can, turn your mobile off or change it to airplane mode.

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One of the greatest pieces of advice, although quite difficult to follow at first, is to get up earlier to avoid distractions: requests, phone calls, noise, notifications, and questions from others! You’d be amazed how much meaningful work can be done in the early morning hours. Don’t get up earlier to catch up with emails or to clean your home! Get up earlier to do something creative, something that’s meaningful for you, something that will give you exceptional results and will bring you closer to achieving your goals. Write, read, work on your business or project, for example. This is a precious time.

If you get up 1 hour earlier every day you will gain 7 extra hours for something that matters to you! How does that sound? Seven quiet precious hours. I had a long period of time when I was able to get up 2 hours earlier than usual. That’s 14 hours a week! Now while in advanced pregnancy I have had to change my schedule because of the need for more sleep. Remember, not every piece of advice will work the same for everyone but I can say that this tip which I read about in What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfastby Laura Vanderkam (available here) made a huge improvement in my life.

Experts advise that to change your habit and make this morning routine easier, ideally, you should get up at the same time every single day. If you allow yourself to sleep longer at weekends, then you’ll feel that it’s more difficult to get up early during weekdays.

If you feel it’s too difficult to do this, maybe try a shorter period of time; for example, 30 mins extra in the morning—that will also make a difference. Just remember to make sure that you still can sleep 7-8 hours a day.

Some people like to have their Power Hour in the morning so they can feel they’ve achieved something before everyone else gets up. Power Hour means that you dedicate one hour where you put 100% effort into a dedicated project, activity or task. Or it may mean for  some people, for example: 20 mins spent on some creative work, 20 mins of reading and 20 mins of exercising. Check what will work best for you. Knowing that you achieve something early in the morning will make you more satisfied and put you in a more positive mood which will last for hours during the day.

Can worrying be good for you?

“Values are linked to worries. Researchers distinguish two types of worries – micro worries and macro worries (Boehnke et al., 1998).

Micro worries are all about yourself and others close to you (‘Will I get an interview?’, ‘What if he leaves me?’). Not surprisingly, they lead to poor well-being. Moreover, people who have a lot of these worries usually hold power and hedonism values.

Macro worries, on the other hand, are about society, the world or universal issues (AIDS in Africa or presidential elections in the USA). People who are high on universalism and bebevolence values have these types of worries, together with a higher level of well-being (Schwartz et al., 2000).

So, worrying is actually good for you, as long as it is not self-centered.”

Positive Psychology in a Nutshell. The science of happiness. by Ilona Boniwell.

THE THREE BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Time management 2/3

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THE TIME-MANAGEMENT MYTH

Time can’t be managed, bent, given, multiplied and modified in any way. So don’t try to fight with time and treat it as your enemy! Perceiving time more positively will help you to be calmer and happier with your life. You can’t manage time but you still can do a lot in order to improve your productivity.

  • You can manage your energy levels by exercising, sleeping better, drinking more water and eating well.
  • You can choose to limit distractions by turning your phone off or onto airplane mode or by getting up earlier and doing some meaningful work before everyone else will have a chance to bombard you with questions and queries.
  • You can manage your attention better by doing something to improve your focus. I’d recommend green tea, fresh air (open windows for a while) and practising mindfulness.
  • You can say no to invitations, meetings and some people sometimes. It seems very difficult but remember that you can’t allow others to decide how you should live your life.
  • You can manage your tasks and decide to, for example, check emails less often.
  • You can devote some time to planning and reviewing your goals and analyse the progress to become better every week.

Don’t look at the passing hours and minutes. Focus on what’s important, plan your steps and take actions. One of the most important things is to have a flexible approach. You may need to change your plans, your techniques and methods but you don’t need to give up or change your goals. Challenges are good for us – they help us grow. Be open, positive and flexible.

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THE THREE BIGGEST PRODUCTIVITY MYTHS – Multitasking 1/3

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THE MULTITASKING MYTH

Around a decade ago some employers suddenly started to ask during work interviews: Are you able to multitask? Some still do this although many people are already familiar with the most recent studies which indicate that multitasking is impossible in humans and is merely switching from one task to another. On top of that, multitasking decreases productivity by up to 30-40%.

It may sometimes be okay to combine a physical activity with a cognitive one, e.g. listening to an audio book while riding a bike or washing dishes, but many employers got the idea of multitasking completely wrong. Some of them believe that multitasking is needed and can be done in busy office environments where one needs to answer a lot of phone calls, reply to emails and provide face-to-face customer service. No, it can’t.

