This time of year, many of us set goals for things we want to accomplish. How do we stay focused and live intentionally so these goals become a reality?

Today, I’m sharing 7 habits that help me live a focused, intentional, and productive life within my work and home. For me, these habits are the foundation for accomplishing goals and living a fuller life.

Live Simply, The Podcast: 7 Habits for A Focused, Intentional, Productive Life

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Topics Discussed In Today's Episode

1. Delete social media.

I’m not saying social media is inherently bad. Rather, I think it’s pretty amazing. Think about it for a second…
My family is spread across the United States, but thanks to social media family members are able to watch, comment, and share in my life. They were “there” for the birth of my children, special birthdays, and the day I launched this blog.

I’m a huge fan of social media, and I use social media regularly. I believe social media can do more good than harm. But, here’s the thing. Even a good thing can be dangerous and unproductive.

Facebook and Instagram can have the same effect on a person as a lethal drug- the highs of seeing your friends or people you don’t really know comment and like your photos and posts. There’s something addictive about this behavior–constantly checking for new comments and likes and feeling the need to constantly click on the little red notification button. Trust me, I’ve been there, way too often.

It’s such an addictive behavior, it’s easy to fall back into the same social media addiction–over and over again. Checking social media becomes a habit and soon takes over whatever you’re trying to accomplish or focus on: food prep, playing on the floor with your child, or a work task.

It’s easy to spend way too much time being “productive” on social media and less time (or no time) actually accomplishing real life responsibilities and tasks.

Hitting the delete button on social media is the first habit that must be developed. Yep, it’s going to be hard and painful. It’s going to require some intensive intervention. I’m not suggesting that you delete your social media accounts; rather, here are my two recommendations:

  • Delete the Facebook App from your phone. My phone is always with me which makes it far too easy to access the Facebook App. “Oh, I’ll just pop on Facebook and connect/network with friends.” Soon just “popping” on social media turns into 5, 10, then 20 minutes. Imagine what I could get done in that amount of time? If you can’t delete the app, simply log out of the app. Don’t save your password and username.
  • Log out of the Instagram App on your phone. Since the only way to access Instagram is through the app, it’s not easy to just delete the app, but we need to stop the constant checking. My recommendation is to log out of Instagram. Yes, you may still click on the icon and revert back to an old habit, but instead of instant gratification you’re met with a log in screen. This disrupts the habit and makes you think about what you’re actually doing–it’s a barrier. Now, at this point you can choose to give in or intentionally say, NO!
  • Log out of Facebook (or other social media) on your computer. I spend a lot of time in the morning on my computer writing blog posts and and editing photos. It’s so easy (too easy) to just click on a new tab and open Facebook. The moment I see the little red notification number in the top right corner, I’m hooked! Soon, I realize 30 minutes has been spent commenting, liking, and watching fun cooking videos. Soon, I’m lost on social media and not writing a single blog post or editing a single photo. You know what that means? I don’t get my actual work done, which then feeds into family time, which then means I’m stressed that I have to cook dinner instead of finishing work. All because of one preventable click to social media. By simply logging out of Facebook (and other social media accounts) the drug-high effect disappears. When I click on a new tab and open Facebook, I’m now welcomed by a screen requesting my username and password. This act is powerful and instantly reminds me that I have tasks to complete (or real life to enjoy) before I can enjoy social media.

I think it’s so easy to claim “I don’t have time” and place the blame elsewhere for not doing things we really want to accomplish, working on a side project to build an at-home business or continue your education, or play with our kids. Many times, if we track our habits and how we spend our time, the truth is we do have time. We’re just not using that time in a way that reflects what we value because we’re too face-down in our screens. Trust me, I’m preaching to myself here. I need this constant reminder.

2. Set up a social media schedule.

Now that you’ve deleted your app(s) and logged out of social media on your computer, it’s time to create a schedule. Social media is a beautiful thing when used with appropriate balance. I love interacting with so many of you on social, so I would hate for you to completely walk away from social media. Plus, social media is a great source for inspiration and a way to connect with family and friends. Let’s create social media balance…

Take a look at your calendar and create a social media schedule. We’re actually going to schedule the time you can browse social media. For example: I have a time blocked out in the morning, afternoon, and evening for social media browsing on calendar. During this time, I can access my account(s). After this time, it’s time to log off.

If you run a business or have an online blog or presence, use a planning app to maximize your productivity on social media and minimize your actual time on social. I like Planoly for Instagram, which is free. We use SmarterQueue for Facebook.

3. Download or brain dump.

When I wake up in the morning I feel a bit lost. I’m not quite sure what I need to do, and all I can think about is a warm cup of coffee and a hot shower. Feeling lost in the morning is an open door to wasting valuable time. To solve this problem I now download or “brain dump” on Sunday afternoon for the week ahead and then review this list each evening throughout the week, adding any new thoughts as they come.

On Sunday afternoon, I write down everything I want to accomplish that week in a notebook. I’ve used various systems for this and right now this is my favorite. I mean everything, even if accomplishing that many tasks feels overwhelming and/or impossible.

