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Working for yourself, or at home for that matter, is not for everyone. People ask me all the time how I stay motivated to work when I don’t have to go into an office or don’t have to report to a boss. Trust me, if you have to think that, it’s probably not for you. I’m on the other end of the spectrum. Working for yourself can be terrifying. If I don’t work or don’t get enough done, there’s no one else to pick up the slack and, well, I don’t get paid. That’s motivation enough to stay on top of things.
The negative side of that is, mixed with my natural, narrow-focused personality: I can literally sit and work for an entire day without moving or coming up for air. I’ve set up a few practices for myself, so I work smarter, not harder. It’s not about the number of hours you put in; it’s the output of work you generate. (That’s one thing that drove me nuts about working in an office. I felt like we spent too much time talking about meetings or sitting in hour-long meetings that could have been covered by a quick email debriefing.)
I like to picture a bike with multiple gears. Why spin your wheels like crazy at a “one” when you can shift into a “four” and do fewer pumps and go farther?
Even though these tips are specifically for me (i.e., someone setting her own schedule), I think they can be applied to many people, including those working in an office and even students.
ONE // Set Alarms
This is my most recent discovery for productivity. I swear by it actually and can’t believe that it took me so long to implement. As I mentioned, I tend to get in the zone and tune the rest of the world out. To keep myself on track and moving the right the direction throughout the day, I set a boatload of alarms on my phone. It’s kind of like being back in high school and having bells to let you know when class started/ended. Not only does it bring me back to the surface at the right time, but it also forces me to set a schedule every morning.
I look at what I have to do and come up with realistic time-frames for everything. I may set an alarm for three hours to answer emails, set another one for when I need to take lunch, set a few for when to check in on messages on Instagram, etc. It changes every day depending on what I need to get done. Today I have six alarms set, and yesterday I had nine. I like knowing I can get in the zone without wasting too much time on one task, or forgetting to do something important altogether.
TWO // Email To-Dos
This one might not work for everyone if you don’t use email a lot, but for me, it works perfectly. I treat my inbox like a temple. (Here’s how I manage my inbox and stay on top of emails.) In addition to my to-do lists that I write down in a notebook*, I occasionally send myself emails that then become a to-do for the next day. I know that I go through my inbox with a fine tooth comb every day, so it’s a great way to ensure certain things don’t slip through the cracks. I might send myself a quick email when I’m out and about to remind myself to make a vet appointment for the dogs, or I may start drafting a post and email it to myself to finish later.
I try not to abuse this so my inbox doesn’t get completely clogged, but it does seem to work for me now. Often I feel like I waste so much brain space trying not to forget things. This way I’m freeing myself up so that I can focus on whatever I’m working on right then, without worrying about forgetting something.
* I tried Bullet Journaling earlier this year, but it did not work for me. I just use a regular notebook to keep track of my daily to-dos now.
THREE // Unplug Your Computer
Taking breaks is important, and they contribute to higher productivity (if you’re smart about them, see below!) Instead of just sitting endlessly on your computer, keep your laptop unplugged and work until the battery runs out. I like to think that when my computer needs to be recharged, I need to be recharged as well. My battery life is pretty good, but when I’m using my computer as much as I do and have something like Spotify playing, it does need to be plugged in every few hours.
I wish I had done this more when I was a student because I think it would have forced me to take those much-needed breaks.
One benefit for this, at least for me, is that it also forces me to stay on task. There are too many ways to get distracted on the computer. There are games to play, people to stalk on Facebook, videos to watch on Youtube, shows to get sucked into on Netflix, articles to pore over. When I know I’m “on the clock” and my battery isn’t going to last forever, I’m way less inclined to open Facebook or scroll through my Feedly to see if someone’s posted something new.
FOUR // Smart Breaks
Taking breaks is not my forte. It feels like such a waste of time. Why am I not at my computer when I really can (and should?) be there? Well… Switching gears is important. Even though it feels counterintuitive, I work so much better when my brain is rested. Have you ever tried to complete a task when you’re tired and/or distracted, and it takes you four times longer than it would if you approached it feeling energized and focused? Work smarter, not longer here.
There are good breaks and bad breaks though. Try to find things that give you a little mental timeout without shutting your brain off completely. My favorite kind of breaks: meditating for ten minutes, walking the dogs (or taking them to the park for something longer), folding on batch of laundry while listening to an audiobook (I work from home ), reading for twenty minutes, putting away dishes, doing pushups/planks/sun salutations, or doing a quick sweep of the floors with the vacuum. I try to avoid anything that puts me in a bad mood (like complaining/venting on the phone), or is too distracting (like watching a Youtube video), or is too tiring (like anything having to do with laying down).