Research shows that trying to multitask will actually make you slower and also … lower your IQ! Our human brain can focus only on one task at a time and people who try to work this way and avoid multitasking achieve the best results.

Researchers from the University of Sussex in England carried out a study using MRI scans. The findings revealed that people who spend time using multiple devices, for example texting while watching TV, had less brain density in a part of the cortex which is responsible for cognitive and emotional control. Emotional control is a simple term but some of you may wonder what cognitive control means. It basically means that your brain allows you to make decisions based rather on our goals than habits and reactions. It allows you to be flexible and adapt more easily in different situations.

If you are interested to read more about multitasking I’d recommend this book: The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing It All” Gets Nothing Done by Dave Crenshaw (available here).

How to reduce stress levels and feel more in control? 

Do you feel you are getting stressed too often? Let’s look at what studies say about dealing with this problem. Being aware that stress can affect our well-being enormously and how to deal with it is certainly crucial for our well-being!

Remember that your emotions are just emotions and they are temporary. Don’t let them dictate how you feel. If something is overwhelming and you feel stressed and you feel that there is no solution, just TAKE A BREAK.

Depending on the situation, different things may help: talk to a trustworthy and supportive friend, watch a movie (preferably a comedy!), unplug and disconnect for a few hours and take a nice hot bath, practice mindfulness or go for a run (take headphones and turn on your favourite music).

When it’s difficult to deal with problems and we feel overwhelmed, it’s best to do some physical activity. Getting more oxygen to your brain, making your muscles tired – this always does the trick and will make you feel better, more confident and calmer!

Diverting your attention to your passion can also be very helpful but it may not always work, for example, if your passion requires quite a lot of attention and focus, because your mind may just not be in the right state, with lots of meandering and not-so-constructive thoughts.

It’s been proven that reading (a minimum of 6 mins) can reduce your stress levels by as much as 70%!

Whatever you decide to do, just don’t withdraw from your life, society, or work. That’s not a solution or a good method to deal with stress. It actually increases anxiety, stress and depression instead of giving you an opportunity to focus and find a solution.

One of the most helpful techniques that you can use on a daily basis to improve your resistance towards stress is to work on your outlook. The way you perceive different situations impacts on how you feel and how your body reacts. Studies found that perceiving difficult tasks more positively, as challenges rather than problems or threats, improves stress levels and makes us feel more in control and calmer. Try to avoid self-pitying, blaming others, and pessimistic and critical thoughts.

And remember. EVERYONE has problems, large and small, now and then. You are not the only one!

Avoid the 3 Biggest Productivity Traps

  1. CATCHING UP

Working more hours often to catch up with the demands at work, or while working on your personal projects, sometimes ends up as a normal working pattern that lasts weeks or months. Working some extra weekends may be a good solution once in a while. It’s really satisfying to feel we are ahead and everything is nicely organised and ready for Monday morning. However, if you do it for a longer period of time, for example a few weeks, your productivity, attention and energy will decrease enormously. According to studies, working approximately 40 hours a week, is ideal in terms of our productivity. Working more than that is a great recipe for burnout, depression and exhaustion! If that’s what you need right now then keep going! … but I’m sure it’s not.

2. EXTRA ACTIVITIES
Many pieces of advice about productivity come down to one thing: try to squeeze in various productive, healthy and personally beneficial activities into your day, whenever you can. I’ve read tonnes of them by now:

  • if you are on a break you can quickly check and reply to your personal emails
  • read and watch news while eating your breakfast
  • listen to audio books while doing gardening/cleaning your house/looking after children
  • write, read and work while you are on a bus or train
  • use an app to learn a foreign language while waiting in a queue

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Some of the advice may be really good and useful for you as long as you don’t try to squeeze in too much. Otherwise you will end up:

– without any breaks and time for recharging your batteries

– with no opportunities to do something without using many of your cognitive skills, such as walking without occupying your mind with work and foreign language courses. Even cleaning house or gardening can be great opportunities to let your brain rest a bit from hundreds of emails, tasks and queries related to your work and projects.

If you forget about your needs to rest and disconnect you will feel tired more often and become a lot less productive.

3. LOW IMPACT VS HIGH IMPACT TASKS.
Every work has some more and less important tasks. You are probably familiar with the 20/80 Pareto principle, which believe me actually works! And it’s pretty straightforward. It says that:

20% of your input on tasks and effort translates into 80% of results.

Make a list of tasks that you need to do on a regular basis – to make it simple choose a maximum of 10 tasks that you tend to do most often. Then think which 2 tasks from this list give you actually the most meaningful and biggest results.

