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.

Comments

  1. I love that you have piano music on your list! I get so distracted by songs with words, and especially silence! I go on Spotify and blast some "focus piano" music and instantly get into productive mode! Great list of tips :)

    Amanda
    http://anchoredtosunshine.com

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  2. Pinning this because I so need it in my life! Started running on Thursday finally and thought about you!
    Linds @ Not A Mom

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  3. Ok I feel like as I've gotten older I've started to have ADD lol!! I love all your tips - i usually give myself times, like 1 hour to focus on one thing without browsing or doing other things!! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  4. This post is gold. I love all of these ideas. I need to start the Pomodoro technique, I get distracted so easily and end up doing 10 things at once and it takes forever to finish anything that way. My best technique for getting things done is to print out a list of all the emails that need a response from me and then cross them off when I'm done. I get a lot of satisfaction from looking at the list at the end of the day and seeing how many things I was able to cross off.

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  5. I just knocked out my own work-morning Pomodoro. I noticed how many times my attention shifted, but knowing that I still had 18, 14, 7, 4, 2 Minutes left kept my attention steady. I've also made a Distraction Pad, which is more of a To-Do list and you bet I'm getting a Gold Star at the end of my day today!

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  6. I definitely needed this today... okay but 1 more blog post and then I'll get to work ;)

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  7. I want to like and love your post 100 times. I tend to do quite a few things you do, but I know I could be better about them for sure. I love the idea of a Distraction Pad. I have a bad habit of picking up my phone to write down something I just remembered and then inevitably I end up on Instagram, Facebook and 10 other apps before ever getting back to what I was originally doing!

    I also need to set myself back up with a proper to-do list because these days are just one big jumble of things happening as I try to get into the swing of things again and maybe a good place where everything is listed will help keep me focused! xo

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  8. This is so perfect and timely for me! My working from home is pretty undisciplined, unless I have an imminent deadline. I'm not so much worried about finishing client tasks, but all the other going-out-and-getting-clients stuff? Yeah, that could be problematic. I'm definitely going to give the Pomodoro technique a try.

    Don't Break the Chain is a similar concept to my gamification website. It's called HabitRPG (or Habitica - I think they changed the name) and you have your "to dos," your daily tasks, and your general habits. You get points (and gold and stuff!) by checking things off, and your health goes down if you miss your dailies. So the whole reward thing is built in! As much as I love it, I have yet to find anyone else who does. :P

    Oh! And apparently video game music is designed to keep the player focused for a long time. I have an "instrumentals" Pandora station that somehow turned into mostly Skyrim music (and Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings soundtrack), but it helps me get into the right mindset to keep working.

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  9. Ohhhh I love the idea of the Pomodoro idea. I find that I can get distracted pretty easily by just about anything as of lately. Focusing on one thing for a certain amount of time then having a break for a few minutes would be a great idea!!!

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  10. I love this post!!! I make it my goal every hour on the hour to get up and take a quick 2-3 minute walk to the end of the building. Maybe I'm filling my water bottle, maybe I chat with a coworker down there, maybe I just walk to walk. But getting up helps me stay focused and not zone out at the desk all day.

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  11. Setting a timer helps me immensely when it comes to getting stuff done!

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  12. I love the Pomodoro technique (also, that it's named for a tomato. This amuses me). The don't break the chain is another great method that I need to use more often.

    What's helped me the most is having "zones". I have an office, which is my work zone, and I try to make sure it doesn't bleed into my reading and relaxing zone (living room) and definitely not my bedroom. It's not always perfect (like in the instance of working in the middle of a binge watching marathon) but it's made a huge difference. I also give myself mandatory time off (Friday afternoons whenever possible) and weekends as often as possible. When you're self-employed, it's too easy to let work take over your life.

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  13. Love all of these tips. I am terrible about getting distracted by other things at home. I really love the idea of a distraction pad though. It gets the thought out without sending me down the rabbit hole.

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  14. I'm with you on doing tasks depending on your mood. I had to call a looooong list of people to make appointments with them and I put it off yesterday afternoon because I just wasn't into dealing with anyone... I did it today at 10 and cruised through them no problem!

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  15. Love this, and totally wish I had read it earlier when I was completely lacking motivation to do ANYTHING! I've never heard of that Jerry Seinfeld thing, but I'm pretty sure that would work for me too! Also love the Distraction Pad idea- I need to incorporate that into my life. Great tips girl!

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  16. This is perfect. I feel like I could incorporate this advice into other aspects of my life, not just working from home (since I'm currently on a maternity/househunting leave kind of thing) - like dividing time between my kids, timing their chores, playing instrumentals during Sienna's homework...

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  17. I've been sort of involuntarily thrust into a work-from-home schedule the past few months and I don't really like it. It's definitely hard for me to get motivated and to stay productive. I already use a few of these (Pomodoro, Spotify Peaceful Piano, scheduling on Mondays) but I had never heard of some. I particularly like the distraction pad since I get off task pretty easily if I think of something else to do!

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  18. This is GOLD. Thanks for this. I will definitely be implementing these bad boys immediately.

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  19. the distraction pad is brilliant! i used to listen to different 'normal' music at work, but i found i was getting distracted - i'd either sing along, it would remind me of another song i just ahd to add to my playlist, i would want to skip it etc etc and now i only listen to the pride & prejudice soundtrack. all day every day. lol. sometimes on fridays i listen to my fun playlist, but then i don't get as much work done. the p&p soundtrack is all instrumentals, beautiful pianos and whatnot.. plus, i can always remember exactly where the song is in the movie, and it makes me happy without realising it. puts me in a good mood.

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  20. I need to adopt the Pomodoro method.

    This is a great post. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. i get so much done when i work from home; at the office, too many people come up to my desk and distract me and it drives me crazy!

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  22. Such a great list! i am slowly trying to organize a home office to get stuff done. I need to set some of these things up and start using them! I get so distracted sometimes. Thanks for sharing this!

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  23. We're currently petitioning for a one day a week work from home policy and Im terrified because when I do wokr fromhome I get distracted soooo easily. These tips are great!

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  24. I love this!! I seriously need to implement the distraction pad ASAP because my brain ALWAYS wants to flit around to a million different things. I'm the worst at staying on one task until completion and that's something I really want to work on!

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  25. Somehow I missed this post and I'm so sad I did. You have some great information and quite a few points I've never heard of if you can believe. I'll be adding some of your techniques to my day to day, thank you!

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