Those of you who work from home know that it can be a wonderful blessing. But there are also many things that can be hard, too. It’s easier to be distracted at home and harder to stay focused and disciplined.
I’ve been working from home since 2005 and I’ve learned a lot through trial and error. There are times when I’ve really struggled with my time management, but as a result of those struggles, I’ve learned a lot that has helped me to be much more efficient and productive.
Here are five of my top tips for work-at-home women (most of these can be applied even if you don’t work from home):
1. Create a Prioritized List
A few years ago, I set up a time budget for my daily activities. This has been revolutionary for me!
When I first switched to using a time budget, I adhered to the same daily time budget for my work-at-home hours (45 minutes on this, 10 minutes on this, 15 minutes on this, etc.). However, in recent months, I’ve shifted to writing out a time budget plan for each new day.
I include everything on this plan — from showering to making dinner to homeschooling to work projects. I try to cover all of the bases and leave 2 hours of margin time for those inevitable interruptions.
This might seem like a lot of work, but because each day is different and there are different project deadlines and must-do’s that vary with each day, this helps me to be able to stay organized and manage my time well — all while being flexible.
After creating the time budget plan for each day, I take it a step further and prioritize my work/blogging time. I’ve found that if I don’t have a prioritized plan for what I need to do, I can quickly spend a few hours just putting out fires.
Instead of just saying, “I’m going to spend four hours on the computer and blogging work each day,” I write down exactly what I plan to do during that time in prioritized order. If I know I need to do A then B then C then D, it keeps me on task and it guarantees that I actually accomplish the most important priorities.
If you’re interested in hearing more how this works for me, watch my video on How I Do It All — Or Not.
2. Do One Thing At a Time
I know, I know! Multi-tasking can seem like a very efficient way to do many things. However, when it comes to most work tasks, if you want to get concentrated work done in an efficient manner, you need to shut out all the noise and just focus on one thing at a time.
If it’s your time to email, work on email. Go through your emails in order of priority and don’t stop until your time is up. If it’s your time to research something, only work on researching that thing. If you need to make a phone call, just make the phone call.
If you’re used to trying to work on your computer while you have a bunch of applications open and with your phone constantly dinging at you, you’ll likely be surprised at just how much work you can get done in a distraction-free 20-30-minute concentrated block of time.
And once you get in the habit of doing one thing at a time, you’ll learn where your fizzle-out point is. This is the point when you need to stop and take a break or stop for the day in order to come back to your project refreshed and energized.
Personally, I’ve found that I do best by working in 20-30 minute blocks and then rewarding myself with a short 5-minute break to check email or read something online. If I’m working on an in-depth project that requires a lot of brain power, I’ll often set the timer for 20 minutes and work on it and then set the timer for 15 minutes and work on a cleaning project or play with the kids.
3. Tame the Email Monster
I shoot to have no more than 5 emails in my inbox at all times. This might sound crazy, but it’s one huge way that I stay organized and efficient as a business owner.
When I check my email, I aim to deal with emails immediately. Here’s how:
- If an email can be deleted, I delete it immediately (I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to using the delete button!)
- If an email only requires a quick response, I respond immediately.
- If no response is necessary, I archive the email.
- If an email can be handled by someone else on my team, I forward it onto the appropriate team member.
I’ve found that this system covers the majority of emails. For the emails that require a longer response, I save them in my inbox and try to get to them as soon as I can — preferably that same day. (By the way, if you’re a blogger and you’re going to take the time to answer a question in more than a paragraph or two, consider turning it into a post. Then, you kill two birds with one stone — you answered an email and you wrote a post!)
Want more help with keeping your inbox under control? Read my extensive post on How I Keep My Inbox to Fewer Than 5 Emails.
4. Get Enough Rest
I used to think that burning the midnight oil would make me more productive, but I’ve actually found that I’m much more productive if I get at least seven hours of sleep almost every single night. I usually am most productive in the mornings so I make it my goal to go to bed by 10 p.m. and get up between 5 and 6 a.m.
It’s hard for me to shut things down at night but I’ve found that I’m much more prone to dawdle and waste time at night than I am in the mornings. You might be the other way around. Do what works best for you, but whatever you do, put getting enough rest high up on your priority list.
You’ll feel better and more energetic and I’d wager to guess that you’ll also find an extra hour or two of sleep at night helps you to be more productive than if you spent that time trying to pry your eyeballs open with toothpicks and get more work done.
5. Say “No” Often
As women, we’re often afraid to say no. We fear we might miss out on a big opportunity and we worry about what other people might think of us. I know, because I’m there a lot.
I just want to encourage you (and myself!) to guiltlessly say “no”. If an opportunity is going to require time you don’t have or going to oblige you in a way you don’t feel comfortable with or is just not a good fit for you, your family, and/or your business, say “no”.
Before committing to anything, count the costs. What are you going to have to give up in order to do this thing or attend this event or write this post or participate in this project? Is it worth what you’re giving up? If you’re not 100% sure that it is, then say “no”.
Are you a work-at-home woman? If so, what are a few of your best time management tips?
If you’re looking for in-depth advice on how to make money from home… Be sure to check out my book Money-Making Mom: How Every Woman Can Earn More and Make A Difference, where I share creative ways to manage money, generate income and–most importantly–live a life of deeper meaning, fulfillment, and generosity than you might have ever imagined possible. This book is packed with hard-won wisdom, real-life stories, and practical tips to help inspire and motivate you!