We often tend to spend a lot of time on things like answering emails and making phone calls – and although these things are important, we usually do them way too often. For example, on average most of us check emails every 15 minutes while studies show that to be most effective and productive you should do it only 3x a day if you do an office job. If you can check and reply to your emails only 2-3 x a week, then that’s even better. Of course, your personal email can be checked daily but hopefully you don’t use it as well as a work email.

If you are writing a book your high impact task will be writing and then maybe editing or researching your materials. Plan ahead to do your high-impact tasks when you have most energy, for example, 2-3 hours every morning. Try to do everything to avoid interruptions then. Maybe you can get up earlier, switch your mobile to airplane mode and let others know that this is a very important time for you when you need to work and can deal with their questions and requests later? Whatever you do try not to skip the planning stage which is crucial.

Science & happiness: Does having children make us happy?

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Do you think that having children can increase our happiness or subjective well-being as scientists like to call it?

According to science having children who are up to 5 years old or teenagers makes us actually LESS HAPPY! However, children can make our life more meaningful and what’s interesting (in spite of all the stress and worries), parents live on average longer!

One of the reasons for the drop in happiness levels is that many people who have children feel less happy because they believe that if they were only more organised or could improve their work-life balance they would be better parents. They feel that this is an individual problem but nowadays it’s a bigger social issue particularly in developed countries where people seem to work longer hours and take work home.

In 2016 The Independent indicated that according to studies in the USA parents report they are 12% unhappier than non-parents. In the UK the number is slightly smaller as of 8% parents feel less happy. For Poland, the result was nearly a 5% drop in happiness level compared to non-parents. There are however a few countries where people feel happier when they have children, for example, in France, Norway, Spain or Portugal.

Researchers looked at differences between the countries to try to find out why in some countries parents are happier than in others and they found that government policies or lack of them, and less support from the government contribute a great deal to the increased cost, stress and anxiety felt, for example, by American or British parents.

It was estimated “that a middle-income American family is likely to spend $234,900 to raise a child to age 17.” If the teenager then decides to go to college, that figure may even double.

What makes parents happier in other countries? For example, in Norway or France there are more supportive family policies. In Spain and Portugal extended family networks seem to be very helpful in taking care of children.

I must say as a person who is about to start maternity leave in the UK, I feel happy but at the same time quite anxious about the lack of sufficient support for parents.

How does it look in the UK then?

  • for most women (depending on if and where they work)– very low maternity leave pay (around £500 a month) that is given only for 9 months (then you can have 3 months of unpaid maternity leave if you like)
  • only 2 weeks of paternal leave (for fathers)
  • unpaid parental leave (4 weeks a year, max. 18 weeks in total)
  • in many companies unpaid sick leave/careers days
  • no support from government in terms of childcare until the child is 2 years old
  • although the country is regarded as a developed one, in some companies taking sick leave by women during pregnancy is perceived negatively by employers because some believe that (although we assume that we all know that every pregnancy is different) “pregnancy is not a disease” and women should “get on with it!”

To compare it with Poland, mothers there receive:

  • 12 months paid maternity leave
  • 500 zlotych per month per child for parents who have more than 1 child (imagine that you live e.g. in the USA and receive $500 for every child except the first one on a monthly basis and this doesn’t depend on your earnings at all)
  • paid sick leave during pregnancy

Are you a parent or planning to become one? Are you satisfied with the support given by your government in your country?

 

 

Productive Mondays! How many hours should we work, ideally?

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We often confuse productivity with being busy. What exactly does it even mean? We feel productive when we are very busy, when we have a lot of tasks and complete most of them. Usually the more hours we work, the more productive we feel.

HOWEVER

There has been plenty of research where findings show that if we work too many hours we decrease our productivity A LOT!

What’s more, if we work a lot of hours for a few weeks or more – that’s just a perfect recipe for depression, burnout and anxiety which may even lead to a nervous breakdown!

Labour Economics published an article by Collewet and Sauermann where the researchers outlined their study done on call-centre workers. Even with part-time employees, increasing their number of working hours created more fatigue than productivity! (more about this study here )

Too few hours = we won’t achieve much.

Too many hours = we are tired and our productivity decreases a lot.

What’s the golden rule? What’s the perfect solution, then?

Chris Bailey in his book The Productivity Project (available HERE) talks about an experiment that he did. Namely, he worked alternate weeks for a very different amount of hours. One week he worked 20 hours and another one 90 hours, and in this way he did several weeks.

An important lesson that he realised? That while working 90 hours he did only a bit more work than while working 20 hours!

