How To Have The Most Productive Week Of Your Life

Posted on /by Natalie Sisson/ in Mind & Body Balance, Time Management Tricks / 25 comments

Do you really want to know the secret to productivity? Or is that just a silly question?

Well I think I found it…

I think I found it while doing next to nothing on a beach.

I think I found it while listening to the ocean, lapping the shore and the birds singing away.

I found it while gazing out to the sea from my favourite spot at the local beach café, just by my guest house.

And I definitely found it while spending time walking through the jungle, watching monkeys play in the trees.

Humble monkey face

Do you know what the secret to productivity is yet? 

It’s doing less of the time wasting, soul sucking, procrastination-driven activities that are currently filling your days.

It’s about doing less. But MORE of the right things.

In the past 7 days of my digital sabbatical I have read 9 books, listened to 11 audio interviews, completed my 4 page painted picture, mapped out my personal goals, made copious notes about business strategy and launch tactics. Sweet.

I’ve been more productive yet also had more free time than ever.

I slept a lot including two stints of sleeping 12 hours plus. I’ve relaxed on the beach, meditated daily, walked in the jungle, swum in the sea, enjoyed a rainforest canopy swing bridge walk, mingled with monkeys and practiced yoga.

I’ve done a lot of gazing off into the distance, observing and just listening to the sounds of nature. I’ve eaten fresh fruit, dined 3 times a day in cafes and restaurants, had a massage, manicure, pedicure and herbal treatment plus had my feet kissed by fish – I kid you not.

Fruit delights

How can this be?

It’s called a digital sabbatical my friend, and below I’m going to reveal the diaries of my digital sabbatical and how you can apply this too.

Rules Of A Digital Sabbatical

I took myself off to Batu Ferringhi Beach, on Penang Island, and I disconnected from the online world.

It was utterly blissful, transformative and exactly what I needed.

Before I did this I decided to set myself some rules of what was acceptable on my digital sabbatical.

For someone like me, who’s entire business is online, I thought I needed to go a little easy on myself, because anyone who’s met me knows I live online.

Great news! I found it surprisingly easy to disconnect, once I committed to it fully.

Nat’s Rules:

Not allowed: No email or social media, and no laptop time at all.

Allowed: Downloading new podcast episodes to my smartphone and reading kindle books on my smartphone and iPad (all offline).

Here’s how my week rolled, I know this as I made notes in my journal and also my notes app on my iPhone and iPad.

Day 1. Treating Mind and Body

The first thing I did on arrival was check into clean and friendly Baba’s Guest house where I paid 650 Ringit for 8 nights (US $20 per night). I found out later that the top hotel charged 800 Ringit per night!

Thanks to TripAdvisor I got to enjoy my own room with bathroom and air-conditioning 30m from the beach with no stuffy tourists or expensive services catering to them in sight.

I walked along the beach to familiarize myself and then sat down to wiggle my feet in the sand and read Seth Godin’s latest book The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? Then I treated myself to a long overdue manicure and pedicure. There’s no shortage of places to have this done in Batu Ferringhi, I counted 5 shops in a row offering the same treatments and 25 plus in the town.

What drew me in was the large friendly lady suggesting I could have fish kiss my feet. Intrigued I walked inside and ended up being pampered by the friendly local David, who became my friend (after I coached him on following his dreams of becoming a French Fine Cuisine Chef). Now that my nails looked pretty, he convinced me I should have a 1 hour full body massage, and really, who I was to argue?  He did such an amazing job that I slept for 13 hours that night!

Beach image

Day 2: Voracious Consumption

I had an English style breakfast at what became my local café, right in front of my guest-house and right on the beach. The simple tables looked outwards to face the sea, and I would simply sit, sipping my sweet coffee (they use condensed milk here and it tastes great!).

I would watch the waves, the birds, the locals, the fisherman and the tourists. I just sat and took it in. Then I finished reading Seth Godin’s latest book The Icarus Deception, and I loved it.

As I lay sunbathing on the beach I listened to 2 x 1 hour Rapid Revenue Interviews, from the summit I was part of and took away some really key business lessons – because I had time to just listen and focus.

