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Whether you’ve been thrust into the telecommuting workforce by COVID-19 or are wanting to pick up new hobbies, now is the optimal time for learning productivity. That is, if you can find the time between your familial and work responsibilities.
I have been a remote freelancer for three-and-a-half years, now with three children under three years old. I’m by no means an expert, but these are my top tips for being more productive in the chaos of daily life.
1. Build a flexible routine.
Kids and adults alike thrive with structure, because routine translates into efficiency. Do you ever feel like you’ve used up your last brain cell by 4:30 pm, just deciding what time to eat or when to play vs. work? If you minimize small decisions during the day, you free up space in your brain (not to mention time) for creativity and critical thinking.
There’s also the element of expectation. Your child knows that there are a few hours in the morning when they need to entertain themselves. They know when to go to bed.
If you create a general schedule for your family and work your own schedule around it, you can limit conflicts of interest. Evaluate what your family typically does on any given day. Do your kids wake up late? Want to go swimming in the early afternoon? Make time for yourself in the early morning or during their activities. Find those times when you can be productive while they don’t need hands-on attention.
The most important facet of your daily routine, though, is flexibility. Remote work and at-home hobbies require adaptability. If you don’t meet your own expectations by a certain time, you set yourself up for disappointment throughout the day. Learn to meet the unexpected (e.g. doctor appointments, family visits) with grace so that you’re still in a productive mindset when you’re able to get back to the task at hand.
2. Keep both short- and long-term lists.
It can be overwhelming to have a giant list of “to dos” that need to get done in one day, particularly when half the items end up on your list for the following day. While it’s helpful to know what you must achieve by midnight on November 15 or what you need to retrieve from the grocery store for the week, you can get a better sense of your general objectives through ongoing lists.
Most tasks don’t have 24-hour deadlines, and this is especially true if you’re pursuing personal interests. Write out lists for the week or month. Learn to prioritize your responsibilities based on what you will most easily get done on any given day, within the timeframes that you’re given.
If you’re not in the headspace for a 5-page report, it will take twice as long to complete. Allow yourself to complete it after you’ve created that new graphic design—if that’s what it takes to get them both done. Or save the fun activity for later, if you need a good motivator. Find out what works best for you, and change your strategies up when they fall flat.
3. Limit distractions, but give yourself breaks.
It’s easy to waste hours with social media and television. If you’re bad a self-regulating, there are apps and Chrome extensions that enable you to block platforms and websites for specific hours of the day. These include BlockSite, StayFocusd, and Cold Turkey. You can even entrust someone else with the passwords to these apps so that you cannot disable them yourself.
But with so many obligations and the monotony of being home-bound, it can be counter-productive to slog through the whole day (even if your family allowed you to do so). Watch something short and mind-numbing. Go out on a walk with the kids. Enjoy the current season and the next and your least favorite one, because if you take time out of your day just to clear your head, you’re able to move forward without so much fog.
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