Some people find working from home easier during the pandemic. But people living in smaller spaces, with spouses and kids (or dogs, especially the cute ones) can have a really challenging time trying to stay productive and get it all done. Nearly a year into the pandemic, we should all be used to this, but COVID has made life complicated.
So what’s the secret to creating better habits and getting it all done while working from home? Or at the very least, getting most of it done without feeling bad you didn’t check off your entire to-do list? I spoke with some of the top productivity experts and CEOs to learn their best tips, tricks, and ideas for how to stay productive while working at home right now.
Family interruptions can be incredibly frustrating. Most coaches (and somehow every mom influencer) recommends waking up early to get a head start before the chance for interruptions begins.
It’s also important to set boundaries with your family. Cory George, F45 Athlete, and Certified Trainer, recommends having a conversation about the importance of what you’re doing and give them a little incentive, if need be.
“Set aside time for family or loved ones outside the times you need to work. Possibly, even throw in a commitment to something fun your kids like to do in exchange for solitude (if that’s possible).”
But Tonia Misvaer, CEO of Erin Condren, says changing your expectations might be easier than changing your kids.
“If you have younger children, this can certainly be more difficult so adopting a more flexible mindset will help tremendously,” she advises. “What works one day, might simply not work the next… and that’s okay. Allow yourself room to move priorities around while still continuing to focus on your goals.”
How to reset after being interrupted
No matter what boundaries you set, getting interrupted or distracted is simply inevitable. So, it’s important to have a plan to get back on track and stay productive. Misaver personally implements checklists.
“This will literally serve as a roadmap for your day, so when you get off course you can get right back on,” she says. “And as you check off each item, you’re also encouraging and motivating yourself to stay productive. It’s so rewarding to check an item off a to-do list!”
Regina Angelica Lawrence, ESQ, coach and owner of Soulfully Social Agency, suggests taking a deep breath and starting over by picking the easiest and quickest task on your list. This should help you get the ball rolling again.
However, Michael Bloch, CEO and founder of Pillar Life believes it’s best to go deeper and motivate yourself by focusing on the “why” of each task.
“When you ask yourself why you are doing a certain task, you remind yourself of the importance of checking that task off of your list today. It gives you a chance to clarify priority levels of certain to-do items, and allow yourself to take the necessary steps to complete a task that is important to finish.”
How to set up your workday
There are so many different ways to maximize productivity. So every way can’t be “the best,” or can it?
Nina Restieri, founder of momAgenda planners, tells me, “The best way to plan your day is the one you’ll actually use.” So if you find a system that works, the ideal choice is to stick to it.
She’s also a fan of time blocking, as are many professionals.
“I’ve noticed a huge increase in my productivity and sanity since I’ve started blocking out time in my day for specific tasks,” she tells me. If you want more information on why time blocking works so well, The Daily Stoic podcast recently devoted an episode with Cal Newport to discuss this.
Another option is the Ivy Lee method, where you write down the six most important tasks you want to complete for the day in order of importance.
Many experts like to combine one or both of these systems with the Pomodoro method, which is when you work for 25 minutes straight using a Pomodoro timer and then take a three to five minute break. Then after two hours, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. Pomodoro purists caution again using your phone’s timer, but no one here will judge you if you do.
Lawrence implements all three of these systems but modifies them to work best for her.
“I do a mix of Ivy Lee, time blocking, and sometimes Pomodoro, but with my own twist. I like to make a list of tasks to accomplish each day. I do eight and then designate another three tasks that are must-do tasks. For me, this is a win because I used to create a task list with 500 things on it. I would never finish it and it always left me feeling defeated. So eleven tasks for the day is super manageable and I feel accomplished when it is all completed.”
Free up time by saying “no”
Remember, it’s impossible to do everything. Restieri has found there is great power in saying no.
“Here’s what to do: write your three highest priorities on a little post-it note and put it in the front of your planner, or on your desk, or on a note in your phone,” she tells me. “For example, be the best business owner I can be or be the best mom I can be. Whenever you’re asked to invest your time in a new commitment, consult your list. If the commitment is aligned with one or more of your priorities, accept. If not, decline without guilt.”
Try these hacks to stay productive
Getting interrupted by notifications can be a major distraction and time suck, so Lawrence recommends turning them off.
“When I look at my home screen, I don’t see missed calls, texts, or any alerts ever. This helps me stay on task so I don’t get distracted.”
She’s also a proponent of using the Do Not Disturb function on her phone.
“I love to eliminate anything that will be a distraction. And my phone ringing or texts pinging are major distractions for me.”
And doing work isn’t the only thing she uses a timer for.
“With my business, being on social media is part of my job. But as we all know, we can get sucked into the dark rabbit hole of the IG feed. So what I like to do is a set a timer for how long I want to be on to do my income-producing activities,” says Lawrence.
Eat for maximum productivity
You can improve your mental performance and concentration through proper nutrition, according to Kelly Springer, RD. “I love fatty fish like salmon and trout because they contain neuroprotective omega-3 fatty acids that are known to stabilize mood and promote optimal mental performance,” she says. So order that fancy salmon salad (especially if it has kale) from Postmates without guilt.
You might also want to swap out that afternoon coffee for a nice cup of green.
“Beverages like green tea are great for staying focused because they have a moderate amount of caffeine, in addition to L-theanine, which work synergistically to improve alertness and responsiveness,” Springer explains.