One concern I hear often from my community is how out of control life can feel sometimes when working from home. While we have grand thoughts of how in charge we will be of our lives once we are able to control our schedules and work for ourselves, that rarely ever happens. Does it? We often find even more demands are placed on us as at-home professionals.
If you are feeling a little overwhelmed when it comes to work-life balance, I have some great ideas for how to organize your life – professionally and personally.
Spend a few days this week writing down everything you have to do each day. Write down the things, places, and resources you are reaching for, looking up and going to each week.
As you are being cognizant of your actions and surroundings, take a second look. When you are grabbing clothes from the closet, ask yourself when the last time you wore the things around them. Are you constantly moving a few boxes or small kitchen appliances out of your way? Is it time to downsize? Toss what’s not worth keeping or sell gently used items on Craigslist, letgo or Amazon trade-in.
And make sure you are putting those things you use frequently in a pace where they are easily accessed without having to face unnecessary distractions.
Is There an App for That?
If your finances are something that’s feeling out of control, use an app like Mint to remind you when bills are due or when your accounts are running low on funds.
Automate When You Can
I’m horrible with passwords. And looking them up each time is a total waste of time. LastPass will save them online and autofill those boxes when applicable. It will also notify you of security breaches and to change your passwords frequently.
Keep Your Information Safe
Speaking of changing passwords to protect yourself, take things a step further and help safeguard your identity. We recently enrolled in Zander Insurance which not only notifies you if they believe you have been compromised, but they will also help you recover should something bad happen.
Time Block Your Schedule
If you haven’t heard of time blocking yet, it’s simply a way to schedule your day. Your “time blocks” may be 30 or 60 minutes and these are devoted to a single task.
Why time block?
We have learned in recent years that multitasking really isn’t a good use of your time. The small start/stop while switching between tasks not only wastes time it makes us less productive and less efficient. We aren’t doing as good of a job at anything as we could if we were strictly devoted to one task alone.
The benefits of time blocking are many:
- Focus – Remember how much you can get done when you are “in the zone?” Time blocking gives your mind enough time to get truly focused on the task at hand. You are in the zone. You are getting results.
- Productivity – Have you ever looked around at the end of the day and found you started a lot of projects but finished none of them? Time blocking eliminates that.
- Accountability – How many times have you found yourself saying, “Time just slipped away from me”? You have no excuse for time getting away from you when your life is organized down to the minute.
Perhaps most importantly, time blocking in advance gets you prepared to work on a specific project.
Things You Should Be Time Blocking
There are a lot of tasks when organizing your work-at-home life that it just makes sense to time block:
Email – As I mentioned previously, the first thing I do when I sit down at my desk every morning is to check my email over coffee. I am a little obsessed with “inbox zero,” so I take this task seriously. Emails get responded to, deleted, added to a task list for their appropriate time block or archived if it’s something that’s not important but looks interesting.
I’m heavy with the delete button – and the unsubscribe button. If you aren’t opening and reading a company’s emails more often than not, unsubscribe (unroll.me can help though not perfect). If there’s someone emailing you that you know is just going to be a pain in the butt, waste time kicking tires, or smells like a spammer, delete.
I also use filters in Gmail to keep things like PayPal notifications out of my inbox and in a designated folder until their time to be dealt with.
Social Media – Perhaps the biggest time suck of all is social media. These days, I check my pages and profiles for comments and messages in the morning and that’s it. Facebook is just way too much drama these days. It’s one of those “energy vampires” we all need to be careful about.
Pitching & Applying – Hopefully, you have a few templates you work from when applying for jobs or pitching new clients. When you time block this process, you can not only get more done but you may also be more accurate and make fewer mistakes when you are in the right mindset. If you are actively seeking work, make sure you are blocking out 30 or 60 minutes a day for this task. If you are more in a maintenance mode, making new connections once or twice per week may suffice.
Bookkeeping – Disclaimer: I hate bookwork. For me, it’s easy to time block this task to once per month. I do keep a running list of money coming in/out of my bank account (which I check once each weekday morning), but the serious sit down-categorize income & expenses – calculate profit & loss business is done one time only each month. And it seriously takes me around 30 minutes since QuickBooks brings in all of my transactions from my bank account and PayPal automatically. (If you are looking for an accounting software that's a little more freelancer-friendly, check out FreshBooks which I also use. They offer a 60-day free trial with no credit card required.)
Writing – If you are a blogger, scheduling writing time is so important. It’s far too difficult to not only get something published but also legible when you are trying to stop and start this process frequently. (And if you are a blogger, make sure you check out how I organize my blogging life with Airtable.)
Making Phone Calls – This can be another time waster. I love businesses these days that offer online scheduling and chat support. Who has time to wait on hold? If phone calls are a must, time block it. And by all means, don’t take personal calls during other blocks unless absolutely necessary.
Cooking – Cook ahead whenever possible if you are often crunched for time. For me, that means making lunches for the week on Sunday. For some busy parents, that may mean freezer cooking. At the very least, consider meal planning. I have been doing this lately and love it. Not only are we eating healthier, but also eating more variety. Bonus points: I’m saving money at the grocery store by not having to stop there multiple times per week.
Household Chores – Okay. So maybe I just like to avoid laundry and housecleaning. If you can outsource it, do. If not, schedule it.
In What Order Should I Time Block?
There is no right or wrong answer when planning your life. We are all unique with different schedules and needs. A few things to consider:
Priorities – What on your to-do list matters most? What is going to make everything else easier? Do that first. While some people are strongly against checking emails first thing in the morning, it makes my life so much easier. The other members of my team usually work at night so I know their questions, concerns and completed work should waiting for me in the morning. I can get all of those crossed off my list ASAP. It’s always nice to start your day with an accomplishment.
Internal & External Cycles – When you work from home, it’s always best to work with your body instead of against it. That’s one of the reasons many of us work from home. Right?
I’m an early bird. An outside job was always working against me. I would wake up at 4:30 or 5 am and then have to wait around for three hours before heading to work. By that time, I’m ready for a nap. Even now, I know I do my best mental work in the morning and that’s how I plan my day. Household chores, phone calls and cooking can be done in the afternoon or evening.
What About Those Things that will Inevitably Pop Up?
Whether it’s an idea or a small task that needs to be done that comes to mind while you are in the middle of a time block, take note for later. I have the Todoist extension installed on my browser. I drop my thoughts in there for later so I can get right back to work. If you prefer paper, bullet journaling may work better for you.
Be Realistic! You will still need to be flexible. Make sure you include a few “other” or “miscellaneous” time blocks on your calendar. Just because a task isn’t hard-coded into your workday doesn’t give you an excuse to blow it off completely. Give yourself plenty of time to clean the stragglers once or twice per week.