I frequently get questions like “How do you prioritize your tasks each day?” or “How do you stay motivated when you work from home?” or “What are your best time management tips?” Truth is, I’ve held off on addressing these questions because I feel unqualified. I don’t have it all figured out! However, in the two years that I’ve worked “for myself” from home (full story here), I’ve learned a lot about time management, task prioritization, and leveraging my own willpower. I’m far from perfect, but I’m better all three than I used to be.
For those of you reading who do not work for yourself and/or do not work from home, I hope you’re able to apply these tips and suggestions to your unique situation and schedule. Let’s jump in!
1 | Know your personality
There’s no personality type that’s “better” than another. Sure, some personalities are more suited for particular careers or responsibilities, but that individuality is exactly what makes the world go ’round. Personality frameworks are great for explaining and bringing understanding to ourselves–they don’t explain everything, and they aren’t always 100 percent accurate, but they’re helpful, especially in reference to time management and task prioritization. When we grasp how we perceive and interact with the world, we’re better suited to create systems that work for us.
My two favorite personality frameworks are Myers-Briggs (I’m an ISTJ) and Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies (I’m an Obliger). These two frameworks have offered valuable insight into managing my business and time well, particularly The Four Tendencies framework. Knowing that I’m an Obliger (I readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations) has inspired me to create systems of outer accountability around my work, even though I work for myself. It’s also allowed me to recognize that I will always be more successful when I’m meeting outer expectations rather than inner expectations, which partially explains the success of my Blogger Mentorship Program and Etsy shop, where I am accountable to my mentees and customers.
If you’ve never explored your personality and are struggling to get things done working from home, learning about yourself is a great place to start. It’s like identifying the root cause of your work-from-home struggles rather than identifying symptoms.
2 | Create a schedule or a rhythm
I firmly believe that our days need rhythms. Nature has rhythms–changing seasons, the setting and rising of the sun, ocean tides–and so must we. Depending on what works for you, your rhythm may be a highly structured schedule, where each hour is slotted out and accounted for. Alternatively, your daily rhythm may be more fluid and organic, where you have a more flexible schedule.
Though I consider myself to be Type-A, I have found that a more flexible schedule is actually significantly more effective for me in practice. (I didn’t expect this to be true and it took me at least six months of working from home before I realized it.) I have a loose rhythm to my day–I wake up, get dressed and ready, eat breakfast, work on the computer, eat lunch, work on Etsy, work on the computer again, eat dinner, and work on the computer a last time in the evening. When I’m feeling frazzled or strained at the computer, I sprinkle in household tasks like laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping. Allowing myself the flexibility to determine my day’s to-dos based on my energy level, motivation level, and must-do tasks has proven very effective for me.
Finding my daily rhythm took many months and lots of trial and error. I initially attempted to micro-schedule my days (thinking my Type-A nature would respond well) but felt defeated and unmotivated when I wasn’t able to accomplish tasks in my predetermined time slots. As I’ve continually gotten more in tune with my body and cycle over the years, I’m increasingly able to anticipate and recognize my shifting moods and fluctuating energy levels throughout the month and am able to adjust my daily rhythm accordingly. This has been so life-changing for me! For the first time in my life, I’m working with my body instead of against it.
3 | Set daily goals
I create a to-do list every single day. In fact, my “planner” is actually an Erin Condren notebook that I use to make daily to-do lists. On Sunday evenings, I write dates at the top of each page for the week, write in any appointments or meetings (as a bulleted to-do on the appropriate day), and then begin to plan my week. I am highly task-oriented, and I love the feeling of having every item on my list crossed off before bed, so this system has proven highly effective for me. (I’ve filmed an in-depth video of my “planner” on YouTube here if you’re interested.)
Whether your system mimics mine or you set daily goals another way, I believe that bigger successes are attributed to daily successes, so setting daily goals is imperative. When working from home, I don’t have a boss who is setting goals with or for me–I have to do it myself. Daily goals are absolutely critical to the health and success of a business or project. Write them down and cross them off!
4 | Create a peaceful work environment
Many of us are highly affected by our environments. (My hand is all the way up!) A strange-but-true aspect of setting daily goals when you work from home is that work goals and personal goals are often much more intimately tied than they are when you work outside of the home. For example, when I worked in a traditional office environment, I could focus at my desk whether my dishes were dirty, my laundry was done, my fridge was stocked, or my bed was made. It was an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. The same is decidedly not true now!
With this reality in mind, I intertwine household to-dos and work to-dos on my daily list. They go hand in hand! I have a hard time focusing when my environment is a mess, so I make a concerted daily effort to keep my home in a peaceful, tidy state. Our home gets a little messy over the weekend (a phenomenon which results in “frat house Mondays” as I call them on my YouTube channel), so I always clean up on Monday mornings before diving into work.
