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When Time Flies – How to Boost Productivity, Lower Stress and Increase Energy Levels

time-fliesHave you ever had a day like this?

Just before launch, you discover that someone you were counting on dropped the ball.

So now you are burdened with an unexpected workload, on top of a colossal heap of tasks you already had to do.

You need to hunker down and push through – somehow.

But you’re good at meeting high-pressure deadlines. Typically, as you work on one task, the back of your mind thinks about what you need to do next.

But this tedious task is taking longer than expected. Although your fingers efficiently scamper across the keyboard, you’re getting tired. And you don’t have time to rest.

You un-clench your jaw, stretch your stiff neck and shoulders, and look at the clock.

Hours have already flown by. How on Earth are you going to get everything done on time?

If only there was a way to slow down the remaining time you have left.

Well, (believe it or not) there is

It’s How You Perceive Time

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day to work with.

The day before a launch zips by in a blink. On vacation, a day can feel like a week.

How can the same amount of time seem to pass by so differently?

It has to do with how you perceive time.

The good news is, you can control that. You control it by what you put your attention on.

The week before launch, you fixate on accomplishment.

You prepare. You produce. You’re quick and efficient.

And you’re constantly thinking about what you’re going to do next.

You get caught up in a tornado of achievement (with papers and emails scattering everywhere, I imagine).

And you often pull it all off by the deadline.

But at what cost?

Your body pays. And wearing that tense, heavy coat of stress just isn’t worth it.

On vacation, you do things in your natural time. You relax. Time seems to slow down. You slip out of that stress coat you’ve been wearing.

So how can you change your perception of time so that you get work done without stress?

Work with Your Own Creative Rhythms – Your Natural Time

What is natural time?

If you act in your own natural time, you are aware of your energy levels at different times of the day and night. You are also connected with the waves that life sends your way.

For example, when you sail on an ocean, you are connected with nature. You drift with the waves and the wind. You move with the forces of nature that come your way.

You trust that these natural elements will propel you in the direction that you want to go. All you need to do is harness it with a sail at the right moment.

At work, you co-operate with different natural forces.

One force is how much energy you wake up with in the morning. And that is a direct result of how much restorative sleep you got the night before.

(Oh, and by the way, if you’re not getting good quality sleep, be sure to get your FREE copy of the Restorative Sleep Project  – it’ll really help you!)

There are other forces at work, too: your thoughts, your emotions, how fulfilled you feel, relationships with your coworkers and your community, and relationships with technology.

Sometimes these forces will propel you in the direction that you want to go and increase energy levels. All you need is to take hold of the opportunity, and sail on.

But some forces – especially relationships with people and technology – can bring you to a screeching halt. Sometimes, they cause you to backtrack. And many times, the only way out is to rethink the way you’re going about things and tweak it.

For example, one way to reframe a poor interaction with someone is by using the “power of 3” technique. If you have a sinking feeling in your belly, this potent technique will help you focus.

The way you work with these forces – or against them – directly impacts how stressed out you feel.

When you work with these forces, you begin to deeply trust your ability to create and accomplish without the stress of doing. Work flows from you. With ease.

And surprisingly, what you create will seem to take no time at all.

That all sounds great and esoteric, Master Kenobi, but how do I tap in to this state of flow with my work?

How to Increase Productivity and Tap in to Your Natural Time

1. Know your natural energy cycles, and work with them.

If your mind is freshest first thing in the morning, then start with a task that needs creative focus and a long attention span.

Processing email at this time will only drain your abundant creative force. It’s like choosing to clean your sailboat instead of harnessing the morning wind.

Instead, save those short, quick tasks—such email or phone calls—for when your energy wanes. And if the abundance of email stresses you out, check out what Danny does to process email and to cultivate relationships.

Schedule your meetings or phone calls during your mid-afternoon slump for a quick pick-me-up. Socializing with others – even if it is business-related – can increase energy levels.

Well, unless your version of scheduling meetings results in a slurry of “I’ll be there” emails. In that case, use Doodle  to bring a little peace and quiet to your inbox.

After all, less email = less time processing email.

