I have a weird schedule. I’m at my book publishing day job 3 days a week, then I have two weekdays plus the weekend devoted entirely to my creative work. I love that I’m able to have a foot in both worlds, but non-consecutive days in two completely different environments makes for some tricky scheduling. I used to wake up on my days working at home feeling almost paralyzed at the thought of the vast expanse of time in front of me—I had so many projects that I wanted to work on, that I had no idea where to start. It was easy to get off track, then waste half a day trying to figure out what to do next. To take advantage of my time, I knew I couldn’t keep starting from scratch at the beginning of each day. Finally, I laid down some ground rules to bring some consistent structure to my inconsistent schedule.
1. Get your butt out of bed!
Now, I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t have any problem staying awake and futzing around until 3 or 4am, but ask me to get out of bed before 7, and the best you’ll get is a grouchy, groggy ball of stupidity mumbling nonsensical things. (One morning, I actually walked into my living room and greeted a friend who was sleeping on the couch with the statement, “You do exist. I have feet!”) Clearly, I don’t do mornings. But, it really comes down to this: it takes about an hour and a half for me to have breakfast, hit the gym, and get ready for the day. If I roll out of bed at 9, I barely make it to my desk by 11, which makes me feel like I’m behind before I’ve even gotten started. So, if I want to be at my desk by 9am, 7 o’clock it is—even if I babble incoherently at the cats for a while after my alarm goes off.
2. Stick to the plan.
I can’t overstate how important it is to maintain a daily schedule. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably already know that I can be a tad on the obsessively organized side, but that actually has very little to do with it—I make a schedule so I can spend as much time as possible doing the things I love to do.
When I have a plan for the day, I know what my priorities are, so I spend my time actually *doing* instead of figuring out what to do. I’ve already chosen the day’s project (or split my time between projects), I have a list of supplies to buy and errands to run, I know if there are deadlines coming up, and I’ve carved out time for any blog post or writing project that needs attention. My schedule helps me stay away from the unproductive loops of internet time-suck (say, editing my blog HTML for 4 hours, only to have it look exactly the same as when I started), and helps me feel organized and in charge of my time. As we’ve established, I’m a little nuts, so I use a color-coded system of symbols to keep track of each day’s projects in my At-A-Glance Planning Notebook. But, for those of you who are less inclined to let your OCD flag fly, a simple list written in any old notebook will do the trick.
3. Eat some lunch.
And breakfast. And dinner. Creative genius isn’t powered by coffee alone, so I take regular snack breaks and eat a meal every few hours. My blood sugar is consistent, my mood is chipper, and everybody’s happy!
4. Set aside some unstructured time.
I spend at least half an hour a week at my desk with nothing but a pen and a pad of paper—no computer, no phone, and no interruptions. I set a timer for 30 minutes, then write down as many ideas for new projects, blog posts, tutorials, and crafts as I can. I always manage to come up with at least one really good idea that I want to get started on right away, which is more than worth half an hour of my time. It’s also a really good way to get going again when I feel like I’ve hit a creative wall.
5. Quit at quittin’ time.
I don’t know about you, but I have a serious problem putting down the crochet hook/turning off the computer/stepping away from the sewing machine when I’m in the middle of a project. When working from home, I’ve definitely been known to put in 16 hour days. And you know what? I’m probably a zombie for at least 5 hours of that time, which isn’t productive or helpful. Plus, if I’m working 16 hours, I’m ignoring my family, not seeing my friends, and turning into an all around workaholic beastie. Then, the next day, when I haven’t gotten enough sleep and have to start all over again, I’m certainly not excited about how awesome it is that I get to dedicate several full days each week to the things I love to do most: writing, crafting, and working with social media.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that, to have the luxury of being a creative professional, there are times when we all have to pull all-nighters to meet a deadline, or complete a full sewing project in one day, or spend every waking hour for a week with a crochet hook in hand to finish an order. And that’s totally fine. What isn’t fine is when you’re always running on 4 hours of sleep, haven’t seen your husband in a week, and your BFF doesn’t recognize the sound of your voice anymore. You can’t be in top creative form if you don’t allow yourself time to recharge once in a while.
I’ve told you all about how I stay productive, now it’s your turn. What’re your best productivity tips?