staying productive with marisa donnelly

8 Strategies For Staying Productive (& Avoiding Burnout)

We live in a world that’s saturated with work culture, ‘busy vibes,’ and hustle porn. And if I’m being honest, I fell victim to this (for years!). Blame the perfectionism in me, blame my desire to do and be everything, blame the inner critic that has always driven me to be better than yesterday, but I was sucked in. I became obsessed with the idea of productivity and staying productive as a measure of my worth.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t until my mid-to-late twenties that I realized running full steam ahead, twenty-four hours a day, would just burn me out.

Now, I’m on fire for something different — talking about productivity in a way that empowers people to take ownership of their days, find more time for the things they love, and create balance between work and play.

I’m not perfect at this. I’m still a work in progress. But, as I’ve rebranded my business, pivoted my life, and created space to breathe and be, I’ve learned a few things about what productivity really is and should be.

Here are a few of my most life-changing tips:

1. Start By Being Intentional

I lived in denial for years. At my worst, I claimed I was fine. . . while slinging coffee at 4AM and snacking on stale chips while my students ran around my tiny backyard for their p@ndemic recess. (LOL). It wasn’t until I was honest with myself about what I was feeling and needing that I was able to start to make some serious changes.

And at the core of these changes was intention. I wanted to have more time for my stepson, I wanted to be fully present with my clients, I wanted to improve my relationship with my significant other, and I wanted to feel more like myself again.

When I got to the root of why I was doing so much, it all came down to one thing: I wanted to create a life that I loved and provide for the people I love. 

And once I identified this, I became aware of where I was drifting from this goal or getting caught up in things that actually didn’t matter. Being intentional, then, meant having tough conversations, saying ‘no’ to things I just didn’t have the capacity for, and focusing on what was really important.

2. Create Organization & Structure

I’ve always thrived with structure, and once I became a parent, I saw this manifest in my kiddo, too. (In fact, this is one of the things I’m most proud of that’s rubbed off on him!). But seriously, having an innovative schedule has been the biggest and most productive change in my life.

While I’ve always used a schedule, there were simple changes that allowed me to be a better parent, business owner, and person. Here’s what I did that made the biggest difference:

  • Found templates that worked for me rather than rebuilding from scratch. I found these amazing Printable Productivity Worksheets by HP that are great for teachers, parents, and children alike. They have so many different options for monthly, weekly, and even daily schedules. They also come with layouts that are as unique as the people using them! And, they’re aesthetically pleasing, too, which makes a big difference for a visual person like me.
  • Color-coded everything. I have my main business, my microschool, my stepson, my personal life, and our dog. There’s quite a bit going on, and anyone who takes care of a household and/or children knows how crazy things can get! When I started color-coding, it made a huge difference for the organization. . . and not just for me! Now everyone has an assigned color, and I also have a color for each facet of my business, too, to help me know what to prioritize when I have time.
  • Made time for scheduling. I never realized how long it took to actually create a schedule. In the past, I was always doing this on the fly and wondering why I never felt like I had the time or was creating something that actually worked. Now, I block time out in my week/month, etc. to schedule, create my calendar, color-code, and get everything set up for the week ahead.
  • Regularly completed re-caps & reflections. At the start of this quarter, I purchased a custom Get Salty Planner ‘The Balanced Creator Edition,’ which was designed intentionally for busy mamas like me. Not only has it been a game-changer for my productivity, but what I love the most about this planner is the spaces for weekly recaps, reflections, and plans for the week/month ahead. Slowing down, thinking about what’s coming, and being honest with myself about where I’ve been has really helped me to be more motivated.

3. Time Block

I can’t talk about time blocking enough! This is the strategy where you group similar activities together to focus on during a given time period, rather than moving from task to task or trying to accomplish too many things at once. For someone like me, who’s always going from one activity or responsibility to another, time-blocking gave me the ability to slow down, organize, and really lean into specific tasks.