Later as I walked the entire length of the beach I listened to two Seth Godin podcasts (20 mins) and 3 episodes of Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive income. I just couldn’t stop so I listened to 2 episodes of the Marketing Show podcast too, in amongst dips in the sea. My mind was just ready to consume.

Then Terry approached me on the beach, and within 5 minutes he had completely sold me on having a 75 minute herbal pressure point treatment, so that was my afternoon treat (and a video coming on that too because his sales pitch was perfect). 

Day 3: Fully Unwind

No alarms was another rule I decided to impose on myself. No appointments, no places to be. Just free to be.

That said there’s nothing better than the local mosque morning prayer to wake you up, and boy do they chant loudly. I was actually already wide awake and had decided to use the thoughts flowing through my head to record two chapters of my Suitcase Entrepreneur book as a voice memo.

Productivity Tip #No 1: Use your time wisely. I can far more easily record what I’m thinking by speaking into a voice recorder and then having this transcribed later. Simply 10 minutes of talking can translate into 1-2 blog posts! Or try Dragon Dictation on your smartphone that actually scribes what you speak (unless you have a Kiwi accent it seems) and you just send yourself that file as an email and can edit from the app too.

Once the sun was coming up I headed out for a run along the beach, combined with some pushups on the rock and tricep dips, watched by some friendly local dogs, who wondered what on earth I was doing.

Over breakfast at the beach café I started reading Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek which I absolutely loved and finished that day. I feel like it’s the fundamental piece missing from so many businesses and I highly recommend you read it and work out your Why. I’ll be sharing mine with you soon.

When I’d finished that, I went on to a short read in the evening from the guest house balcony by Derek Sivers called Anything You Want – a great but short book of how he built crazy successful business, almost by mistake, by allowing independent artists to sell their music, with many nuggets of wisdom and lots of humour.

I broke my own rules this day

I cheated and checked my email for 6 seconds only, and I’m not sure why… to check this was actually real perhaps? I also checked Internet from my iPhone to check what time sunrise was so I could go for my beach run. Turns out it was 2 hours away so that’s about the time I recorded my book chapters until it was light enough.

Day 4: Jungle Walk The Talk

I really enjoyed Colin Wright’s Start a Freedom Business, as I swiped through page after page on my iPad. As you can see I had a lot of books sitting waiting on my Kindle, waiting to be read. I made highlight notes in each of these books and also wrote copious notes  for my business and personal life in my notebook. I adored making this time to read, reflect and apply.

I got 75% of the way through the excellent and must read The Entrepreneur’s Trap: How to Stop Working Too Much, Take Back Your Time and Enjoy Life by Tina Forsyth, figuring out where my missing pieces of my systems were and how best to work with my team, before taking myself off on a walk in the jungle.

This was a relatively unknown spot, especially to the tourists, that the guest house owner suggested to me after seeing me after my run. He mentioned it was quiet and peaceful, and there’d be next to no people, and he was right.

Jungle tranquility

As I headed off to check out the views from the top of the hill and reach the British built reservoir that supplies the town’s fresh water, I was just as surprised to see the monkeys, who dropped out of the trees, as they were me. They kept their distance but were equally intrigued and quirky little things who told me in no uncertain terms to stop taking photos.

I got the fright of my life when one swung out of a tree in front of me and that’s probably because I busy listening to two Entrepreneur On Fire podcasts with John Dumas interviewing Danielle LaPorte and the hilarious Barbara Corcoran. I also listened to two more Seth Godin podcasts from Startup School – yep I’m slightly addicted to podcasts now.

Productivity Tip #2: Understand how you learn best. If audio suits you then tune into the top rated podcasts for your interest areas. Download them ahead of time and then head out to do your favourite exercise or, whether you’re a local or a tourist, use this time to discover your area. You just learn so much while on the move. It’s a great way to get fit and get outdoors while consuming fantastic insights.