Outside of the rest of our home, I specifically add “tidy office area” to one of my weekday to-do lists each week. When completing this to-do, I intentionally organize, wipe down, and clean my office area. This quick 15 minute reset does wonders for my productivity. Tidy your workspace! If your house is totally out of control (been there) and you need to get things done, consider a local coffee shop, café, or library to work until you can tackle the mess.
As a side note, if you don’t have a dedicated workspace at home, I highly recommend creating one as your “home base.” Even though I sometimes work from my kitchen table or couch (in the evenings), I have a small office nook in our front room that is permanent. When we lived in a teeny apartment after we first got married, I tucked a tiny desk into a tiny corner and made that my “office.” Work with what you’ve got!
5 | Get dressed
I’ve already written an entire post about this, so I’ll keep it short: I get fully dressed and ready every single day of the week. Even if I don’t plan on leaving the house that day. Even if no one (aside from Riley) will see me. No matter what, I get dressed! I can’t recall a single day in the past two and a half years that I’ve stayed in pajamas. I’ve had a couple of sick days, but even then, I’ll take a hot shower before changing into comfy yoga pants and a sweatshirt.
I don’t often dress up–no heels or blazers around here–but I do get dressed. Usually jeans, leggings, or yoga pants, with an easy tunic or t-shirt. I wear my wedding rings, a necklace, and stud earrings as well. Most days I put on makeup and do my hair. When I look pulled together, I feel pulled together. When I look productive, I feel productive. It’s as simple as that!
6 | Eat like a normal person
Of all aspects of working from home, this is easily the one I struggle with most. Admittedly, I regularly skip meals and eat quick, often unhealthy foods to stave off hunger while I work for “15 more minutes.” In theory, working from home should make mealtimes super easy. Want breakfast? It’s ten steps away. Lunch? Ten steps. A snack? Ten steps. A glass of water? Ten steps. This is true, but some days I feel like my kitchen is a 20 mile hike from my desk with how negligent I am to feed and fuel my body.
I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone when I say: work from home people, we need to eat like normal people! When I worked in a traditional office environment, I never skipped my mid-morning snack, my lunch break, or my afternoon cup of coffee or tea. Never, ever, ever! I lived for those breaks, actually. Now that I’m so absorbed in my work and very passionate about it, I truly forget to eat for hours on end. It’s very unhealthy.
My husband Riley comes home for lunch every day around 1pm, and I’ve taken to forcing myself to go eat lunch with him while he’s home, even if I don’t feel particularly hungry. This 30-45 break from the computer to connect with Riley and fuel my body makes my whole day run more smoothly! Lately, I’ve also forced myself to get up from my desk around 5 or 5:30pm to make a cup of tea or decaf coffee and sit on the couch for a few minutes before Riley gets home. This time to unwind and breathe reduces my stress and improves my mood, making me a much happier partner to come home to. (I almost always work for another few hours after dinner, so taking a break here is good timing too.)
If you struggle in this area, some things that have also helped me are: setting alarms with reminders to take a break and eat, stocking my fridge and pantry with easy, healthy snacks, and keeping a giant cup of water at my desk throughout the day.
7 | Address your weaknesses and limitations
Each of us has a long list of weaknesses and limitations. The older I get, the more accepting I am of my own and of others’. As it relates to working from home, three of my [many] weaknesses and limitations are: I need outer accountability, especially on big projects, if I want to get them done on time, I am very “sensory sensitive” and am easily distracted by almost any environmental factor (lights, sounds, too hot/cold, etc.), and I can’t physically sit at a desk all day due to having scoliosis.
To address my need for outer accountability, I build it into projects that don’t obviously have it. For example, I’ll publicly set a launch date for a new line on Etsy so that I feel accountable to have everything ready by that date. Etsy orders and Blogger Mentorship Program mentees have hard deadlines, which is great outer accountability for me. Blogging and YouTube-wise, I have publicly committed to publishing three new pieces of content a week, which helps me actually achieve that goal.
To address my sensory sensitive nature, I almost exclusively work from home, which is an environment that I can control. (In two and a half years of working from home, I’ve worked at a coffee shop exactly one time.) I like lamps (never overhead lights), quiet, and a comfortable temperature. I have such a hard time working in loud, cold, busy, bright, or dark places. I cannot focus! I wish I were more flexible in this area, but I’m just not (and never have been), and that’s okay.
To address my physical limitations due to scoliosis, I try to alternate sitting and movement throughout my workday. I’ll sit and work for a while, then fold laundry. Then I’ll sit and work for a while longer, then go grocery shopping. I’ll sit and work again, and then unload the dishwasher. I sometimes put my laptop on the bar and stand while I work, but standing in one place is just as uncomfortable to me as sitting in one place, so that’s not a long-term solution either.
Whatever your weaknesses and limitations are, you’re not wrong! We all have our issues and weak points. Identifying, accepting, and addressing them will make working from home much more productive and smooth.
