Do you always start the week with good intentions to level up your productivity, then get to the end of the week and wonder where on earth the time has gone and what exactly you have achieved?

Do you regularly take time out to work ON your business, or do family commitments client work and procrastination prevent this from happening?  

Do you ever schedule time out just for you?

This is my life, or at least it was last year.

I tentatively launched my website in Sept 2019.  It was always my plan in 2020 to take a Friday afternoon and go and sit in a cafe somewhere writing a blog, newsletter or prepping my Social Media.  

We have a lovely garden centre nearby, with a pond next to the cafe.  It was my favourite place to go and sit with a friend when I was having my cancer treatment.  I have lots of happy memories with my Son playing Pooh sticks off the bridge (into a small pond?!).

They have a good data signal there, which I found out the many times we had to go there to hunt Pokemon.

I had aspirations of taking a leisurely walk up there for a late lunch and spend a couple of hours sitting in my favourite spot writing a blog on my shiny new Chromebook.  

It was very exciting at the start of 2020 to hear that there would be another cafe with work pods opening up a five-minute walk away.  Well, we all know how those plans turned out!

2020 was character building for so many business owners in unimaginable ways.  Priorities changed as we adapted and adhered to the latest updates in the Covid Rules.

Whilst I consider myself very lucky in terms of my client work and skillset growing, in every other way my year was a farce that you really couldn’t write a book about.

I may blog about it one day, but for now, we just keep swimming.

As the festive period loomed last year, I recognised I needed some downtime, and made a point of switching off/logging out of all Social Media for nearly 2 weeks.  It was so therapeutic, and I found I didn’t actually miss it that much.

I was able to get to work on sorting out some of my household clutter, and whilst I didn’t watch much tv, I released my inner warrior and binged watched the Karate Kid movies and the Netflix series Cobra Kai.  

I’d heard of Cobra Kai from my Son, but I hadn’t realised it’s a continuation of the original Karate Kid story with some original cast members and an amazing storyline. Admittedly, not very festive, but really enjoyable.

I started 2021 with renewed vigour, and on a mission to put myself and my business higher up my list of priorities.  

There is still a long way to go but I am very pleased to say that 4 weeks into 2021, I finally feel like there is something vaguely resembling a routine (something I was desperately craving in 2020!).

So how have I achieved this elusive routine/structure to my day cooped up in the corner of a bedroom?  

Here are my 13 tips on how to level up your productivity when working from home

1) Plan your week

Spend some time on a Friday, or at the latest, a Sunday evening planning your week.

At the start of the year, I invested in a productivity planner.  It has given me a real sense of accomplishment seeing tasks marked off.  I am still learning /adapting to this way, so will write another blog on it later in the year.  It is going well though and has changed my mindset in how I approach my week.  The idea is that you write out all your known tasks for the week, and allocate them to each day

2) Time Block

If you can’t multi-task – then don’t! There’s lots of research out there that says multi-tasking isn’t the most effective way of getting work done.  Some brains are wired differently, and that’s OK.  When I worked on the IT Help Desk, I used to be able to be on a support call, be working on 3 computers, and have an ear out for the other calls my colleagues were on.  Since I had chemo, the computer says no….my brain just cannot function in that way anymore – and that’s OK too.  I recently came across time blocking, which is a huge productivity hack for me. Time Block (prioritise your non-negotiables such as calls appointments/mealtimes.  Factor in some contingency) 

3) Eat That Frog

Some people prefer to do a simple task to start the day and get into their flow, but if you actually tackle the biggest task – the one thing that you really need to achieve/complete that day, then that is a huge accomplishment! It not only helps in reducing your workload, but it also reduces your stress of the thought of constantly having that task to do in the back of your mind.

4) Work to Pomodoro 

I first came across and started applying the principles of the Pomodoro Technique [link] a couple of years ago when I was transcribing.  I wanted to make sure I took regular breaks.  There is so much more to Pomodoro than this.  The main principle is that you do focussed work for a 25-minute block and then have a 5-minute break.  The idea is that the break is substantial enough to give your brain a rest, but not too long so that you don’t lose your focus and spend a long block of time regrouping and getting back to where you were.  After 4 Pomodoros, you take a longer break.  You can use any sort of timer, whether a physical or digital one.  The Technique was devised by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s and is inspired by a traditional tomato (Pomodoro) kitchen timer [pic].  I will be blogging about this in more depth later in the year.

5) Get up and move around.  

Working to Pomodoro Technique isn’t just about the 25-minute deep focus blocks – the breaks are equally as important…as is what you spend them on.  Instead of checking emails or disappearing down a Social Media rabbit hole, use the break to get up, move around or jump on a gym ball or exercise bike for a couple of minutes. 

