After starting our new company, Wilson Media Consulting, I experienced what all home-based business owners experience: struggling with discipline and motivation.
Here are some tips on how to be more productive (no matter where you are).
1. 45/15 Split
My background in psychology and experience as a learner and worker has taught me that people have an optimal range of time of which they can learn, focus and be productive. The typical time range is 40-55 minutes. What this means for you: start paying attention to time when you're working. About how long into a task do you start to "fade" or does your creativity or productivity diminish? For me, it's about 45 minutes.
I like to start my work "on the hour" so I can easily do a 45/15 minute split. I start working at 7:00 am and at 7:45 am, I take a planned break. Knowing that I get to take a break helps me focus because I don't create excuses to not work.
When you let yourself expect a break, you'll be more productive in your 45 minutes than if you just take random breaks, get frustrated, and then stop working altogether for a couple hours.
2. The planned break
Before I start my 45/15 split, I have a plan for how I'm going to spend my 15 minutes break. That way, I don't waste time thinking about what I'm going to do when I should be working, or wasting my break time by trying to decide how I want to spend it. For example, I know that in 20 minutes I'm going to get a snack and play with our adorable cockapoo, Mazie. She likes to sleep in, so I won't wake her for a little while.
3. Timing my tasks
Measure, measure, measure! That's how you know if anything is successful. I measure the time I spend every day by using an automatic time tracker. Gone are the days of writing down what you're doing (especially if you spend 80% of your work day at the computer). I use a cool time tracker that lets me add new tasks and then set the timer on them when I start working on them. At the end of the day (or week, month, etc), with a click of a button I can see where all my time went. It also helps me bill clients because it's organized by client profiles. It's a breeze to use, and I've noticed that on the days I don't use it, my productivity plummets. There's something about seeing that little timer on my screen that shouts to me: GET TO WORK!
Another cool feature about the little tool I use is that I have it set so that if a certain amount of time goes by where I'm not timing a task, it pops up and asks, "Should you be timing a task?" Whenever that comes up, I feel all guilty and my productivity gets back on track. It also alerts me when I've spent more than 10 hours working a day (a customizable time limit). I figure if I spend 10 hours a day working, I definitely need a long break and a big pat on the back.
4. Large, visual task list with 3 tasks
I have a great big whiteboard hanging on the wall, and to help myself stay on track, I write the 3 biggest tasks that need to get done. Typically, my work day involves about 14 tasks, but I NEVER write them all on the board like that (they're in my time tracking task list). If I were to look up and see 14 different tasks, I would feel way too stressed and overwhelmed to get started.
I used to be one of those people that would have a mile long task list, but then I realized that it was hurting more than helping. With 3 tasks, I feel in control because I'm confident I can complete those three tasks. Sure, I know that have 11 more tasks after that, but when I focus on just a few, my productivity definitely increases (I have the time sheets to prove it, too – measure, measure, measure!).
5. Don't let emails, texts, or social media alerts interrupt your work
Impulsively checking email, texts and social media is going to reduce your productivity dramatically. I'm way too connected and dedicated to responsiveness to actually give up checking these throughout the day. One way to prevent it from interrupting your workflow is to adjust your 45/15 split to a 40/5/15 split:
- 40 minutes: super-focused work
- 5 minutes: check your email, texts & social media
- 15 minutes: break time
If you MUST respond or reply because it's work or client-related, do it in the first 40 minutes of the next round, and be sure to time the task so that you don't spend more than 10 minutes replying. And even though it may be tempting, don't eat into your break time by responding either. Break time is vital to the next hour of focus. You need to get up, move around, do something fun, and get your brain ready to dive back in.
6. Everybody is different: do your own A/B testing
Everybody is different and may respond to different tips and ideas differently. I recommend completing your own A/B testing to start evaluating what really makes you more productive. Make a list of ideas you'd like to try and start completing your own A/B testing. For example, I was just wondering if listening to music actually helps me get more done. So here's what I'm going to do (and don't worry, I realize this is very far from scientific testing, or even A/B testing that can be done with websites):
For the next 10 business days, I'm going to alternate every 2 days between music and no music, and at the end of 10 days I'm going to see which days had a higher percentage of task completion.
Now, it's possible that I could totally throw off my own results by favoring one over the other, but I'm going to try my best to just work hard and see what happens. Maybe for me, music doesn't make a different, but eating breakfast before 9 am does.
7. Don't be afraid to stop in the middle of something to take a break
I'm about 2 minutes away from my break, and I'm thinking, "I can't stop. I'm not finished." It doesn't matter. Take the break and come back to it. Even if you're in a really good flow, you'll be surprised how much better the flow will be after you get some fresh air and spend a few minutes not staring at the computer (or doing whatever you were doing). I find I usually think of a great solution or better way of doing something while I'm away from the task. Then when I come back, my work is even better than "the flow" I was in.
Just be sure to save any work before you step away. Kind of a no-brainer, but if you're new to taking breaks, you may need to create a new habit of automatically saving.
8. Organize your work space
Spend a few minutes at the end and beginning of each day organizing your work space. Working in a tidy environment will help reduce feelings of stress and chaos. It will also make it easier to find things when you need them. If you spend just a few minutes every day, it won't every turn into an unmanageable task. One rule I have is to never leave a pile of papers at the end of the day. Even the smallest pile of papers can quickly accumulate into a mound of unmanageable mess.
9. Have access to healthy, quick and easy snacks
Humans are designed to be grazers, not gorgers. Let yourself snack throughout the day to keep your energy up as well as keep a good flow of oxygen going to your brain (we breathe more when we're snacking). Let your blood sugar tank until you get the "shaky hungers" is not only bad for your body, but it's bad for business. As an employer, it may be worth supplying some health fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cheese sticks, nuts, etc. for your employees to snack on if it keeps them productive throughout the day. Definitely don't discourage employees from snacking at the desk if the want to (just go over the rules for cleanliness expectation, like don't eat an orange and put your stick fingers all over everything).
10. Love your job
The easiest way to stay motivated and productive is to love your job. If you don't love your job, and love waking up every morning to go to work, it's time to find a new job. When you have a passion for what you're doing, productivity becomes more of a "how can I do more?" instead of "how can I get through the day?" If you find you start losing that feeling for your daily work, start reflecting on why that's happening. It may just be an issue of your attitude or work environment – both of which are things that can change for the better.
What do you do to increase your productivity?