Rather than trying to answer emails, plan social media, build strategy, connect with clients, AND carry on a conversation with my stepson at the same time, I know how to bring together related tasks, delegate, plan, say ‘no,’ and focus in on what’s most important in the allotted time.

4. Embrace Tools That (Actually!) Make Life Easier

I wasn’t always a ‘tool-using’ type of person, and I think that’s because I’ve always felt like I could do everything myself. Anyone who runs a business or family knows, though, that this is a naive perspective. And while it may have taken me a bit to figure this out, I now know how important (good) tools are to support the journey.

Here are a few that I love:

  • PlanableFor organizing content, creating a visual schedule for your social media, caption-writing, collaborating, and focusing on the aesthetics of your feed(s). If you’re a visual person like me, you’ll love this!
  • The Hearth: I invested in this technology years ago, and while I’m still waiting for my shipment, I’m still so excited about the possibility of having this in my home! It’s a visual, digital interface that allows you to sync calendars and keep track of your family’s appointments, chores, to-do’s, and notes all in one place!
  • Mailerlite & Dropbox Sign: These are two of my favorite tech tools for small business owners and they’ve truly made my life so much easier! I’m able to send easy (and cute!) newsletters through Mailerlite and getting my clients to sign contracts is very simple with Drobox Sign (formerly HelloSign). Must-haves for small biz owners!

5. Stop Saying ‘Yes’ Because You Feel Obligated

Something that fundamentally changed my life was learning that I could say no, and perhaps most importantly, that saying ‘no’ was nothing to be ashamed about. After I hit burnout, I found my voice. And in finding my voice, I was able to better articulate what I needed, what I was feeling, and how I could be supported.

The biggest change for me was shifting away from social obligations and places where I almost felt ‘pressured’ to be something that I wasn’t. Instead, I said no to these things more frequently and realized that I had more time to be alone (which was actually preferred to self-regulate).

I was also able to ask for help, too, which was huge rather than trying to shoulder everything myself.

6. Make Time For Nothing

Along the same vein as saying ‘no,’ I also learned the value of ‘white space’ on the calendar. (AKA: Time for nothing). While I’m still the type of person who likes to fill her calendar (and I probably always will be, if I’m being honest), I’ve also learned to create time in my schedule that isn’t planned.

I don’t have my breaks planned, my time off planned, or my rest time planned.

Instead, I (often but not always) put nothing and see where the day takes me! This has not only helped me to feel more ‘free’ but it’s allowed me to learn to live more in-the-moment, (which is actually how most of my closest loved ones operate, because, you know, opposites attract!), so now I feel more connected to them and their lifestyles, too!

7. Lean Into Your ‘Simple Joys’

If you’re trying to stay productive, here’s something so simple to keep in mind: you need to have time for your simple joys. Simple joys, for me, are a good cup of coffee, time to write, walking my dog, dancing around my kitchen, singing in the shower, listening to music, sitting in the hot tub, watching the sunset, eating family dinners, coloring, cooking, reading, and cuddling with my fiance, son, and dog.

These are the little things that, effortlessly, make you happy. And sometimes we get so wrapped up in all that we’re doing in life—personally, professionally, creatively, etc.—that we forget about them.

A productive life doesn’t necessarily mean a busy life. It means embracing the things that make you happy and having time for them in the day-to-day rush.

8. Stop Feeling Pressured To Follow The World

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my parallel journey of business ownership and motherhood, it’s that you don’t have to follow what the world is doing. For the longest time, I was driven to be a successful small business owner and found my identity in being an independent woman. While I still embrace this narrative, I’m also equally connected to the idea of being a present mother and homemaker. And honestly, these two ‘worlds’ live in opposition.

I struggled, and honestly still struggle with these competing narratives and how to balance them in today’s world. But then I remind myself that it really doesn’t matter what the world says. . . it matters how I feel.

I can be both a business owner and a mama, and I can be good at both of them. So, whether you relate to my story or you have a completely different journey, the most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do or be anything other than who you want. It doesn’t matter what the world says; it matters who you are and are striving to be.