Staying productive without burning out

by Jun 19, 2020

I know what you’re thinking, another article on productivity, so original! While there are numerous tips and tricks you can find online to help you stay productive, I am here to share a few that work for me while maintaining my sanity. Let’s get right to it.

Don’t check your smartphone for the first hour after you wake up every morning

You may or may not have heard this sage advice before. And the reality is that it is actually backed by science. When you check your smartphone for emails, messages on WhatsApp or WeChat, feed from twitter, snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or whatever, first thing every morning – you give up control of your daily routine. You instantly get sucked into the world of others; what your friends have been doing on socials, updates from yesterday’s meetings, invites or agendas for upcoming meetings, news from around the world (which is mostly negative anyways), etc. Suddenly, you are not in the driver’s seat anymore, rather you’re being driven around based on the amount and quality of content by others.

Your brain starts the day on a negative note. It has lost control, being fed depressing news, and you unconsciously start comparing your life to those on socials. You start getting stressed by all the things you need to complete at work today, and by the time you’re done scrolling through all that, you have lost valuable time which makes you rush (or skip) through shower, breakfast, and your morning exercise so you aren’t late for work.

Instead, have a schedule written down for the first hour of your day

Growing up as a teenager, I remember creating a paper-based list of my daily routine so I could get ahead of other kids at school (I am quite competitive, I’ll admit). From what I remember, it looked something like this:

7am: wake up and get dressed for school

8am – 2pm: school time

3pm – 5pm: homework

5pm – 7pm: play

Then I grew up and forgot about all that and started living each day as it was. Looking back on all those years, I can say for myself that I had a better grip on my life as a teenager than as a young adult.

At the start of 2020, I decided to get that grip back as I turn thirty this year. So I got back to creating a new list for my daily routine and following it diligently (especially for the first and last hour of my day). I included even the tiniest of details for the first hour – so it looks something like:

5:30 – wake up, drink water, make bed

5:45 – drink milk with almonds and wheat biscuits

5:50 – meditate

6:00 – change clothes and exercise

6:45 – brush teeth and shower

By having this list dictate my first hour, I stay in-charge. I don’t have to think about what I am going to do next, I just have to follow this list. The detailed, repetitive and mechanical nature of this list is what helps me get a great start to my day – meditation helps focus on the task at hand (which is meditation itself), exercising releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones) in the body, I have eliminated external influences by not checking my smartphone, I eat breakfast (as I am starving after the exercise), and by the time I start work I already have a sense of achievement.

Minimise the digital ‘noise’ around you

If you grew up in the 90’s or before, you’d agree life was simpler because we had fewer gadgets to distract us, right?  It was a simple TV (you know, the boxy CRTs) with limited channels for entertainment and one landline phone for all and you could easily remember a hundred different phone numbers (I sometimes forget my own mobile number today!). Consequently, you had longer spans of attention for anything you were doing since there were lesser distractions around.

Today, you can do all that on your smartphone, which is an excellent convenience, but it’s all purposely designed to grab your attention too. You get a notification for EVERYTHING (someone liked your comment, someone commented on your comment, you have a new follower, someone just unfollowed you, someone uploaded a new video, you have a new email, you have a new reminder, you have a meeting in 1 hour…); you know where I am going with this.

To start with, I have switched off ‘most’ notifications from my socials. Do I really need to know if someone unfollowed me? Or every time someone likes my post/comment? Or if that YouTube channel I subscribe to have uploaded a new video? By minimising how many times social media apps try to get my attention to open the app, I create space in my life for other important things. Plus I really don’t miss out on anything, as when I open the app when I want to, it’s all still there waiting for me.

Next is switching off ‘all’ notifications from work on my smartphone. The idea is if it’s during work hours, I better be working on my laptop, so I don’t need work notifications on my phone. If it’s past working hours, I better not be working or thinking about work, so I don’t need work notifications on my phone again. It helps me better manage my work-life balance – to stay focussed on the task at hand when at work, and helps to switch-off when not at work.

Lastly, I have set a ‘do not disturb’ schedule on my phone for bed-time. So, literally nothing can disturb my sleep except phone calls. That, combined with the rule of ‘no screen time 30 minutes before going to bed’ helps improve my overall sleep quality. Again, this is backed by science.


I hope these tips help you take back control of your life for better productivity, where you are in the driver’s seat. In the end, it all comes down to the choices you make.

Choose now, choose well.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Arjun Gupta

Arjun Gupta

Employability Project Officer

Arjun Gupta is an Employability Project Officer at UTS Careers, and an international UTS alum. He is a problem-solver, with over 6 years of experience in project management and software development. Arjun is passionate about sustainability and technology, and believes in a socially responsible attitude towards work and life.