Hello lovelies! I was going to write yet another workspace post but then i figured perhaps it was time i made one of my many, many inspiring workspace posts useful, so today has some lovely workspaces but it also has 7 of my strategies for working smarter at home…
As a working Mom with a demanding job at Good Housekeeping (albeit with a VERY understanding boss) and another job as a blog editor and some other gigs in between i’m often asked how i manage to get things done. I’m not always sure but somehow the necessary must do’s do end up being done and deadlines met so i thought i’d share some tricks and tools i’ve learnt over the years. Of course everyone’s skill sets and focuses are different, so these are the tips that work for me.
1.Set Time Goals and Limits
If i’m on a crazy deadline with a seemingly insurmountable list of to do’s, i usually write them all down in a list, then i number each item in order of priority and after that i give a time allocation for the task – be it an hour or two. This gives me an idea of how much time i actually have to get things done. Of course i might go over the allotted time but it gives me a good idea by say, lunchtime, if i’m on track or not and allows me to make contingency plans if i’m not going to make it – be it in the form of a babysitter or letting The Captain know i’ll be working after supper. I also prefer to get the majority of my writing work done by 1pm (that’s my heavy work load line in the sand) and then i like to spend afternoons doing less brain taxing tasks like compiling and answering emails, research or planning.
2. Organise your Space
I’m sure most of you will agree, an organised workspace is condusive to productivity. Of course deciding to tidy your home office on the day you have a deadline is counterproductive but making sure you’ve got a neat and tidy space, an empty wastepaper basket and if you must (well it’s a must for me) – a new notebook or pen to get your mind into a new project goes a long way in getting things done effectively.
3. Make a Time for email and Stick to it
Shew, email, the great digester of time! I get up to 200 mails a day and it can be a real time drainer, trying to answer them. Many experts say that answering your emails first thing in the morning is NOT being productive but i find that i like to know if there’s something urgent i need to add to my to do list. I delete as i go but i still have over 3000 emails in my inbox which drives me nuts. Every few weeks i try to do a big mail clean out but i really battle to keep it up. The Captain on the other hand is an email demon. He treats his inbox as a to do list and is meticulous about emptying it – i envy him enormously and aspire to get to that place.
4. Divide & Conquer your To Do’s
I’ve mentioned my list making obsession before in a post ages ago (read it here – i had a very irate reader mail me for making light of OCD in that post and diagnosing me with it at the same time!) – my list making has calmed down somewhat in the years since Charley was born but i do still make a list every single day (so, i guess i’m totally lying, haha) and i keep ongoing lists of to do’s, be they household, life admin or things like invoicing to do’s on Evernote.
Any way, my point is, i find it useful to keep my to do’s in separate categories – my different work areas (Good Housekeeping, blog etc), life etc. It helps me to see the picture of where my focus is most needed. At work i print out a calendar every month and place it under a piece of acetate to use as a mousepad – it has all the relevant deadlines i need to be aware of plus all the work functions i need to attend.
5. Start as you Mean to Finish
For me that means having power Mondays. If i start a Monday without a solid plan of what needs to be done and what i intend to do on that day and for the week, then it sets a really disorganised and unmotivated tone for the rest of the week. I actually love Mondays – the promise of a new week and the opportunity to get my hands dirty with tasks appeals to me. If i’m very organised i’ll make my to do list for Monday and for the week on Sunday night, otherwise i’ll do it on Monday morning. I like to get my Monday and Tuesday blog posts out of the way on Saturdays so that i can really focus on my magazine work on Mondays and Tuesdays. I also find it helps to assign certain days to certain tasks – i like to shoot on a Thursday for example and never on a Monday, that would spell disaster for the week for me!
6. Time your Meetings and Travel
I live quite far (by Cape Town standards) from town where most meetings happen (and where my magazine work happens too) and the traffic is an absolute freaking nightmare – i hate it!! I leave at 8.30/9am every morning and sometimes it takes me up to an hour to get to work – sometimes 30 minutes. When i was freelancing fulltime i would try to time my meetings on the same days – Fridays for example and possibly Wednesdays… that way i wasn’t wasting valuable time in the car when i needed to be working. It also helped in that i would be in meeting mode for a whole day – pretty intense but certainly productive. I do have a car phone kit and that helps in making admin or social calls while i’m in the traffic.
7. Plan, Plan, Plan
If you’re a blogger or a writer, you’ll know what it’s like when writing paralysis hits and you’ve got a deadline – it’s hideous! This means i have to keep a running list of potential blog posts going on my desktop and in my blog notebooks, i have a variety of secret Pinterest boards that i’ll hit when i’m stuck and i also keep a flipfile of photocopied eye candy that i’ve been adding to for years. My iPad and phone are crammed with screenshots from the digital magazines and sites i visit and i’ll trawl those too when i’m stuck. The same goes for when i write for print. I have a file of photocopies which i go through virtually every month to see what strikes me or inspires me or sets off an idea for something i’m writing that month.
Even writing these down puts a knot in my stomach.
I suck, suck, suck at sorting out my slips, mileage and anything else tax admin oriented. The Captain has offered to sort it out for me (he keeps a neat Excel spreadsheet which he updates every month – total over achiever!) but that would mean i’d have to actually sort the damn slips out to give them to him – aaargh, i have such a block here, it kills me. And him too, when i have my bi-annual provisional tax freakout!! Which is now.
• Phone Calls
I’m really, really trying to get better at taking calls but i really hate them. I find them such a distraction in the mornings when i’ve got my head down and although i’m not a ‘conventional’ introvert, i do find the interactions quite exhausting and anxiety inducing. And lets not even talk about private numbers – save me! In the last few years many PR companies have taken to getting interns to phone people to check ‘whether they received the press release’ – i receive about 30 of these calls a week – they make me want to cry!!!
I am bad, bad, bad at getting through my emails and answering people timeously! I’ve tried services that filter for you, i’ve unsubscribed from loads of websites and put my spam filters on but still the mails come and still i fall behind. They’re a festering albatross around my neck! Sometimes i’m tempted to delete my entire inbox and start again!
So, there you have it lovelies – my thoughts on working smart at home.
I’d love to hear what strategies you have for making life work a little smoother…help a sister out – especially on the email front, what’s a girl to do?
If this post resonated with you – you might like this one i wrote on musts for a Happy Home Office