Keeping the Mind Fresh: The Importance of Taking Breaks

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

I recently rearranged my schedule from working five hours per day, five days per week, and am now working three eight-hour days per week. Since I’m working these longer days, I find it necessary to take small breaks to get everything done. What? Doing nothing helps me do more, you ask? The idea might seem counterintuitive at first, so stick with me.

Author Laura Vanderkam, in her book, “What the most Successful People do at Work,” explains that taking occasional breaks is a great way to stay fresh and keep your mind sharp. When I take a break, I do one of the following:

• Turn my chair away from my computer.
• Go say hi to a coworker.
• Grab a snack.
• Send a text message to a friend.
• Check social media for five minutes.
• Walk around the office.
• Step outside for a breath of fresh air.
• Make a cup of tea.
• Think about a word puzzle.
• Read a chapter of a fiction book.

My breaks usually don’t last longer than five or ten minutes, and they work wonders for my productivity. Writing is intense brain-work, so giving my brain time and space to think about other things ensures that I don’t forget an item on my editing checklist or miss an important idea or quote to include in an article.
Next time your brain feels stuck, try one of these break ideas. Even if you have a lot to get done, taking breaks will give you the mental space to do everything efficiently and effectively. Got an effective break idea to share? Feel free to post it in the comments.

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Make Success Possible: The Art of Prioritizing

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

No matter who we are, where we work or whatever else is going on in our lives, we are all only given 24 hours each day. Learning how to determine what is important can help us spend those hours well. It’s all about priorities.

In “What the most Successful People do at Work”, time management expert Laura Vanderkam suggests spending time each day to plan what you will get done. I have found this helpful when I get to the office; here’s how.

Tip 1: I don’t check email until I have set my to-do list for the day. That way, the priorities of others don’t interfere with what I need to get done.
Tip 2: I delegate tasks that I need finished, but don’t have the time or capability to do myself. I recently needed some research done in an archive not accessible to my screen-reading software, so a volunteer was enlisted to look up the information for me. I could spend my time working on other projects, and the research got done.
Tip 3: At the end of each day, I reflect on what I have accomplished and make sure it is in line with my work priorities for that day. This gives me an opportunity to check and be sure I’m on the right course, and correct if needed.

Creating priorities in your work can be as simple as sitting down and making a list of what needs to get done, then ranking the items by importance. Try it out and see how prioritizing your day could make a difference in your career.

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How to Keep Improving at Your Craft, Five Tips

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

Whether you are a writer or a painter, a secretary or a realtor, it is a good idea to set aside time to get better at what you do. I had to learn that lesson recently when my boss suggested I get some writing coaching. It was hard to let go of my ego at first, I will admit. In the end, though, it turned out to be a great experience to learn from someone who has been writing professionally for 20 years.

In her book, “What the most Successful People do at Work,” Laura Vanderkam says it is always a benefit to yourself and your company to improve at your work. Here are some ways I am keeping the cycle of improvement going in my own job:

1. My writing coach recommended a book that helped her improve her writing, and I plan to go through one chapter a month to finish it in a year.
2. I have started networking with others in my field to ask their advice about aspects of writing on which I want to improve.
3. Each week, I have check-in conversations with my boss about my writing and how I can grow.
4. I recently joined a group of local businesswomen and am learning from them.
5. I signed up to attend two professional development conferences in the coming months, which will be learning and networking opportunities for me.

Even if you aren’t a writer, try one of these ideas if any of them resonated with you. Countless ways exist to improve in a career. If you have found one that works for you, leave it in the comments. I would love to try it. As you may have noticed, I never recommend anything without trying it for myself first.

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The Ultimate Guide to Fun: Making a Dreams List

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

I’ve blogged about dreams before and how important it is to have them.

In her book, “What the Most Successful People do on the Weekend,” Laura Vanderkam says that creating a list of dreams provides ideas of things to do on the weekend. You’ll have a ready-made options list of things you can do by yourself or with others. Here are some tactics I have found helpful for creating a Dreams list.

1. Create an Excel spreadsheet and create different categories as column headings. Some of mine are: Things I want to learn; Places I want to go; Foods I want to try. They could be anything.
2. Grab a notebook, laptop or piece of paper and write for a set amount of time. Don’t judge any of the ideas that come up—just write.
3. Number the lines on a sheet of paper from 1 to 100. (You will probably need multiple sheets for this.) Write a dream on each line until you have 100 dreams on your list.
4. Think about 3-5 things you want in each of three categories: To Be, To Do, and To Have. Pick one from each list and write the steps you’d need to take to accomplish it in a 12-week period. Start working toward it today.
5. Read magazines that get your creative juices flowing. (I like to read travel magazines.) When you come across something you’d like to try, write it down.