I cheated again. But I didn’t berate myself. All this reading, listening and learning meant I wanted to apply it straight away. I spent just 3 minutes on email and specifically searched on one response, and checked my ‘online sales’ folder to see who’d bought which of my digital products – I always love finding this out. I also downloaded Asana (great free Project Management tool I use), from the app store for my iPad because I’d been reading about systems in the Entrepreneur’s Trap, I just had to add in a few tasks to our projects.

Day 5: Quiet Time

I finally felt in a great place to start my mediation. Last year I attempted to do 10 minutes a day, which is nothing, but for me, it was doable and that meant I’d commit to it. That said I really didn’t do it enough, I wasn’t prepared to be disciplined in 2012. That’s all changed. I’ve long known that discipline = more freedom. More on that in upcoming blog posts.

After meditation I simply had quiet time at my fave beachside cafe just watching the waves roll in.  The café owners by this stage were quite chatty and I asked where I was traveling next and then if I had a husband. Once they found out my age they seemed incredulous as to why I didn’t yet have a husband, and even more dumbfounded when I said I didn’t want one.  I felt like a rebel and global nonconformist, and it felt fabulous.

Digital Sabbatical

I spent this day doing not much of anything. Just some more reading, sleeping, reflecting, writing. I finished Cameron Herold’s great book Double Double: How to Double Your Revenue and Profit in 3 Years or Less and made plenty of notes. Although aimed at businesses that have actual offices, teams in one place, advisory boards etc, you can still apply his sharp insight and strategies to your online, location independent  business too.  He’s worked for and with multiple million dollar companies and knows his shit – straight up.

Day 6: The Internet Is Not Open

I managed to meditate for 10 tough minutes. Even on holiday my mind is racing and restless it seems. That’s because I finally gave it creative space in which to meander and clearly it loved it. I followed this with 10 minutes of lovely yoga to stretch myself out and breathe.

Then I treated myself to a fancy breakfast, where coffee was 3 X as much. But the lovely garden environment made me feel very serene. Norah Jones angelic voice drifted out amongst the ferns and flowers and I got `real bacon’ according to the menu with my tasty eggs benedict. I also read Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work at breakfast and totally loved it.

Back at the guest house around 10am I asked why their wifi wasn’t working (I wanted to download more podcasts). Their response “The Internet is not open yet.” I loved that and thought, more of us would get more work done if the internet was only available from say 9-5pm.

Production Tip No#3: Turn off email delivery to your phone and any notifications. Hat tip to Cameron Herold for that tip. It does make such a difference. We live in an age where instant delivery means instant distraction. Yet to succeed you need to develop a fierce focus and discipline to focus on your priorities. Better yet don’t get a data plan on your smartphone, and only check in online when you’re logged into free wifi at cafes etc.

The rest of this day I got my own local tour guide, thanks to Seh Hui Leong, a change maker in my $100 Change Program who lives in Kuala Lumpur. He called up his friend Khoo who lived on the mainland, who came to show me around Penang Island. We went for a 40 minute walk in the National Park, complete with giant Iguana lizards and cheeky monkeys and a rainforest canopy walk. Now that we were hot and sweaty we jumped in his air conditioned car and headed to Georgetown to find out about the fascinating colonial and Chinese history.

There’s nothing better than a local to show you and tell you about all the important aspects of what makes up a city. We went to a favourite ‘café’ of sorts in an alleyway, more like a shack where coffee is served and poached eggs in a cup with coconut spread on bits of white bread – a daily ritual it seems.

We walked the streets of Chinatown that intersected with Little India, saw a family funeral procession where the family of around 50 walked behind the coffin (and that’s a small family apparently). We drank tea and had chocolate cake in a funky China Coffee House which doubled as an art gallery and bar and had a US$1.50 meal in the local open air food court (of which there are more of than people to eat in them).

Thai delights

We visited the jetties where each Chinese family owned one jetty and they stood all in a row, with ramshackled houses and ex communist stores, smelly and dirty and intriguing. I watched as a man threw his rubbish in the sea. Dumbfounded at his blatant lack of regard for mother nature, I told him in no uncertain terms in English that `Our ocean was not a rubbish bin’. I was so frickin angry, but the culture here is different. There are no strict laws or ethics around what’s right and wrong when it comes to environmental issues, and much more.

