Establish healthy boundaries, plus 3 tips to maximise productivity while minimising burnout

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A woman spends time outdoors.
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It may already be the second month of 2023 but there is no shame in admitting that you have yet to find a productive routine that works for you.

While we’re still in the first quarter of the year, it’s important to create healthy habits and boundaries in your work or school life as early as possible to help you maximise productivity, while minimising the risk of burning.

We chat with some industry experts on best practice for using your day as productively as possible and taking the time to take care of your physical and mental health.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Separate your day into quadrants

Keynote speaker, columnist, end-of-life doula and entrepreneur Dion Chang explains how important it is to have boundaries.

He says be “conscious of putting boundaries in place … and discipline yourself by dividing your day into quadrants”.

A healthy approach to scheduling the completion of your tasks is to separate your workday or afterschool time into four quadrants, in which you prioritise your most labour-intensive and time-consuming work in the first quadrant of the day.

Your second quadrant will encompass the tasks that are high intensity but low impact, which will be tasks that are deemed urgent after your first quadrant but require less brain power. This can include replying to important emails, attending meetings, and so on.

The third quadrant will consist of tasks that are not urgent but are important, such as admin work such as filing and sorting important documents and reviewing your work.

As the final quadrant will be at the end of the day when your concentration may be diminishing, this will be reserved for your most mundane tasks and tying up loose ends.

2. Include transitional periods throughout your day

It’s easy to work for hours on end and realise by the end of the day that you haven’t taken much of a break, this is where transition zones come into play.

Dion emphasises the importance of taking some time between your tasks to separate from your work and ground yourself. Small moments like taking a barefoot walk outside, brewing a cup of your favourite beverage, or spending a few moments with your pets or loved ones can make a world of difference to maintaining your mental health, as well as how you approach the rest of your tasks.

“We are actually reassessing what’s important in life, what our relationship to work is and the rewards we get from work,” he explains.

For students and professionals, it’s also important to take time out of your day to unplug and limit when and how long you spend your time on social media, as it can be easy to lose hours of your day scrolling.

This boils down to maintaining your discipline and enforcing clear timeframes for using social media, which can be used as a rewards system after tasks are completed.

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3. Take your self-care seriously

Prioritising your mental and physical health has never been more important, with work, school and even unforeseen circumstances like the Covid-19 pandemic taking a huge toll on people across the world.

Studies have shown that 1 in 6 South Africans suffers from depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder, with the prevalence of anxiety and depression disorders increasing by 36.4 percent and 38.7 percent, respectively, in the last two years.

Nutritional consultant and health and wellness expert Vanessa Ascencao emphasises the importance of eating healthy for your body type and staying active.

“Prioritise eating healthy, nutritious foods that will boost immunity and energy such as fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein,” she adds.

“Stay active and take a walk after meals to help improve blood sugar levels and aid digestion.”

Pharmacist and life coach, Giulia Criscuolo, also adds important self-care tips to practice.

“Make self-care strategies like yoga, meditation or journaling a priority. Get enough restorative sleep, create a support network of friends and professionals, practice saying ‘no’ when necessary, [and] take digital breaks.”

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