Food & Fitness

Five Lessons in Productivity

It’s really exciting for me to now be in this place where I have the opportunity for so much flexibility in my work and personal life and prioritizing what’s important to me (and, er, figuring out what’s important to me!). My eating habits and exercise routine have been sadly neglected for many months while I was struggling with a job that I was unhappy at, and as a result of all of that, my mental health has also taken a toll. Now that I’m picking myself up and starting new habits (more on that in another blog post), I’m looking for ways that I can best be productive in all areas of life – after all, this is a living healthy in the real world blog!

Here are some lessons in productivity that you can apply to your health and your work life:

1) Music can be extremely helpful – if it’s music of the upbeat variety.

My personal favourite is Muse (especially their Black Holes and Revelations album). Putting on this music will stimulate the mind and make the body want to get moving. So if you need to do anything from write an article (hey, I’m listening to Muse right now!) to clean the house to exercise to put together a big project, the right music can do the trick! It’s a simple but highly enjoyable (and effective) tool. Last week I spent an entire day getting about an hour of work done, and it wasn’t until 7pm when I finally put on some music that I got a huge pile of work completed. True story.

Tip: if you work in an office, just put on some headphones (but check first with your office mates and employer to ensure that it’s okay to do so!). If your type of work makes it challenging to wear headphones (for example, if you work the reception desk), check with your boss if you can play music out loud in the space you work in.

2) Your mental state is often reflective of your environment.

Surround yourself with the right environment to get yourself into the mindset you need to be in! My workspace – in my 750-square-foot open-concept condo – is a continual work in progress. But there are a few key elements to it: I need it to be clean and tidy, I need to have books around me (stacked and organized on a shelf, of course), and I need the right colours and sounds around.

I’m a fan of neutral, earthy tones and hues (grey, brown, green), which puts me in a comfortable, relaxed state of being, but my desktop background is a brilliant, sunset orange colour. Orange is supposed to stimulate the mind and get the creative juices going, and it just makes me happy to see bright orange when I start my day (realizing this was a big surprise to me! I didn’t think I cared much for orange. But it’s great for the workspace).

3) Know – and write down – your process goals.

I stumbled upon the term “process goals” when doing research on working from home, and I wish I remembered who it came from! At any rate, the notion of “process goals” is that they are how you’re getting somewhere, rather than what you want to get.

For example, a process goal might be “eat three servings of dark leafy greens and walk for one hour each day,” rather than “lose five pounds in a month.” Now that I’ve got a one-month membership to GoodLife Fitness, one of my process goals is to try three different group classes or types of fitness equipment (e.g. treadmill, stairclimber) at the gym each week. It’s a fun little challenge, should be very interesting to play around with, and will help me get fitter, stronger, and healthier. Win-win!

4) If you’re really struggling, just do one little thing.

I had a tough day a little while ago, where my poor sleeping / crazy amount and intensity of nightmares / anxiety / eating disorder came at me as a quadruple whammy. It was a rotten moment. I didn’t know how I could bring myself to get anything done (this is a whole topic that you make for an entire blog on its own, but it is so frustrating when you’re struggling against your own mind!). So I paced the floor for a few minutes to release some of my restless and exhausted energy, and then I told myself to pick up the phone and organize an appointment that I had to do. It was a two-minute conversation, but it was something I could cross off my list. And that was a great instigator to keep moving forward!

If things aren’t coming together very well, do one thing that takes two minutes. If you’re having trouble cleaning your house, just take out the trash. If you’re having trouble exercising, just do five pushups. If you’re having trouble getting really good quality work done, respond to that email that only needs a 10-word answer, or make that two-minute phone call that you hadn’t gotten around to yet. It might not turn into doing three other things on your list, or even finishing your list – but on the other hand, it just might! One little thing is the first step.

5) Fuel your body and your mind.

My best fuel? Water! Yes, fruit and nuts and cheese and whatever else can all be tasty, quick snacks that give you an extra energy boost, but often it’s the dehydration factor that’s slowing you down. There are few things in life as pleasurable as drinking a big glass of cold water. Your body and mind both need it, and will function that much better when it’s had its fill.

What are your recommendations for being productive? What would you add to this list? What types of obstacles do you have to overcome for productivity? Share in the comments section below!


  1. Mary Anne in Kentucky

    I’m always horrified by how little water (or anything else!) my coworkers drink. It makes such a difference.
    In my experience, what I write while listening to music is never as good as I think it is at the time. So nowadays I write in silence.
    (And if you work the front desk and play music, I will have even more trouble understanding what you’re saying than otherwise.)

    Mary Anne in Kentucky, always carping about something

      1. Mary Anne in Kentucky

        I found, when I re-read things I wrote with music playing, that they read flat and dull without it. (I started writing fiction during class in junior high, and continued to do that all the way through college–notes on one side of my open notebook, work-in-progress on the other, so no music background there.) I can edit and revise to music, though.

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