There are days when everything just goes haywire, and chaos ensues. How do you get back on track and stay productive? Learn how to manage your time and fight that stress away with your host Penny Zenker and her guest Mridu Parikh. Mridu is an author, keynote speaker, and the founder and productivity strategist of Life Is Organized. Learn how to manage stress with self-awareness, practice habits, and more. Divide your day into quadrants and live your day to the fullest for maximum joy.
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Getting Back On The Productive Track When Your Day Goes Haywire With Mridu Parikh
We’re going to talk about when you get stressed and off-track, how do you get refocused and get back on track when you’re taken away? I’m excited to talk about that because we all know how that feels. I’m excited to have with me Mridu Parikh. She is The Stress Squasher. She is going to help you to get control of all your demands. Her intro says you want to get her on speed dial.
She helps overwhelmed mompreneurs to help prioritize and systematize so they can take control of the demands and distractions so that they can manage work and at home. She’s passionate about getting women, and I would imagine this is also valuable for men, so don’t think you’re left out here, the results that they want, whether they’re doubling their business in revenue, losing weight, or increasing time for yourself. That’s the same for you men out there. There’s something here for you.
Welcome, Mridu. It’s great to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited. I love your energy and you nailed my name, so that’s really impressive.
That’s an anomaly, trust me, but it’s great to have you here. Talking about how to get back on track after distractions is huge, but before we get there, why are you passionate about productivity and working with mompreneurs and other people to help them get back on track?
My company is called Life is Organized. I started that years ago, but I started as a professional home organizer. I was very passionate and systemized about that. I love organization, simplifying, and design, so it was a perfect fit. I was primarily coaching online. I recognized very quickly that I didn’t love going into people’s houses, but I love teaching, the mindset behind it, and the coaching. However, after about 4 or 5 years in my business, both my clients and I were going through a similar journey.
I was hearing from a lot of clients that they didn’t have the time or they couldn’t prioritize the home organization. They couldn’t even get to it. Even if they had the skills and knew what to do, they didn’t have the time to do it. They were so busy. I, as a business owner, was simultaneously going through the same stuff. Even though I was teaching organization, I was feeling overwhelmed myself. I was raising two kids, running the business, all the things that come with being a mom and growing your profession.
Naturally, for my own personal development and also hearing this from so many women, I started throwing myself into this world of productivity, time management, focus, reading, studying, and taking classes until I realized that this is the foundation and the cracks. We can get to the organization after, but if you can’t prioritize and you can’t figure out how to make time for all of these things, then it’s not going to happen.
Essentially, my business evolved over the next eighteen months to productivity and time management. Being a mom and having kids, I’m really focused on other mom entrepreneurs as I can relate really well. Of course, this all resonates with everybody in terms of dealing with demands and distractions, but now I really specialize with other mom entrepreneurs to help them get control of all their demands and distractions and feel like they command their own time and energy.
One of the things that you said that I wanted to highlight. We hear this all the time. We even hear ourselves saying that we don’t have the time. When I catch myself saying it, I’m realizing that’s the biggest cop-out excuse because it just means that I’m not setting my priorities effectively or at least that’s what I believe is behind it. If we set our priorities and they were clear, we wouldn’t have competing priorities and we wouldn’t be blaming time for our challenges. What’s your thought behind that phrase, “I don’t have the time?”
I think if we even switched the words with don’t, won’t, or can’t, then it changes the energy behind it. All of a sudden, if you’re like, “I won’t go to the gym. I won’t exercise,” that changes the energy as to you made a decision versus can’t or I don’t have it like it’s out of my control. It puts that responsibility back on yourself and that can sometimes be enough, that little switch in language. You may not go to the gym still, but at least you were in charge of that decision.
I’m all about the energy of our thought and words, as my TEDx says. It does help somebody to redirect it back to, “I’m making this choice.” Is that one of the strategies that you use with people? It’s to help them to shift that so that they know that’s a choice for them.Break your day into quarters to avoid the all-or-nothing attitude to productivity. Click To Tweet
That’s definitely a part of having the intention and being deliberate. We hear these words all the time, but what does that mean? I’m all about energy, words, and how we set ourselves up. We’re our own worst enemies. We all know that. Much of these come intrinsically from us. The words and thoughts that we choose, and how we set ourselves up for success. The verbiage and communication even to ourselves are going to help us move forward or not. Sometimes we have this all-or-nothing attitude.
