My Goals for This Week

Planning has always been a sore point for me. I love the idea; love the feel of paper under my fingers and seeing plans take shape before me. I can easily spend hours reading productivity blogs about how one could go about making a plan for what you want to do in a year, broken down into quarters, months, weeks, and finally days. I love it, I really do.

Yet, this morning, as I was mulling over the words from Proverbs: “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule…” (12:24), I realized how very lazy I have been about my work lately. How little I’ve accomplished, and how much I’ve let the important things slip.

I’ve discovered—over, and over, and over again, that I don’t do well with no plan at all. The weird thing is, I rarely finish everything I plan for a week, but maybe knowing that I want to do it spurs me on to at least try to meet my expectations. It is discouraging when I realize that what I planned to do four weeks ago is still there to be done this week, but somehow it is also reassuring that somewhere I’m still fighting to continue making progress.

Morning Beauty 01

I’ve never quite known how to combat the endless chain of planning and then after a few weeks feeling discouraged because I didn’t manage to even hit the mark on my own expectations—let alone meeting the perceived (more likely imagined) expectations other people have for me! In some ways, it’s a harsh, never-ending rat-race.

Then I looked out the window at the foot of my bed and saw the rising sun coming through the trees, lighting them with a golden glow, and was reminded that each day is a new day. Yes, we—our work—suffers when we don’t do it, but the Lord is gracious and gives us a fresh, golden start. Every. single. day. Even when we don’t see it. He gives us a chance to try again—and it’s up to us to take that chance and use it to its full potential.

So for this next month, I’m going to fill out one of Productive Flourishing’s weekly planner, and scan a copy (one for the past week, one for the coming one) to post on the blog each week. I don’t need to do this, but I want to be accountable to myself. I’m going to do this.

Morning Beauty 02

After praying about this month and this week, here are my plans for what I need/want to get done this week. Next week, I’ll show this one again (with the accomplished stuff marked off), and next week’s plans.

Week Planner

This week, I want to focus on learning from the Lord. From that, I want to do my work to serve Him and His people better. More opportunities seem to come up daily to serve. I just pray that I can be faithful to this calling, and be able to support those around me in their callings as well.

Midweek Mix-Up: 4 Books I’m Reading Right Now, and Useful Randomness

I love fun, not-always-stiffly-serious blog posts. And yet, at the same time, I want to make sure you have something helpful to take away from every post. Hopefully, I can find a balance of that today.

4 books I’m reading right now . . .
Give Me This Mountain, an autobiography by Helen Roseveare

Give Me This Mountain, an autobiography by Helen Roseveare

I’m roughly half way through this story. Helen is very transparent when it comes to sharing her spiritual life at different stages, and I’ve found that very encouraging because often I see myself in her shoes. Knowing someone has been there before really gives a new perspective on things.

The Eagle, by Rosemary Sutcliff

I don’t like this cover. Underneath, it is a great story—I just hope they haven’t changed it to go along with the movie. Our version is the previous edition of this one.

The Eagle (previously Eagle of the Ninth), by Rosemary Sutcliff

This was first introduced to me as part of our school curriculum. Mom recently read it to the boys again, and I heard bits and piece—enough to make me want to read it again, but not enough to hear the whole thing! She’s been reading the two sequels to the boys lately, and they are loving them, as well. I’ve only read the first chapter so far, but hope to get back to it soon!

More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell

More Than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell

Another “school” book. This small volume is both incredibly challenging, and incredibly reaffirming. Josh presents the facts without any apology, and seeing the pure truths of who Jesus really is—in all their beautiful glory—is very encouraging. This book is a great devotional, and even just reading one or two pages before bedtime is enough to give you much food for thought.

Ready or Not, by Chautona Havig

Ready or Not, by Chautona Havig

This is by far the most favorite book I’ve been reading lately. Mom finally convinced me to read it after all her ranting, and I’ve got to say I’ve fallen in love with the story too. Aggie, mother of eight inherited children, is so real in all her struggles of learning to be a mother—let alone learning to deal with her inherited mother-in-law! Even though Ready or Not is a long story, I’m enjoying every word—and glad to know there are two more books in the series waiting for me to read them! Oh, and did I mention I love the humor in the story?

Most exciting event this past week . . .

