I used to fantasize about what it would be like to work from home. I envisioned myself being particularly productive in the mornings, going for walks during the day, cooking when I was hungry, and having the freedom to pop out for a quick errand or to take ten to fold my laundry. I’ve read and saved articles on productivity tips for years, preparing myself for this moment.
COVID made those fantasies a reality. We left the office on March 13th (Friday the 13th – how fitting) with instructions to work from home for the next two weeks. Here we are, closing in on five months, and I’ve been in the office exactly twice.
A lot of my friends have struggled with the transition to working from home. Lack of productivity, feeling isolated, and Zoom fatigue are common complaints. A few have little ones at home and have struggled with a work/home balance and in some cases, attempting to be a teacher.
As for me?
Working from home has, for the most part, been my fantasy come true.
Zoom fatigue was real in the beginning and I struggled sometimes with patience and grace for those who didn’t transition so easily, but overall, I will admit it: I love working from home.
I not only balance my full-time job, I’m also running Strong By Sarah and getting a lot of writing done. And a lot of Netflix watching, but that’s for another post. I’ve found my own routine and habits that work for me and sure I’m productive with my time.
I know there are a ton of productivity tips for working from home floating around right now. A lot of them are basic or else completely unrealistic for the “normal” person. I ignored all of those to find what works for me. Here are my productivity tips that actually work.
Working from home provides a lot of distractions. I heard about the Forest App while on a coaching call with Marie Wold, and downloaded it right then. I have a competitive personality and I like “gold stars” for my efforts – classic Enneagram 3. The Forest App lets me set a timer to focus. If I leave my phone alone, a tree grows. Touch my phone, it doesn’t.
For me, the tree is a reward. It’s a game and I’m wired to win games. I tend to work in 25 minute increments – 25 minutes to focus, 5 minutes to do whatever I want. Sometimes I’ll lengthen the time – 50 minutes of focus, 10 to fool around on Instagram or check my email. If you like a reward for your efforts, the Forest App might be helpful in helping you stay focused.
Worry on a Schedule
I got this concept from my therapist. My anxiety got out of hand earlier this summer. Between COVID and my kidney stone, I found myself in a place where I couldn’t handle my anxiety on my own and so I returned to therapy. Noting my competitive nature, he told me to “worry on a schedule.” I allocate myself a certain amount of time to worry, google medical symptoms, whatever I need, and then I shut it off and move on. It takes some practice, but its become a really helpful tool for me for being productive AND curbing anxiety.
Make A List
I’m a list maker by nature – lists keep me organized. Monday-Friday, I make a list of the tasks I need/want to accomplish that day. I put everything on it. Full-time job tasks, coaching tasks, chores, even “walk 10,000 steps.” I then prioritize those tasks. I’m motivated by the crossing off of things and I’ve learned for me, getting “the big stuff” out of the way first eases my stress levels.
Work When You’re Productive
Identify when you are most productive and schedule the “must dos” during that time. I’m most productive in the mornings. I can get a lot done between 8-12 PM when left uninterrupted. I try to set myself up in a way that lets me work in the mornings. By doing that, my afternoons aren’t “free” exactly – I’m still working – but typically the most pressing things are completed by lunch. Find your sweet spot, whether that’s mornings, afternoons, evenings, or late nights, and designate that as “priority task time.”
In the first weeks of COVID life, I struggled with boundaries. I was working from home, not leaving the house for days at a time… Why not reply to that email that came in at 10pm? I quickly found myself still working late into the evenings and realized I couldn’t keep that up. I put some hard and fast boundaries in place and stuck to them. Is it uncomfortable to tell someone you can’t assist them right then and there? Yes. But I found they respect it and maybe even put their own boundaries in place as a result.
Sometimes there’s just too much going on in my head. I’m thinking about my full-time job, coaching, a writing idea, chores I need to do, the workout I want to accomplish, the book I’m reading… On and on it goes. When it gets too busy in there, I grab a notebook and list it all out. Once it is all on a piece of paper, I group it by topic (work, coaching, chores, etc.) and then prioritize my to-dos. Brain dumps are one of the most helpful things I do for myself to keep me organized and sane. There’s just something about seeing it on paper.
With working full-time and running my business on the side, I feel a bit like an octopus sometimes. Batching my work – grouping tasks to do at a given time – has been something I’ve been meaning to do but never seemed to actually put into practice. Quarantine gave me the perfect opportunity to do just that. I now have designated days to accomplish tasks like creating Instagram content, writing blog posts, and doing client check-ins. Once I got in the groove of it, batching has saved me a ton of time.
Reading Essentialism was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. The book is about prioritizing what REALLY matters instead of just saying yes to everything. If you prioritize both what is actually important and what you’re good at/passionate about you will find yourself not only more productive, but happier. Read Essentialism and put it into practice – your life will change. A bold claim that is absolutely true.
Those are my productivity tips that actually work. I’m always looking for ways to improve my workflow and be more efficient however, so send your favorite productivity tips my way!