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When he had only 20 hours to do his tasks, he felt a bit of pressure that his time was so limited so he focused on using his more valuable time (when he had most energy and attention) to do the most important, difficult and meaningful tasks. With that limited amount of time it was also easier not to procrastinate too much (and, apparently, it’s impossible to completely avoid procrastinating) because he had to focus on what must be done, on priorities! During the 20-hour-work week he had more time to recharge and restore his energy levels in various ways too (meditation, exercising, sleeping well, socialising, etc.).

When we work a lot, it’s hard to remember all the time what’s most important, what we should pay more attention to, what’s the bigger picture. Although we work more, we don’t have enough energy and focus to do planning or to do it properly, and to think of possible improvements and solutions to various problems.

Chris dug deep in his research to find out the ideal amount of hours that one should be working so as not to get too tired and to be able to complete a lot of tasks in a productive way. He found that although 46 hours felt like the best working week for him most studies indicate that 35-40 hours a week is perfect to get the job done with maximum productivity.

Surely the more you enjoy your job, the more you are able to work. However, breaks and time to rest are crucial for your creativity, maintaining an innovative and open-minded thinking and approach, and your efficiency.

How many hours a week do you work? Do you have any control over it? Can you improve this aspect in your life to become more productive?

Busier than ever before

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Some people say that being busy is an illusion and it is just a matter of choices and priorities. What do you think about it? I agree only partly with that.

People with fewer responsibilities have more choice with regard to arranging their activities, and thus it’s easier for them to find time for things that matter to them. But there are also working parents or single, working parents who study and these are probably the most extreme examples where the lack of time is a real struggle.

Studies show that on average a working parent has only around 2 hours a day for himself or herself. Due to lack of energy this time is often used for watching TV or using Internet.

“Every day we get 24 hours to live our lives in a meaningful way. But once you account for all the obligations each of us has, there really isn’t much time left; a paltry two and a half hours for most of us, to be exact.”

(The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey)

It’s impossible to compare or judge everyone in the same way—everyone has a different lifestyle and circumstances but my point is that being busy is not always only a matter of priorities. My priority is my family and work but even so I don’t think that personal development is just a luxury. It is something of a necessity to keep one sane and happy and maintain or improve one’s well-being—and what’s most important, it doesn’t need to be very time-consuming.

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I have the impression that every year I’m getting busier than the year before. It started a few years ago when I was doing my first degree (psychology) and I needed to work. Fair enough—that’s manageable. My psychology degree was distance learning but I missed the traditional (full-time) way of studying.

That’s way after a year I also enrolled for a business-related degree, this time full-time. I was doing both degrees while working in a medical centre as a receptionist and stop-smoking advisor. Most of the time I had to do full-time but I was given flexible hours which was super helpful. In my spare time I took part in different projects, wrote articles and helped organise events in my city. All these tasks kept me busy.

Then my husband and I decided that we’d like to start a family and while pregnant I was finishing the full-time degree, doing another one and working. I switched to part-time work but still, I felt really active and busy.

The real challenge to carry on with my interests and personal growth came when my daughter Nathalia arrived in this world 4 years ago. I didn’t sleep much for the first few months but soon I had to continue to study my distance-learning degree, and after the maternity leave I had to go back to full-time work as well. That was a very difficult time for me. I’ve managed to complete both degrees while working, looking after Nathalia and occasionally getting involved in some research, events or projects, but it was a real challenge. This was the time when I started to divert my attention more to articles and books related to work-life balance because that’s where I started to struggle. I learned a great deal and managed to improve my situation, especially when the degrees were done!

My hobbies are time-consuming so I’ve often felt that I struggle to find time for it. I started to familiarise myself with the topics of productivity and time-management.

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This New Year will be even more challenging than my previous years, I guess, because we’ll welcome our second baby to this world! I can’t even imagine how much my life will change but I know that maternity leave isn’t a straightforward period in a woman’s life especially with two small children. I know that I’ll be in a ‘zombie mode’ a lot, without being able to sleep and think straight sometimes. I know that I’ll have a lot on my plate and will need to take a break from kind of … everything if possible for a while.

On the other hand, I know that after some time, if I organise myself well and create a good routine, I will be able to manage my life well. I believe that having a family doesn’t have to stop us doing something for our personal development, such as reading, for example. Personal growth doesn’t need to take a lot of your time and it doesn’t mean that you need to start a new course or a degree.

Looks like 2018 will be full of joy (BABY!) but also big challenges (see previous blog posts about personal development project for 2018).

I’ll probably feel busier than ever before again but, well, I know I can try to manage this in different ways.

How busy do you feel on average? 

How do you find time for your passions & personal growth?