We had this big brush pile out back, and now that the fire ban has finally been lifted (we’ve had a bad drought all summer, so we were not allowed to burn fires for quite a while) the boys finally were allowed to burn it. Did they ever have fun, too!

Fire 01

From the yard, just after they lit it.

I got a few pictures of the proceedings, but soon had to get back to work—leaving it under the watchful eye of the firefighters.

Fire 02

I didn’t get any very good pictures of the main firefighter, because he was almost always running to put out small patches of grass that caught. This was the best—he was working very hard!

Most useful posts this week . . .

A random collection of posts I’ve found interesting and helpful this past week.

This week’s resource . . .

I’ve been using this little calendar for three months now, and it has proved to be the most effective tool so far for tracking work chains—I can see at a glance what days I was very productive, and what days I was . . . shall we say, not so productive.

2015 Work Chain Tracker

Seeing how well (or badly!) I did last week is encouraging, and challenges me to do even better this week. It is also a great way to keep a quick record of what I’ve been doing. At the end of each month, I tally up how many hours I’ve done on a particular project all together, and sometimes average that to each day I’ve worked, to see how many hours minimum I should try to do per day to beat that. (Side note: Time Calculator is very helpful for the calculation side of things—just input your times, and it will do the rest for you.)

I’ve been using this tracking system for almost three months now—tracking three different projects—and it’s still proving to be very helpful.

If you’d like to try it out for yourself, see the links below. I usually print it four-up (four pages per page) and just one-sided, so it’s a handy pocket-sized calendar that fits easily on my pin board. Do whatever works for you—I’d love to hear if it helps!

Download the free printable:

  • Unmarked Version
  • Marked Version (basically the first version, but with phases of the moon and a few select holidays—I like this one best, mostly because I like seeing what’s coming up next)

The idea for using a calendar like this was inspired by a passing mention in a blog post by Raychel Rose, so all credit goes to her. 🙂

Have you found any easy hacks for tracking the time you spend? Also, what’s the most useful post you’ve come across this week? Feel free to share below—I love hearing from you!

3 Resources to Help You Work More Productively

I don’t think there’s anything I like better than a free program that helps me work more productively. And, being somewhat of a program maniac—I usually end up trying out just about every free one I hear of—this is the kind of post I love the most. If you’re interested in free, time-saving resources, then this post will fit you as well.

3 Resources to Help You Work More Productively

Photo courtesy of Pixabay/condesign | License: CC0 1.0

Today, I’d like to share three valuable l tools I use to work more productively. Two of the resources below were ones I mentioned in the two previous posts in this series—How to Prepare for a Productive Day and 7 Effective Ways to Get Unstuck Now. The other is one I’ve come across in the last month or so, and it’s been so helpful to me in this area that it deserves its place as well.

Let’s get started.

1. Workflowy—“Organize Your Brain.” WorkFlowy is a notebook for lists. Use it to be more creative and productive.

A few months ago, I was feeling pretty stressed out over the sheer amount of work I had to do yet, so I sat down and had a brain-clearing session that was (at most) 30 minutes long. In that one session I wrote down over 50 things I needed to do. As soon as they were all written down it was much easier to focus on the project at hand and finish it. Workflowy is perfect for jobs like this—you can nest tasks as deeply as you like, and you can view them all together as one good-sized to-do list. Below is an example of how it looks:

WorkFlowy Screenshot

WorkFlowy Screenshot

(Note: If you sign up to use this task-management site, use my referral code here or above. By using my link, you will get 2x the amount of free space (500 monthly items instead of 250), and you will also be giving me an extra 250 per month. Thank you!)

2Action Item Catcher—A place to capture action items for processing or doing later. (Scroll almost to the bottom of the page to get it.)

I find this simple “catcher” extremely helpful. It takes less than a minute to write something down, and is also very handy when I’m trying to remember what I need to do and/or figuring out what I should be doing the next day or week.

3Momentum, Browser Extension for Chrome—Daily motivation and focus on your new tab page.

Momentum is a free extension that controls what your New Tab page looks like. Some of its main features include:

  • A beautiful new picture each day
  • To-do list
  • Main focus of the day
  • Daily inspiring quotes
  • Current time (helpful if you tend to lose track of time like I do)
Momentum Screenshot

Momentum Screenshot

I love this extension. It’s basically a personal daily dashboard. It is simple, yet elegant, in design, and instead of distracting from what I want to do each day it constantly reminds me of the next step I need to take. This is one of my main to-do list programs. I love the motivation it gives each day—whether the beautiful picture, or the quote, or both—it makes getting jobs done that much more fun.

