If you haven’t made the move already, the possibility of working from home may be highly likely in the coming weeks or months. For design and administrative tasks, technology has us covered: a fast computer, decent internet and a coffee machine ☕️ are just about all we need.
Dealing with distractions, however, may be more of an issue, and when your new co-workers are toddlers or teens, your productivity will most certainly be challenged.
Having worked from home for almost eighteen years, I’ve tried, tested, failed or conquered an impressive (or absurd?) number of productivity hacks. In this feature, I’m sharing the top three strategies that have always won out, whether I had babes in arms, tantrum-throwing toddlers or highly-strung high schoolers sharing my space.
Start your day with a Dragon List
Ever heard the term ‘slay your dragons before lunch’? I have no idea where it came from, but it has been my mantra for a number of years. The concept is to deal with the significant issues first – don’t get caught up swatting at the tiny flying bats (the easy targets) if you have some fire-blowing dragons (major tasks) that need slaying. My Dragon List consists of no more than three items – and they need to be important. They’re often the jobs that tend to be on the dull side, but are almost always the tasks that are essential to me (a) getting a project to a stage at which it can be invoiced or (b) avoiding penalties or imprisonment for late tax lodgement 😩. When these jobs have been done, I reward myself with coffee, lunch or a five-minute sketch, before getting back on to the easy tasks.
The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990s by Francesco Cirillo. The developer and author named the system ‘Pomodoro’ after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a uni student. My trusty timer is this shiny apple, and I use it when getting stuck into ‘bite-sized chunks’ of work. 🍏
The Pomodoro Technique helps to train your brain to keep focussed for a short, timed period. I started with twenty minutes, moved to twenty-five and am now proud to be able to concentrate for a whole thirty minutes! 😲😎 A Dragon List task could take four or five ‘bites’, while an ‘inbox clearing session’ is strictly one thirty-minute stint. When the timer rings, I get up out of my chair, head to the kitchen and down a glass of water or prep a cup of tea.
Important note: using your phone as a timer is not a great alternative (unless you have a Pomodoro app that will lock you out of all services). When you’re doing a solid stint of focussed work, your phone should be on airplane mode and face down and in your drawer where you can’t even imagine you heard a notification. Trust me on this one – tried, tested, failed and proven.
Bonus tip: the only time your timer and phone should be within a square metre of each other is if you’re using it as a scrolling screamer. What’s a scrolling screamer? Nothing will jolt you out of a social media scrolling haze like the shrill ringing of an old-school timer. If you want to be productive at home (or work), monitoring your time spent on socials is absolutely essential. (Again, you may have an app for that – use what works best for you.)
Develop a ‘Done List’
For many years, I started my day with a long list of to-dos. I’d get into my office and do just about everything that wasn’t on the list (master procrastinator), before crossing out the day at the top and replacing it with tomorrow. These days I have much more success (and a great deal more satisfaction) by completing a ‘done list’. I’m an expensive-journal-and-fancy-pen person, so my list is strictly analogue, but if you’re a spreadsheet demon, you’ll want a digital version. Keep it simple – date/client/task/time taken – and you’ll soon start to realise how satisfying a genuinely productive day can be. You’ll also have an excellent reference when it comes time to invoice your client or tally your project times.
From our One Question Wednesday survey responses, we know that many of you already work from home. We’d love you to help out your fellow members by sharing YOUR best home office hacks – please feel free to comment below.