From the poetry of  Nayyirah Waheed

From the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed

I'm not sure whether it's down to the change in the seasons, or simply because of my heavier-than-normal workload – but the past few weeks have seen my afternoon energy levels at an all-time low. I’ve even found myself succumbing to the temptation of an afternoon nap (which I'll be honest, is more like a full-blown siesta) on more than one occasion… the pleasures and the perils of working from home, right?

Whilst the freedom to nap at will is something I dreamt of on a near daily basis when I worked in an office, the reality of it leaves me feeling groggy, disrupts my night-time sleep patterns and – worst of all – means I end up having to make up the hours lost by working late into the night. Not ideal, so I've decided to take the necessary steps to counteract my postprandial desire to crawl into bed. If like me you regularly find yourself experiencing that familiar afternoon crash, read on for a few natural ways to boost your energy levels right now.



You probably already know that you should be aiming to drink 1.5 - 2 litres of water per day for clearer skin and all that other good stuff – but did you also know that drinking plenty of water is crucial for keeping your concentration levels up? Being dehydrated can make you feel sleepier than usual, so if you find yourself feeling sluggish, grab a glass of ice-cold water for an instant pick-me-up.



A work environment creates work, a home environment creates… naps. I’ve begun eliminating the temptation of a mid-afternoon snooze by avoiding working from home in the afternoons as much as possible. If you’re a freelancer or regularly work from home, I’d highly recommend decamping to a local coffee shop or library after lunch.



One of the most common factors determining your energy levels is – surprise surprise – the fuel you put into your body. It’s natural to feel sleepy mid-afternoon due to the way our internal body clocks operate, but a heavy lunch will make you feel even more lethargic, so avoid carb-heavy lunches and aim for a protein-based meal instead. Stick to low-GI sides such as leafy vegetables, chickpeas or quinoa, and opt for brown rice and bread, not white. If you’re looking for something a little more filling for the colder months ahead, try baked sweet potatoes topped with baked beans, and lentil-based soups. Low-GI foods release energy slowly over time, as opposed to giving you a quick sugar-induced burst of energy followed by a slump that leaves you feeling tired and hungry all over again!



When the mid-afternoon hunger pangs come knocking, make sure you’ve got the right kind of snacks to hand. That means out with the chocolate and sugary junk food (sorry), and in with low-GI snacks such as popcorn, nuts, and rice cakes topped with hummus or peanut butter.



This one's a bit of a no-brainer – if you’re not sleeping properly, it’s going to seriously affect your daytime energy levels. Duh. Find out how you can improve your sleeping habits here.



Take a break. Stretch your legs. A bit of fresh air can do wonders for your energy levels, so if you feel yourself flagging, take five minutes to do a lap of the office or – even better – a lap of the block.



Now’s the perfect time to address all those smaller admin tasks on your to-do list, like filing or clearing your inbox. Constantly switching tasks and doing those little jobs that have a quick payoff is a great way to keep yourself stimulated.



Whether you work on your own or in an office, try organising meetings and work that involves talking to other people for this time of day. A bit of social interaction is a sure-fire way to perk you up.


Alright - now let's power on!


When you consider the sheer number of technological advancements the 21st century has produced, you'd be forgiven for being somewhat surprised to learn that my most relied-upon productivity tool isn’t say, the iPhone, or even the precious gift of email. It’s definitely not Slack, and it isn’t Dropbox either. No – as brilliant and necessary as all of these inventions are, my secret weapon when it comes to productivity is, drumroll...

The humble list.

I love making lists, and generally have several on the go at any given moment, from smaller day-to-day lists to bigger 'master lists'. I have a list of things I want to achieve by the time I’m 30 (tick tock), as well as a seemingly never-ending list of ‘life admin’ stored on my phone. I’ve even been known to get a bit meta and make a list of all my other various lists, although in hindsight, making a to-do list with ‘consolidate other lists’ on it that one time was probably a bit much.

Part of the reason I rely on lists so much is because of the simple fact that I have a terrible short-term memory. Whether it’s an interesting idea or a bit of admin – if I don’t write something down as soon as I think of it, chances are I’ll forget it forever (or at least until it’s horribly urgent or long overdue, preferably both). But more importantly, I find that making lists keeps me accountable, and allows me to make objective decisions about what I need to do, and when. I'm convinced lists are the key to getting shit done – so here’s some advice on how and why to deploy them most effectively, so you too can experience the life-enhancing properties of a well-structured list.