Extra: I just found out that this extension is also available for Safari—check it out here in the Apple store.

A Firefox extension is planned, but not produced yet.

For Opera—I’ve heard you can use Chrome extensions on Opera. If you install an add-on named Download Chrome Extension, you can install Chrome extensions as well as Opera extensions. This means that if you use Opera instead of Chrome, there is a chance you might be able to use Momentum. I haven’t personally tested this, so I can’t tell you about results, but it may be an option for you.

I hope you’ll be able to find something to help you work more productively. I also hope you won’t feel obligated to try anything that I recommend, simply because it works for me. If something is helpful, great! If it doesn’t help–maybe you’re already doing as well as you can, or perhaps there’s something else out there that would be better.

Whatever you do in the end–stay productive, don’t give up, and glorify God!

What are some of your favorite programs for making your workload easier to manage?

7 Effective Ways to Get Unstuck Now

This post is part two of three on the topic of productivity.

More times than we care to admit, we get stuck in an unproductive cycle of half-hearted work and discouragement at getting hardly anything done. Sometimes, it’s almost impossible to figure out how to get unstuck.

What we really need is a kick in the pants to get us moving.

7 Effective Ways to Get Unstuck Now

Photo courtesy of Pixabay/PublicDomainPictures | License: CC0 1.0

But more often than not we aren’t willing to admit that we’re stuck, so we struggle on alone. It then becomes up to us to get going again.

Just Get to It

Even if you’ve done your best in planning out your day–so you have a track to run on first thing–the motivation for getting to it sometimes just isn’t there. By setting yourself up for success as much as you can, it becomes easier to get unstuck.

Here are three things you can do to find motivation:

  1. Make a checkable to-do list. This could be optional, but when I have a game plan for the day—complete with boxes to check off as I get each thing done—those little wins are more fun. I generally would do this at the same time that I write up a game plan for the day. This wouldn’t work for all people, but I find it helpful.
  2. Use cues that are already in place. Is there a certain thing you drink at your peak creative times? Do you listen to a certain kind of music? Or do you have a certain hat you wear every time you want to be “in the zone”? Almost everyone has a certain routine they go through that makes the job easier to start. Find out what that is for you—what signals to your subconcious that “It’s time to work now!”—and go with that. Make use of the signals you already have–the job will be much easier.
  3. Just start. One of the best ways to get unstuck is to start anyway. Even though you have nothing to give to your project, work on it anyway–a breakthrough is almost always right around the corner. Start. Even if you’ll erase all that work in two minutes. Conquer the first step, no matter how small. Just start.

When You Still Can’t Get Unstuck

Yes, there are some days when everything you do still doesn’t put you on the getting things done trail.

Here are four things I do when that happens:

  1. Take a break from the computer. Computers have an amazing tendency to produce fried brains. Step away from the computer for several minutes. Take a short walk to check on the garden, read a book to a sibling, or get a drink. Take some time away to refresh and refuel. If you need to, time your break. It doesn’t have to be long—only five minutes or so—and your brain will thank you when you’re done.
  2. Hold a personal war. For writers, this might be a word war—so many words in 10, 15, or 30 minutes. If you’re working on math, challenge yourself to get X amount of problems done in a certain length of time. Keep track of how well you’re doing, and try to race against your previous record.
  3. Reduce surrounding distractions. Is there something around you that badly needs to get done, and you know it will keep bugging you until you fix it? For me, that might be an unmade bed, or a messy desk. If it will only take 5 minutes or less to fix, then do it. You’ll be able to focus better afterward.
  4. Reduce internal distractions. Is there something nagging at the back of your mind that you don’t want to forget, but at the same time if you take care of it now you’ll lose your momentum all together? Write it down. Any thoughts, questions, to-dos, or ideas. By jotting them down, you can keep your brain less cluttered and focus better on the project at hand. Later, you can come back and to attend to them. (*Be sure to read my third and final post in this series, Resources, to find out about one worthwhile tool I use to help with this!)

Creativity and getting things done is an absolute joy when you’ve had a productive day. Gaining the momentum you need to get into the zone can be difficult and time-consuming. Whatever you do, don’t spend an hour on Facebook or Pinterest—that only leads to a feeling of guilt and helplessness at the fact that you’ve lost so much time already at the beginning of your day.

