How to Actually Get S#!t Done
Working from home isn't for everybody. Most of the time, it is a good fit for me—but I'll admit, I get distracted by bad TV and dirty dishes a fair amount. Without the accountability/intimidation of the boss walking into my office, motivation to stay on task can be hard to come by.
There are a few things that that I rely on like crazy that help me get through the work day without "taking a break" every 10 minutes to do something else for an hour. (Nope, that's never happened. Not once.) This time of year we tend to be shorter on time but just as long on projects and to dos, whether the task list is for our day jobs, side hustles, or blogs. In the spirit of the season of giving, I wanted to share some of my workday productivity essentials. I think a lot of these can be really helpful at a traditional office or home office, with whatever tasks need undivided attention.
• Pomodoro Technique. There's a paid app you can buy, but I think that's kind of pointless. I use a simple timer on my computer set for 25 minutes at a time. During the 25 minutes that the timer is running, I work on one task. ONE. The thing about self-employment is there's always something else demanding my attention, another client giving me another deadline, another project that needs outlining. I can't do them all at once, and I can't do any of them well if I try to. At the end of 25 minutes, I take a break and read a blog post, get a snack, move through a sun salutation, wash a few dishes. Basically, anything that has a firm end-point and won't suck me in for any length of time.
• Do Not Disturb mode. I'm not sure if there's an Android equivalent feature, but I put my iPhone on Do Not Disturb for that 25 minutes and in that time I get no notifications of texts, tweets, or emails. Calls from people in my Favorites list come through, and if anyone calls me a second time (usually the indication of an emergency) it will come through. But otherwise, what can't wait 25 minutes?
• Piano/instrumental music. Silence and I aren't really a good team. It also doesn't really exist when you live in an apartment building and your downstairs neighbor randomly blasts an old radio at a frequency that somehow manages to vibrate the floor in a really annoying low muffle sound. Spotify's "Peaceful Piano" playlist is amazing for writing and editing background music, and I'm also partial to the musical stylings of Claude Debussy. Other good instrumentals I love are from the group Explosions in the Sky, but you're better off finding them on YouTube or iTunes than Spotify. (In case you didn't know, they're the majority of theme music in the series Friday Night Lights, and the title theme is their song "Your Hand in Mine.")
• Don't Break the Chain. Apparently, this is the technique that helped make Jerry Seinfeld the success he is. Not that I'm seeking fame and fortune, but this method got my attention a few years ago and I've finally figured out a way to use it for myself. Basically I have a list (okay, a spreadsheet) of certain things that need to get done every workday, or every day I decide to work. (Sometimes I'll take a weekday for myself and end up working that Saturday.) If I can check off every item or it is not applicable (if I don't have information from the client that I need, or am waiting on an assignment, etc.), I get a check mark for the day. I respond pretty well to these kinds of incentives, more so than "awarding" myself something at the end of a job well done. (I just can't ever figure out what to treat myself with, honestly.)
• Different mood, different tasks. One of the things I disliked about my old job was that there was absolutely no variety in what I was doing. I mean, I would write on different topics, but that was pretty much all I had to do: write. Not that I'm complaining about writing for a living, but sometimes it's really hard to just sit down and write good words. When it's really challenging to do that, now I'm able stop trying to make magic of nothing and switch to answering emails, outlining articles, gathering links and research, writing pitches, editing a submission, or other tasks that don't take as much focused brainpower as staring an editorial project. It's generally after those few minutes of super productivity that the ability to write returns to me.
• Distraction pad. I have a sticky note on my desktop labeled "Distraction Pad." When I'm working and something random but important pops into my head, I write it down on the distraction pad, rather than walk away from what I'm doing to address it now. It could be something as small as "add butter to grocery list," but if I stop what I'm doing to add butter to my grocery list, I will inevitably end up rearranging my grocery list, or opening up another list in the same place (Reminders app) that I keep my grocery list, and I'll never return to the task at hand. If I jot down "butter" and get right back to what I'm doing, I won't forget to do it (whereas if I don't write it down, I know I will) and I won't get derailed either.
• Worry once a week. I wish I could remember where I heard this little nugget of advice, because it really changed things for me when I did. Those little things that, when left unattended, are usually the things that end up making me feel overwhelmed and out of control of my day. Things like emails, sending invoices, recording hours and tasks completed, and all the general housekeeping stuff that comes with, well, being an adult. I used to spend time every day looking at my lists and freaking out over them (I wish I was kidding.). Now, I write lists, send invoices, outline new projects, and make a schedule on Mondays. Period.
• Know when to go. Inevitably, even with all these techniques, sometimes I'm just not going to get work done at home. I'm feeling trapped in, or my neighbor is being too loud, or I just want to put real shoes on and need a reason to wear a bra. When it's not working, I don't force it. I either pack up and go to a coffee shop to work, or go for a run to spark some motivation. If I'm just sitting at my desk getting more and more frustrated (or worse), it's going to become somewhat of a hostile environment and that's definitely not conducive to good work. Sometimes stepping away from work or relocating is exactly what's needed to get back to work.
So those are my essentials to actually getting work done during the workday. Do you have any methods or techniques that have changed your workday game? We can all use a little help, especially how in the busiest time of the year so I'd love to hear what works for you.