An analogy will be if you want to lose weight. You’re watching your calories for the day and then you go eat a big plate of chocolate cake, and then you’re like, “Forget it. I’ll start Monday again with the diet.” That happens with our time too. Sometimes we’re so far off that we’re like, “I’ll start next week, on Monday, or I’ll start tomorrow.” What I encourage you to do is start thinking of your day in quarters.
You have your morning, and maybe that mid-morning, then afternoon, and then night or evening, so when you fall off track, you don’t have to wait until next week, Monday, or tomorrow. You’ll be like, “Let me just get back on track on my next quarter. My morning was really off, let me get back on track for my lunch, or for my midday.” That all-or-nothing mentality keeps us more overwhelmed because things are piling up, so it’s feeling even heavier. Let’s stop that nonsense right away and say, “The next quarter of my day, let me get back on track.”
I really like that as a strategy too because it’s true that we have that thought process and mentality. Where does it come from? I get that by putting it into quarters, you’re actually structuring. You would when you come into the home in the beginning when you were organizing people’s homes, you’re structuring people’s thoughts and their days. Where does that come from? How do we get stuck there?
We’re really hard on ourselves. We are our own worst enemies. We self-sabotage, so it’s like, “If I didn’t get it right, it wasn’t perfect. If it wasn’t great the first time, I’m not good at this. I wasn’t cut out for this.” We can start going down that rabbit hole of bad self-sabotaging thoughts. It’s never good. There is a lack of self-awareness.
We’re so crazy, so busy, so exhausted, and so scattered that it’s hard to sometimes tap into that and be like, “It’s not the end of the world. I’m not so terrible. I’m not so bad. I can get back on the horse,” but it does take that awareness to pull you out of it. Like anything else, we just got to practice this little habit. Practice is what’s going to get us there. If we do that over and over, we become less overwhelmed when things get off track because then you’re like, “I got a plan. I can get back on in the next hour.”
How can I practice that? I like that, so let’s talk about ways to practice those quarters.
This is going to sound trite or old school, but put a sticky note on your laptop or on your fridge. They’re really simply getting back on track or treat your day in quarters. I believe in these visual anchors. We can see things because in the frenzy and the chaos, how do you tap back into 100 thoughts in your mind? You can’t, but if you visually see it right there, you’re like, “I know what to do.” It seems silly, like, “A sticky note? Really? That’s the big thing?” Yeah, because it works, and it’s simple. We don’t want to overcomplicate anything. We don’t need any more overcomplicated at all. Let’s make this as simple as possible.
Simple works and we don’t have to resist it. When you work with them, do you have them set up their day in quarters? What comes to mind is the many uses of the four quadrants. There’s a tool called a Priority Matrix. You could actually set up those quadrants however you want. Would you encourage somebody to organize their day in quarters and put, “Here’s what I’m going to do in the first quarter of my day,” then the second quarter, the third quarter, and the fourth quarter?
We do, but I look at it in terms of energy. We go through pretty much the exact exercise you were saying, but we look at energy instead of the matrix like, “Where’s your highest energy? Where’s your lowest energy? Where do you feel a slump?”
Based on the time of day? Is that what you mean?
Yeah. Typically for most working women or most professionals, and not for everybody because there are people who are night owls, but for most of us, the morning is our freshest time. We’ve slept, we had a good breakfast, and we’re charged, so that’s a great time for deep work and really focus on the strategy, planning, and the things that you never seem to get to.
Research shows that later in the afternoon, contrary to popular belief, is a great time for creative work and brainstorming more in that 3:00 PM or 4:00 PM range. People think, “Post-lunch, I’ll be tired. Let’s do a post-post-lunch.” It’s like you’re going to get this surge of energy then, and typically, that means in-between time, maybe 11:00 AM and 12:00 PM, is a great time for a little bit more, I want to say mindless work, but the emails, getting directions, and responses that a little bit more rote, and then nighttime is more preparing, preparation, and planning.
It’s not exactly the same for everyone, but if I had to generalize, that’s a good format and that’s how we work with the energy. We look at that energy and then we’re looking at what are your biggest priorities? Are you in alignment with that? How do you want to live? We get into this whole focus area and then start marrying in that.
In terms of actually creating structure in the day, where do those fit in? How do we make those things work and really start getting more into the nitty-gritty of that? My goal is for someone to wake up with a plan that they can trust every day. I know wrenches are going to be thrown. We all know emergencies and crises come in, but if we don’t even have a foundation or a roadmap for the day, then we’re just as good as nothing. We’re going to be reacting all day and nothing is in our control, so we may as well start somewhere. Other things will come in, but we’ll manage a lot better when we have somewhere to fall back. The next quarter of the day will be better.
