Essays & Confessions / Self Love

The 30-Day Challenge That Helped Me To Be More Productive, In Less Time

By Thursday, February 18, 2021

I don’t do well with restricting myself, and I’ll never be naturally inclined to *want* to work out…

The whole capitalist nightmare idea of “new year, new you” is not something I subscribe to anymore.  Even when I did, I knew that, deep down, a different numeral year did not mean I was suddenly primed to become an athletic, morning person who cuts all carbs, dairy, and refined sugars from her diet. I am just not that person; I don’t do well with restricting myself, and I will probably never be naturally inclined to want to work out. #SorryNotSorry.

But! This new year especially, I knew I had to switch things up. As silly as it is that we’ve collectively decided January 1 would be Day One of our brand new lives, I decided, on January 1, that I had to stop working while eating my lunch. 

2020 was the year I got laid off and took on so much work to make up for the loss of income (two incomes, actually, since my husband also lost his job, because if we’re going to make this year a struggle, let’s make it epic!) I actually lost sight of real life. The moment I realized what had happened was right before Christmas. The company I now work for closed down for about a week, which meant I had significantly less work over the holidays, and instead of taking on more freelance work, I decided (after a lot of debating and inner-monologues) to take the actual break. But when I tried to relax, I found that I literally couldn’t. I sat and tried to watch a rerun of Sex and the City and found myself feeling so anxious, I couldn’t pay attention to the plot. I was exhausted, but I was also more panicked about not working and making more money. 

I finally snapped out of it and let myself actually relax during the last couple of days of the holiday break. I watched five straight hours of SATC, ate Christmas cookies for breakfast, and stayed in bed until noon. “This is crazy,” I thought. “I don’t even know how to take a break anymore. When I do, I just turn into a college freshman.” While my week of rest and relaxation was much-needed, it also illuminated a bigger problem: I didn’t know how to take a break.

While I still need to take on extra work to make up for a lost income, I knew I could be better about how I structured my day. I didn’t have to collapse in bed every night, my brain totally fried and my eyes twitching from all the non-stop screen time. I could keep working the same amount — I just didn’t have to do it in such an unhealthy way. I decided to change one big thing about my schedule: I forced myself to take a 30-minute lunch break every day during the week, and I’d let myself do whatever I wanted. 

To set myself up for success, I planned out my lunches for the week so I wouldn’t end up eating from a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Lo and behold, I learned how to meal prep (turns out, there is an infinite amount of things you can do with lentils). This way, I didn’t spend half my lunch break preparing food. I grabbed my lunch from the fridge and just chilled out for a half-hour. 

Me, a lentil salad, and the glare of the TV screen in my eyes.

A couple of days a week, I’d take the dog on a walk for 20 minutes. This helped clear my head and made me feel good about getting out of the house and getting some movement. Other days, I’d read, or skim through a really good sale online. And sometimes, I ended up running an errand (while this isn’t exactly “fun” or “relaxing,” I found that it really helped knock back my anxiety). 

It’s been a full month of my self-imposed lunch break resolution. At first, I was worried about my productivity. Would I get as much stuff done? What if this meant I’d just end up working later? As I suspected, taking a half-hour break actually made me more productive. I spent less time spacing out or stressing out about how much I had to do (and just did the things instead — what a concept). I felt less anxious at the end of the day, and also more fulfilled. I’ve already read four books this year (plus a pile of magazines that I’ve let collect dust since October), am halfway through SATC (so that I can be fully prepared for when the reboot happens, obviously), and feel a lot more like myself again. 

Carving out a little bit of time for yourself doesn’t seem like a huge deal (or maybe it might feel too indulgent for you like it did for me), but it can be. I knew that stopping work at 6 p.m. sharp or getting up at 6 a.m. every morning wasn’t something I could realistically manage. But taking a real break at one p.m. every day (and literally blocking it off on my Google calendar) for just half an hour was one attainable goal I knew I could (and had to — for my own sanity) meet. 

Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

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