In celebration of World Productivity Day, Leah talks with Jessica Holsman, who is an expert in helping people become more productive without sacrificing their health and happiness. Learn practical tips for approaching your days with intention, increasing your overall productivity, and maintaining a healthy balance in your life.
More about Leah's Meditation Teacher Training:
Find all the details at https://www.leahsantacruz.com/mtt
More about Jessica:
Jessica Holsman is a best-selling author, content creator, entrepreneur, and speaker, specializing in helping people maximize their productivity and enhance their well-being. You can learn more on her website — www.studywithjess.com — and you can pre-order her new book here: https://amzn.to/3PK25hD
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LEAH: Hey, I'm Leah Santa Cruz. I’m one of the meditation coaches on the Balance app along with Ofosu Jones Quartey. And this is our weekly show, Well Balanced.
Hello everyone! It is world productivity day and Ofosu is still in his meditation retreat, lucky him. So I've decided to bring in a guest who is an expert at getting more done with less stress. Wouldn't we all love that?
Her name's Jessica Holzman. She's built her reputation on helping people study more effectively and that's evolved to helping all types of people, whether in school or not to learn more practical tools for productivity. She's also the best-selling author of ‘The High School Survival Guide’.
Where was that when I was in high school? I needed that book. And her next book is a work-life balance survival guide, ‘How to Find Your Flow State and Create a Life of Success’. A book that I can use now. Great! This comes out soon. August 9th. Hello, Jess. How are you?
JESS: Thank you so much for having me.
I'm great. Thanks. How are you?
LEAH: I’m fantastic. I'm coming to you from sunny Portugal just outside of Lisbon and I'm having a beautiful summer. Lovely. But it seems like you're in the middle of winter?
JESS: Yeah. I'm coming to you from cold and rainy Melbourne, Australia with as many layers as I can possibly wear at any given time.
LEAH:Oh, well I heard that practically 80 or 90% of all the inventions that have brought our society forward have occurred in areas where there was winter and cold. So maybe there's something good about being productive in cold weather.
JESS: That's so interesting. I feel like I want to be my most productive self in the cold of weather just to pass the time.
Because it's something to keep you occupied with and then you're not so focused on the weather outside. I don't know about you, but I find that I get really into that flow state when it's raining outside and I make myself a cup of camomile tea. So it's very conducive to productive work.
LEAH: So what's inspired you to help people become more productive?
JESS: Well, my journey is a very non-linear one. Uh, my background is actually in psychology. Which I believe yours is as well. So I finished a postgraduate diploma of psychology and I was given a full scholarship to start a PhD and study tutor with neurodevelopmental disorders. And I was about three months in when I had this idea to start my YouTube channel.
And I just wholeheartedly wanted to be that go-to source of support to help students at that time study smarter, not harder, and also stress less because, you know, I wanted to apply a lot of the lessons that I had acquired through my experience as a student in high school, and then later in university and share that with them because while I have always found it really easy to sit down and apply myself and study.
I did well academically in spite of how hard I work. And I actually think that if I would have been able to study the way that I hardly worked today, I would have stressed a lot less. I would have enjoyed that process of that journey a lot more. And I really do believe I would have seen even better results.
So since starting my channel, which I believe is now eight years ago, My audience in my community has grown up with me online. And so my content has evolved from, you know, study tips and, you know, little DIY guys and room decor tips to a lot more around productivity and wellbeing or taking a holistic approach to productive living.
LEAH: Okay. Well, this is where I get really interested in chatting with you. I like how you said earlier, you were really wanting to help students work smarter and not harder. That's a topic that really hits close to home for me, because I have so much going on. I'm a mother of a one and a half year old, very active toddler.
And I travel a lot for work. I run a business with my husband. I work with the Balance app and this podcast, and there's just so many elements, you know, and not to mention the mental load of thinking about it all. Things that a mom has to think about or a business owner has to think about behind the scenes.
It's like, do I need to get new diapers? Do I need to get bigger shoes for my son? What about potty training and then schools. And then on my personal side, did I get enough exercise today? Or how am I taking care of my health? What am I going to eat for dinner? There's so many little things on the to-do list.
And I find that now I have so much less time to get work done than I did prior when I was single. And you know, it was not just a mother. I felt like I had so much more time and now I need to make the hours that I do have way more effective. So, you know, looking into books with Tim Ferriss wrote the four hour work week. I thought it was really interesting because he wrote a study on a four day work week in Iceland.
Their productivity stayed the same or even improved when people cut out a day of their week and Microsoft, a company I used to work for, um, in Japan had some of its employees do four day work weeks. And it said that their workers increase their productivity by 40%. So maybe it's really possible to do the same or more work in less time.