8 | Be very realistic
The last point I want to touch on is perhaps the most important one for anyone who, like me, leans toward overachievement. We’ve got to be realistic! When I worked in a traditional work environment and it was a busy season, my boss was always so gracious to give me extra time for certain tasks and projects. He could see that I had too much on my plate and would help me take some off of it. Over time, I’ve seen the importance of being a good, kind, grace-giving boss to myself.
I can’t do it all. Sometimes things will slip. I’m going to make mistakes. Not because I’m incompetent–because I’m human! I encourage you to be very realistic with your work-from-home goals and ideals. Be careful not to create a fantastical to-do list that could never be completed in one work day. Be realistic with yourself and your time. What can you actually accomplish today? What do you need to do today? What can wait until next week, next month, next year?
I am an achiever through and through–your typical firstborn, perfectionistic, gold star junkie. And I believe that achieving spirit and energy is reflected in my work and growing business, which is something I’m very proud of. However, there is a line where achieving and achieving and achieving becomes unhealthy. I’ve gotten there a few times and have had to re-evaluate my priorities, time, and to-do lists.
Be honest and realistic with yourself as you navigate this strange-but-special work-from-home life. It’s a unique blessing!
// Do you work from home? What’s your experience been like? Additionally, are there any specific topics related to this post that you’d like me to write about?
Thank you for reading! You can find me online on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. If you’d like to be alerted whenever I publish a new post, you can follow me on Bloglovin’ or subscribe via email. Take a look at my Etsy shop where I sell tees, totes, sweatshirts, and pillow covers! Are you a blogger too? Check out my Blogger Mentorship Program.
Jennifer Lasik says
Hi Blair. Loved this article — actually jumped online to find your laundry detergent “recipe” (I ordered the kit from Amazon) but this title grabbed me. My husband works from home and is great at it. He keeps telling me I could never fully work from home, but reading your article makes me realize that I can — if I work with my own personality and rhythm.
I also checked out my Gretchen Rubin personality type (fellow obliger here) and it’s spot on — I do best with external expectations.
Many thanks as always for your insight and thoughts.
Loved this post! I’m a student and sometimes I am all like messy hair don’t care, everything can fall apart around me but unless I’m so immersed I don’t notice which practically never happens my environment influences me so much. Probably why I got nothing done today.
Antonisha La'Shay says
Thank you so much for this. I am just now starting this journey to working for myself and having been having a time with it. I have been a Gretchen Rubin follower for years and am also an obliger. I have been trying to find ways to create external accountability for things like blogging and YouTube. I never even considered the simple idea of making public my posting schedule to keep me on track. I have just gotten into MBTI and using it to help with figuring myself and my relationship out. I am an INTJ and my fiance is an ISFP so it has been very eye opening to see why we do a lot of the things we already knew we did lol. It has definitely been helpful though to getting me on track with finding a rhythm to help with my success.
Claire B. says
These are such concrete, doable tips to be more productive working from home! I’m working part-time right now but I spend a lot of time working on my blog on my days off, so I am definitely going to start implementing some of these 🙂 Specifically I am the WORST about staying in my PJs all day and as a result feeling like I’m truly having a “day off,” which obviously isn’t very motivating to get stuff done. I would love to hear/see more about what your home office space is like as I’d like to create one myself in our next apartment!
Blair! This post is perfect! Thanks!! I also believe in getting dressed up, and being organized. I cannot wear denim, casual clothes, or athletic apparel. I just don’t feel dressed up enough or alert enough to be productive. I often get asked why I get dressed to go to class or to run errands… the answer: it feels great!
What happened to the days when it was improper to wear casual clothes to go out? Bring those back, please!
Although I have to say… I love the polished and put together look…
Maximiliane Smith says
I really appreciate this post! I have a business that I run (mostly) from home, homeschool my brother (again mostly from home) and go to school part-time. It’s easy to fall behind and get distracted, but considering I’m still sitting in the clothes I slept in I’ll get into that shower and change! Thank you for your tips!
” Knowing that I’m an Obliger (I readily meet outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations) has inspired me to create systems of outer accountability around my work, even though I work for myself. It’s also allowed me to recognize that I will always be more successful when I’m meeting outer expectations rather than inner expectations”
Blair, this has resonated with me so much since the first time I read it. Many times I’ve felt a bit like a failure because I’m not great at staying committed to my goals unless I have someone holding me to them (I need that little tough love to keep me going :)). Sometimes I feel like this is a fault of mine, but reading your perspective I understand that this is just part of who I am. I just took Gretchen Rubin’s survey, and no surprise, I’m an Obliger too! Honestly it’s so eye opening. Thank you for sharing! <3
Katie Seaver says
Hi Blair — I just wanted to say that I just discovered your blog, and absolutely love it! I think this post is especially wonderful and helpful — I work from home and it took me a while to find my rhythm, too (A lot of it was about letting myself have a more flexible schedule, too!)
You seem like such a warm, lovely person, and I’m so glad to see your business has been a success.