If you don’t have a road map, then you’re not getting back into anything. It just doesn’t get you jumpstart. I feel that way too. When I don’t have that clarity of what I’m planning to do then it’s so easy to get distracted, let time slip away, and not do those things that are on the plan.
I feel like so many people believe that success is going to come from more doing like, “I got to do more.” I believe that success comes from more planning. When we were talking about how do things go when they go off track, you could pull yourself back and just plan instead of jumping into let me do because do is usually reacting and putting on more stress.
You’re not thinking strategically and you’re not thinking necessarily, “What’s going to make me feel most rewarded?” It’s often the low-hanging fruit, what’s easiest, or whatever’s there in front of you at the moment when you’re planning, which seems so counterintuitive at the time. You’re like, “This is such a waste of time. I have such little time left. Why would I now sit here, make a list, and plan out my day?”
That’s what’s going to get you on track, get you focused, and get you in alignment with, “I only have four hours left. What are the most important things in going through that process?” I would encourage anyone reading that when you’re in the chaos or in the middle of it all, plan before you do. Take the time to plan. That’s going to serve you so much better than jumping back into the doing.
I talk about it in terms of action bias. I saw it somewhere, which was actual research that was done. It’s that an object in motion stays in motion, but we have this bias that we have to always be in motion and onto the next thing. It doesn’t give us the space like you’re saying to plan, to step back, to reflect, and to see what’s working and what’s not working, so we jump to the next thing, which might not be the best next thing.
It’s just a series of reactions versus being purposeful and intentional about everything that you’re doing. I’ve experienced that myself too. As you said, this is all a practice. People always say to me, “You’re so organized. This comes easy to you.” No, I have to work at being organized and thinking in a certain way because I’m a little squirrel-like, so it’s a practice for me. Some of us have natural tendencies of what we do, and then there are those that are adaptive. Would you say that this for you is natural or is it adaptive?
It’s definitely a combo. I’d say I’m for sure more naturally organized. What might seem complicated to someone else, I can simplify it very easily and organize it. That comes very naturally. Focus management or attention management is a learned practice for me. I often say, if I wasn’t preaching this, teaching it, podcasting it, and writing about it every single day, I would be so much worse off it because I am getting that constant reinforcement. I feel like I have a monkey mind, and because of what I do, I get to hear this over and over, so it’s very beneficial for me, but that to me, does not come naturally, and I have to work very hard at it.
What’s the hardest part for you? What is that thing that keeps coming up over and over again for you?
In terms of the focus, it’s the thoughts more than email. If one thought leads to another thought, then I’m like, “This would be better for this thing. I should jump over in this thing.” It’s my own thoughts, and I think it’s very true for everybody, but especially if you’re a creative person and you’re on a self-development path, you’re just always thinking and growing, so the thought of the thought can start throwing me off.
It’s like anxiety. It perpetuates itself because people are anxious of becoming anxious and what happens when they get anxious. My son has really grappled with anxiety and he is always looking for trash cans or way out of a room in case he has to throw up because that’s what happens when he gets anxious, so he gets anxious about getting anxious. When you said the thought about the thought, I wonder if there’s some connection there. I’m going deep here. I’m thinking deep.
I’ll give you an example that just happened and that’s maybe more relatable, so I’ll be doing something, say I’m working invoicing, and then I’m like, “I have a really great podcast thought.” I can go and write down a list, but it’s beyond the thought. It’s like an entire dialogue I’ve had to myself. It’s like, “Here are the three points, and here’s some of the framework,” and so I’m worried that if I don’t get that down at that minute, I will forget it.
It’s more than just adding it to a to-do list. I really need to capture that whole thought so I have to have more productive ways to do that. I will get on my phone and do a voice memo because that’s much better. I’m finding ways because I don’t want to lose that. It’s not enough to throw it on the list, but at the same time, it can derail me from what I was doing, so finding those systems or little hacks at that point is very helpful.
I just got myself one of these reMarkable. I’ve got notes everywhere. I used to buy different notebooks for different things, and then everything is all disorganized in all these notebooks that are spread all over the place, so I’m using this as the electronic version of all of those notes. In that way, if there’s a podcast idea, I can go right into the podcast folder or idea dump area and then process it from there.
It is finding ways to keep those thoughts organized, get them down, and also get them out because if they sit in there, then all that energy is taken up thinking about, “I got to remember that.” I ask everybody this question who’s on the show and what’s your definition of productivity and why?