We finished off the day with a fresh coconut cut in front of us and a visit to the offices of Piktochart, who’s cool female founder is from Penang. I had no idea this start up was based here that I used for this Suitcase Entrepreneur infographic. Can’t wait to see their latest version coming out soon.

Day 7: Painted Picture

By now I had this meditation thing licked, well in my mind at least (excuse the pun).  I’ve made a commitment to do it no matter what each morning (even as I left to catch the bus on Day 8, I made time for it before packing up).

Another run on the beach, sweating profusely in the heat and humidity that made it difficult to breathe, and side stepping the giant dead jellyfish that had washed up on the beach. As I was doing my press-ups I watched with amusement, as a Muslim lady in a full burka and black dress climbed on a jet ski to go for a ride….

At breakfast I powered through the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and took notes to apply to my own perspectives and use of marketing language and rules. I love the depth of marketing psychology studies to prove what works and what we repeatedly screw up.

Later, I walked to another beach side café and wrote out my entire Painted Picture in 1.5 hours thanks to the inspiration from Cameron’s book. I can’t wait to share it with my team, with you here on this blog and with the world.

I then did up an Team Organization Chart and put my 1 page biz goals and objectives into a short preso to share with my team, and I sent Margaret and Cher a gift of the Entrepreneur’s Trap via Kindle so they can read it to, and we can all be on the same page for our next meeting.

Productivity Tip #4: You can read to your hearts content, but it’s applying what you learn that will lead to your success, both personally and in business. Use the highlight section on Kindle to mark up the most important sections, or simply write it out in your own notebook to let it sink in. If you’re reading a real book, then use a highlighter or post it notes with keywords on them to refer back to later.

On my final evening I had lemongrass tea and amazing Thai snacks with David, remember the local I met on Day 1. He took me to Monkey Tree Café on his scooter and we sat on a beautiful deck, up in the trees, which overlooked the sea and discussed travel, culture and life. I love getting different people’s perspectives especially those who’ve grown up in a non-western world (although Malaysia is fast becoming influenced by the US).

I’d met two local aussies who’d arrived at the guest house that afternoon, and took them to a cool beach bar where we chatted the night away discussing Ironman races and my bike ride across Africa. It was the only night I didn’t spend by myself eating in silence.

The entire week I spent every breakfast, lunch and dinner by myself bar one with David, one with an older English gent who kept coming to the beach café for breakfast, – so we’d talk across our tables, and of course the day with Khoo, my tour guide and tech entrepreneur.

That was quite lovely in itself. I was content to just be. I didn’t have a phone to distract me like the table of four friends I saw at the bar who were all on their phones instead of actually talking! I chatted to locals, but mostly just observed, both myself and others and their interactions. I was fully present in every moment, and it felt really good.

I also didn’t drink any alcohol the entire time and went to bed earlier than usual with no alarms. I realized when reading Turning Pro that this was in fact something I must do from now on, I really enjoyed it, and for my Type A personality it’s not natural. Stephen points out that `the amateur has a long list of fears. Near the top are two: Solitude and silence.’ Your time to turn Pro is now.

How To Make The Most Of Your Digital Sabbatical and Be More Productive

I can already see your head shaking, and these words coming from your mouth….

You: “Natalie girl, not all of us can just take 7 days off, you know!”

Me:  “Bollocks, and yes you can. In fact you probably need to. Your life and business may even depend on it. If you were really strategic you would have planned several of these sabbaticals to happen in 2013 already. So go do it!”

Productivity is about laser like focus on the things that count.

Those things that count are the key goals you will have set for yourself in 2013.

If you listened to my podcast on how to stick to and achieve your goals this year and filled in my 1 Page Business Plan template, you will know exactly what they are.

If you can’t take 7 days, start with 2 – your weekend.  Yes it’s YOUR weekend, so use it to disconnect.

