In a recent Facebook discussion, quite a few of you said you have a lot of unfinished projects keeping you up at night. These projects don’t have to be big undertakings. Maybe your unfinished project is simply finding your first at-home job!
I get it. We are all short on time these days. No matter how hard you work or how many hours you put in, that to-do list is never quite finished.
Today, I wanted to share my top tips for finishing what you start. Let’s get those accomplishments rolling in!
1. Set Boundaries
In order to make the most of your workday when working from home, you need to set boundaries between work and off time. It’s tempting to think you have all the time in the world to get your job done when you work from home. But before you know it, you’ve wasted half the day and feel like you have to work late into the night to make up for it. This can lead to disrupted daily schedules, feeling burned out, and can affect your relationships with your family if you don’t have time for them.
To help yourself treat your workday like a workday, have a designated workspace in your home. If you don’t have room for an office, designate part of the kitchen table as your space. Or whatever works for you. You should also get dressed each day to help yourself mentally get into the work groove. You’ll get more accomplished when you feel physically prepared and in the right space for work.
2. Make a Schedule
Many people consider a flexible schedule to be one of the best parts of working from home. And it is! But you still have to actually have a schedule. To keep yourself on track and prioritize your tasks requires you to have a designated work time each day you plan to work. When you work from home, you are your own supervisor – so act like it. Each Sunday, sit down and determine your schedule for the week.
Outline all your commitments for the week, from taking kids to school or practice to doing any required housework or errands. Be honest with yourself – don’t plan on an 8-hour workday when you have a ton of errands to run as well. Look at the tasks necessary to complete your work from home, and create your work schedule.
3. Set Deadlines
One of the most effective ways to get something done is to have a deadline for accomplishing it. In a traditional work setting, you have deadlines every day to stay on task. Why should working from home be any different? The only crucial difference is that you have to set these deadlines for yourself, with no manager standing by to tell you when to get stuff done.
When your home-based work involves clients, you’ll often be setting a deadline as part of your work relationship with them. However, having one deadline for a big project (or even a medium-sized one) isn’t good enough – you need several deadlines spaced throughout to ensure you’re hitting milestones and are on track to finish the full project on time.
4. Break the Work Down
Whether you’re working on your own blog, developing a website for a client, or creating a social media schedule for a company, any project you work on can be broken down into individual tasks. That’s how you make projects manageable – understand everything that needs to be done to accomplish your goal and make a list of the steps required. Creating this list of tasks both ensures you won’t miss anything and it will give you a clear and detailed path to follow as you work.
This detailed plan also helps you set deadlines for your projects. You can organize the work into phases, assign milestone points within each project, and set your deadlines accordingly. As you complete tasks and mark them off, you have a visual showing you how far you’ve come. Being able to see how much you’ve accomplished can keep you energized and motivated to complete your work, too!
5. Stay on Track
There is no shortage of potential distractions when you’re working from home – there’s television, and maybe even Netflix with all your favorite movies and shows just a click away. There’s social media where you can check in with your friends and argue with strangers on the Internet. There are a million online stores to shop through for basically anything you could ever want. How are you supposed to stay on track and actually finish anything surrounded by all this temptation?
Easy: there’s an app for that! You can use various types of productivity software to keep yourself on task and answerable to management (which is you). Tools like Freedom and Cold Turkey let you block certain websites or programs for a period of time you specify – you can lock yourself out of Facebook and Twitter, for instance, so you won’t get distracted from work. You can use a system like the Pomodoro technique to keep yourself working in sprints and regularly taking breaks so you’re sustainably productive. And you can use apps like Todoist or Monday.com to list all your to-dos for each project so you can mark them off when you’re done.
6. Bribe Yourself
Are you still having a hard time staying focused, despite having the schedule and the list of tasks and being locked out of distractions? When your motivation is incredibly low, try bribing yourself. Pick a prize – it can be as simple as an extra window of Twitter time or a modest purchase like a book or film you’ve been wanting. Maybe it’s something edible like a chocolate bar or a fancy coffee. Whatever it is, promise yourself that you’ll get it once you accomplish your tasks for the day to keep you on track with your project.
Bribing yourself may sound childish, but never underestimate the power of the prize to motivate a person!
7. Put the Hard Stuff First
Whenever possible, do the hardest part of your to-do list first each day. If you wait to tackle the major task on a given day, it can overshadow the rest of your work day. Maybe you drag your feet because you don’t want to start – it’s so difficult! – or you feel overwhelmed by your scheduled tasks.
There’s a serious benefit to getting the big task out of the way – for one thing, you get the accomplishment boost to your morale and that’s as important when working from home as it is in any on-site traditional job. It also gives you a feeling of relief, and subsequent tasks seem that much easier when you’ve got the big one down.
8. Work in Blocks
Some work-from-home careers – like being a social media manager or a freelance writer or a virtual assistant – often mean that you have more than one client. Depending on how successful you are or what services you offer, you could have 5, 10, 15, or even more! And each one of them has their own projects and blocks of tasks that you need to accomplish for them. It can seem overwhelming when you look at all the work together, and you might feel like you can’t focus on what you need to do.
One way to ensure you’re getting all your tasks done for your clients – and to restore your fragmented focus – is to work in blocks. Maybe on Monday and Wednesday, you dedicate your time to Client A and Client C. Then on Tuesdays and Thursday, you tackle Client B and Client D’s to-do lists. Then Fridays, you spend on your own personal projects. Setting aside blocks of time help you dial in to each customer, and working in blocks of time means you can actually finish tasks for them instead of making a tiny bit of progress on 4 different projects on each day. Being able to strike tasks off your list each day will build your confidence as well.
9. Don't Do Too Much
Be honest with yourself about your limitations – this includes acknowledging that time is not an infinite resource! For each person, there is going to be a limit to the amount of work you can do on a given day – both mentally and due to the fact there are only so many viable work hours. You need to define how much time you can actually dedicate to work, and make sure you don’t burn out by sacrificing time off. It’s better to earn consistently than to take on too much and then not be able to earn at all.
Recognizing your limitations will help you determine how many clients or projects you can have going at any one time. These limitations will also keep you focused, and not confused about what to work on: not trying to take on too much will ensure you can actually finish what you start.
10. Resist the Shiny
New projects can be intoxicating. Everything seems perfect and fresh before you actually start the work. The possibilities are exciting, landing a new client or project pumps you up, and the possible financial reward isn’t bad either.
There’s danger in shiny new projects, too – when you’re in the middle of one project, nothing looks better than a new one. The project you’re working on is difficult and so much work and maybe you’re not feeling inspired anymore. Maybe you’re even in that phase of the work where you hate everything you’ve done. Of course, the only way to cure that apathy or dislike is by finishing the project you’re working on. Resist “taking a break” to start something new!
11. Done is Better Than Perfect
My final tip to you is this: done is better than perfect. In any given project, you may feel the need to make sure everything is absolutely perfect. That tendency is the death of progress – instead of knocking out one task after another, you may find yourself going back to previous tasks again and again to tweak something. All the while, your frustration increases because that drive for perfection is never satisfied. That’s why you just have to let go.
Done is better than perfect every time, and completing what you start will open up new opportunities for you. Don’t waste the future on the past.
Using these strategies will make you more productive in no time. How do you feel now? Hopefully less frustrated!