I believe that productivity is tied to an emotional state. It is partially when you get your results in less time and less effort. I think part of it has to be something that makes you feel really successful and rewarded because we could do a whole day of a to-do list of everything, less time and less effort, but if it wasn’t, what was tied to your health goals or your being present with your family, then it’s not productive to me. Your time and effort are less but also, it is tied to your rewarding emotional state.Practice your habits. If you just practice over and over, you become less overwhelmed when things get off track. Click To Tweet
People used to say it’s ridiculous, but I said, “Productivity is a feeling.” It’s like happiness. We chase it but because happiness is a feeling. You can’t define it as one thing that you did. It’s something that you know that you’re there when you have it. Maybe it’s tied to progress. As you said, it’s tied to something that’s important to us. When we feel like we’re making progress towards something important, then we get that feeling. I’ve never heard anybody else on the show relate it to a feeling the way that I think it is, too so that’s very cool. We have a lot in common there.
I haven’t heard it either. I almost was like, “Should I say that?” I do think it’s a feeling. In fact, I tell clients, and I’m sure you hear this, “How do I know what to prioritize? I have 100 things on my list. What are my top three?” I then say, “What are they?” I always say, “Go back to your feelings. When your head hits the pillow tonight, what would make you feel most successful today? What’s going to make you feel the best that you did?” and then it comes to them very quickly.
I have something that I do at the end of every day that helps me to feel more productive. Do you have some tips and tricks to help people to connect to what’s important or what they did?
I wish I was better with journaling or doing gratitude at night. When I do it, I’m not 100%. I’m pretty good at it, but not always like, “I’ll do it more in the morning.” The wrap-up might be even better for me than in the morning. I just haven’t made that switch yet. I’ll be honest.
You feel journaling would be a really good way to wrap up the day.
Yeah, and I’ve heard that from a lot of people. They’re doing it at night versus the morning. I haven’t gotten there yet, so that would be a practice I want to get into my life, but on a much simpler version of that, no matter what, this I do. I look through my calendar for the next day. I just want to make sure that I know what’s in front of me.
What time to get up, or what meetings do I have? Do I need directions? Do I need to pick out my clothes at night? Always, I’m screwed in the morning, like something I forgot I had or I didn’t manage to wake up earlier. Something is always off, so that makes me feel so much better. It takes such a weight off my shoulders, but if I could find a couple of that with a little bit of journaling at night, I think that would be great.
I don’t journal at night either. I write what I’m grateful for in the morning, so that has been a time ritual for me to get in the right state of mind in the morning, but something that I started to do with a friend of mine who we coach each other and meet regularly, is we started to write a recap of our wins. If you can make this a daily practice, it’s even more powerful.
We had a weekly practice of doing this, and from time to time, I look to do this at the end of the day because maybe there was something that I really wanted to get done and I didn’t get done, and I think, “I wasn’t really productive because I didn’t get that thing done,” but when I look back at all the things that I did do and I look at my wins of, “I had that call and I did that, and that person made a change. I got that feedback from that,” then we start to get connected to, “I was really productive.”
Instead of looking at our to-do list that says, “Here are all of the things you didn’t do,” and gets stressed out by all the things you got to do tomorrow because you didn’t get to them that day. What about just celebrating the things that you did do and recognizing and connecting how that is creating progress in a number of areas? That’s been a super help for me.
I would love to get better at that too, and maybe that becomes for the journaling practice is really just what are the wins for. One thing I changed on my to-do list months ago is, I call it an accomplishment list. The little shift and change in language to see that every day because you’re checking this stuff off and to see that this is what I’ve accomplished instead of what I have to do. That has been really helpful. That would tie in well with the end of the day. It’d be like, “What did I accomplish now?” I got a lot off of there.
Maybe when you look for what you’re going to do the next day, you just look at your accomplishments as well. We’ve been talking a lot and it’s really clear that mindset is an important part of it. The energy and making sure you’re managing your energy, but just to give those people who are waiting to hear some tools, not counting your calendar or your email, but if I were to wipe your phone and computer clear and you had to re-install, what would the first apps be that you would re-install?
The first one would be Evernote. My entire life is on there. I will say that I’m actually transitioning to notion just to collaborate some Google Docs that’s not on Evernote into one place, but for this moment, Evernote is still my go-to. That would be a huge one, and then the second one, I think you would consider this a tool, but my podcasts. I love walking and listening to podcasts.
