The idea for this article from my post about the 6 lessons I learned in my career so far. At the time, I was planning to write it for fellow freelancers but in a sad turn of events, I’ve now expanded my target audience because of the covid19 who has forced many to work from home.
Since I graduated in 2010, I spent 7 out of 10 years being self-employed, without an office to go too. I understood very early on that discipline was key and that there were a few rules I should follow to be efficient every day. I hope these will help you boost your productivity whenever you feel like your motivation is going down the drain as fast as the soap does when you’re washing your hands (don’t forget to do it regularly guys, even if you’re staying at home!). But first, let’s start with some fundamentals…
1. Create your work space
If possible, it’s important to have a dedicated spot for work. Keep it organized, decorate it to make it inspiring and try to have some good lighting! Sitting in your office at home or at your desk sends a clear signal to your brain: you really mean business. When you’re working from your living-room or in bed, it can sometimes become harder for your brain to dissociate the entertainment or sleeping function of this place from the work function you’re now trying to assign to it. If you don’t have that luxury, setting up shop on a specific area of the dining room table could do the trick too. With that being said, I have a confession for you: I’m typing this in my bed. Why? Because I realized that my creative juices flow more easily when I’m in a place that I associate with relaxation. So most of the time, when I have to blog or write a press release, you’ll find me under the blankets or in the sofa, whatever feels cozier in the moment. However, I would typically do my emails and admin at my desk.
2. Set an alarm
I’m up at 7.30, every morning. If I’m unwell, couldn’t get much sleep or have a light work day ahead, you’ll find me pushing that alarm back to 8am at max. Make it a point to create a routine for yourself to start the day in the best conditions. What makes you feel good when you’re waking up? Is it to meditate? Work out? Take a hot shower and put some makeup on? Have a cup of coffee while reading or watching TV? Whatever floats your boat, do it religiously. I personally never skip breakfast and nowadays, I also block my email apps until 8am to spend my first 30 minutes of the day with a clear and calm mind.
3. Set boundaries
And while we’re talking about time and routines: follow your actual work schedule or, if you’re a freelancer, create your own and stick to it! Let your colleagues and/or clients know when you’re available and how, and when your day is over, put everything aside and enjoy your evening without looking back. If like me, you sometimes struggle with this, I highly recommend completely turning off your laptop and your notifications, or even downloading an app like Appblock to refrain from checking your emails. If you live with a partner, a roommate, your parents: communicate about your schedule and close the door if needed to not be disturbed.
4. Go on airplane mode
Are social media and notifications too tempting? Then put your phone away and on silent. Emails can also be very disruptive to your workflow as we often feel like we should attend to those demands immediately when it’s often not the case. If that’s how you feel, I would suggest to solely go through your inbox at specific times during the day (e.g. at the beginning and end of your work day).
5. Worship your to-do list
I LOVE lists. I have lists for everything: groceries, travels, blog posts ideas, finances, daily life and of course, work. I find crossing things off one of the most satisfying feeling in the world. I mean, hell, even Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario, based his games on that belief: the craving for a sense of accomplishment. I write my tasks for the next day every evening and go through it to eventually add anything new that came up. I’m old school and a bit of a stationery addict so I’ve been extremely loyal to Ohh Deer’s Daily Planners for the past few years: I love that the pages are not dated (no waste of space!) and that there’s a note section big enough for me to write any thoughts, ideas or reminders during the day. I recently took the plunge and went semi-digital too with the Todoist app. It is very intuitive and you can easily drag and drop any items under the right to-do list. I use it as a brain dump but also for long-term projects.
THE PRODUCTIVITY BOOSTERS
It happens to the best of us: you have so many deadlines, yet this funny video YouTube seems so appealing right now. Or maybe you woke up tired and completely unmotivated. Either way, don’t worry: I got you.
1. Take a break
I’ll be honest: I’m not a fan of breaks. When I’m on fire, I just don’t feel the need for it. But if I’m on a down curve, you’ll find me walking around the apartment, stretching and getting a glass of water. Apparently, our brains can only focus for 90 minutes at a time so after each spring, it’s important to renew your energy by relaxing for 5 to 15 minutes. No matter what, I never neglect my lunch break for which I allocate 30 to 60 minutes and I’m a big advocate of short meditations (thank you Headspace!) when I’m too stressed or power naps when too tired in the afternoon (these shouldn’t last more than 10-20min).
When I really don’t feel like working, I usually trick my brain by selecting 3 priority tasks out of my to-do lists, claiming that I’ll be allowed to call it a day once these are done. Surprise: every time, I just end up getting into the groove and tackling ALL the other tasks. And on the rare occasion I’m still in a work funk after that and don’t have any urgent deadlines, I stop working and start learning instead by reading articles, listening to podcasts or watching videos about my industry or that can help me improve my skills.
3. Start small
Another one of my magic tricks is to kick things off with a small and easy task that I know can be done within 30 minutes max, like responding to emails for instance. That feeling of accomplishment is always very addictive for me and so here I am, on a roll. If you follow that tip, make sure that your next task will be a big one: don’t save important and annoying things for last (unless you’re more productive in the afternoon/evening).
4. Break it down
Some assignments are sometimes so big that they become intimidating or impossible to complete. Just thinking of how long it will take you to finish it is enough to discourage you. When that happens, I just divide it in smaller tasks. For example, if I have to design a media kit, each step will become an item on my to-do list: updating the biography, making a draft of the design on paper, collecting visual assets, designing the EPK.
5. Reward yourself
You know that evil YouTube video I was telling you about a few paragraphs ago? The one that will probably distract you from your work? Well, what if you were just watching it? But not so fast: you need to deserve it! I have no problem using the “carrot and stick” method whenever pretty much anything else seems more interesting than work. And when I say anything, I really mean it: I tell myself that if I cross this off, then I’ll get to reward myself by watching that video (but keep it at one), checking my socials, doing my workout, having lunch or even taking my shower. Anything goes.
6. Work in bulk
If you have some recurring tasks every week or month, it might help to do them in bulk and even to assign a specific day to it. For every Skype meeting that I do, I make sure to wrap up what I’m doing 10 minutes beforehand to be operational for the call and studies prove that it can take up to 23 minutes to get back on track and find your focus again after a distraction! Not to mention that sometimes, I’m here waiting 15 minutes for someone who never shows up so when you combine all of that, it’s almost 50 minutes of my time wasted. Hence why I always try to schedule calls to some extent and I tend to plan them all on the same day, one after the other, so there is no need to shift from one energy or task to another. I do the same but monthly to create content for my professional Instagram and to scout new clients.
7. The pomodoro technique
I was saving my favorite tip for last: the pomodoro technique. I read about it for the first time a few years ago and since then, it’s always been the first method I would go for whenever I feel a lack of motivation. The technique has been named after those 25-minute tomato-shaped kitchen timers (“pomodoro” meaning “tomato” in Italian). It consists in focusing on a specific task, giving it your undivided attention, for 25 minutes straight, after which you should take a 5-minute break. Every 4 pomodoros, you’re allowed to have a longer break for 20 minutes instead. I personally just resort to this to get things going and therefore never do it for more than 1 or 2 pomodoros. But you can also plan your entire work day around this technique, by estimating how many pomodoros would be needed to complete every task of your to-do list.
Do you have more tips that I might not know of? Feel free to share them in the comments section below!