And for the record, you don't need a list of all your other lists. That was a dumb thing to do.

Part I: The Benefits


By far the most significant benefit of using lists in your working life is that they free up crucial thinking space. By spending a few minutes planning your workflow upfront instead of trying to store dozens of tasks in your head, you free up your brain to do the real work of creative thinking the rest of the time.



Breaking down larger goals into the sum of their parts can turn seemingly abstract goals into concrete tasks, which are easier to work through. Lists also help you keep track of your progress – if you find that a particular task on your ‘day-to-day’ list (more on that in Part II) keeps cropping up week after week, it’s probably an indicator of a) something you need to stop dodging and just deal with once and for all, or b) something that’s actually not particularly vital, and probably doesn’t need to be on your task list at all. Keep an eye out for those problem items so you can decide which of those two categories they fall into, and act accordingly.



Let's face it - crossing items off to-do lists is pretty satisfying, and being able to see a visual representation of what you’ve already completed can give you a sense of achievement that helps spur you on.


Part II: Getting Started

There are the two key lists I rely on, structured thus:


These are the longer term objectives – career goals and bigger projects, or perhaps skills you want to acquire. Break this list down into four categories:

  • >1 month
  • 1-3 months
  • 3-6 months
  • 6 months+

Review it every few weeks to see how you’re getting on, and remind yourself of what’s on the horizon for the next few months.


This one’s for your short-term goals i.e. the more immediately pressing tasks that need to be completed in the days and weeks ahead. At the start of each week, make a list of your goals for that week, breaking them down into individual tasks – the more detailed the better! This stage is something of a brain dump, so just jot down everything that comes to mind, without worrying about its relative importance or difficulty.  You might find it helpful to categorise tasks by theme as you write them down, putting them under separate headings (e.g. writing, finances, events etc.).

Then, take two minutes to prioritise, numbering tasks in order of importance/urgency. This is crucial, and means when you’ve finished one task, you don’t waste mental energy figuring out what to do next, helping to eliminate decision fatigue

Review this list each morning to find out what’s on the agenda for the day.


Finally, whilst I’m happy to digitise most aspects of my life, I’m a firm believer in getting important lists like these down on paper (and here’s a roundup of the best stationery around to help you on that front). The very process of committing your thoughts to paper is often really illuminating, and it means your goals won't get lost in the jumble of draft tweets and Chrome tabs that dominate our digital lives.


Happy list-making!


Although the balmy temperatures we’re currently experiencing in London make it hard to believe we’re actually heading into Autumn, as I wrote last week this time of year always feels like the perfect time to make a few changes and get back on track, work-wise. With that in mind, here are four simple ways to prepare yourself for your autumn rentrée.



In the market for a new job? Recruitment season tends to pick up again after the end of summer, so dust off your CV if you’ve got your mind set on greener pastures. Likewise if it’s a payrise or promotion you’re after – start laying the groundwork now. Getting a payrise or promotion isn’t something that happens overnight – to make that jump, you need to be putting in a consistent effort over time. Take five minutes today to figure out what sort of contributions you need to be making and what achievements you need under your belt to make that happen, then make sure you’re ticking the right boxes (and exceeding expectations) over the months ahead. Why now? Well, when it comes to asking for payrises, timing is everything – and January is statistically the top month for payrises (most companies operate on the calendar year, and have a fresh budget to allocate). So putting in the legwork over the next 4 – 5 months means come January, you’ll be in a great position to make your case.



Whether it’s a question of cleaning out your desk, upgrading your workspace with some new stationery, or finding a new workspace altogether – now’s the time to declutter, re-organise, and generally re-evaluate how your work environment is impacting your day-to-day productivity. Take the time to make the small changes that make your workspace a more pleasant and productive place to be, and free up thinking space for the important stuff.



If you’ve been putting off checking your bank balance after a summer of unfettered indulgence (guilty), there’s no time like the present to do a quick recce of your finances, and start getting your affairs in order. Don’t put pressure on yourself to tackle it all at once – pick one thing you’ve been putting off, whether it’s cancelling that subscription you never use, or finally filing your wretched expenses (nul points for guessing what I’ve been avoiding), and resolve to complete it by the end of this week. Recently, I’ve been using new banking service Monzo to try and help me get my day-to-day spending in check – it comes with a helpful app that alerts you to your spending in real time and breaks down your spending by category, making keeping track of where your money’s going as easy as scrolling through Instagram.