So…

2. Do less.

How can I do less, when I have a start-up business? I want to be more productive, not less productive.

Doing less doesn’t mean that you have to be less productive.

For starters, you can stop distracting thoughts of what you’re going to do next. These thoughts only compete with the task you’re working on now. And that slows you down.

Doing less highlights only what is most important to you, rather than just doing things for that little brain cookie you get when you cross it off your list. (And here are some ways to get off the hamster wheel and experience the power of less.)

After all, we are human “be-ings”, not human “do-ings”.

Which brings me to another point. As you work, be present.

3. Forget the clock. Focus on now.

How can I meet deadlines if I forget about the clock?

Looking at the clock triggers you into thinking about what you have left to do, and what you are going to do next. This adds to your stress levels.

So stop checking the clock.

Instead, set a timer in regular intervals of work time and rest time. Ignore it until it beeps. The Pomodoro Technique uses intervals of 25 minutes of work time followed by 5 minutes of mental rest time. Every 4 cycles, take a much longer break (an hour or so) to refresh your mind.

(And during your mental rest time, use some of these techniques to keep your mind fresh.)

As you work during these short intervals, eliminate distractions. Focus only on the task. Nothing else. No thinking about what comes next. All that matters is where you are with this task now.

Now, there’s only one trick left in the bag…

4. As you work, turn on your peripheral vision (and sustain it).

This technique – while simple – is critical to slowing down your perception of time and to lowering your stress. (I saved the best for last.)

When you focus so much on your workload that the rest of the world vanishes, time whizzes by.

So turn on your peripheral vision. Take in and receive more of the world than just your workload. It slows down your perception of time, for you sustain a connection to the world around you.

When I started to do this simple practice, I was floored as to how effective it was. I used to feel overwhelmed with my workload – especially just before a critical deadline.

With my peripheral vision active, my tasks are just a small part of a greater whole. I feel more relaxed while I work on my computer. And I tap in to a creative flow that makes my work feel effortless.

To turn on your peripheral vision:

  •  Right now, soften your eyes so that you can see your hands while still looking at the screen as you read this.
  •  Now, take in more of the room around you (while still looking at the screen).
  •  Sustain it for as long as you can.
  • When your clock beeps, check in to see that you are still sustaining it.

Another easy place to practice this is while driving to work:

  • While you are driving, soften your gaze enough so that you can see the cars on the road and your hands on the steering wheel.
  • Expand your peripheral vision to include the radio dial.
  • While sustaining that, expand so that you can also see the cars in the rear view mirror (while still seeing the cars on the road in front of you and on the sides).
  • Sustain this for as long as you can.

The longer you practice this while working, the more those distracting thoughts will turn off. Without distractions, tasks take less time to finish. And you are open to receive inspiration.

The more open you are to creativity and inspiration, the more easily work flows out of you. And working with your natural energy cycles allows you to improve productivity.

Without stress.

Readers: Did this exercise help your perception of time slow down? How did it affect your stress levels? Did it help you achieve a state of flow while working?

About Angela Berenstein

Angela Berenstein (@EnergyBudget) is on a mission to help people find more pep and vigor in their life by learning how to manage their energy levels.

40 comments

  1. Kareem Waters says:

    It all starts with this foundational step: Opt out as a lifestyle. You can’t do everything so make conscious decisions to focus on the things that bring you to your goals. Ask yourself: What is most meaningful to me? Then, pick and choose accordingly. Build time buffers into your day. Your life becomes so much more joyful when you eliminate over-scheduling and you have more energy. Now it’s easy to show up for a boxing class. Address the stress first. We have crazy, busy lives, and that’s okay, but we need a calm foundation to function effectively.

  2. Absolutely, Joanne, that was my experience!

    I was someone who took pride in how much I would accomplish by multitasking.

    It was only when I started to focus on one thing at a time, that the stress began to decrease.

  3. Ethan B. May says:

    Yes and no. A well-designed work place benefits everyone. Workstations and job tasks that are matched to the needs of the individual employee are always best. Different conditions for different workers may be needed to meet the needs of any employee, not just one that is older.