There is a reason why SEN children have sensory breaks factored into their day.  To be honest, we all should!  (Yes that even includes tech geeks and gamers!)  My Son recently had some fantastic advice from Susan Steele of Performance Breakthrough[LINK], and that is to get up and do 10 star jumps in between each game.  (He’s a teen, so implementing that is a work in progress!). 

If you stare at your screen for prolonged periods, then eye exercises are also a good way to use your 5-minute break. Not only will your brain and eyes thank you, but your future self will thank you too.   

6) Respect your boundaries…and ask others to respect them as well

You are important too!  This is most definitely a work in progress for me.  Every day I have blocked some time off just for me to relax or exercise.  I call it hammock time (I won’t go into why… it’s a long story).  If I am working in the evening, I have it late afternoon, otherwise, I have an hour after tea.  The idea is that I either go for a walk or just chill out and reset for an hour (in the hammock).  Putting it into practice is hard, but it is there, and I am getting better at just relaxing.  One of my local business friends Sarah Allen of Sarah Allen Therapies [LINK] has started running online relaxation/meditation sessions in Lockdown which have been really good – so good in fact, that at the last one I was in a really deep state, and do not remember the bulk of the visualisation.

7) Respect other people’s boundaries

We are all in this together, and the last year has been tough going for so many businesses and families.  Respect their time constraints, boundaries and rules as much as you would expect them to respect yours.  The modern age with mobile devices has made us all very demanding of the need for answers/responses…now! 

Parents with children they are having to home-school in lockdown are having a really tough time, on top of regular family needs.  This often means they are trying to catch up with work, orders and generally running their business in the evenings, and catch up with family they haven’t seen for a long time.  If you see them online on various apps, but you know they are working or need some downtime, respect that they are human too, and email your query to be picked up when they have time.  You can then pick up their response at an appropriate/allocated time in your day.

8) Switch off/log out of Social Media / turn off notifications

This is the biggest distraction for most people. How many times have you ‘just gone to check something’ and ended up disappearing down the social media rabbit holes?  Most of us are guilty of it, which is why for most it is much more productive to have set times of the day for checking and responding to your messages.  Only you know the demands of your business or clients.  For many VA’s, Community Managers and Social Media managers this is their biggest nemesis, and it takes a lot of self-discipline and resolve to stay focussed on their clients work.  One little hack I have found helps is to have a shortcut to their group/page on my desktop, and when carrying out tasks for them I only access Facebook that way.  It’s by no means easy and takes a lot of resolve, but you CAN do it!

9) Go one step further – mute your phone and remove it from your work area

If your phone is still too much of a distraction, and muting doesn’t help, go one step further, and remove it from your work area – in a drawer, in another room – whatever you need to do to remove the distraction.  Again if it is needed for family, then have set times when you check it.  

10) Join Online Focus sessions [link to last week’s blog]

In my blog last week, I mentioned I had joined my first Zoom Focus call.  It was a game-changer for me.  I have gone from being very cynical about it to taking part in 14 in the last week.  My productivity and focus have improved massively.  I have written 2 blogs and completed 2 big modules of my VA Mastery course in the last week. I admit to flagging by the end of the week, but I am very proud of what I have achieved – especially when progress with both was non-existent for 4 months.

11) Hold yourself accountable

This links into the effectiveness of online focus sessions, but even if you can’t join them or don’t want to join them, tell someone what you are going to do or write it on a whiteboard, or in a planner.  Make sure you don’t move onto the next task until you have completed the first.

12) Reward yourself for a job well done

Being self-employed doesn’t mean you can’t give yourself a pat on the back for something done well for your own business.  Clients and employers do it when they appreciate your efforts, so why shouldn’t you appreciate yourself.  It doesn’t have to be a lavish gift, just something that gives you a little boost and recognises a job well done. When you have been super productive. It sends a subconscious message to your brain, that will boost your motivation for subsequent tasks. I just love the mini motivations over at Stamped With Love [LINK]  These can be personalised so the only limit is your imagination!

13) Be kind to yourself

I’ll try not to put too many cliches in here, but why try and re-invent the wheel?  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Life has a habit of sending curveballs.  I should know, I have had more than my fair share.  No-one could have predicted the events of 2020.  Drive and determination are admirable, but I think for many it has made us take stock and realise that family and health are what is most important.  Any progress is good progress, right?  Keep chipping away at your productivity, and once you start to see results, you will be inspired to achieve more in your working time to turn your to-do list into a ta-dah list.

What are your favourite hacks in the list above?  Do you have any of your own that I haven’t included?  Please share your thoughts below…