Five Tips to Taking a Digital Sabbatical that Makes You More Productive

1. Plan Ahead

Longer periods of disconnect are such a must in this uber-connected world we live in. As I listened to this hilarious and insightful podcast interview with Barbara Corcoran, on Entrepreneur On Fire, she got all of her best ideas when on vacation. Her advice `Make sure you mark it out in your calendar before the next year’. She vacations every 5 weeks and comes back a better leader, marketer and investor.

There you have it; if this powerhouse who sold her real estate company for $66 million and invests in others via Shark Tank can do it, so can you.

2. Make It a Habit

During the week you can reclaim even an afternoon, and I swear you will gain greater clarity, creativity and focus from just that time offline. The thing is you need to view it as an integral part of your week and factor it into your schedule.

In fact Mark Sisson, recently interviewed on Leo’s Zen Habits blog, suggests in his new book, that you should disconnect twice a day. When you go outside for a walk don’t take your iPhone. Or take yourself off to just go and play – throw a Frisbee outside, dance around your living room or just do spontaneous handstands or cartwheels like I do. It’s something we suck at doing these days, yet it’s where our creative genius is unleashed. Kids have the wildest imaginations remember, and they play often.

3. Become a Pro

The key takeaway I learned from Stephen Pressfield’s Turning Pro, the ah ha moment for me, was that if you’re truly committing to changing the world, doing your best work and creating your best art, you need to set up the framework in which to do this every day.

This starts with the discipline to give time to yourself in which to do this, to focus on your priorities. He talks of the time he took off for a year, with his savings, to write his book. He rented out a place for a year and took to using his typewriter everyday. Did he publish? No. He wrote page after page for a whole year and ditched the whole lot. But he says that it’s the year he turned Pro because he had created the space and discipline in which to become a better writer and commit to daily practice.

4. Create Boundaries

If there’s one thing I realized while disconnecting, was that once I had all this time on my hands I felt ridiculously free. Even when you’re not disconnecting you can do what Tina says – say no more.

“So long as you are purposeful in taking dedicated, meaningful time off from your business, then you are on the right track….so I ask you: Do you want to work on the weekend? Time is one of the most precious commodities we have, and we all get the exact same amount. How you spend your time is up to you.”

5. Trust In Your Systems

You schedule out your social media updates using Hootsuite. You put on an autoresponder email so people know you’re away, and you field any `urgent’ queries to your trusted team member(s). If you know what your priorities are for the year, you’ll also find that most stuff you do is completely unrelated to achieving your goals.

When I finally checked in online I found less emails than I thought, none of them urgent – read that NONE. Instead I found SaneBox which I love by the way, had sorted out the crap from the important so I just focused on replying to the one that mattered.

My virtual team had held down the fort, Margaret had been busy organizing and scheduling coaching sessions with the $100 Change Scholarship winners for me during January, answering queries and taking care of any inquiries.

Cher had been reviewing my content and blog posts and learning more about what makes my business and customers tick. She turned in a report of what she’d done and next steps. I mean seriously – I couldn’t ask for a better team.

Over on Facebook friends had gotten married, engaged, fired, hired, gained major media attention, had to deal with a sick kid or just come back from holiday. Same on Twitter and Google Plus, and thanks to Mailchimp and e-Junkie people had been able to buy my books and programs without my help.

All was well and what’s more I was ready to dive back in with energy and a new found perspective to what was becoming somewhat tiring and overrated before my digital sabbatical. That’s what sleep, relaxing, space to breath and think, and disconnecting will do for you. Reinvigorate, rejuvenate and recharge your mind, body and soul.

How Do You Then Become Really F*cking Productive?

Well pardon my lack of French skills, but you can start by reading the free 19 page guide Matthew Kimberley put together. It’s a great improvement on the Productivity Checklist we created and gave away a few months back.

It’s totally free and you can download it here right now.

You can also attend our free Webinar happening on Monday 14th January at 3pm EST (12pm PST, 8pm UK time)  in which we will show you how to:

  • How to plan your day for maximum productivity in ten steps
  • How to create a project plan for making your dreams a reality in 2013
  • The five most important secrets of highly productive people.

Register here for free now.

Tell me, how are you going to take more digital sabbaticals? Even mini ones? Let me know in the comments below.