Working from home can be a total dream come true, until you realize that working in your pjs from the couch doesn’t really set the tone for a productive day. Those lofty visions of waking up sans alarm clock, sipping a fresh cup of coffee while planning a day spent doing the things you love can be rudely burst by demanding deadlines, a gazillion emails, interrupting phone calls, meetings and if you have kids, why not throw in screaming background noise, hungry bellies, and chauffeur service.

UPDATE: Throw in a global pandemic to really throw things for a loop. Now, you may be experiencing the day-to-day challenges of working from home quarantined with the whole family. 

I’ve been working from home since 2010 and since then have been obsessed with learning and testing out productivity and time hacks. Here, I’ll share my favorite techniques and how I’ve adopted them for my work days.

 

Expert Technique #1: Task Batching

I used to take pride in my multitasking skills, thinking I was getting it all done at the same time. I was so wrong. In fact, I my productivity was down about 40%. With batching, you tackle your to-do list by grouping likeminded tasks together. This cuts down on the time it takes for your brain to switch and refocus between different tasks. Batching works great for tasks like writing, social media, scheduling, bookkeeping, and even phone calls and meetings.

 

Expert Technique #2: Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique structures work into small focused blocks. Generally, here’s how it works:

  1. Write down all the tasks you need to get done.
  2. Set a time for 25 minutes and focus on one task, giving it your full undivided attention. Cross off what you accomplished and how many times you were distracted.
  3. Take a short 5 minute break.
  4. Repeat with another block of time.
  5. After 4 cycles, take a longer 20 minute break.

 

Together, these two make a lot of sense. Here’s how I’m using them to manage my day.

In general, I use a method I dub the basket method. I consider all my tasks to fall into one of three baskets. This sets me up for a productive day without following a strict timetable, which alleviates the stress of work pressures. 

  1. First, there’s the big basket of important, lengthy tasks like coding that I need a good uninterrupted block of time. This usually happens in early in the morning while the house is still quiet. Anyone else in the 5am club?
  2. Next, I have the flexible basket of tasks that I can pick up in short bursts when I get a couple of minutes here and there, like prepping an email campaign while the little one watches a movie.
  3. Then, I have the mobile basket of tasks I can casually do on my phone, like brainstorming email and blog topics. Note, this one is a little tricky. It can easily become a multi-tasking nightmare. I’m a work in progress.

 

Here’s what I do to really make it work:

Work when its right: You could go insane trying to stick to a 9-5 schedule working from home. Trying to manage both home life and work life at the same time rarely works out. Instead, find a pattern in your day when there’s natural down time and build your work schedule around that.

Turn off phone and email notifications: This is a tough one but might be the most significant hack to better time management. Your phone is a major tool for distraction. Incoming messages, emails, and social media alerts happen continually and sporadically, which trains you to constantly check it. Leave your phone out of reach and out of sight. If that’s not possible, turn off your notifications so only important calls come through.

Cut your deadlines in half: There’s a theory that a task will expand to fit the length you have to complete it. Give yourself tight but reasonable deadlines to keep the completion rate high. The act of opening and revisiting a task takes energy, so aim to touch as few times as possible by completing it. Often times, done is better than perfect.

 

Finding the right rhythm as an entrepreneur is kind of fun. What are your favorite productivity tips?Colleagues have recommended High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard. 

Resources:

Time Batching: https://www.marieforleo.com/2016/03/time-management/

Pomodoro Technique: https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique

Give it a try with a web based pomodoro timer: https://pomodoro.francescocirillo.com/