Working from home is always a challenge, as it is so easy to be side-tracked by distractions. That’s where managing your time comes in. Distractions can range from children, pets, housework and washing, to social media, having snacks and general procrastination. We’ve all been there, and since the pandemic has encouraged more and more of us to work from home, managing time has often meant working long hours in order to fit everything in. Sometimes, working late at night after the kids have gone to bed, simply just to be able to fit everything in, alongside the distractions that take us away from our work during the day. Put into the mix, the fact that we are in the throes of a worldwide pandemic, which also brings its own stresses and challenges.
So, how do you manage your time effectively without causing yourself even more stress?
You probably think I’m going to say that you just need to be more organised…and to a certain extent, I guess that’s true, but there are other things you can do.
- The first thing is not to put too much pressure on yourself and don’t have ridiculously high expectations of what you can achieve in a day. Be kind to yourself!
- I’ve heard some people say that they’re working from their bed on their laptop. Whilst this might feel good to start with, you’re not actually shifting your mind-set into work mode, and are likely to be less productive. Try and find a small space where you are comfortable that you can dedicate as your work space. It might be just a corner of a room or at the kitchen table, but you’ll feel better if you feel like you’re ‘going to work’.
- Get ready in the morning as if you are going to work – have a shower, brush your hair, get dressed – you’ll feel more professional and ready to face the day.
- Surround yourself with things that make you feel ‘work-like’. For me, it’s stationery (!) as I love stationery! I have fresh notebooks, nice pens, a diary and a calendar so I can keep track of what I’m doing.
- Think about when you are most productive. Are you a morning person or a night person? When you feel awake, it can help boost your productivity. For example, if you love quiet mornings and feel focused in solitude, try working on more challenging tasks as soon as you start your day. Many of us feel tired after we eat lunch and the afternoon hours hit, so consider answering emails or making phone calls at that time. Nothing is set in stone when you work from home, so it’s up to you to decide what works best for you.
- Create a to do list…NOT a long list as it will feel overwhelming. I make a list of everything I need to do, then do a separate list of things I know are achievable in one day. Split some of the bigger jobs down into more manageable chunks. It feels good to be able to tick off each little task and you feel you are really achieving something.
- Block out time in your diary. Split your tasks into time slots. Work on the hardest and most time consuming things first…try to keep that to no more than two hours at a time and work hard and deep on that particular task so you get it done in the allotted time. Then take a break, move around and have a drink. Walk outside and get some fresh air. Then start your next task – that might be one hour, or 20 minutes. If you give every task a set time, you’re more likely to get it done.
- Have a set time to work on social media…and stick to it! It’s very easy to set sucked into browsing social media and, before you know it, two hours have passed.
- Set specific times to check emails and make phone calls. This might be a couple of times a day, maybe more, but try and do it in half hour slots. Let customers know that you’re only available on email and phone calls at certain times.
- When you’re not on social media or email, switch your device off, so you’re not interrupted. If you use a landline, put the answer phone on. This will help you avoid those distractions. This is my worst enemy…if I hear the ‘ping’ of social media, I have to look. If my device is not on, I don’t hear it!
- Make sure you stop and have lunch – then you won’t get the munchies and want to snack all day.
You might find that you do need to do certain things during the day, if you are at home. You may have to take and collect children from school, prepare snacks for younger children, take your dog out for a walk etc. That’s fine – just incorporate that time into your day. I know it’s easier said than done, but as much as you can.
Planning your to do list
A big part of being effective when you are working from home is planning. I’ve mentioned writing down all the tasks that need doing and then narrowing that down to manageable chunks, or a smaller daily to do list.
Prioritising those tasks is also important. Sort your tasks into one of these categories…
Important and urgent… tasks in this category must be done right away, so focus all your energy on doing these before moving on to others
Important but not urgent…tasks in this category will be those that appear important but on closer inspection, they could be left until a later date if necessary.
Urgent but not important…these are tasks that nag at you, but once done have little or no lasting value to your business. These can be delegated or outsourced.
Not urgent and not important…these are low priority tasks that often give the illusion that you’re really busy. Can be done at a later date, when you’re not so busy.
Add the important and urgent tasks to your ‘to do’ list and tick them off as you do them, then you can move on to the other categories in a more timely way.
If you are a small business and find that you are spending too long on tasks that could easily be done by someone else, then delegate or outsource those tasks.
That leaves you time to focus on the important stuff. For example, you might not be good at keeping up with social media, so hiring someone to do that would really free up more of your time.
Hire someone to either do the mundane stuff that you really don’t have time for, or for the more complicated things that you don’t know how to do, or that you know will take you too long as you’re not experienced in that area.
You can also delegate or outsource tasks you absolutely hate doing. There is nothing wrong in delegating or outsourcing; it simply gives you more time to do the things you enjoy or that need to have your undivided attention.
At the end of the day, it’s important to create a structure of time management that works for you and your family, and for your particular circumstances. The most important thing is to look after yourself and don’t succumb to burnout. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go according to plan – things often don’t. Just start again the following day. If you’re comfortable and happy with your routine, and have some planning around time management, you’ll feel more in control.