    1. Yes, Ethan!

      Streamline, and have an environment that supports the tasks being done!

      For me, a tidy, organized, harmonious space is best. But I know people that feel more comfortable amidst their towers of paper, files, and books.

      As long as the system works well for them, and it’s a resonant match with who they are, I say go for it!

  4. Joanne Petersen says:

    Welcome to the life of being a manager. As a manager you must multi-task, all the books say. You can certainly multi-task, and thatÂ’s an option if mediocrity is acceptable. But if you want to win, if you want to reach your peak performance level, then you must limit your fighting to only one battle at a time and devote all your resources to it. As it turns out, multi-tasking is a myth. In a time when managers are starting to realize that results are what count, people are finally starting to accept that they are mere mortals.

  5. Gena Burris says:

    So when you’re really in peripheral vision…. You can’t be stressed…. You can’t be worried…. And I don’t want you to go all the way deep into this state now…. Because you’ll have lots of opportunities to practise… At home or at work…. So I’d like you to begin to return to normal waking consciousness now…. By letting your field of vision narrow back down…. and welcome back!.

  6. Malinda Merrill says:

    Running short on sleep seems to lower the threshold for “stress perception.” When you’re dead tired, having to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work may seem like an impossible task, not a routine activity.

  7. Pamela Acosta says:

    Set clear goals: Define what you want or need to do. If there’s a big, undefined task looming in your subconscious, you’re going to be stressed about not getting it accomplished. Setting clear goals allows you to see the end and set the steps toward reaching the goal. Just meeting each of the milestones leading to a completed task can go a long way to reducing stress.

    1. Angela Berenstein says:

      Absolutely, Pamela!

      Sometimes, my problem was having way to many well-defined goals. I was overcommitted.

      What helped me get out of the clear-goal-overcommitment stress was I set a start date and an end date. I don’t even start thinking about the task until the start date and time.

      And you are so right. There is a rush when a task is accomplished, and there is a sense of relief as well!
      🙂

  8. Michael Hicks says:

    Stellar post, Angela!

    You are the first writer I’ve come across who emphasizes the
    importance of restorative sleep. People tend to forget that
    our minds and bodies grow at night, not during the day.

    It’s not more talent that creates success. More effort does.
    And more effort requires more energy. So if you want to
    do more, sleep more.

    Your point about a person’s body clock is well taken.
    I’m a morning person, so my most important daily tasks
    are done during this time. Everything else – including emails
    and meetings – are left for the balance of the day. The highest
    and best use of my time and energy are always reserved for what’s most
    important. Thanks for reminding me that I’m right on track…

    I hope Danny invites you back, Angela. Very well done!!!

  9. Jaylen Priveyo says:

    Here’s how I beat procrastination. I apply the Pomodoro technique and 80/20 principle of productivity. I usually do easy task first and later on the hard ones so that it will not eat my time out. In reducing stress the Pomodoro technique will do the trick, take a break and reward your self.

    1. Angela Berenstein says:

      Jaylen, that’s rather clever!

      I’m rather new to the Pomodoro technique (I’ve only been using it for a few months) and I’ve been amazed as to how effective it is.

      I’m so grateful to you for taking the time to share this tip of doing the easy task first. I’ll test that one this week!

  10. Joyce says:

    Sounds like “Indian time”. I am Native, but I’ve been criticized for doing this. However, I am more productive and less stressed when I do. I don’t wear a watch. If I need to know the time, there are clocks around. I go with the flow and my own rhythms. Works for me!

  11. wings says:

    Dear Angela,

    (Well, hello, fellow Bootcamper! … smile)

    A wholeheartedly 2nd the motion on everything you said.

    I’d like to humbly add a couple of tips, if I may.

    One is to take energy IN from the keyboard, the chair, the desk as your arm touches it, etc.

    Life force energy circulates within everything in Creation, we simply don’t notice it most of the time.

    To assist that circulation, we can be mindful of receiving energy FROM the things that have accumulated energy (such as the physical items in our nearby areas as well as the things in that peripheral vision you so eloquently described).