What do you think is something like you'd suggest for someone like me to try to improve my productivity?
JESS: Oh, I have so many that I'd love to get into, but one thing that comes to mind, which I know is a really big barrier to productivity, is the ability for people to sit down and focus for a particular length of time, and this could be because they are trying to do the most mentally taxing tasks at a time where their brain just doesn't have the same level of energy to give.
So it's really important to identify your chronotype. I am a morning person. So for me, my best quality work will happen between the hours of around nine in the morning and 2:00 PM. That's me. [That's me]. Yeah, you're the same. And in addition to that, scheduling our work to suit when we are at our most alert selves, it's also really important to be mindful of the kind of work that we schedule first.
So I always like to start my work sessions with my deep work. So we've got deep work and we've got shallow tasks. Deep work - they're the sort of tasks that require the greatest amount of mental energy. And you want to be giving your best self to do these tasks first, because if you start your day with things like emails and social media and all the other little to-do lists, by the time you get to the really important stuff..
So for example, for me, it was writing my book. If I were to do all the other stuff first, then I'm going to sit down, try and get some content out there onto the page. And it's going to be a real struggle. It's going to take me longer and it's going to deplete my mental energy a lot more than if I would've done it the other way around and stopped with the most important task of writing my book or working on scripts for new YouTube videos or anything else that people might feel for them is their top priority and the most important task to focus on. So being really mindful of the sort of tasks we schedule first can also make it a lot easier.
LEAH: I'm sitting here listening to you, going yep - checking emails. First thing, I am the morning person. You said something interesting about your chronotype. Are there like a few different types?
JESS: Yes. You've got people that are the morning person, which is us, you've got your night hours where I'd say that's almost like my husband where he can work really late into the night.
And get his best work done at that time. For me, my brain switches off by 5:30 pm. I am not used to anyone after that time in the afternoon. Um, and then you've also got people that just seem to do their best work in the later afternoon, early evening. So they're not really a morning person or a night owl, they're somewhere in between.
So I'm always mindful to start my day with a good morning routine and then ease into my deep work by nine or ten.
LEAH: Yeah, that's really interesting because I'm exactly like you. I'm sitting here listening to you going. Yep. That's me. I'm sort of dead to the world after about 7:00 PM and really after 2:00 PM, you're not going to get a lot of great stuff out of me, but I find that I have to handle a lot of things for the family, or maybe that's the time when I can exercise or how it just works out with my schedule as there was a lot of other things that come in between me and getting the work done in those morning hours.
I'm sort of left to get work done in the hours that I'm not at my best. What do you do when you can't work at the time when you do work best?
JESS: Yeah, I think that's really understandable. I think we all have those days where, you know, life happens and certain tasks have to be put off until a little bit later and that's okay.
But I think that when you do get the opportunity to sit down and get some work done again, you're being really intentional with what you're starting with. So. Even if I think about the days where I am unable to start my work in the morning and I do have to actually sit down and maybe after lunch, cause I've got a few other commitments barely right in the day.
If I start with the deep work that I find that I'm happy with the end results, because I'm not draining my mental energy with all the other tasks and putting them before, what's really actually most important to me.
LEAH: This reminds me of something I heard, um, a couple of years ago. Eat the frog. Have you heard of this?
JESS: I have heard of eating the frog.
LEAH: Like if you knew that you had to eat a frog today, would you save it till the end of the day and think about it all day and dread it and, or would you just get it over with and eat the frog right away and have the rest of the day to go? So it's like that big task sounds like the frog.
JESS: Yeah, it depends on what the frog is. I mean, sometimes my frog is something really important. That does require a lot of my energy at the very start. And so I'm just going to get it out of the way, but sometimes that frog is just a bunch of things on my to do with that are nagging me to get done. And if anything, I have put it aside for a little bit later, so that I can get into that state of flow rather than sort of stop and start here and there.
LEAH: Yeah. That's really interesting that flow state, it sounds like a meditation actually but we get fully immersed in something. We sort of lose a sense of time. We're just finding that optimal level of connection with something that we can be fully immersed in, you know, productivity, what you're describing, like being more organized.
It is really like a meditator's best friend. I think like having the ability to have dedicated time to do the tests that you're talking about, like being organized and productive. If we're not dedicating a time to do that outside of our meditation, it's all going to come flooding at us in our meditation practice.
And, you know, the wave of the to-do lists and other urgency, and this thing didn't get done and everything that's got adrenaline painted around it just rears its head and says, Hey, what about this? Who've been finished in a safe, and that's why a lot of people find it challenging to meditate because there's just a backlog of unfinished business.
