How to be more productive when you work from home (for chaotic, order-avoiders only)

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freelancer life

My imperfectly perfect approach to working productively (ish) from home

I’m a freelance copywriter. I’ve worked from home for almost a decade. I should have the self-discipline and finely tuned processes in place to know exactly how to work from home productively. In truth, I probably have, but not in a conventional sense. You see, I’m a naturally chaotic, order-avoider. Productivity is something I have to work at.

That’s right, I’m not the natural person to write a post on how to work uber-efficiently. Not in a conventional sense anyway. But that’s the thing, despite a predisposition for pandemonium, I’ve found a way to work from home and get stuff done, proving you don’t have to be ‘perfect’ to work from home efficiently.

Desperately seeking… Judy

I want to be that ultra-organised, super efficient home-worker who has everything under control. Let’s call her Judy (I don’t know anyone called Judy, but if I did, I’m pretty sure she would be super efficient at work).

Judy gets up promptly when her alarm sounds at 6:00am. She goes for a run before her little treasures emerge from the land of nod.

Overnight oats are in the fridge the evening before, and the kids’ school bags and shoes (polished to a high shine of course) are lined up at the front door ready and waiting for a prompt 8:21 departure.

At 9am on the dot Judy sits down at her desk (no crumbs on her keyboard) with a perfectly brewed macchiato to sip as she meticulously compiles a colour-coded to-do list for the day. This is a list that she sticks to with the same regimental dedication I devote only to my tea break schedule.

By 2:30pm she is crossing off the last item on the list, and has even added two new items to tomorrow’s list in preparation. Just to get ahead.

Now, there’s time for a quick cuppa and a browse through social media in peace before she leaves for school pick up.

She doesn’t work after the kids go to bed (lights out by 7:00pm naturally). She catches up on some reading and watches an episode of Fleabag.

How to be more productive when you work from home
Disclosure. This is my desk (really). However this has been carefully constructed entirely for Instagrammable purposes. Real life is a bit (lot) more messy.

I’m no Judy

Running before breakfast is always a mistake for me (my legs are like lumps of lead pre-caffeine).

Making breakfast before bedtime is something I just can’t get my tiny head around. Baffled by it.

And even if I have the school bags lined up, I inevitably forget to add the various reply slips and only remember five minutes before we leave the house. Cue panic.

Shoes get polished semi-frequently (OK, irregularly, definitely after a failed attempt to dodge some dog poo, and always for school photograph day).

As for the to-do list, well it comes in whatever colour pen is closest to hand. If it happens at all.

And I don’t even like macchiato coffee.

You get the picture.

Yet, most days I still manage to feel like a productivity superhero. 

However, occasionally I slip up and bad habits takeover.

Blogs about how to be more productive at work, usually centre around THE perfect day. The superhero day. Let’s call it a Judy day. I love reading about other people’s daily life, but they also make me feel bad about not living their super-charged life. Every. Single. Day.

This is not my life. There are some days when I’m not hyper-productive.

Days like this Tuesday for example. Let me explain.

I start the day by hitting snooze on the alarm clock (I’d been up late the night before finishing off a project that hadn’t quite fit into the working day).

Panic ensued. Breakfast wasn’t cleared away. Shoes definitely remain unpolished. But everyone got to school on time, with everything they needed (it’s not all bad).

Bedraggled. Wet from a downpour (it’s June, really?). Fairly grumpy. I decide to ease myself into the working day with a coffee (strong, black and in a huge mug) and a quick browse through my social media as a treat.

An hour later, I reprimand myself for time wasting (and buying a new top just because an influencer told me to). In mild panic at this stage, I throw myself head-long into a multitude of tasks fearing I have left it all too late. There is no time for constructing a to-do list.

With no strict deadlines to give me the boot up the bottom I need. I rest completely on my chaotic laurels, adopting a scatter gun approach to getting stuff done.

