As a self-employed blogger and an advanced PhD student, motivating myself to get work done is essential to balancing all the aspects of my life. Whether in my roles as a student or a creative, I work independently with little to no oversight. On some days, I power through all my tasks, crush my to-do list, and even have time to cook! But there are definitely days that go by where the only thing I’ve achieved is catching up on everyone else’s Instagram stories. Since I’m an expert at being both very productive and unproductive – depending on the day – here are a few tips for how to actually get work done.
Do the Hardest Thing First
When you tackle the hardest thing on your to do list first, you are guaranteed to have a successful and productive day, even if you don’t get to item number 6 on your to do list. For me, writing blog posts or creating Instagram captions is way more fun than writing my dissertation. But if I start off my day with doing blog work, I’ll never get to the school stuff. By tackling the hard, daunting, semi boring tasks first, I can feel accomplished by lunchtime. For example, checking emails is easy, but can easily consume your whole day. Rather than starting off your day with email, work on the most daunting task on your to do list.
Write it All Down
Speaking of to do lists, write EVERYTHING down. I mean everything. From that presentation you need to make to reordering dish soap on Amazon. It’s almost impossible to miss important deadlines if you write everything down, and there’s a satisfying feeling when you can check things off! I find that writing down the tiny little things is also helpful because I can sprinkle those tasks in my day when I need a break from my bigger to dos.
Work in Intervals
When you’re trying to build muscle, do you do 300 squats in a row? Nah. You break your exercises into sets, and do them in intervals such as 3 sets of 100. Trying to do your work all in one go is a recipe for failure and burnout. Instead, work in intervals of 25 minutes, and rest for 5. This method is called the pomodoro technique and has been incredibly helpful for me. Rather than set a timer on my phone (which can easily lead to distractions), I actually use a desktop application on my computer called Be Focused. You can set your interval times, name specific tasks for each interval, and it will just throw up a notification when it’s time to work and time to take a break.
If you have an iPhone, grab it now and press the home button three times in a row. Notice how your screen is now grey? Instagram, Facebook, and whatever else distracts you is WAY less interesting in greyscale. Also consider putting your phone on airplane mode while working, so you’re not distracted by notifications. Having a clean workspace is also integral because your eyes wander over clutter and mess. If you don’t have a space at home, or if your couch and bed themselves are distractions, find a cafe, library, or working space that is clean and bright.
Get a Productivity Planner
While planners and to do lists are great, a planner that ties in all the above principles is exactly what you need to get work done. I’ve been using the Productivity Planner (off and on) since January last year, and on days I actually use it, I am able to get A LOT done. On days I just wing it or work based off a mental to do list, I usually end up scrolling through Instagram until I get the 6pm text from Jonathan that he’s on his way home, and then I frantically try to accomplish something so I have an answer for him when he asks me what I did all day.
Create a Routine
Finally, creating a routine will help you get work done. Out of everything here, this one is probably the hardest for me because everyday looks different. Sometimes I have a blog assignment due so I need spend my morning finalizing that. But the ideal schedule for me would look something like this:
6am: wake up and workout at JCF Bootcamp (on mornings I work out, I have more productive days than when I sleep in)
8:30am: breakfast of champs – scrambled eggs with veggies
9-2pm: head to a cafe, work on academic things, in 25 minute intervals, starting with writing my dissertation then moving to new research
2-3pm: social media
3-6pm: check business emails, write/plan/edit blog content, be a boss
6-10pm: dinner, snuggle, cuddle, crack jokes, watch TV with the hubby, etc
Now I’ve probably only followed this routine perfectly ONCE in my life, but that day was BOMB. Everything got done that needed to get done, and I didn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed. If I stuck to this kind of schedule from Monday-Thursday, I would definitely finish my dissertation on time and move on to better things. But the moment I skip a workout, skip breakfast, or start scrolling on social media too early, it’s all downhill. But the first step to recovery is acknowledging the problem right?