I‘ve struggled with productivity for years. Give me a deadline and I can work like a rented mule. Leave me to my own devices, however, and I’m as productive as carefree summer day at the beach. This really came to light for me when I started working from home.
With no supervisors and few hard deadlines, I found a lack of productivity to be extremely frustrating. It not only affected my work, but also virtually every other part of my life. For example,
- I wasn’t getting the day-to-day stuff done timely. It was taking far too long to finish daily tasks. Sometimes it would take me four hours or more to write an article for Forbes that should have taken no more than 90 minutes.
- I wasn’t even getting to the long-term projects that were important to me. A perfect example is writing a book. I’ve started yet failed finish countless books, both fiction and non-fiction.
- And I grew tired of living in a way that was less than my best. A perfect example is my disaster of a work shop. While I’m fortunate enough to have space in my home to call my own, it’s a complete mess. It’s been like that for years.
Adding to the problem were my failed attempts at change. I’m not one who is naturally organized. I’m also not one who can sit down at a project and focus for hours on end. Yet that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do in the past. When my efforts inevitably failed, frustration took over.
With the help of some research and trial and error, however, I’ve managed to come up with a simple productivity system that helps me stay productive at home and at work.
My At Home Productivity System
There are 5 simple steps that help me get the most out of my day.
Step 1: Find the right place to work
For the longest time I worked with a laptop on a couch in our sunroom. It’s comfortable, but not the ideal spot for productivity. I need a workspace with lots of light, a solid desk, and a dedicated space to call my own. The answer was a corner of our walkout basement.
The desk, pictured below, is from Ikea and handles both my demand for two large monitors and the sound board for the podcast:
Step 2: Create a daily list
Every day I write down those things I need to get down if the day is going to be successful. When I’m working at home, the list is on a whiteboard. I then star those items (usually not more than 3 or 4 things) that are my priorities. Get those things down and the day was a success.
I also include several items that I want to accomplish every single day. These are often project-based, such as writing a book or studying chess. I need to make progress on these projects every singe day. Checking off items as they are completed keeps me on track and motivated.
Step 3: Embrace mini-habits & habit stacking
I got this idea from Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results. The idea is simple. To start a new habit, think small.
For example, rather than trying to write for 2 hours a day on a new book, commit to writing for just 5 minutes. You are much more likely to stick to the routine, thereby increasing the odds of actually developing the habit. And if on some days you fell like writing more, that’s fine. But commit to a minimum of five minutes.
Mini habits can be applied to everything from writing to exercise to cleaning out the garage.
The idea of habit stacking came from James Clear and author S.J. Scott (Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less). With habit stacking, you simple take a new habit you want to develop and incorporate it into your existing routines.
For example, if you want to start exercising, commit to doing 10 pushups before you take your morning shower. The shower is already part of your daily routine; now you are stacking a new habit of pushups into that routine. You can even work mini habits into this process (maybe you’ll commit to doing just one pushup).
I use both mini habits and habit stacking daily. If I want to clean out the garage, I’ll commit to working on it for just 5 minutes (mini habit) just before I eat lunch (habit stacking).
Step 4: Time your work
I’ve found that working to a timer really keeps me focused. While the best increment may be different for you, 25 minutes works perfectly for me. I set my iPhone timer for 25 minutes and work during that time without interruption.
I have the timer on as I write these word. If I find myself getting distracted, the fact that I’m only working in 25 minute increments helps bring me back on task.
The breaks between work segments are often just five minutes. But it’s enough of a reset that I can return to the work for another 25 minutes with tremendous focus.
Step 5: Stand while you work
Finally, standing while you work keeps you focused. Who wants to surf Facebook when you are standing and under a relatively short time limit. I’m standing as I type these words at a makeshift writing desk:
Combining a time limit and standing while I write as increased my productivity significantly.
If you have tips for staying productive, please share them with us in the comments below.