The Key to Productivity That Sarah Cummings Swears By


For me, productivity has always been a bit of a unicorn. A beautiful, mythical creature that I could visualise but never actually come face-to-face with. It seemed like something out of the movies, or maybe something that my super-organised friends could achieve… but even then I had a feeling that it was all a lie, that they were closing their bedroom doors at night and screaming their frustrations into the pillow. (Just me, then? Ok-aaaay, never mind!)

But a year ago, when it came time to do my New Year’s resolutions, a friend gave me some great advice. She suggested scrapping my lost list of vague and unrealistic goals and instead, stick to a clear mission: to become more productive. Not to lose 10lbs by February, not to be a black belt in karate overnight, not to learn 5 languages by next year. Simply to be more productive. And to write out specific ways in which I could be.

So I made a list.

I wrote out ways to help me be more productive in work, in my relationships and in my overall health. And here’s what I came up with:

1. Do one hour of exercise 3 times a week (Productive in Health)

I always put down “exercise more” or “get fit” as one of my resolutions. But by putting a number on it, this fluffy statement suddenly became an achievable goal. And it’s one I stuck to!

That January, I signed up for a Zumba class, which I still go to twice a week. It’s a big stress-reliever, it introduced me to a new group of friends, it’s given me a huge confidence boost AND it helps me to stay in great shape! Then on the weekends I’ll either go for a swim, take a yoga class or go for a hike. I like to mix it up with my third hour of exercise for the week!

2. Make a list every morning (Productive in Work)

I know, a list within a list… sound pretty nerdy, right?! But I can’t tell you how much easier my work life has been because of my morning list-making… or how less stressed I get! As soon as I sit at my desk, before I’ve even turned my computer on, I take out my notebook. (I know, how old-school am I?!) I write down 3 to 5 things I have to achieve that day, like this:

  • Email Peter re: Newsletter article
  • Weekly catch-up with interns
  • Draft out content plan for next week

Some people might think that putting small tasks like emailing on the list is pointless; but trust me, it give you a great sense of achievement when you get to cross it off. And having them written down in this way means they don’t keep getting pushed further and further back (so that newsletter article actually gets delivered on time!)

At the end of the day, if I’ve any outstanding items on my list, I’ll simply move them forward to tomorrow’s list. Simple!

3. Make an effort to sleep better (Productive in Work, Relationships AND Health)

I never used to sleep very well. And I didn’t really know what was causing it. But rather than passively accepting the fact that I’d get around 5 hours’ sleep a night, I decided to do something about it. To be productive, for a change!


I followed the advice of a website I’d started writing for, called The Sleep Advisor. It helps people get a better sleep and it proved invaluable to my productivity levels!

Simply put, we all need our sleep. Because without it, we become grumpy, lethargic and unmotivated. We lack the energy to put effort into our relationships, our jobs and even our own personal health. We don’t exercise, we eat unhealthy foods and we take shortcuts in work. We snap at our partners, we forget friends’ birthdays… you know the drill.

On the other hand, sleep makes us more thoughtful, more patient and more likeable people. We’re kind towards loved ones and even strangers, forgiving if they wrong us in any way. We’re more enthusiastic about our work and we become popular in the office as a result. We place greater importance on our physical and mental health, knowing that staying rested is a big factor in both.

I can say all of this with confidence because frankly, I’ve been there! I’ve been the sleep-deprived, Grumpy version and the well-rested, Happy version. And I know which of the Seven Dwarves I’d rather be!

Now I always make an effort to get at least 7 hours’ sleep a night. (If I’m feeling rundown, or especially stressed, it’s closer to 9). I do this by getting some fresh air in every day (eating lunch outside, or going for a walk after work), by doing a proper session of exercise regularly and by avoiding caffeine after 2pm. I’ve also started meditating for 20 minutes every morning; which has improved my life in so many ways, I won’t get into now!

The result? Now I sleep better than ever before. And I’ve become happier, healthier and – yep, miraculously – more productive!


So for me, the key to productivity lies in sleep.

Once you’re well rested, all the other things have a way of falling into place.

Try it for yourself – it doesn’t have to be New Year’s, try it now anyway – and see the benefits that sleep can bring to your life.


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Hello there, productive peeps! I’m Sarah, newly established pillar of productivity and firm believer in all things snooze-related. When I’m not shaking my booty in Zumba, I’m sipping on tasty homemade smoothies (anything with peanut butter is a must!) or walking my dog Scroggins on the beach. How’s that for productivity?!


Hello Lovely,

Sometimes you just need to take a break. Over the years, I've mastered the art of constructive procrastination. It may seem like I'm not doing anything (and a lot of times I really do feel like I'm not doing enough) but everyone around me is still amazed at how much I can accomplish on a daily basis. I may have mentioned before that I perform best between the hours of 10-1. Something within me just awakens midday and then crashes again right after lunch. But as we all know, the workday doesn't end at 1 so there's a lot that still needs to be done. If you have an office job or work in a strict environment, taking a break is usually frowned upon. However, what many employers should learn is, the busier and more chaotic your day, the more important it is to take a break (or two!) at some point in the midst of all the craziness for both your mental and physical well-being.  Here are 5 ways to take a break in your day when you need just 15 minutes to clear your head, get out of the kitchen or just up and out of the desk chair.

Go For a Walk

Did you know that “Prolonged sitting, particularly in work settings, can cause health problems..." So what should you do? Go for a walk of course! Walks are great because they not only get you moving physically but there’s something about the change of scenery that jolts my mind into thinking differently or creatively about whatever is on my brain at that time. There are many ways you can take a walk that doesn't look like a waste of time. Walk to the prnter, the water cooler, the bathroom or drive somewhere just to eat your lunch.

Read Something Not on a Computer Screen

Can you remember the last time you read something not on your phone, computer or e-reader? It’s scary, huh? I think our eyes need a break from screens as much as our legs need to move and our brains need to think about something other than work. There are some days my eyes actually burn from being overworked. Reading something like an actual book, magazine, newspaper or cookbook even is not only a great mental break (and forces you to think about something else besides work) but a much needed reprieve for our eyes.

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Eat a Snack

 I’m a big believer in snacks being substantial. 100 calories isn’t going to do me any good and I need a decent balance of protein/carbs/fat to feel satiated. I usually snack around 11 to keep me going until lunchtime. My favourite snacks include apple slices, cheese and crackers, or a peanut butter sandwich. Keep your metabolism going to keep up the energy.

Take a Nap

This is my favorite kind of break. I keep a pillow at my desk whenever I just need 10 minutes of peace and quiet. During my downtime, I like to take just a few minutes to refresh and reflect. A lot of times, I don't actually fall asleep but the relief of closing my eyes for a few moments helps my brain to shut off for awhile or come up with a new way of looking at the problem. If taking a nap isn't an option, try daydreaming. It can be surprisingly productive .

Clean Something

Yes, I’m telling you to clean something as a way to take a break and refresh yourself. Here’s the thing, cleaning is normally looked at as a chore we all hate doing. The things to clean (your desk, the bathroom, the kitchen…) all pile up throughout the week and before you know it, you’re spending half your weekend and/or downtime cleaning. When I feel myself needing a break in the day, I’ll pick a small area, room or surface to clean, give myself 10-15 minutes and get it done. It completely breaks the mentality of cleaning being a chore and instead makes it a welcome break in your day. Not only do you give your brain some downtime, your house or office gets cleaned in the meantime and you free up a substantial part of your weekend. Boom.