    As we take in that energy, we not only assist the flow of all life force, we support our own bodies into circulating more energy (as more comes in, the flow increases — the same as when a rivulet “enters” a larger flowing river).

    The second tip is to relax your fingers on the keyboard.

    When we type, especially if we have much to say, we have a tendency to tense our fingers. As we become aware of that, we can simply pause for a split second, relax our fingers with the intention to continue typing in that relaxed state, then carry on. If we notice a tension begin, choose again to relax.

    I’ve found that such a technique significantly decreases typos ( thus, less time spent correcting and less interruption of the creative flow).

    One more thing as a bonus. 🙂

    Every once in a while, notice if you’re wrinkling your forehead or the area between your eyebrows.

    If there’s tension there, breathe in and relax that area. Then continue what you were doing.

    Great post, Angela! I salute you, dear Renaissance Woman!! 🙂

    1. Angela Berenstein says:

      Thank you, fellow bootcamper and Renaissance Woman!

      Wings, those are stellar tips.

      Thank you for sharing them!
      😀

  12. Amandah says:

    Thank you Angela! I’m glad you liked my comment. I hope it helps others to let go.

    I’m struggling with letting go of something have journaled and meditated about it and know what I must do, but I’ve been dragging my feet. 🙂 You hit the nail on the head because I do feel valued but… it’s time for me to let go.

    Thanks for sharing the links to your blog posts. I’m headed to your website to read them.

  13. Thank you, Amandah!

    I LOVE that perspective! Creating space for abundance…what a great mindset to have!

    For many years, I didn’t want to let go of tasks because I felt valued—indispensable.

    Your comment about journaling addresses the root cause as to why a person may hang on to something…so USEFUL and PRACTICAL…THANK YOU!
    😉

  14. Amandah says:

    Great post!

    Point #2, Do Less, resonated with me. Sometimes, you have to give up activities in order to be more productive. Even though you love to (fill in the blank), it could be a distraction. It could be hindering you from growing your business. Maybe it’s a ‘safety blanket’ because you’re too scared to grow your business because you may feel you’ll miss out. Sigh.

    Take some time and soul search about why you’re not doing less. Journal about it if you have to. Maybe you’re not doing less because you don’t want to let go of (fill in the blank). However, if you do let go, you create space for something wonderful to come into your life such as more clients, customers, etc. 🙂

  15. Mike Martel says:

    Hi Angela,
    Interesting post. I definitely agree with knowing yourself and what works for you. It is inline with playing to yours or some else’s strengths. By following the cycles where you are most productive, you will get more done and not beat yourself up during your down times.

    As for the exercise, I was a bit mixed on this. It seems a bit contradictory with your other tip of eliminating distractions. I talk about the power of single tasking in one of my books so of course I am a fan of this. Your peripheral vision exercise while would be great for developing situational awareness just didn’t seem to help me focus on task. Maybe it works for others better.

      1. Mike Martel says:

        Hi Angela,
        The book is Get ER Done – The Green Beret Guide to Productivity

        I talk about how Special Forces teams used a mission planning tool called Isolation to concentrate on the mission at hand. I translate this into how multitasking might be throwing off your productivity in your daily tasks.

        Thanks for the question.

        Mike

        1. Roger says:

          Hey Mike. Saw your comment and went to your site. Love the Green Beret Guide to productivity. Have always been fascinated with military tactics. As a matter of fact I designed an entire program around the most elite helicopter team in the US that we can talk about later. Have to totally agree with single tasking. There are many studies now coming out that reveal multitasking is actually “dumbing” us down. Try building a house without focusing on one stage at a time. You may have multiple people specializing in one thing and they do only that one thing but you certainly would not have one person trying to do all the different things at once to build their house. So very key. Learned that while driving. Noticed that while I looked out the rear view mirror, down at the radio or trying to locate a paper my attention was diffused and became unclear but when I put all my awareness on the wheel and focused I sensed an assurance that I was safer. Would love to connect with you and discuss having you be one of our panel of experts at http://TriVisionGlobal.com.

