Written by contributor Caylin Harris | @caylinharriscreative
When I first left my full-time job almost five years ago to go freelance, I had a lot of time on my hands. For someone functioning at a New York pace, where everything is go-go-go, to suddenly find herself inhabiting a sleepy little Rhode Island town was a shock to my system. My routine was completely different and it took me a long time to find a rhythm that worked for me. So after researching and trying many techniques on how to increase my productivity, you get the benefits without the trial and error. While you might think being more disciplined will make your life feel overly regimented, I’ve found that it frees up more time for me to do the things I love with my favorite people.
Here are the easy tips I put into practice when I need to get things done:
Stop checking your damn email.
Yes, this is hard. Why? I’m not quite sure, but apparently, we’ve been programmed to pick up our phones roughly 80 times a day. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s the average. Terrifying yes, but consider email the gateway drug to the hard stuff that is social media. Checking it makes us feel more productive, right? Then we can go swipe through social. But it’s wasting your time. Choose two (or three if you get a high volume of email) times per day that you check in, reading and responding to emails. This way you’re not interrupting your work by having to constantly switch gears and you can be more thoughtful with your responses. It also helps prevent emails from slipping through the cracks or getting accidentally deleted.
You can’t always do your best work on the fly, but sometimes it’s hard to be disciplined when you know you still have a few days left on a deadline. The best method I’ve found when I’m dragging my feet on doing anything, from work to working out to household stuff is to tell myself I’m going to do it for fifteen minutes. I set a timer and commit to those fifteen minutes. If I’m still not feeling it after that I allow myself to stop. But probably 97-percent of the time I end up finishing what I started because I get into it.
Tune out the noise.
Mental clutter can be a huge time waste. Agonizing and turning a situation over and over in your mind pulls your attention away from the task at hand. Start each day taking five minutes to write down whatever’s on your mind. Putting it on paper and getting it out of your head means you won’t obsess over it all day or have to chat about it with your work wife ad nauseam. If you don’t find that you need this every day do it when your brain feels especially cluttered.
Make time to eat and drink water.
Sounds so basic, but I can’t tell you how many days go by where I’ll realize it’s 4 p.m. and I’ve only had a glass of water. No one does their best work when they’re dehydrated or distracted by their stomach growling. Eating energizing meals and hydrating throughout the day helps your brain and body function better. Do what works for you, pack a lunch, buy lunch, but factor in at least twenty minutes to take a quick break to eat and hydrate. I used to think taking the time to make myself a healthy breakfast or lunch was a waste, but now I realize it’s prioritizing my needs. It’s a form of self-care. Plus, when you’re hungry everything feels more intense, more frantic, and can actually make anxiety worse.
“We’ve been programmed to pick up our phones roughly 80 times a day. Consider email the gateway drug to social media. Checking it makes us feel more productive…but it’s wasting your time. Choose 2-3 times per day that you check in.”
Time block your day.
A time management expert once explained to me that a task tends to take as long as the time you’ve allotted for it. Think about it, have you ever been on a time crunch or tight deadline and were amazed at what you were able to do in a short amount of time? Figure out how long you need for whatever task is on your plate and set a timer. Seriously set one. It can be really easy to blow through a time block and not realize it. The timer keeps you honest. You’ll be amazed at how much you get done. This doesn’t apply solely to work either, add in your appointments, time with friends, workouts, whatever you want to do in a day.
The days I’m least productive are the ones where I’m trying to do too many things at once. Really focusing on the task at hand and nothing else allows you to do better work and get it done faster. If you can, silence your phone, or if you’re a parent set it so that only emergency calls from certain numbers can get through. Notifications, text messages, and all other phone alerts are the enemy of productivity when you work solo. If you’re in an office, mute a disruptive Slack channel—seriously, Sharon another sloth GIF?!—and head off disruptive coworkers by wearing a visible set of headphones to listen to music. Consider it your signal that you’re in the zone and don’t want to be interrupted.
When people hear you work from home they sometimes interpret it like you don’t really work. The truth is I work more now than I ever did at my staff magazine job because I can always work. When you work from home you don’t get to leave at the end of the day. Having an office space no matter how small helps to turn it off, but can also signal my brain that it’s time to work. It can be easy to become the person who can run errands during the day, throw on that extra load of laundry or wait for the cable guy, but if you’re not disciplined about your schedule and don’t gently remind your partner, kids, friends, family that you do have a work schedule you’re trying to keep, your day can devolve into an unstructured mess really fast.