Having a list of tasks frees up my brain and gives me direction for that week. Throughout the week, I’ll add to this list, if needed. Do I accomplish everything on this list? No. But with things out of my head and now on paper, I’m able to determine and focus on top priorities and minimize distractions.

4. Focus on three important tasks each day.

Each morning, I take a look at my long list from the download/brain dump. There are only so many hours in a day, so I choose the top three tasks to accomplish that day based on what will have the greatest impact or just needs to be done. For example:

1. Write a blogpost.
2. Pick up stamps and mail packages at the post office.
3. Retest fried rice recipe.

While more tasks may actually get done, the VITs (Very Important Tasks) of the day are the non-negotiable and the first things I focus on. If nothing else gets accomplished, I know these tasks are going to get done because I’ve made them a priority. Without making your important tasks a priority each morning they probably won’t get done which only leads to frustration. For me, it’s best to focus on doing these things first thing in the day. If I push them off, they generally don’t get done.

This concept applies to work and home life–wherever you’re currently at in this season of life. If you’re at home with babies or kids or your list may look different than a mom who works and has kids in school. We could all use focused direction so we’re using our time to accomplish what we value and also things that are necessary.

5. Wake up earlier.

I’ll admit, waking up early isn’t in my DNA. I have a deep passion for staying in bed well past the initial sound of the first alarm clock. And yes, that’s how much I love sleeping, I need multiple alarm clocks. The mornings are the most productive, profitable hours so I’ve learned to embrace them and, while it pains me to say it, I’ve learned to love waking up earlier.

Of course, early is a relative term and means different times to different people, but the most important take away here is if you feel like you just don’t have time to get your top three things accomplished, and this is happening consistently–I’m not talking about weird or off seasons: wake up earlier, but this also comes with a caveat…you also need to go to bed earlier.

I make it a priority to accomplish my most important tasks (VITs) before noon each day. What makes the morning hours so magical? I think it’s the fact that there are less distractions in the morning hours. Plus, for me, I’m at my best in the morning–I’m not tired from the day and my brain isn’t drained.

Before we move on, here me out…if you’re a new mom or have small kiddos at home who wake up repeatedly throughout the night, give yourself grace. Sleep is far more important than productivity. Your body needs rest to function well and be at its best.

6. Ask for help.

I’m a big fan of asking for help–delegating and also deleting things. We need to be smart, intentional, and honest about we can and need to do.

It can be hard to accept the fact that we can’t do it all and very humbling to admit this, at least it was for me. My husband actually told me this for years, because I would constantly complain about how much was on my plate. Finally, after some issues with my health and seeing the toll stress was taking on me, I waved my flag of surrender and decided it was time to be intentional about what was actually on my plate.

For me, this looked like hiring a cleaning crew to come in every two weeks to clean my home. Could I clean my house? Of course. In fact, I’m really good at cleaning. But when I looked at everything on my plate, I had to ask, “What am I doing that could be delegated to others?” Cleaning was one of the activities I could let go. I couldn’t delete it from life but I could delegate it. Delegating could also look like asking a spouse or partner to pick up a weekly dinner shift, or purchasing an easier meal (there are a number of options now with real ingredients– maybe a hot dog night or a rotisserie chicken night), or doubling favorite recipes so you have leftovers and don’t have to cook, or going out for a Chipotle night, or delegating dinner to a kitchen helper like the Instant Pot or slow-cooker–sure you still have to cook but these appliances off-set some of the clean up and cooking.

The point is, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and you have too much on plate, think about what you can delegate. If you’re married, share this feeling of overwhelm with your spouse. Sometimes the people closest to us have a lot of insight–insight we lack because we’re too overwhelmed to see clearly.

Along these lines, also think about areas of your life that you could delete at the moment. Many of us are just too busy. We need to let go of some things–things that are filling our time but not important, bringing value to life, or of real necessity. Maybe this look like only participating in one church activity instead of one every night of the week, or not attending every single volunteer event at school or every committee at school, or limiting after school activities to only 2 a week instead of 4. This simply means evaluating your schedule and being brutally honest about what you can commit to right now and what you can’t.

7. Focus on one thing at a time.

Finally, most of us juggle multiple areas of life. Finding a balance between kids, work, preparing food, etc. can feel like a constant struggle. When you’re working, you’re thinking about your kids. When you’re with kids, you’re thinking about work.

Here’s my tip: focus on one thing at a time and focus on it well. If you’re working on a project for work, set a time for yourself to work on this and focus on that alone. Eliminate the social distractions, maybe even put your phone in airplane mode, and focus on getting that one thing done. Tell yourself what that one thing is, “Right now, I’m going to focus on…” This same concept can be applied to laundry, dishes, food prep, you name it.

Then, when the time has ended, shift your focus to your next one thing…maybe that’s picking up the kids at school and actually engaging with them in the car. Tell yourself, “Right now, it’s time to focus on my kids.”

Sure, things will come to mind. You may think of something you need to do, or something you forgot about. Make a note of this on your phone–the notes app is a great place to keep a running list and then add that your brain dump list.

I hope these habits help you as much as they’ve helped me.

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