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Some things serious, some not so much. 

How to be Productive Working from Home

Helpful tips during #CoronaVirus2020 and beyond.

When I went from having a traditional office to working from home, I had all the expected fears about productivity. After working through the bumps and getting myself into a routine, I was surprised to find out that I was not only more productive, but also able to free up time in the evenings and weekends by knocking out a few home tasks during the day.

Since we’re all trying to figure out our new “normal,” it seemed like a great time to share some of the tricks I’ve figured out for working from home. #shelterinplace anyone? Here we go!

1. Have a solid start and stop routine.

I’ve written about my morning routine before. You can find that here. But I also have a stop routine. I spend about 20 minutes shutting down for the day. I scan my email for anything that needs immediate attention, check into slack and my project management software, identify three needle moving tasks to focus on tomorrow, and plan out my day in my paper calendar.

  • Email - This is not the time to get lost in the rabbit hole of our inbox. This is a super quick scan limited to emails that hit my inbox today. If it’s something I can fix in two minutes or less, I deal with it. Otherwise, I email the sender and acknowledge I received their request and have them on my calendar for tomorrow (or whenever makes sense for you).

  • Slack and Project Management (I like Asana) - same rules as email except I almost always add some sort of meme or dad joke into slack because, why not? In all seriousness when you work with a team remotely, you have to be SUPER intentional about creating and keeping culture. You miss out on the water cooler talk where the magic of shared humor and bonding of shared heartache happens. Find ways to build camaraderie where you can.

  • Three needle moving tasks - I figure out what three things most need my attention tomorrow. If I were only to accomplish these three things, I still will have made significant progress. Sometimes I knock out all three and then some. Sometimes, I don’t finish one. The point is I have a focus. When I start to get distracted by something else, that may very well be further down my to do list, I can bring myself back to what I’m supposed to be focusing on today.

  • Planner - I love, love, love my Start Planner. I use the weekly Fancy Pants, but they have a variety of styles and set-ups to choose from. I spend a few minutes reconciling my digital calendar (Google) and my paper planner. I make sure they match, and then I fill the gaps with my tasks for the day. I schedule every single minute. My wake up time, my go to bed time, workout, getting ready… ALL. OF. IT. For work stuff I always try to time block where I can: all errands on the same day, billing - same day, client check ins - same day. You get the picture.

My start routine helps kick my day off on the right foot. My stop routine ensures that I can emotionally check out of work because I know exactly what to expect tomorrow.

2. Make my bed

This is one I fought for most my life, but there’s a reason everyone-and-their-grandma tells you to make your bed every morning.

  • Starting the day with a win feels good and some days making the bed is the only win we get.

  • Making the bed keeps me from going back to it. It’s easy to say, “I’m going to work from bed.” However, I never get as much accomplished when there is a TV, good book, comfy pillows, and a blankie to distract me.

  • Last, and maybe most important, remember those days where the only win we get is making our bed? No matter how bad the day, when I walk into my room at night to a pretty bed my mood lifts. It takes three minutes tops but helps me end and begin my day on a high note.

3. Work Space

Have a pretty place to work. You want a place that you like to go to, but also a place that you can train the other humans in your house to know that when you’re sitting there, you’re off limits. I let my fam know from the get-go that if I was sitting at my desk, I was not to be disturbed unless someone’s life was at risk. If the house was burning down, you dang well better have tried to put it out first. Google calendar helps a lot with this as your kiddos become teenagers. If they want to know if they can go to a friend’s house, they check the calendar then shoot me a text of their plans. (When we’re not #socialdistancing, of course.) All other conversations have to wait for one of my ten minute breaks, more on that later.

4. Turn off Notifications

I don’t think this needs much explanation. We all know the dangers of a social media spiral or the lie of “I’ll answer just this one text.” Make rules for yourself about when it’s ok to look at your phone or be in your email and STICK TO THEM. I know it’s hard but we can do hard things.

5. Apps

I mentioned most of the apps I use above but they are worth repeating. Find apps that make your job easier, encourage communication, and allow collaboration. A few I can’t live without are Google Calendar (We use this for our family calendar as well.), Zoom for video conferencing, Asana for project management, and Slack for quick communication. I know many people use email for their communication, but I prefer slack because each conversation lives in its own thread allowing for super easy searching if you need to refer back.

6. To Do List

This is completely a mental game for me. I’m not a fan of a traditional to do list. I find myself putting easy stuff on the list just because I love to check it off. I end up focusing on those things because they provide a fake sense of accomplishment instead of focusing on the things that will actually help me get work done. Can anyone relate?

However, I am an anxious person. My brain is always coming up with things to worry about at the worst possible times. Therefore, I’ve started what I call a traveling to do list. It’s a sheet of paper where I can brain dump all the random to-do’s that keep me up at night. I use washi tape to tape it to this week in my paper planner and move it from week to week. I visit it monthly to cross off things that are no longer relevant. Sometimes my three tasks for the day come from my to do list.However, I often realize an item can be marked off without actually doing it, or it automatically gets accomplished by finishing a bigger task that made it to my top three.

7. Body Breaks

It is easy to lose track of time when you’re working from home. My bestie and I were talking yesterday and he had 436 steps by the end of his work day. Even on his most stagnant days at the office, he never gets less than 4,000.

I set an alarm every hour at ten till. 1:50, 2:50, 3:50, etc.

Then I set a 10 minute timer and I get up and move around. Sometimes that means taking a lap around the block. Sometimes it means I knock out a household task. As soon as the timer goes off, I’m back to the task I left.

8. Household Tasks

I saved this baby for last because it’s probably the most controversial, but hear me out. If I use my ten minute breaks to do some of my household tasks, I free up time in my evenings and weekends to be with my family doing fun things. The trick is you have to stick with the ten minute timer. When that baby dings, you are right back to work. You can easily unload the dishwasher in ten minutes. Fold a load of laundry? You bet ya. Want extra credit? Start prepping dinner: chop those onions, peppers, garlic, etc. That way when it’s time to make dinner, all you have to do is cook it.

Not all of these tricks will work for everyone, but I hope you find a couple that make this uncertain time a little more manageable and productive for you. I'd love to hear what's been working for you in the comments.

Stay sane and healthy, y’all.

We can do this!

xxoo - Alia


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