There’s just SO much to do…
Over the past nine years, since starting this blog, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some pretty amazing women. Some are busy conquering the world, starting their own companies or climbing the corporate ladder. Others are busy homeschooling and raising their families. Many are even doing both at the same time.
And now, in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we’re faced with no choice but to do it all from home. And whether you’ve been working from home for a while, or have been thrown into it due to the crisis, across the board, the one thing all these women have in common is the feeling that there is never quite enough time to get it all done.
The truth is that whether you work from home, outside the home, or IN your home, you could probably benefit from a boost in your productivity or from other ways to help you navigate this current “normal” we’re in. We ALL wish we had more hours in a day. We’ve all looked at someone else and thought, “How does she get it all done? Why do I never feel like I have as much time as she seems to have?”
Well, we all have 24 hours in our day. You, me, Oprah, Mark Zuckerberg, Beyoncé, and Bill Gates. Most of us try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night (or hopefully somewhere in that realm) leaving 16 hours a day to get things done.
And let’s face it–most of us would prefer to do more than just WORK. We’d also like to enjoy time with our spouse. And under normal circumstances, we’d love to be able to get a pedicure once in a while and maybe grab coffee with a friend. We’d like to play with our kids. We’d like to spend less time doing all those things we HAVE to do so that there is a lot more time for things we WANT to do. (Which is actually our entire mission here at LWSL!)
So how on earth do we get what we need to do done? How can we still get our work done, our kids schooled, and stay on top of all our other responsibilities? What are the secrets of super-productive people out there who are able to absolutely rock their schedule and yet, they don’t spend their entire lives working?
1. Play to Your Strengths
We all have certain strengths we bring to our jobs and our personal lives. Strengths are different than skills (which are more learned and less inherent). Maybe you’re really good in high-pressure situations. Maybe you’re very logical and data-oriented. Perhaps you’re great at energizing other people on your team. These strengths should be played up and enhanced. Your boss and your team love your strengths.
Identifying your strengths can be tough. If you need help, check out the Strength Finder 2.0 Assessment. After studying human strengths for 40 years, 34 common talents where discovered. Learning your talents can help you bring more to your day, every day.
Not everyone is good at everything, so if you’re aware of your strengths and talents, you can aim for projects you can excel at. If you’re not so into technical stuff, why spend hours slogging through HTML, when you could find someone else to work on it and shift your focus to creativity (if that’s where your talents are)? Your boss knows paying someone to do what they’re good at saves the business time and money. The same goes for playing up your skills in your life as a whole, and especially while you’re needing to work from home.
If you’re getting overwhelmed with household chores while everyone is home, what are some chores or tasks you can delegate? Whose strengths could you play on so that you can have a little more time to focus and get what you need to done?
2. Ruthlessly Block Out Distractions
What interrupts your workday the most? It’s probably going to be your kids (especially since most schools will be out for the rest of the year). They’re likely buzzing around and mom-mom-moming like there’s no tomorrow.
Or maybe it’s constant phone calls, “quickly” popping over to deal with every email as it comes in or getting stuck in the black hole of social media.
Whatever your biggest distractions, you’ll need a plan to deal with each one as it pops up. If your kids are old enough, send them to the Boredom Jar to choose a project they can work on quietly and with minimal help from you. If your kids require a little more supervision check out the 21 Best Educational Resources and Activities for Kids at Home that won’t have you feeling any mom-guilt because they’ll still be learning! Then politely tell your older kids or family you need some uninterrupted focus time for so long. There will always likely be interruptions, but hopefully, they’ll happen less frequently. Set rules to only check your email once an hour. Only schedule phone calls in the mornings. Whatever works best within the parameters of your job description.
If both you and your spouse are suddenly working from home, see if there’s a way you can each switch off to have some blocked work time, and then go to a room in the house where you know you won’t be interrupted or distracted so you can zone out and get things done.
If you lack flexibility at home right now, you might want to tactfully address your concerns with your boss and see what can be done to help you all during this time. Maybe instead of being available in the middle of the day when distractions are the worst, you need to let work know you’re best available time right now is in the morning before the kids are awake or after they go to bed.
3. Use Time Blocking
Time blocking is a fancy way of saying “schedule your time.” Many people use free-form time management, where they sort of drift along doing what they “feel” at that particular moment.