I listen to podcasts when I’m making dinner. I listen to them all the time and that is a massive productivity tool for me because I’m learning, I’m growing, and I’m enjoying myself. It’s making me happier and I feel like I’ve gotten a lot done. They’re not always about business. Sometimes they’re just silly in interviews, but it makes me feel very productive when I am connecting in that way.
What other tips and tricks do you find that you share the most, or are the most valuable for the people that you’ve worked with?
Focusing on your attention is more important than focusing on your time because time management will come if you can get attention management. That’s how I feel. We will figure out how to fit it in. It’s not that we don’t have time to do it. We just can’t stay focused long enough, so whatever tools, tips, and strategies you can use to help you with focus. There are things we’ve all heard of. There’s the Pomodoro Technique, sit in an environment by yourself, or put your phone on Do Not Disturb.
There are plenty of ways to do it, but it’s more about if I told myself every day I was getting better at focus, I guarantee you’ll get to time and get to your goals faster. That’s one big one. Another thing we talk about a lot is boundaries. I feel like this is the most undervalued strategy for women. I know men are reading, but women seem to have a harder time with this. You can focus, be straight on your goals, and plan your day, but if you fall short on this part, on the boundaries, you’re risking all of that.
You’re doing all that hard work and it’s not even going to uphold itself because there are no rules and parameters. You’re letting everybody else’s demands and requests infringe on your time. You’re teaching them disrespect of your time and you’re teaching them how to treat you, so I would say that you put attention towards the boundaries.
You also got to pick your battles. You can’t have a boundary for every single thing, but with your kids, you got to pick your battles. Pick the ones that, I know it’s an overused phrase, but the nonnegotiable. Pick those ones. You’re like, “If I really stand to this and communicate it and push back, this is really going to make a big difference in my life,” and then start there.
What do you think are the top two nonnegotiable ones you’ve seen come up for people the most?
I’ll do one work and one personal. Work would be distractions like email, texts, phone calls, or people walking in saying, “Can I have you for a second?” Any type of those 2 or 3-minute distractions are very much more in your control than people saying, “I can’t control the people’s behavior. I can’t control their actions,” but you can control how you respond. You can say, “I’m in the middle of something. I’m in a deadline. Can you hold that until after lunch? Do not disturb unless it’s an emergency and the house is burning down. Don’t come into my office for 30 minutes.”
You have more control than you believe. That’s one at work. For personal, I’d say it’s the do it all myself mentality, so this idea that I need to cook everyone’s five different meals because everybody has a different taste in my house, or I need to have the house really perfect, or I’m going to be there for the band practice. That is a total lack of boundary. We’re doing everything and we don’t need to. Outsource it, delegate it, or just don’t do it.
Give yourself permission not to be perfect and not to do it all.
I’m Indian-American for those who can’t see me, so I am an American, but we visited India all the time growing up. I think this is a very American mentality for women to do everything. In India and a lot of the world, women have a lot of help, and they can’t even imagine doing everything that we do here. They’re like, “I don’t even know how you guys do it. This is silly. Why wouldn’t you get help?”
It’s true, but it’s a mentality. We need to get out of these unproductive patterns of thinking and doing. Is there something that I didn’t ask you that you feel is really important to share before we close out?Success doesn't come from more doing; it comes from more planning. Click To Tweet
When you feel like you’re in control, it has a ripple effect across your entire life and your entire world. I typically work with women, but of course, men, you can apply this to your lives, but you become better moms or better dads, leaders, managers, role models, mentors, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, and humans. It’s so vast.
When you take control of that, it’s such a foundation for the way you show up and live your life. I hope that people embrace it to be on, “Having a good calendar or being on top of my email.” It’s a way of life and it allows you to live in alignment the way you want to live for your life personally and professionally. You can get any goal you want when you take control of your demands and your focus.
Before we end the show, let the readers know where they can get ahold of you.
The best place to connect is at my site, which is LifeIsOrganized.com. If you are interested in staying connected and want some free resources like how to stop feeling overwhelmed, how to stop procrastinating, how to get more focused, then come on over to LifeIsOrganized.com/penny and you can get all of them right there.
Once again, thank you all for being here taking away just one really key element that’s going to make a difference in your life. Maybe it’s experimenting with the four quarters of the day and how you can get back on track on a quarterly basis of the day versus throwing the whole day that all or nothing mentality or it’s any of the other great nuggets that you got here. Thank you all for being here and thank you for subscribing and sharing this show. I’ll see you in the next episode.
About Mridu Parikh