Keeping yourself ON TRACK! – Time Management Tips

Working at home is certainly a unique opportunity. Being able to create, write, design, and do all of your customer service in your favorite PJs is definitely an experience. However, it requires a lot of discipline, especially when it’s your main source of income. If you’re anything like me, you can sometimes be easily distracted or just have trouble keeping focus on any one thing at a given time. Or maybe you just get bored easy. I certainly have all of these problems.

The worst part about working at home is that it’s easy to just stop what you’re doing and do something else, promising that you’ll get back to whatever it is you’re doing because you have so many extra hours in your day because you don’t have to commute, or stop to deal with coworkers, etc. While that approach may have worked while I was in college, now I’m an adult. My bills are much more pressing and competition in my field has gotten MUCH better and there’s MORE of it. I can tell it’s just not going to work if I want to be able to make any money.

Yesterday’s post ties in with this one I started writing about staying on task, so I figure this is a pretty good time to let you in on a couple things I do when I set goals that are maybe a little too ambitious.

Schedule Your Whole Day

A few years ago I set out on a daunting project: create 9 hairstyles within about 2 weeks. Maybe even less. Now, back then, my methods were a little simpler so it was easier to produce at this rate, plus I was using real life references in which several of the styles were similar, so one could be made simply by editing another a bit. I knew this and then set out on my task.

By now, I knew that if I truly focused, I could do a base model of a hairstyle in about 4-8 hours depending on complexity and familiarity with making the different types of locks for each style. I set up a Google calendar that blocked out two 4 hour time slots each day. I also scheduled in time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, completing any administrative or customer service related duties dealing with my shop, and of course, sleep.

Any remaining time I had left I scheduled in as breaks or for any extra work time, which I definitely did need! If I remember correctly, on two separate occasions I pulled 48 hour days. It was worth it in the end though. Of course I had some other project around the same time that might have been the 2day-ers. It’s all very hazy and it was about 4 years ago as of the time I’m writing this post.

My point is, even though I may not have correctly given myself enough time to complete this RIDICULOUS goal (9 in two weeks or less!!), I learned that the most efficient way for me to work was in short intervals with 30 minute – 1 hour breaks in between (you know, sort of like a “real job”). This gave me time away from project to do something fun. Time I would be able to look forward to instead of carrying on and on with no end in sight. Time that I would sometimes start to think of what I would do next on my project which in turn allowed me to get excited about returning to work on it.

Sound Familiar?

What I’ve just talked about might sound a little bit familiar if you know anything about the Pomodoro Technique. I learned about it a few months after I had set up this schedule. In the shortest explanation ever, the Pomodoro Technique a system to break up the time you spend on tasks into 25 minute blocks. After that 25 minutes you congratulate yourself for focusing and take a little break. After 4 blocks, you take a longer break before going back to work. Pretty easy, right? For some, it’s probably way less scary than trying to plan out 24 hours, 7 days a week.

You may decide you want to spend 3 pomodoros on a certain task each day. Or perhaps you just need a little help focusing on that one huge project you’re trying to finish. This is a great way to maximize your time AND still feel rested. Crazy how sitting at your desk all day can make you feel absolutely exhausted, right?

My little scheduling thing isn’t the same thing, but I recognized the work flow as something similar. I was excited to learn about this because I really do have issues focusing on single tasks. If I can break up my time into little chunks, I tend to get more work done.

Pomodoro Websites

Besides the main website, there are also a few other websites and apps built around the Pomodoro Technique:

TomatoTimer is a simple website with work (25 minutes), short break (5 minutes), and long break (10 minutes) options. The site uses audio tones for alerts and if you use Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, you can set up desktop notifications. This way you don’t have to keep the site up to know when you take your breaks. You also don’t have to worry about working over the intended time.

Marinara Timer is a lot more customizable. You can choose to follow the traditional Pomorodo Technique with 25 minute intervals followed by 5 minute short breaks and 15 minute long breaks, or you can set up your own time cycle. There is also a simple timer option to just set a time and once the time is up – ding!

This website also allows you to share the link to your timer set with other people, so if you have a team working together, you all can be on the same time. You can send Viewer or Administrator links; Viewers can only view the timer, Admins can also control the timer.

PomoDone is probably my favorite though. It integrates with several task management apps – such as Trello, Wunderlist, and Evernote to name a few – which are tools I use to manage my entire life pretty much. You can download an app or use it through the website. Work times and breaks are can be customized, and you can even set time presets for easy switching. Maybe you want to work for 30 or 40 minutes this time but go back to 25 after your break. Easily done!

Pomodoro Apps

There are also several apps available! You can find plenty of results if you search in your phone’s app stores. There are too many to list them all so I’ll just mention two; one for iPhone and one for Android. Pomodoro Time seems pretty popular for Apple users. As an Android user, I might be just a bit jealous. Not to worry though, because we have ClearFocus. I’ll be downloading it as soon as I get my new phone, for sure.

The Challenge

So, I challenge you to put your work to the test! Grab your favorite planner or calendar and map out your entire day for a week. Even schedule in your down time. Stick to that schedule and track your productivity. Is it more, or less? You can extend the experiment by switching up the length of hours you work or the length of your breaks. I was able to combine my breakfast and administrative duties to give myself more “me” time or more work time if I needed it.

I admit that I don’t always stick to this schedule (chaos is way more fun!), but when I have a serious I-really-need-to-get-this-done project, out comes the schedule. If I stuck to it more often, I’d probably be doing way better for myself. It’s something I’ve been working on this year especially. I’m finally starting to see the benefits as of the last few months.

If you’re struggling to balance your work-at-home life, try it out. Let us know how it goes in the comments below if you want. Want some tools that can help you manage and track your time? I can help with that too. Check back later this week for a list of my favorite project and list management tools, and also for a great time tracking program.

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