There are some days when I feel incredibly unproductive. It’s not even procrastination as much as it’s a very full email box, a child who needs to be driven around all day, or having stuff to do at home. After eight years of working at home, I like to think I have a pretty good rhythm going, but still, there are some days when I can’t get it together simply because my mind is on other things – or because work is the last thing I want to do that day. Add to it summertime and an active eight year old, and it can be a challenge to complete a day’s work. Here are my favorite tips for not only getting the job done, but doing it well.
1. Office Space
My time is kind of split. During the summer I tend to work from the back deck or kitchen table so I can keep an eye on my son and his friends in the pool. As you can imagine, it can be hard to remain focused amid so many distractions. I find I truly work my best when I’m alone in the tiny office my husband created from a bedroom that’s too small to serve for anything else. As it’s a place only dedicated to work, I’m able to keep the proper mindset. There’s no fridge, no TV and no game console. I have a door I can close to block out sounds of my family going about their day if needed and even lock the door so I’m uninterrupted during phone meetings. (Note: When your eight year old is grounded and looking to push your buttons, this may backfire as he bangs on the door yelling “Emergency!! Emergency!!!”) Really, my most important productivity tip is to have a quiet place to work away from distractions.
If you work in an office with other people, this isn’t as easy because a cube farm isn’t necessarily conducive to a distraction-free work place. If your place of employment allows you to use noise reduction headsets, it’s probably the best thing you can do to work quietly. Other distractions are much harder to avoid, though. It’s easy to get up and join a coffee or watercooler chat, but try to schedule your breaks for the same time every day so you’re not tempted to get up every ten minutes to see what’s going on.
2. Schedule Times for Everything
Stay focused by scheduling time for everything. A time for blog posts, a time for email, a time for phone calls, a time for meetings, a time for lunch…you get the picture. Making sure everything is scheduled in your day keeps you from breaking your focus because you want to be sure to fit everything in. It also keeps you from procrastinating. If you know lunch is coming up in an hour, you’re less likely to get up for a snack. If you know 3:00 is phone call returning time, you’re less likely to break your focus to return a call. If you have email scheduled for first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon, you can forget about it for a while as you work on other things. When everything is scheduled, you can focus on one thing at a time.
Another tip: Schedule your least favorite items for first thing in the day. Once you get over that hump everything else is gravy. Use your favorite tasks as a reward for when the unattractive stuff is complete.
3. Make Sure Everyone is Aware of Your Business Hours
If you work at home (like me) lines are crossed. Your neighbors may think it’s a good time to have coffee or your mother may decide that “since you’re home” you can take a long, newsy phone call. You may also find that clients or information seekers are calling at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 p.m, simply because they know you’re home. If this is the case, it’s time to set up some (elastic) boundaries. When folks know that you keep certain business hours and they learn that you won’t answer the phone or doorbell at these times, they’re more likely to respect your time in the future and will contact you after working hours. When clients or your employer know that you won’t take business calls or deal with business matters unless it’s within a certain timeframe, they’ll also stop contacting you during “non-business” times. You may notice that the people who are most taken advantage of are the ones who don’t stop and set the ground rules. These are also the same people who have a hard time completing their tasks because they’re taking on so many projects for so many people. Stay focused by being in charge of your schedule.
4. Find Your Quiet Times
Business hours don’t have to be 9 to 5. When I first began working out of my home I worked from 4:00 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. because that’s when my home was quiet and I was most productive. Now I work during school hours or times when my family is busy doing other things. Everyone has a time when they find they’re in the zone, find yours and work during those hours. If you work a traditional 9 to 5 job, there are also the best times to work. In the morning when people are coming into the office and catching up on news and gossip isn’t the ideal time to tackle a project requiring lots of quiet time. Instead use this time to read email, make notes, and return phone calls. Also save these less focused tasks for around 2:30 or 3:00 when most people find they’re distracted and need of caffeine and conversation. Use the quietest times to get your in depth work done, and least focused times for the projects requiring less concentration.
5. Don’t Neglect Your Family
If you’re consumed by work, you’ll resent it and your family will resent it. Family always comes and most clients and employers recognize this. It’s understandable to work occasional late nights to handle deadlines and projects, it’s quite another thing to never be available for your loved ones. When this happens you’ll be unfocused. If arguments and fights ensue because of constant work, you won’t be productive at all as the negativity becomes more distracting.
6. Take Time for You
All work and no play can make for some cranky and tired times. Don’t forget to take date nights or time out with the girls, guys and family. Recreation clears the head and puts you in a better frame of mind to tackle work. Moreover, getting out and seeing new things allows those creative juices to flow. Plus, you don’t feel so guilty about sitting down and working for large blocks of time when you achieve of sense of balance between work, play, recreation and family.
7. Keep Fit
Trust me on this one, staying fit is the best thing for keeping productive. If you stay in shape and stay healthy, you spend less time working out (though you shouldn’t neglect it all together) to get into better shape. Also, healthy foods are powerful for the body, mind and spirit. When you schedule in time to work out ever day and it becomes a routine, you’re not distracted by the “when should I work out, I’m too busy to exercise” dilemma. Stay fit and stay healthy for a healtheir mind. If you are out of shape (like me) you’ll find that going for a walk, run or doing another form of exercise in the morning will help to generate new ideas and clear your head of distractions. Once you’re back at work you’ll find yourself in a positive frame of mind.
You’ll find that productivity doesn’t necessarily have to do with sitting down and working. It also has to do with having a quiet place to work, and the proper mindset. Once you can achieve the right sense of balance between work and everything else, you rid yourself of the unpleasant distractions. Schedule your time accordingly and don’t forget to take time for you. You’ll find you change for the better.
What are some of your tips for staying productive?