Would you like to know a really badly kept secret? I am quite possibly one of the least organised people on the planet. I mean, really disorganised.
So it’s actually a little ironic that I’m sat here writing a post about setting yourself up for a productive day. It makes me sound far more organised than I am in real life, but perhaps that’s the point. I have to try really hard to stay on top of things. Being organised and remaining productive are skills I have have to continually work on.
Setting yourself up for a productive day can be difficult in all walks of life. Not least of all when you work from home. It’s easy to go through days or even weeks feeling sapped of motivation. Procrastination takes over the wheel and with it begins a cycle of anxiety.
One thing experience has shown me, is that there isn’t a magic wand to put things back on track. Ultimately, we’re all personally responsible for how much work gets done. Being productive essentially revolves around deciding you’re going to do something and then doing it. It takes hard work and determination.
That said, I do think there are a few simple steps you can take to improve your productivity levels. So I thought I’d share what helps me here.
Set Working Hours
Working routines are a great way to help you to feel more in control. I keep to a loose schedule of working all day on Mondays and Thursdays, as well as Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. I then take Friday to see my family and enjoy having Elodie at home, whilst I still can.
Working set hours makes it easier to create a divide between working and personal life. As well as creating a routine around the tasks you need to complete. For example, a routine means I can create a schedule where I write content for one client on a Monday and do the social scheduling for another on a Tuesday morning, and so on.
That said, there are many weeks where one thing or another completely throws my schedule out the window. In fact, this week has been one of those weeks!
Avoid Endless Scrolling
I recently put a time limit on my use of social media. Before this, I spent a large chunk of my morning aimlessly scrolling through Instagram and Facebook. This scrolling served no purpose. I wasn’t using it to engage with anyone online or to do anything useful. Instead, I was making myself late and stressed out in the process.
I now allow myself 10-15 minutes in the morning, but then it’s time to put my phone away and focus on starting my day in a more productive way. I have also started taking my phone out of the room when I feel distracted during the day. It’s amazing how much more you can get done without a phone pinging by your side!
Work at a Table
When I first started working from home, the lure of pjs and the sofa was strong. There were quite a few weeks and months spent slobbing around, tapping away on my laptop in my living room.
Truth be told, this does nothing for my mental state. There is something about getting properly dressed and sitting down to work at a table, that puts me in the right mindset to work. I find it’s easier to remain focused and have a productive day in a more formal environment.
That’s not to say I’ll never work from my bed or sofa again, that would be a lie, but I do aim to do the majority of my work from a table. If not for the sake of my back, over anything else!
Set a Realistic to Do List
We all know that setting goals helps us to achieve targets and improve productivity, but I think we’re all guilty of setting the bar too high. I know I’m guilty of putting together to do lists that I haven’t a hope in hell of finishing!
The result? Well, it makes me feel pretty crappy actually.
I’ve found that starting with the bigger picture, say my goals for the next 12 months and breaking tasks into monthly, then weekly, then daily and hourly chunks can be a great way to stay productive. It also lets me know if I am trying to do too much.
When this happens, it’s a good idea to think about asking for help or extending the time frame. So perhaps you could think about employing a virtual assistant for a few hours a month. Or maybe you could extend your goals from a 6 month to a 12 month timeframe instead.
Use a Work Management Application
When you’re working on several projects at once, it can be hard to keep track of everything you need to do. This is where time management applications can be particularly useful.
I resisted using a project management system for a long time because I prefer hand written lists, but there cam a point where this stopped working for me. I often lost or forgot about different lists, which left me in a muddle.
I tried a couple of work management systems, for example Wrike, but for some reason I didn’t get on with them. Then, I heard Asana recommended on a podcast and never looked back.
With Asana, you can plan your day, set recurrent tasks and work on group projects, as well as a whole host of other features. Asana offers free and paid plans, but I’ve found the free version perfectly adequate for my needs.
Work in Intervals – The Pomodoro Method
I’ve heard countless people say that working on tasks over set intervals, greatly improves their productivity. I was a bit sceptical, but have been trialling this method myself and found it can help.
One technique I trialled is The Pomodoro technique, and I love it. It uses a timer to break work down into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
The reason why it works for me, is that setting a time limit helps me to avoid my usual procrastination. When I know I only have 25 minutes to get something done, I spend less time day dreaming at the start of a project and more time doing.
Here are the steps follow this method:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the interval.
- Work on the task until the end of that time.
- Begin a tally for the number of intervals worked.
- If you have fewer than four intervals in the tally, take a short break (3–5 minutes), between each interval, before returning to step 2.
- After four intervals, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your tally to zero, then go to step 1.
If you search Pomodoro in your mobile app store, you’ll find a few apps with timers designed to help you to put this technique into action.
The quality of my diet directly correlates with how I feel, both mentally and physically. If I have a few weeks eating mounds of junk food or even weeks where I under eat, then my productivity takes a big hit.
It goes back to that over quoted saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup”.
It may sound trite, but it’s true. In order to be productive, you have to look after your health. Unfortunately, I’ve found this to be even more true in my 30s. If I tried to survive on the sleep and diet I had in my twenties now, I’d probably drop dead from exhaustion and malnutrition.
Make Time for Life Admin
Working from home means I can have a number of plates spinning at once. More often than not, at least one of those plates will be spinning more efficiently than the others.
I have learned that it’s important to allocate time to each of those plates in order to keep things running smoothly. For example, if I get too distracted by work, then the state of the house deteriorates to the point where it interferes with work and visa versa.
The best way for me to be productive is to make sure that I allow enough time to keep the house clean, look after my family and work. If I allow even just one plate to drop, it has a negative impact on all of the others.
And Finally …
In reality, it’s impossible to be productive 100% of the time. Just the thought of it makes me feel tired!
Although in an ideal world I would be doing all of these things, all of the time, the reality is that life doesn’t work like that. In fact, writing this post has reminded me of all the things I have failed to do lately.
For example, my house is a mess (definitely let a plate drop there) and I am proof reading this from the sofa.
What does that say? Do as I say and not as I do?
I think maybe it’s time I listen to my own advice.