I’ve totally been there. I’ve sat down to write and I just can’t make the words come out on the page. Or I’ve realized it’s time to fix dinner and it’s the LAST thing I feel like doing. When this happens, shift the blocks of time around on the calendar, but don’t skip it or procrastinate.
Time blocking can help with everything—social time, time with the kids, exercise, or date night. It’s really great for work because it sets a clear frame of where energies need to be focused on during a given period. Use Google Calendar, or the Living Well Planner® and block out time in 30-minute chunks. Give yourself time to shift tasks, and don’t forget to allow for important things, like lunch. When the time block is up, shift to the next item. You’ll always know what’s on the agenda. If you need help keeping the kids school-at-home schedule straight during their blocked time, grab out Homeschool Planner! Even if you don’t technically homeschool, it will help you feel more organized and calm.
4. Tackle the Big Thing First
Planning out your day is really important. It’s about prioritizing your time and identifying the ONE big thing you need to get done each day. Eat the frog (as Mark Twain said: if you eat a frog first thing in the morning, nothing worse can happen to you for the rest of the day). Pick the thing that’s the toughest to do and knock it off your list first.
Now, many of us like to sort of “set up” for a while. Maybe we get coffee, sharpen pencils, and check email before starting out our day. See what happens when there’s a shift in priorities.
Each of us can look at our day and identify the one thing that’s most critical. If we achieve just that item, we can say the day was productive, right? Of course, there’s always more to get done, but sometimes knocking out that big bad item will give the necessary boost to get us through everything else.
5. Prioritize Your Tasks
If you’ve identified the one big bad thing you’ve got to tackle, now everything else can be split up into A, B, or C tasks. You can easily see what you need to get done by hitting the A-tasks first, going to the B’s and then, if time allows, the C’s.
We all like to do the things we feel the best about doing. Maybe those C-tasks are easy and you know you can knock them out fast … BUT those B’s are more critical, so resist!
When you prioritize, write down your task list so you have a clear picture of what to do. Use our Weekly Wizard Sticky Notes to map out an effective plan for the week, then use our Daily Focus Sheet Sticky Notes to help you plan out your priorities clearly and easily every single day.
Pareto’s Principle—also known as the law of 80/20—says that the top 20% of our efforts will create 80% of our results. That means that if you want to get more done, you should do your A’s first, move to the B’s, and then to the C’s. Prioritize!
6. Be Productive, Not Just Busy
Have you ever thought you were fooling yourself (or your boss) into thinking you were more productive than you really are? I know I have! I’ve gone into work mode organizing my workspace, spending time figuring out my to-do list, organizing some more, maybe checking emails … I’ve been busy, but not productive.
We’ve all gone so far as to fool ourselves into thinking we were really productive, yet we walked away with nothing to show for our time. Maybe you’ve started to clean the house and you got too focused on just one drawer, or maybe you sat down to meal plan and accidentally spent hours looking through recipe videos.
It’s very easy to be “busy” and sometimes it’s hard to be productive—but productivity will get you much, much further! If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, step back and assess—are you being productive or just busy?
7. Focus on Results
Take extra time on a project if you’re really using your talents, doing an extra awesome job, and crushing it. Your boss will love it! And if you’re your own boss, you’ll love the results! Spend all the time you need, but stay results focused.
Most bosses and people, in general, are willing to pay for quality. It doesn’t matter how long it takes or how many hours if the end result is worth the time and effort. And if you’re suddenly able to work from home, your boss likely knows productive people get things done, but they also know it’s better to do it right and do it once. If you need that time, ask for it.
The same applies to your home and any project you take on. It’s far better to spend a little extra time and do a thorough job than to phone it in and end up redoing it later. Being a little meticulous and persnickety upfront can mean you’ll never have to do the same thing twice.
Your boss (and any boss) wants you to continue having the same great attitude you took to work. If you’re additionally stressed due to COVID-19, I invite you to grab a guide we created specifically for this moment in history—Stay Healthy and Thrive Guide. Smart bosses know happy employees are the most productive and put forth the best work. If you love your job, it will shine through very obviously, despite being cooped up at home.
If you don’t love your job (or you’re just trying to get by), trying to be as productive and polished as possible and still giving your all will ensure you’ll be ready when something better comes along. We never know where life will lead us after this, but making the most of the 24 hours we have each day can help us feel great about how we spend our time managing working from home.
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