In today’s busy world, the daily task of staying productive is becoming more important than ever. Staying on top of everything you need to do seems to become more of a challenge as each week passes.
If circumstances have caused you to work from home or away from the office, or you’re an entrepreneur or small business owner, there are many traps that can cause your productivity to plummet when working on your own. I’ve been teleworking from a home office for over 25 years and I love it, but I admit, I had some challenges at first disciplining myself to stay productive.
Thankfully, over time, I’ve learned how to keep myself motivated and productive when no one is giving me direction. You can take control of your work and time with a few small changes and time management tips that produce a huge difference in your productivity and peace of mind.
Use these 8 time management tips to boost your focus and productivity when working from home
1. Set yourself up for a Productive Day
Have a designated workspace. Ideally, this should be a low-traffic area with minimal distractions, that can afford you the ability to focus and concentrate. Clear the clutter from your desktop and workspace. Clutter wastes time and reduces productivity. Keep your workspace free from junk and surround yourself with only the tools, resources and papers you need to get the job done.
How clean (or dirty) is your desk? One of the best things you can do for yourself is to leave your desk neat and tidy the day before. Leave only items that need your immediate attention on top. It’s productive to start the day with an organized desk.
Your computer is the heart of your productivity. Keep it clean and clutter-free. Keep icons to a minimum. Empty the recycle bin regularly. Keep games out of sight with only the programs you use for work in view. Calendars and notepads are good provided you’re using them productively.
Take time to organize the files on your computer into folders so you know exactly where everything is. It’ll increase your productivity considerably by making it easier to find the files you need. Use keyboard shortcuts whenever you can. Visit Microsoft’s support site to find some basic keyboard shortcuts you can use. Or read your program’s Help section for specific shortcuts.
Organize and color-code your paper files and folders. That makes it easier and faster to find information. If your files become over-stuffed, it’s time to clean them out. Use a label maker to label the tabs so you can easily tell what contents are in each folder. File or store folders in a place where you can easily access them
2. Schedule your Hours
Having a deadline for everything you do is important and sticking to it is even more critical. To stay effective, plan the start and end times of your workday and book them into your calendar so you know what you’re supposed to be doing and when. Follow a regular work routine by showing up and getting to work when you normally would be in the office.
Separate personal tasks from work-related ones. Resolve to focus on the job you have to do. When you finish work for the day, relax, work out, enjoy your family and friends. Allow your batteries to recharge for a more productive tomorrow. Allowing your work to bleed into personal time is a common mistake made by many entrepreneurs and professionals working from home. If you set regular hours to start and finish your work, you’ll avoid burnout.
3. Plan Ahead and Set Daily and Weekly Goals
Setting weekly and daily goals is a must, yet you’d be surprised how many executives and business owners don’t do it. Then they wonder why they aren’t efficient with their time. Use a planner or calendar to block out time for specific goals and tasks. Write everything down. Include birthdays, appointments, meetings, phone calls, time to work on projects, email and other helpful notes. Your planner is your lifeline; use it faithfully and let your calendar run your day.
Prioritize urgent and important goals and block time out in your calendar to complete those first during your most productive time of day. Then when you know you’re less productive, use that time for tasks and projects that aren’t as urgent, important or don’t require a high level of concentration and focus.
You can use to-do lists effectively by developing the habit of writing down everything you need to do. Cross off tasks as they’re completed. This keeps you motivated as you monitor your progress throughout the day. It also helps you keep track of items you still need to accomplish today and for the week ahead and it helps you measure the results of your work, which will keep you motivated.
4. Avoid Common Distractions and Interruptions
This time management tip may be the most crucial to stay highly productive. It’s way too easy to fall into the habit of turning to social networks when you face a lull in your workflow and you’re not sure what task to take on next. Social Networking sites can sap hours away from your productivity. Stay away from chitchat with friends and playing games. Save those activities for breaks and after hours.
Turn off your email alerts and phone when you have a deadline and you need to focus and complete a project undisturbed. Let calls go to voicemail. Let people know when you can be interrupted by giving them an option to schedule an appointment with you. Communicate when others can expect you to respond to their email or phone call.
Resist the temptation to answer the door, change the laundry, let the dog out or respond to distractions that can sap your concentration.
Music or silence? If noise distracts you and keeps you from being productive, cut the noise. Use earplugs if needed. If music gets your blood pumping and energizes you, turn it up!
5. Use Email Effectively
Sorting through hundreds of emails a day takes away from productivity. Have your personal email sent to another email address or designate a new one strictly for work. Label those that are spam and delete them immediately. Block out 3-4 times a day to manage and work on priority email during work hours.
Remember the 5-sentence rule. An email should seldom be more than five sentences long. All you really need is who, what, where, when and why. If you organize your thoughts using bullets or numbers and get to the point quickly, the response you receive will also get to the point and save you time.
6. Stack Tasks
According to research, your mind works more efficiently when you do several tasks of the same type one after another as opposed to switching from one type of task to another. Do multiple phone calls, email, expense reports, sales reports, meetings, etc., one after another in blocks of time, and you’ll give your productivity a boost.
7. Beat Procrastination
Sometimes you may procrastinate because you’re working on a complex task or a new project you’ve never done before, you’re in a situation where you’re not sure what to do next, you’re bored, or you don’t know how to complete a project or task. Maybe you start to lose track of time when transitioning to a different activity.
Procrastination kills productivity. Focus on the task at hand and do it now. If it’s a large complex project with multiple deadlines, break it up into smaller, manageable pieces that you can tackle in blocks of 30-45 or 60 minutes at a time. Use a timer to stay focused and on track. After an hour, take a short break—no longer than 5 minutes. Then get back to work and start on the next goal. Avoid the temptation of doing personal chores, longer household tasks or activities that can waste time. This time management tip will help you stay on task until the job is done. You’ll be glad you did.
8. Learn to Say NO and Mean it
Keep a calendar of upcoming events. When it’s full, say no to obligations and requests until you’re caught up on your work. This will prevent you from overbooking yourself or missing events.
Guard your time and set boundaries with your time by saying no when necessary. Remember, when you say yes to someone else, you say no to yourself. If you must say yes to requests for your time, give yourself permission to work on your priorities first. If possible, try to delegate to save your time for the important things.
To boost your productivity, remember to slow down
Being productive is not always about accomplishing more in less time. Being productive means doing the right things at the right time in the right way to achieve the best results. Sometimes rushing causes you to make mistakes. The best way to speed up is to slow down. Become aware of how you are spending your time throughout your day, how things are going, the progress you’re making and the results you’re achieving. Surround yourself with the tools, people, resources and support systems you need to increase your productivity and your time management skills and enjoy a greater level of achievement every day.
Kathryn McKinnon is a Harvard Business School executive coach, time management expert, bestselling author of Triple Your Time Today, speaker and CEO of McKinnon & Company dedicated to helping executives, professionals, and business owners achieve the best results with their time. More time management tips and best practices are found in her Executive Coaching, Keynote and Signature Training Program 7 Time Management Best Practices of Highly Productive Leaders. Contact Kathryn if you want to create a Time management System to reduce chaos and stress, add order to your day, boost your energy, improve your efficiency and consistently gain more productive time.