Hopefully, you will find one of these methods helpful in your quest to generate dreams lists. Remember to review your lists often and cross off the things you get done.

Most of all, enjoy the process! You’re dreaming, after all. You might as well have fun with it.

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Why Sunday Nights are the Most Important Hours of the Weekend

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett
For some, Sunday night might be a sad time. You might be anxious or stressed about all you have to do when it is time for work on Monday morning. You may feel like you didn’t get everything done that you had hoped to accomplish over the weekend.

In her book, “What the Most Successful People do on the Weekend,” time management expert Laura Vanderkam points out that Sunday night is an important time of the weekend that doesn’t need to be squandered worrying about Monday morning. Here are some ways I have tried to preserve the specialness of Sunday nights.

1. I plan to do something fun. Whether it’s a phone call with a friend, a movie night with my husband, or reading a book or solving a crossword, I take time doing something I enjoy to keep my mind off the impending workweek.
2. I do something with others. A surefire way to ensure I don’t waste time on Sunday nights is to plan something fun to do with other people. It could be a choir practice, volunteering, or going for a Sunday night hike with a friend. Committing to a specific time gives me a reason to be actively engaged instead of worrying that I should be doing something meaningful with the final weekend hours.
3. I plan for the week ahead. The night before each weekday, I make a list of everything I want to accomplish the next day. Sunday nights, I write that first to-do list of the workweek.
4. I plan goals for the future. Sunday night is a great time to make lists of goals and dreams for the future. I find that I have enough distance from my job to think of recreational goals in addition to career goals.
5. I determine my weekly goals. I like to plan three goals each in the areas of career, relationships and self for the week. These nine goals are easiest to think about in the final hours of Sunday, and I can check my progress and make sure I have completed last week’s goals then, too.

However you decide to spend your Sunday nights, I hope you are able to make the most of your weekend. We only have 52 weekends per year. It is important to enjoy every bit of them.

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Why Your Weekend Needs a Plan

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

Many people don’t think about their weekend plans until it’s Friday. They might think planning shouldn’t be undertaken when deciding how to spend their leisure time. People also tend to think about the weekend as one large chunk of time. I’ve started thinking differently, and it’s been a game-changer.

Laura Vanderkam, time management expert and author of the book, “What the Most Successful People do on the Weekend”, suggests planning some aspects of the weekend in advance and thinking about the weekend in chunks. I have tried this and feel I have gained much more satisfaction out of my weekend. Here is what a typical weekend looks like for me:

Friday Night: Go to a fish fry with my husband, spend time reading fiction.
Saturday Morning: Run errands, decide on a plan for the day.
Saturday Afternoon: Go antiquing, take a nap, spend time outdoors, solve a crossword puzzle.
Saturday Night: Get dinner with friends, read fiction.
Sunday Morning: Go to church, have brunch.
Sunday Afternoon: Finish up errands, read a magazine.
Sunday Night: Volunteer, participate in a book club, plan for the week ahead.

As you can see, some aspects of my weekend, such as plans with others, need to be determined in advance. Other activities can be done if and when I have the energy and desire. Separating the weekend hours into these seven blocks of time gives me the freedom to both plan and relax. Also, I can think about what I did in each of the seven blocks and am less likely to feel like I wasted an entire weekend.

If you planned your weekend in the seven time blocks, what might it look like? Give it a try and see how it works for you.

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Unplug for a Little While: My Adventures Without Wi-Fi

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

The internet is great, especially for someone like me who can’t read printed books and magazines. Before last year, I often wondered how I would survive as a person who is blind without instant access to all the information, resources and ways to connect with others at my fingertips. I recently found out. When my husband and I decided to sell our condo, we also decided we didn’t want to pay for internet at home anymore.

In Laura Vanderkam’s book, “What the Most Successful People do on the Weekend,” she suggests unplugging for a while from technology. Here are some of the benefits I noticed during our time without internet:

• More Free Time: I no longer get trapped in internet rabbit holes about random facts or stuck in endless loops of YouTube videos. I have more time for activities I find meaningful.
• Better Intentionality: I am now more efficient when I do have internet access, so I get more done in an hour of internet time than I used to when I could use it 24/7.
• Peace of Mind: I can go whole days without checking my email or Facebook, and I am not constantly bombarded with messages, ideas and expectations from others. I can just live my life no matter what others are posting, tweeting or liking.
• Effective Decision-Making: Because I generally only have internet access when I intentionally choose to do so, I can respond to emails and messages with a fresh outlook and positive mindset.
• Greater Satisfaction with Life: I enjoy being unplugged because I am taking the time to actually live my life instead of posting about how I wish things were different. I’m more likely to go out there and make things happen.

