This post was due on 31 October. Today, as I write this it’s 1 November. There’s a productivity lesson in there somewhere…

It’s been a busy month. I got a lot done, I let a lot slip.

I entered into October in a good mood. I then proceeded to ‘yes vomit’ over a bunch of commitments.

“Yes, I’d love to help you with that, that sounds great!” I said. “Yes, absolutely, I can contribute” I agreed. “Yes, yes, of course, yes.”

With everything I said yes to, I was saying no to something else. No to downtime, no to sufficient sleep and rest, no to my creative pursuits and no to breakfast as I rushed out of the house.

It’s always messy when I do that. An over-full mind leads to tension. Tension leads to tears. Tears in traffic will lead to the Dixie Chicks playlist. The Dixie Chicks playlist leads to an existential crisis. It’s a downward spiral. Not at all productive.

When we talk about productivity the focus is so often on how to do more, but more of what? Carrying a smartphone around allows me to read more emails, but if they are all marketing newsletters is that a worthwhile spend of my brain power?

A calendar allows me to schedule pockets of time for all the social engagements I’m keen to participate in, but if I’m zombie-walking from one to the next, what’s the point?

The real key is being selective about what you take on. Not everything is a worthy investment of time and energy, no matter how attractive an opportunity might seem.

While the most valuable use of our time is not always clear from the outset, saying yes to the following three things can make it easier to discern.

1. Say yes to breakfast. And lunch, and dinner.

Say yes to fuel. You wouldn’t try driving a car from Cape Town to Hermanus with R50 of petrol in the tank. Or if you did, you wouldn’t get far. It’s delusional and unproductive. Our bodies need something to burn. Here’s a revelation I have every time I eat a proper breakfast instead of rushing out of the door and grabbing a coffee: food gives you the energy to do things. It’s not a revelation I should need to have more than once, but hey…

2. Say yes to sleep. In bed, at night.

Say yes to sleep, even when it means saying no to other things. No to Netflix maybe? No to that night out that might be fun but might really not be? No to your crying baby..? Okay, maybe that last one isn’t an option, but you get my point. The fewer hours you sleep, the harder life becomes. Here’s another revelation: sleep gives you the energy to do things.

3. Say yes to stillness and the next right thing.

Say yes to stillness; as much as you can get. If it’s a 7-day catered retreat in the countryside, good for you. If it’s two minutes while the rest of the world is on the other side of a locked bathroom door, that will do. Be still, listen to your thoughts, connect with yourself. What’s the one thing that’s most important right now? What can wait or fall away?

I love this quote from Glennon Doyle Melton in her book Love Warrior:

“Just do the next right thing one thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.”

That’s a productive way to be. Do one right thing, get it done, move on to the next. Clarity gives you the energy to do things.