One of the best things about autumn is the fresh crop of arts and culture events that seem to spring up all over the place – there’s a deluge of new films, exhibitions, and cultural goings-on happening over the coming weeks and months. I plan on paying a visit to the London Design Festival next week to check out the best of London’s design scene (handy list of highlights here). If your brain is in a state of atrophy after one too many Aperol spritzes, taking in new creative work is the best way of blowing out the cobwebs and getting your creative juices flowing again.


Happy Monday!


Yesterday morning I woke up with my phone lying on my chest, presumably after having fallen asleep mid-Whatsapp/Instagram scroll/Twitter session. I also felt pretty rubbish – lethargic, slow, and with zero inclination to get out of bed. I ended up oversleeping, and my whole day suffered as a result.


Sound familiar?


Sleep is one of the most important factors for human brain function, and not getting enough affects your judgement, productivity, and memory. You probably already know all of this – yet when you spend the vast majority of your day working, the temptation is to extend the precious few hours you have left to unwind in the evening, by staying up late and sleeping less instead. But falling asleep to an episode of Stranger Things is not the way to a good night’s sleep, or a productive mindset the following day.

A few months ago, Arianna Huffington published a book called The Sleep Revolution, which in part aims to dispel the glamour around the myth of the sleep-deprived #girlboss, and takes aim at a modern culture that has positioned sacrificing sleep for work as some sort of perverse badge of honour. An ‘always-on’ working culture that increasingly expects people to be available around the clock, and the constant presence of tech devices in every arena of our lives, means the quantity – and quality – of sleep we’re all getting seems to be on the decline.

In my case I realised yesterday that a serious case of jetlag about a month ago, combined with a couple of late nights with friends, has left my sleeping patterns totally wrecked, and affected my productivity accordingly. So with that in mind, I’ve made a commitment to improving my sleep hygiene (that’s what the experts call it) over the next few months – and you can too. Here’s how.



Set aside half an hour before bed (or an hour if you can manage it) to 'wind down' into your bedtime routine, whether that’s by reading a book, meditating, or listening to some chilled music – whatever helps your brain slow down after a hectic day. This wind-down period should also be a totally screen-free zone, as exposure to blue light immediately before bed significantly affects your sleep quality, preventing your body from releasing the chemical that helps you sleep. So put your phone on silent before bed, and leave it outside your bedroom along with your laptop.



Your bedroom should be a source of sanity not stress, which means making it a work-free zone – no answering emails or doing a quick bit of online banking in bed. Leaving your work at the door will also help your mind associate your bedroom with relaxation, and get into sleep mode more easily.

Another important route to a better quality of sleep is making your actual bed as comfortable as humanly possible. I once had a roommate whose bed was so damn luxurious I’d sometimes sneak into her bedroom when she was out (sorry Nicola), for the sole purpose of a satisfying nap. Her secret? Down-filled mattress toppers. So upgrade your mattress, get better quality pillows, make sure your duvet is the right weight for the time of year… whatever it takes. Spending money on improving your sleeping environment isn’t an indulgence, it’s an investment.



If you’ve ever woken up at 4am after a heavy night, simultaneously exhausted and yet unable to sleep, you’ll know intuitively that drinking alcohol before bed really affects the quality of your sleep. Alcohol reduces your ability to drift into REM sleep (the deeper stage of sleep you need to feel more restored), so try cutting back, or at least avoiding it in the three hours before bed.



Taking a warm bath or shower before bed is scientifically proven to help you fall asleep faster. When you soak in a hot tub, your temperature rises – and the rapid cool-down period immediately afterward relaxes you. Personally, I also get a real psychological boost from the symbolism of washing off the dirt and grime of the day before getting into bed. If I’ve had a long or stressful day and know I’m going to struggle to get to sleep that night, a shower before bed tends to sort me out.



If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to check what time it is. It’s tempting to see how many hours you’ve got left until the dreaded sound of your alarm, but you’ll drift back into sleep more quickly and easily if you don’t feel the pressure of trying to force it because you’ve “only got three hours left before work”. Someone told me this great little trick a few years ago, and it’s served me well ever since.