          Now Angela I have just requested your sleep project and am looking forward to it. What I love most about your approach is that it is very much like mine. Holistic experimentation. What better way to see if something works but to do it, tweak and and understand it. Can’t wait to experiment with the Restorative Sleep Project

    1. Hi Mike,

      Good point! I’m so glad you brought this up. I remember when I first started playing with this. It was distracting—for the first couple of days.

      And it makes sense why it would be.

      In days long ago, our peripheral vision was used to detect predators. By expanding awareness, the the brain goes, “Whoa! This is new!” And it pays close attention. At first.

      But soon, it’s not new, and it’s not a threat. Any activity outside of the task it is only part of the seamless continuity of life.

      So the brain can receive more information and still focus on a task that now seems small in a big world.

      And that slows down the perception of time and reduces stress.

      I’m happy to share that practicing this technique actually helped me to improve my focus on the task.

      So the short version of that is, “the peripheral vision technique DOES take practice, and it is worth it.”

  16. I have finally figured out what works for me.. and it’s so simple I almost feel silly telling you.

    Instead of just penciling in the “To Do” tasks.. or even allocating time to work.. I now write in exactly what I have to do with dates and times.

    For example, I’m committed to writing x hours a week. That’s my top priority (over all else) because I want two guest posts out each week. So rather than do like I used to do, I now have the exact hours on my calendar. Day and time.

    I started this inadvertently with my mastermind. Mon and Thur from 11:00-12:00. No matter what, I’m there.. and my business has skyrocketed.

    Next, I did it with my writing. Now I consistently have fresh content each week to submit for guest posts.

    This week I started “time slotting” other priority tasks.

    This way, each week I complete my most important tasks. Period.

    ~darlene 🙂

    1. Hi Darlene,

      One thing I really like about what you do is it allows “mindful procrastination”.

      No need to worry about getting a certain task done…we’ve not only allocated time for it, we really don’t even need to think or worry about it until later. That reduces (or eliminates) stress.

      Thank you for sharing this helpful technique!
      🙂

  17. Iain says:

    This is great timing for me. I was just thinking about my energy levels and how I can adjust my schedule to be more effective.

    Not doing email first thing is pretty key I think. Too many people check first thing and it takes away from everything else.

    You really have to ask yourself, “is it really an emergency that requires my attention right now??

    Most of the time it’s not.

    I shall have to try the peripheral vision technique. Seems interesting.

    1. “You really have to ask yourself, “is it really an emergency that requires my attention right now?? ”

      So true, Iain!

      What a great criteria for a filter. LOVE IT!
      🙂

      If you are looking for ideas to tweak your energy levels, you can download a FREE ebook “60 sure-fire instant energy boosters to refresh yourself at work”

      I plan to send a follow up ebook soon with energy boosting habits to my subscribers in case you might be interested.

      ;-D

  18. Just reaching out to all you folks living in the US (like me):

    Have a happy Independence Day!

    Celebrate your independence by taking care of yourself on this holiday.

    Rest is productive.

    You’ll have so much more to offer the world tomorrow, if you take care of yourself today.

    Sometimes, you just need to take a day off to replenish your energy reserves.

    🙂

  19. Ryan Kaufman says:

    hey Angela,

    I feel what you’re saying…

    When I started online, I used to juggle multiple projects, miss deadlines and stress out like everybody else….

    Years later, and now I work at my own pace… this way stress is history!

    Your peripheral vision exercise is something I’ve never heard before. Definitely, it’s going to expand (how I perceive) time and take my producitivty next level – thank you very much for this eye opening article…

    Next on my schedule is to download your eBook and steal some “energy booster” ideas 🙂

    Cheers!

    1. Thank you for reaching out, Ryan!

      For years, I fell into the multitasking trap with no end in sight. I was able to get out of that cycle.

      Lately, I’ve been wondering what shifts within an individual to make that change.

      Ryan, what shifted inside of you…what was the tipping point…was it that changed your behavior from being a multi-tasker to working at your own pace?

      Was it a choice?
      A shift in perspective/belief system?
      A life-changing event?

      Your story could really help your fellow readers, and I’m really curious…

      Looking forward to your thoughts,
      Angela

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