And. I really think that what you're describing here is so important, not only for our mental health and wellbeing, but also like our meditation practice, which is important in our mental health and wellbeing. Absolutely.
JESS: Yeah, for me, I think having a schedule is really important and then writing everything down so that I'm not carrying it all in my head.
If I've written it out onto a page - my, ‘to do’ list to schedule, I know that my day is going to sort of sell out. I'll even use my flooring, which can often be a big distraction for a lot of people and inhibit outfit activity. I'll use that as my friend and I'll set reminders, I'll set alarms so that I don't have to think about whether I've checked my emails or when I need to check my emails or when I need to sit down and, you know, do a different task.
So I think having a schedule - keeping it all written in your diary is key so that you can just at least list some of those thoughts or worries that you're holding in your mind, let them go. Don't carry them throughout the day with you. Otherwise it does come up in your meditation practice. You're trying to sit there and, you know, they just keep coming around and those thoughts just don't want to be forgotten.
So they just keep coming to the front.
LEAH: How do you determine what is the most important task to handle?
JESS: I prioritize my tasks based on the various goals that I have. So when I was working on my new book, I knew that that was my top priority. I knew that by writing this book, meeting the deadlines - I needed to make sure that that was something that I was able to achieve successfully.
And I also knew that in putting this new resource out there, that was going to be the most fulfilling thing for me as well at this point in my career. So when other things would come up, other opportunities, uh, sometimes other distractions or other people's tasks and urgent requests. I was able to get clear on whether that was my urgent task or my priority or not.
So I think getting really clear on your goals is key because otherwise there are so many other tasks that will pop up and they'll mask themselves as a top priority, but they're not.
LEAH: I think that's really important. Just getting stuck in busy work. We could look back a year and go, oh, all those things that I thought that I would get done.
And I think that's actually discouraging because then we start to think we're not capable of doing the things that we wanted and that's how people lose their dreams. And, um, so I think what you're sharing is, uh, so important for us sticking to creating the ideal life that we have for ourselves and being able to reach our dream.
JESS: Well, yeah, and I think it's, it's really hard to exercise that self-control and say, no, I'm not going to go and do this. I'm going to stick with what I know to be most important to me because, you know, we all lack to be busy. We feel good when we're busy. Uh, we almost, you know, sometimes we're busy-ness with a badge of honor, and I think it's because society glorifies the idea of this state of constant output rather than rest, or having that optimal balance.
And so I'm definitely the kind of person that lacks to be able to do it all, get everything done. I have so many ideas that come up in my business all the time, and I had to start writing them down in an ideas book so that I would give myself the time to focus on one thing first and not spread myself too thin or overextend myself.
And then 'cause that's the end result. If we can't get clear on our top priorities, there's always going to be a million things that we could be doing, but if we try and do them all and when not checking in with ourselves and being kind to ourselves, we lose ourselves in that. And then that's the end result.
We get symptoms of irritability, brain fog, fatigue, that's burnout. That's your body literally saying to you? I know you're capable. I know that you want to get all these things done, but you can't get everything done. So we have to be really deliberate with how we spend our energy, just like how we spend our time and how we spend our money.
LEAH: I love this. So my takeaways are to focus on my goals, do the big deep tasks first so that I have energy for them and really just giving myself the awareness that I can do just as much in less time with less stress. If I focus on the time of day that I can be at my best as well. Any other last thoughts before we part ways?
JESS: I think just to remember that we are human beings and not human doings. And so we can't be in a constant state of productivity all the time. And although a large part of my work is helping people to maximize their productivity and time management. It's also about being kind to yourself, practicing self compassion and giving yourself permission to rest.
Knowing we don't have to earn rest. Rest is key to being productive, and if we can carve out time for self care and have a meditation practice and allow ourselves to slow down. We're actually going to be a lot more productive when we do sit down to work as well, because we are giving our brain that time to recharge.
LEAH: Yeah. Thank you, Jess. You've really given me some aha moments just now in these last few minutes. So we have to have you back when this book is out, we can talk about so much more.
JESS: Yes. I would love that. I feel like I would talk about this for hours and hours and hours. So I definitely would love to come back and chat more about this.
We can delve deeper into some of these.
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LEAH: All right. Well, thank you for joining us. And you can follow Jess at A Study with Jess on YouTube and on Instagram. And we also have a link in the description where you can go pre-order the new book, ‘Work-Life Balance Survival Guide’. I'm definitely getting it. And if you liked this show and you want to stay up to date with our discussions, just subscribe or follow us on your favorite podcast app.
And please don't forget to rate or review us in the app. We love seeing your feedback and it helps us grow and spread the word and I'll be back next week with Ofosu. Have a beautiful week.
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