Updated: Aug 23
A lot of women, myself included, find it difficult to fit everything into the 24 hours that we all have in the day. Many of us are mothers, wives, daughters, employees, business owners and also people within our own right, with our own needs, distinct from the roles we play in the lives of others. How do we balance all these roles and how do we feel as though we are doing enough without feeling burned out?
I have always managed to get a lot done but, I promise you, I often feel like I am being really lazy because my schedule doesn't look like the modern-day idea of productive work which was, let's face it, invented and set up by men.
I don't follow these man-made schedules and routines, because, simply, I am a woman. My energy levels fluctuate in a week, month and day because of my hormones, my biology and my stamina. We are built differently, which doesn't mean we can't achieve as much or more than men, but means that, instead of trying to compete on the Away turf, we need to start playing on Home turf. We need to redefine work for this new age of the rise of the feminine.
This, to me, means playing to our needs and strengths and physicality rather than trying to double down and hustle harder. It means we need to get away from the programming that doing more means achieving more, that working more hours means more money or success, that looking busy makes you somehow more relevant or important, that being aggressive and louder means you are the most powerful person in the room. Why are we playing by these old fashioned rules?
It is easy to feel weighed down and oppressed by these old rules for work and life and to keep up with this 'go hard or go home' culture. It is not good for your self-esteem and not helpful to constantly feel like you're coming up short because you can't stay in the office till 8 pm every day, you can't always be on call, and you can't wake up at 5 am to go for a run before starting a coffee-fuelled work day.
However, I do believe we can be productive and we can achieve our goals, whatever they are, while still respecting our own need for rest and balance as women. The way I do this is to follow two basic rules which are 1) to follow a condensed work day and 2) to only aim to achieve one significant thing a day. (By the way, if Gary Vaynerchuck or another alpha masculine start-up guru is reading this he would die, but I'm not Gary Vaynerchuck and have no desire to be!)
My number one rule, and what I tend to live by most days is the condensed, 4 hour work day. Over time I have realised that I can't achieve more than 4-5 hours of focused, productive work in a day. What that means to me is time spent doing work or taking a step that moves the needle, adds value and creates massive progress forward, in whatever area of life is important to you.
We may be actually sat at a desk for 8+ hours but I firmly believe that not many people actually, consistently, do more than 4-5 hours of focused, needle-moving work per day. Sometimes, when I am in the midst of a creative project or developing something, I may go over this but, generally, I measure productivity by way of assessing whether I have done my 4 hours of deep work every day. I also aim to do this 4 hours every single day, even on weekends.
The benefits of my 4 hour day are too many to mention, but one of them is that it leaves juice in the tank for the next day. I don't deplete all my reserves and burn out and so I am able to do another day of highly productive work the next day. Over time, this builds to massive progress at low cost to your emotional, physical and mental health.
The beauty of my 4-hour rule is, because its a relatively low commitment and I can fit it in anywhere in the day I want, I tend to achieve more because I am working less - I say to myself, as long as I am doing 4 hours, I am allowed to take it easy on myself for the rest of the day. Also, because I am time-bound, I make sure I am highly productive and entertain little to no distractions during this time window.
My second tip is to stop setting ridiculous to-do goals every day and just do one thing. Yes, I know this sounds crazy but it will keep you sane and calm. If you are a list addict, like me, you love ..erm.. making lists... and then ticking things off the list. But have you noticed that sometimes the list becomes unhelpful because you either never do everything on the list, or you make multiple competing lists or the list just grows and grows and then eventually you are defeated by the list?
When deciding what to do every day, I now use one simple rule - which is to just decide on my one main thing. I choose one main thing to achieve in a day and then I celebrate when I get it done. My one thing is the thing that, if I get done, will mean I have achieved something significant, huge and value-added, even if I get nothing else done in the day.
How do you decide on your thing? Well, think about your most juicy, big and meaty project or piece of work or activity. You see, there are many important things to do in a day. Grocery shopping is important because, if we didn't do it, we wouldn't eat. Bathing is important. Going over your accounts and statements is important. But none of these things, while important, is your one thing because they don't require the most input from your mental and emotional reserves and/or they are not going to make a significantly impactful change or meaningful progress towards your goal.
If you are absolutely honest with yourself, and look from a birds-eye perspective at your list of tasks and projects, you know what your one main thing is and it's usually the thing you don't want to do or the thing you put off because it does require that little bit more focus from you. Like playing with your kids or going on date night with your phone off. However, after you do this one thing, everything else (even if you do nothing else) will feel unimportant because you have pushed the boulder uphill by a mile, not an inch, in a key and extremely important area of your life or towards an important long term goal.
So there you have two of my most important productivity hacks! They may not be for everyone and they may not be appropriate all the time. They may not be typical or even conventional but they work for me and help me make progress while also staying sane and well-rested.
Do you have any productivity hacks to share? Let me know!