Being present and productive – Interview
In 2016 I was honoured to be a guest on The Productive Woman podcast with Laura McClellan. We had a great conversation, discussing how I harmonise between my freelance graphic design work and my yoga teaching. The key topics we talked about were turning off notifications, switching mindsets, inward and outward days, batching, tools and scheduling. The main theme that was interesting to me was about being really present and mindful in whatever you are doing at that moment – giving the current task your full attention. Multi-tasking is so 1990s!
The Productive Woman is a weekly podcast, abundant with helpful ideas for time management, digital tools, goals and theming, and organising your environment. Laura regularly interviews inspiring women from many different walks of life.
Listen to the podcast in the audio file below, and have a read of Laura’s blog here, or read a summary below.
TPW113: Being Present & Productive with Alissa Smith (2016)
Being present in each area of your life
Alissa Smith is a graphic designer and yoga teacher from Auckland, New Zealand. She left a 14-year job to start a freelance graphic design career. In addition to that work, she teaches yoga and is a Les Mills BodyBalance instructor.
Keeping track of her schedule is a daily requirement for Alissa, as she works from home on her computer and then needs to be ready to head to the gym to teach yoga.
It is important to Alissa is to be really present in what she is doing at any given time. She can’t be thinking about yoga when designing, and vice versa. For the same reason, Alissa recently deactivated notifications on her phone, knowing that she doesn’t need to know everything that is going on at all times. She feels that when you are always receiving notifications, you end up distracted by the sense that there’s always some unfinished business.
Balancing interests and commitments
To help maintain the focus she needs, Alissa tries to use a different part of the house for different types of work. She also listens to different music when preparing for a yoga class than when she is designing. She tries to mentally prepare for her yoga class by not working on her computer right up to the time she needs to leave to teach. Step out of design mode, and step into yoga mode.
It’s important to create a buffer when switching modes. Alissa spends a few days a week just on design work, so she can focus on inward tasks. Those days are typically spent at home, with a schedule of the work she hopes to achieve that day. Her outward work, such as yoga and meetings outside the home, is typically scheduled on the same day. Alissa’s mood and mindset are different on those inward and outward days.
When she’s in her creative mode, Alissa enjoys working from home without interruptions. Create mental space and time to focus and dig deep, and do the work that needs to be done.
Alissa loves her work and has a hard time turning down opportunities. As a result, she can find herself overcommitted. She tries to manage her commitments by using tools such as Nozbe to manage projects and tasks. She’s trying to be more realistic about what she can get done. To keep a handle on that, she uses the Nozbe feature that allows you to designate how much time you think a task will take. It is a good way to gauge if you’re overcommitting yourself.
Alissa can easily get lost in a job, and hours will fly by. To stay on track and productive, she uses the Pomodoro technique; she also uses an app called Focus Keeper to keep track of time. This gives her the freedom to simply focus on the task at hand, and not worry about watching the clock.
Productivity tools and resources Alissa recommends
- Evernote (including browser extension) – information management
- TextExpander to help her with spelling mistakes and typos.
- Gmail or Inbox for all email
- Multi-forward for Gmail (browser extension) – mostly use this for sending multiple emails to Evernote
- iCal on Mac / Calendars 5 on iPhone
- Toggl – timekeeping
- Xero – accounting software
- 1Password – password manager
- Newsfeed Eradicator (browser extension) – blocks Facebook newsfeed
- f.lux – adjusts screen color at night
What happens on a day you feel gets away from you?
If Alissa feels overwhelmed, she sits back and thinks about what is making her feel that way. Is it her mood, her health, a personal challenge, or lack of motivation? She’s learned to take it easy on herself at those times. She tries to take a break by listening to some music, doing a yoga sequence, grabbing lunch with a friend, having some tea, or even sitting in the sun for a few minutes. She will allow herself a half-hour to relax, then gets back into work, more productive and efficient.
If there really is too much work to do, Alissa tries to rearrange her schedule. She will move things around, and sometimes even cancel something, if she can. Once her mindset has shifted and she is calmed down, then she can invite some projects back into her schedule. Suddenly, everything is more manageable for her. This allows her to really look at the important tasks, and focus on that one top priority.
Sometimes it’s just about knuckling down and just doing a task that sounds daunting. Recently, she had a job looming in front of her and it was late at night, and she just started and did some preparation on it for the following day. So the entire job was completed that evening. Alissa suggests that once you get some traction and momentum going, then sometimes it just works out. We need to give ourselves permission to just start, and do that one little bit.
When working on a creative job, Alissa recommends taking a break when you have already spent a lot of time on it. She will put it down and walk away for a while, and then come back and look at it with the client’s eye, and try seeing it for the first time. She said, “Sometimes we can sit and fiddle with something when it is perfectly fine the way it is.”
Last Words on Making a Life That Matters
Alissa said to consider your past and future self, and then think about how you can help your future self. She suggests mindfulness, and really being present in what you do, and not just checking off a to-do list each day.