How can you stay motivated if you are working or studying at home? Or just spending (lots and lots of) time in lockdown? These self-management tips will help you organise your day and build routine.
With many of us working from home and dealing with disrupted routines at the moment, you might be struggling to stay motivated with your work. If this is you, please know that you’re not alone. Everyone is re-learning how to work amidst extremely challenging circumstances, so be gentle and patient with yourself.
If you’re a young employee, this might be the first time you’ve had to work without the daily oversight of a manager. That means you’ll need to learn how to manage yourself so you don’t fall behind at work.
Follow these tips to help keep you organised and on-task (or at least knowing where the day went).
Follow a morning routine
When you’re working from an office, your morning routine is somewhat dictated by your commute (as well as, you know, the need to not turn up at work unshowered and wearing pyjamas!) If you’re working from home, though, it can be tempting to roll out of bed at the last possible moment and log in to work before you’re fully awake.
Resist this temptation! A morning routine helps you to wake up, feel refreshed, and get into the mindset to work.
The ideal morning routine looks different for everyone, so I won’t tell you exactly what you should do. Some of us (hello!) will never, ever be “work out in the morning” people no matter how hard we try.
Here are a few ideas for things you might like to incorporate into your morning routine. Pick the ones that work for you.
- Have a bath or shower.
- Get dressed in something that isn’t pyjamas.
- Eat breakfast.
- Drink a big glass of water.
- Make a cup of tea or coffee.
- Go for a walk, run or cycle.
- Do a home workout.
- Write in your journal.
- Hug your partner, child or pet.
- Spend a few minutes on a creative hobby.
Your routine doesn’t need to be long or elaborate, but it should leave you feeling energised and ready to face the day.
Find a to-do list tool that works for you
Organising your tasks is one of the best ways to stay motivated and make sure you don’t get overwhelmed. There are so many tools out there, so try a few out and pick the ones that work for you.
I like to use a colour-coded Trello board with tasks coded red (do today,) orange (do soon,) green (still plenty of time,) or purple (no specific deadline, do whenever.) I also have separate columns for my day job, my freelance work, my academic course, and household tasks. Feel free to borrow or adapt this strategy if it works for you!
Other options include:
- Using a different online project management tool. Asana and Microsoft OneNote are popular.
- Using a paper planner (I like Ink & Volt’s year planners, others swear by Passion Planner or Circle Planner.)
- Using a Notes app on your phone (I like Evernote.)
- Using the Sticky Notes function on your computer desktop.
- Writing your list on a sheet of paper each day.
- Buying a dedicated “to do list” pad.
Whatever system you choose, you should make sure it actually helps you and doesn’t eat up hours of your time in keeping on top of it. Simple, intuitive and at-a-glance are your goals here.
Use calendar blocking
Time-blocking is the act of scheduling your entire day upfront, ring-fencing specific blocks of time for specific tasks. Extreme calendar-blocking proponents schedule down to the minute, even carving out blocks of time to do things like take a shower or make a cup of tea.
You don’t have to go that far (though you can if you really want to!) But blocking your calendar means you know exactly what you’ll be working on when.
A simple calendar-blocked work day might look something like this:
9 – 9:30am: Answer emails
9:30 – 11am: Work on quarterly sales report
11 – 11:15am: Morning break
11:15am – 1pm: Schedule social media posts for the week
1 – 2pm: Lunch
2 – 3pm: Team meeting
3 – 3:30pm: Answer emails
3:30 – 3:45pm: Afternoon break
3:45 – 4:45pm: Write and send proposal to prospective client
4:45 – 5pm: Review day’s work and write tomorrow’s do-to list.
By having specific blocks of time set aside for each task, this method forces you to concentrate in order to get the job done in the time allocated. It also helps you to avoid constant task-switching, which eats away at a huge amount of your time and productivity.
Use the pomodoro technique
Fun fact: pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. This time management technique is named after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that its creator, Francesco Cirillo, used in his university days.
The pomodoro technique is a method of breaking time down into short, manageable chunks interspersed with breaks. 25 minutes work and 5 minutes break is traditional, but you can use different interval lengths if they work better for you.
How to do it: pick a single task to focus on. Set a timer for 25 minutes (or whatever interval you’re using.) Close any other windows on your desktop, put your phone on silent, and work on that one task until the timer goes off. Take a short break, then repeat.
Make appointments with others
Most people are better at keeping promises to other people than we are at keeping promises to ourselves. Therefore, setting specific appointments with others and sticking to them can help give your day structure. I find I’m often more productive when I know I have one hour between calls to accomplish a task then when I have the entire day free.
Upcoming appointments can also help to motivate you. If you have a call with your boss at noon, for example, you probably won’t want to report that you’ve spent the whole morning aimlessly scrolling social media. This means you’re more likely to spend the morning focusing on your work.
If you’re struggling with productivity and focus, you’re almost certainly not the only one in your team who is feeling this way. Enlist the support of a colleague you have a good relationship with. Agree to check in each day, or a couple of times a week, at a specific time. You can encourage each other, hold each other accountable, and share your struggles and frustrations.
Bribe yourself with rewards
A rewards system gives you something to aim for, even if the only person issuing the rewards is yourself. Promising yourself something nice when you’ve finished a specific task or done a certain amount of work is a powerful motivator.
Rewards should be easily and quickly actionable. A walk in the sunshine on your lunch break, a tasty edible treat, a hot bubble bath, some quiet time on the sofa with a book, or even just watching a silly TV show are all good options. Pick whatever is motivating and rewarding to you!
Finally: give yourself a break!
None of this is normal. We are, as a global community, experiencing an enormous collective trauma at the moment. The vast majority of people are not being as productive and focused as they would be under ordinary circumstances. This is especially true for those of us who are parents, have caring responsibilities, are worried about our own or a loved one’s health, are experiencing financial difficulty, or have mental health struggles.
A pandemic is not a productivity contest. You’re doing great!