Try different methods, throw out what doesn’t work, and over time you’ll find a process that works for you.

Question: What works best for you to get “in the zone”? What are some methods you’ve learned over the years to get things done efficiently?

How to Prepare for a Productive Day

Note: This is the first in a three-part series on productivity and gaining momentum. If you find this helpful, please leave a comment–I love hearing from you!

The worst way to prepare for a productive day is to wait until the last minute to get started. As soon as we sit down at the computer, ready to work, we are instantly bombarded with distractions. Distractions spell only one thing–disaster. If you don’t have a game plan before you’re even ready to begin, your day will not be near as productive as it should be.

It’s still fairly early in the morning. You have an idea of what you want to get done today, and you sit down at your desk . . . and nothing happens. After several minutes to half an hour of sitting at your desk, checking email and perusing Facebook, you realize you’ve been sucked into the greatest time waster in history. Again.

Hopefully, that picture isn’t of you. It is of me—way too many days. I’ve often found that when I sit down, ready to write or fix something, I end up looking at the clock half an hour or an hour later and say, “Hey! What happened?” Then, guilt sets in because I’ve wasted so much time. Bad deal.

How to Prepare for a Productive Day

Courtesy of Pixabay/merad44520 | License: CC0 1.0

If you find yourself in my shoes, I’d like to share with you how I get stuck into my work—and actually make progress toward its completion, without wasting time or becoming guilty and stressed out over the fact that so much time is gone already.

I’d like to share seven techniques I use to prepare for a productive day and get stuff done.

Getting ready to start is an absolute must. Almost 100% of the time, if I don’t prepare ahead at least a little bit, I will not be nearly as productive, and I will also not get up to speed near as quickly. Preparation—so that momentum is already sitting there, ready to be released—is a must if you want to make an impact in the time you have.

Here’s how I prepare for a productive day:

  • Find an inspiring quote. Maybe a quote for the project at hand, or for the day, or maybe even your quote-of-the-week! Find something that makes you want to sit down, dig into it, and finish the job. Don’t take more than five or ten minutes on this, though, because that would ruin the purpose. (For fun, my quote today is: “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” — Winston Churchill)
  • Break it down into simpler pieces. Sometimes, our projects are just too big. Breaking it into bite-sized chunks makes it doable, instead of blowing our creative energy to bits with just the thought of its ginormous size.
  • Clear your brain. If I have a thousand things bouncing around in my head simultaneously, all my creative energy is used in solely remembering everything so that I am sure to get it all done. That isn’t healthy—it makes you feel out of control—and overall you can’t get anything done if you’re trying to remember all the different bits and pieces. Especially if you’re terrified of the consequences if you forget something. (*Be sure to come back to read my third and final post in this series, Resources, to find out about one practical tool I use to help with this!)
  • Start the night before. I know this seems a little crazy, because the last thing at the end of a long day is the worst time to be doing anything but resting. However, I know from experience that if I start the night before, I’ll be able to get into the zone much easier the next morning. Each evening, I try to:
    • Plan. Write down what I expect of myself the next day (generally trying to keep under five main projects for the day), and plot out what hours in the day I expect to get them done in—time slots help a lot in putting personal deadlines on your day.
    • Gather the tools you’ll need. As a knitter will make sure she has enough yarn and a carpenter will be sure he has enough nails and screws to do the job, you need to have all your tools handy as well. Make sure all the bits and pieces for your project are ready to grab just as soon as you get to work in the morning. It will make the day that much less complicated.
    • Do the first five minutes’ worth. For some of us, this is a ludicrous idea. We’re exhausted. The last thing we want to do before bed is work. But, really, it does help. The other day, I had a huge job waiting for me the next morning. I decided I could take just a little bit of time to work on it, and by the time my five minutes were up I realized it wasn’t as big as I had originally imagined. Remembering that realization in the morning made it that much easier to get into it first thing.

I enjoy the preparation process. When I am finally ready to jump into my project, I feel like I’ve already conquered it to some extent. When I can be productive early in the morning—without wasting time trying to get into the zone—I am a happier person.

Don’t wait until the last minute to decide what you’re going to do–plan ahead. You’ll be thankful for it in the morning..

Question: Do you struggle with losing time? How do you overcome it? How do you prepare for a productive day?