I know we won’t always be without internet at home. Once we’ve moved, I’ll need internet to run my business. However, I’m glad for this experience and what I have learned from it. As a result, I’ll remember to unplug from time to time.

I realize that going entirely without home internet for a year might not be your jam. I encourage you, though, to think about what being “unplugged” might look like for you. Give it a try and let me know how it goes in the comments. I hope you find greater productivity, more relaxation, and a better way of living.

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An Unexpected Time to Build and Nurture Relationships: The Morning

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

Building and maintaining relationships is essential for happiness. (Researchers have done studies on it and it’s true!) In those hours between waking and heading off to work, I’ve discovered it is possible to work on relationships with others.

In the book, “What the Most Successful People do Before Breakfast,” time management expert Laura Vanderkam suggests many ways to develop relationships in the early hours of the day. Here are some I have found success in doing.

• My husband and I discuss our plans for the day together while we get ready.
• While I’m waiting for something, such as the bus to come, or for my water to boil for tea, I send text messages to friends I haven’t connected with in a while.
• If I have a longer swath of time available, I might call my mom for a quick chat.
• If, during the night, I remember that I wanted to get in touch with a specific person, I add their name to my list of things to do for that day.
• I went to a networking breakfast once, and while I’m not usually in a chipper and talkative mood in the morning, I was able to follow up with connections later in the day.
• One of my friends and I text almost every day, and our first texts are usually sent in the morning.

Vanderkam recommends a family breakfast, since evening meals can be hectic with all the after-school activities children have. We don’t have kids yet, but if we ever do, I plan to try this.

What are some ways you have optimized your morning time for relationships? Leave ideas in the comments.

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Setting an Alarm to Keep Track

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett

My morning routine is composed of a lot of activities: eating breakfast, prayer, exercise, and reading for personal and professional enrichment. With all these things going on, I still need to make sure I get out the door on time for work or other planned events.

In Laura Vanderkam’s book, “What the Most Successful People do Before Breakfast,” she suggests filling your morning time with things that matter to you before the priorities of others take over the day. I knew I didn’t want to forego any of the activities I was doing to give myself a lighter morning schedule, so I explored the ways alarms could be used to help me keep track of time.

• I set an alarm on my phone for when I need to start getting ready.
• It goes off every five minutes, so I can judge how long it takes me from the time I begin to get ready and when I actually walk out the door.
• Since I like to turn my phone off at night, I bought a small, travel alarm clock so I can set an alarm before bed anywhere I’m sleeping.
• My e-reader has a timer on it, so I can set the timer for a specific amount of time and know when I need to stop reading.
• Both my braille display and computer have clocks on them, so if I want to write in the morning, I can do so while still keeping track of time.

What devices in your life have alarms built into them? How can you use those alarms to effectively get things done and be ready on time? Let me know in the comments.

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Determine What’s Important and Schedule it First Thing

Katie Corbett holds a book

By Katie Corbett
When there are several new habits you want to incorporate into your life and many ways in which you want to improve, it can be difficult to figure out where to start. I am almost constantly reading self-improvement books and thinking of ways I want to enhance my time on this planet, so I have experience prioritizing.

When I read, “What the Most Successful People do Before Breakfast,” by Laura Vanderkam, I learned that it is important to schedule the activities you most want to do within the first hours after waking and before starting other activities. I came up with a list of questions I could ask to help me decide what to tackle first:

1. In what area of my life do I want to most improve right now? (Health, career, personal enrichment, relationships with others?)
2. What activity can I most do to improve in this area?
3. Will I enjoy the activity? If not, what can I do to bring more enjoyment to it?
4. How will I incentivize myself each day to accomplish this task?
5. For how long per day will I do this task?
6. What can I do to make sure I allot time for this task in my schedule?
7. What is the end-goal I hope to achieve?
8. How will I track my progress?
9. What will be my reward for completing this activity?
10. If I do not attain my goal, what could I try next to continue striving toward it?

When I wanted to run a 5-K, for example, I used the Couch to 5-K training program. I ran for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. I made time to run in the morning as many times as possible. Knowing I would succeed and celebrating my success with family and friends who came to watch my race was definitely a great incentive.

I encourage you to answer the questions above and start working first thing on your own goals. With a bit of planning and forethought, you might be surprised what you can achieve.

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