I'll start this post with a disclaimer. Some of these suggestions have worked for millions, and have been advocated by many successful people who work hard to use their time productively. However, there are many productive and successful people that don't follow these suggestions. Best suggestion: try it and see! If it works for you or it doesn't let it bring awareness to how you operate and use methods that work within your personal framework.
Here's the list quick and dirty:
Dress for success
Wake up before business hours; have a decent bedtime
Work without the TV on
Answering every phone call
Taking a break or a nap.
Now let's delve into them one by one a little bit more, shall we?
Dress for Success
The idea of working in your PJs may seem fun but psychologically it can set an unproductive habit.
Extremely comfortable work clothes set the tone of inactivity, but even if you work at your desk in yoga pants and a tee-shirt (my "uniform" of choice), it could just be the physical change from say a nightgown to your comfy work clothes that can set the tone for work. Try delineating in your mind clothing for sleeping versus clothing for working. Even if you sleep in stretch pants or joggers, the act of changing your clothes or freshening up can help change mental gears.
Before you scoff (while wearing your favorite comfy robe), here's some science to back it up:
Another reason to "dress" (even if it's a nice shirt and jeans), while you're working from home is the fact you'll be more likely to leave for breaks during the day.
Speaking from experience, if I say, had to walk the dog in my nightclothes I might not go very far and go back in as soon as my dog has done his business. But if I was dressed in more "outside" appropriate clothing, I'd be more inclined to walk longer and farther which inevitably can brighten my day, has better health benefits, and gives me a great break from the computer screen. I often find I have some great ideas while I'm walking too...so there's that.
Getting dressed helps me take better walks/breaks (more on that later though).
Wake up before business hours/have a decent bedtime
I'm not a morning person. Although if I go to bed at a decent hour (for me that's about 11:30 pm) I can wake up at 6:30 or 7 am and get my day started (I only need about 6-7 hours to be well-rested).
Between the hours of 6:30 am-8:30 am, it's often quiet, with no emails or phone calls coming through. No lawnmowers or construction noise, no kids playing outside yelling like they are being murdered.
I can read, collect my thoughts, pray, and get my life together before the rest of the world starts to collide with mine.
On days that I don't have the morning me-time, my mindset and energy towards being productive can be shot.
For most night owls, this logic can be flipped and they have their me-time and get their thoughts together in the late night or early morning.
I'm also a night owl by nature but also a self-proclaimed lazy night owl that likes wine, tv, reading, and playing games on my computer between the hours of 7 pm-1 am. I find my brainpower and desire to do work or non-fun things are often nonexistent and my energy levels are on the decline all together. Who cares if I fall asleep while reading a book but not so much when I'm writing a blog post or coming up with great ideas for my business or life.
So I force myself to wind down and have an arsenal to get me to sleep by 11/11:30 and take advantage of the morning instead.
Here's an engaging video about what night owls, like myself, can learn about themselves. Those of us that have a bit more control over their schedules can use this information to set their days and nights up a little better for success:
Working without the television on
I know, I know. Many of you will fight me on this one. But hear me out! Most people who watch tv while working use it as background or white noise.
Personally, it depends on what's on the TV that determines if I can do an excellent job in tuning it out or not. TV shows that follow a format each episode where the dialogue doesn't matter like many shows on HGTV (see house, walkthrough, choose house the end) can be easy to tune out glancing up only to see what house was chosen at the end.
The challenge that most people have with watching television while working is the challenge we all have of two eyeballs, one brain.
While you're focused on something you enjoy you may be able to tune out the television but what about if you're doing something where the focus is harder? Inevitably may start to pay attention to the screen and procrastination could creep in.
If watching TV while you work is important to you, try the Pomodoro method of shorter bursts of work and complete focus while the TV is paused (if you have that feature), then take a 5-10 minute TV break maybe stand up and stretch while you find out if the couple went for the modern townhouse outside of their ideal commute or the cute ranch that needs renovation...
Here's a great article about the benefits of white noise and how one person with ADD uses it effectively.
Not answering every phone call
Hey! The phone's ringing!! This is the quintessential metaphor that business is booming, right? But in reality, it can actually be a downfall to your productivity. If a person uses the time blocking technique for time management, it's hard to use that time wisely if you answer the phone during a "scheduled" task that was time blocked.
Just as it might be considered rude to answer the phone during a meeting, consider the time you have blocked off for a task that needs focus, as a meeting with yourself.
I've found, most times its a salesperson or another nonurgent call that rings my phone unexpectantly.
Here are some suggestions to avoid the phone ringing from making you less productive:
If you think the ringing phone is a prospect, get a cute and short voicemail message that instructs people to tell them to let you know when you can call them back. Besides a break in your concentration answering the phone without knowing who's on the other end could result in a bad prospect call (speaking from experience).
Get an answering service (ruby.com) or forward your phone to a receptionist service at a local office share like Intelligent Office, I personally know a manager at the Alexandria location, let me know in the comments below if you'd like an introduction or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to introduce you!
Taking a break or a nap.
I just want to say: We all need rest. *drops mic*
But com'on y'all... for real, schedule a break. Get some lunch. Take a lil' nap if you need it. There are studies upon studies to back up that you're more productive when you're well-rested and relaxed than when you're tired and stressed. As if you need a study to tell you that...am I right?
Here's a whole picture I snagged from a Shape.com magazine with some sound data to back it up.
I'm off to take a break!
Andrea Hancock is a Professional Organizer and Owner of Dexterous Organizing, a professional organizing and lifestyle company serving the Washington, DC Metro area. Andrea has been organizing professionally since 2010 and has completed the foundation courses in the Coach Approach for Organizers Training. She believes mostly anyone can create the organizational system that works for their lives through training, awareness, and consistent efforts.