Several tasks are started. Much caffeine is drank. I flounder dramatically, flip-flopping from work, to emails, to tea-drinking. Too much time is spent staring blankly at my screen, scrolling through Twitter, and admiring other people’s Insta-perfect existences.

Oh, I forgot to say, I’m still wearing my running clothes that I threw on this morning with big plans to squeeze in a 5K before lunch.

Before I know it, I’m racing out the door at 2:50pm, five minutes later than I should be, to retrieve my little ones from school.

I get wet (more rain). And grumpy. I also have to explain to too many people why I’m still wearing my running clothes from this morning, because no, I still haven’t been out even for the shortest of jogs.

Annoyed with my lack of achievements, I pledge to address my bad habits. And then work late so I can complete the plentiful half-done tasks I created during the day.

I go to bed late, annoyed that I still haven’t watched the next episode of Fleabag.

But not all days go like this. Some are a bit more…

Wake up with the alarm. Breakfast is eaten and cleared. Get out of the door on time. Drop off children at school. Still no shiny shoes. But everyone is smiling. And on time.

Back home, I make a coffee and sit at my desk for roughly 9:15. (OK, I put a load of washing on too, which is not textbook great for work productivity, but these things have to be done).

I don’t open social media. Instead I take out my notebook and write my to-do list. I add one item I can tick as complete immediately. Despite the lack of colour coding, I am meticulous about only adding items that I’m likely to tackle that day (yep, level-headed me is keeping it real.)

Then I set deadlines for these tasks. Even if they don’t have a real one. Because I NEED a deadline.

By 11:00, the invigorating effect of the morning caffeine has worn off, and the draw of Twitter is getting stronger. So, instead I go for a run (without legs of lead) and get inspired by listening to a podcast about someone who has totally got it all sorted in life.

Return ready to work again. Add a new item to the to-do list (something I’ve already completed and can tick) and get on with renewed vigour. Then, I invite in my favourite motivational hero – the Pomodoro timing app – to get me through the final couple of hours of my working day with optimal, ferocious productivity.

By 2:50pm I’m rushing out of the door. I’m still 5 minutes later than I should be, but I forgive this because I’ve just ticked off the final (genuine) item on my to-do list.

Finally, I get to watch that next episode of Fleabag.

Listening to something inspirational. Smiling because I’m away from my desk.

Comparing my industrious days and disasterous days, reveals a consisten pattern

Start the day well

On time. Minimal panic (there’s got to be some).

Make a to-do list

It doesn’t have to be colour coded, just realistic. I know I can tackle max 3-5 items in a day. Plus a few I can tick off immediately to give me a warm Judy-like glow.

Get stuck in straight away (no idle browsing of social media)

Once I start a task I get engrossed. If that task is getting up to date with my social feeds, I have no self-control. I’ll find myself down all kinds of internet rabbit holes (conveniently dressed up in my conscience as research of course) and inevitably ordering something I really don’t need from ASOS (shame on you influencers).

Get out

Going for a run, listening to a podcast and just leaving my desk and getting outside, is the best way for me to overcome a lull in my productivity. Sometimes, the run is replaced with relocating to a coffee shop for an hour.

Use a Pomodoro timing app

And live by that clock. I love this method. I’m hugely motivated by deadlines. I never miss one. In fact, when one is looming, I’d put even diligent Judy to shame with my industriousness. With the Pomodoro technique you work in 25 minute intervals, separated by short five minute breaks. Each interval is known as a ‘pomodoro’ and you assign a task to accomplish during this time. After four ‘pomodoros’, you take a longer 25 minute break before starting the next round.

And finally…

Always add completed (but previously undocumented) items to your to-do list. I know, it’s fraudulent but it’s worth it for the feel good factor. And who knows the truth except for you?

*** Please note if you are a Judy, I have nothing against your perfection. If anything, I’m jealous. And envy makes me a bit snarky. Sorry Judy.


Freelance writer // Content creator // Copywriter

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