Tips for Greater Productivity, part 2

geared towards people who work at home, especially writers

This is the second half of my productivity tips list, so if you missed part 1, don’t forget to check it out!

6. Schedule both fun time and chill time.

And yes, they are different things. Fun time is for things like bowling with your kids, going on a weekend hike, or checking out your local Zumba class. (Notice how these are all active things that might give you endorphins.) Chill time is for things like TV marathons, lazy evenings on the couch with your spouse and pets, and luxury naps. (Notice how these are all snuggly things that might up your oxytocin levels.) Both are necessary for a healthy body and brain, so give yourself time to do one of each at least once a week. If you can’t find time, make time. A refreshed self is more productive than a continually exhausted self.

7. Get busy. (Not to be confused with fun time.)

This one is counter-intuitive. But have you ever noticed that when you have a bit of a time crunch you can pound out 1,000 words in a single hour… words that you often can’t get over an entire half-day? There’s a reason for this, and it’s the same one high school students have been using as an excuse to do last-minute papers for decades: our brains often work better under slight stress.

My point is that if you aren’t at least moderately busy, you might be less productive even though you have more time. So if you work at home and see that your day is wide open with nothing but one goal, throw some other things in there. Tell yourself you’re going to go get the oil changed today at 2, and that you have to accomplish your goal before then. You’ll likely achieve that new goal—and get your oil changed to boot. It’s a win-win.

And if you routinely find yourself with lots of empty time, it might be time to increase your goals.

8. Turn off the freaking interwebs.

Look at your laptop keyboard. Do you see near the top what looks like a little phone tower with motion symbols coming out of it? That’s the wireless button. (You desktoppers will have to do it the old fashioned way, from the control panel.) That button: push it. “But Annie, won’t that turn off the internet?” Yup.

9. Be hard on yourself.

There probably isn’t a therapist in the world who would tell you this, but lucky for us… I’m not a therapist.

Working for yourself is like going to the gym; it’s innate human nature to cheat. The reason personal trainers and fitness classes work better than telling yourself “you’ll do it at home” is because we are always sneakily trying to figure out ways to go easy on ourselves. It’s in our genetic makeup to conserve energy—both physical and mental. So, just as you might let yourself go 5 pounds lighter at the gym than your trainer would, you might just go several tasks lighter on yourself at home than a traditional boss would.

There’s no easy fix for this. The goals help, as does the schedule. In the end, you have to constantly remind yourself what you’re capable of.

You have to work hard. You have to push yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of, or you’ll never test your limits. I tell my husband all the time that I’m a much tougher boss than any bosses I know, and it’s true. If you want to be productive, you need to be hard on yourself.

10. But not too hard.

That being said… there’s a limit. You don’t want to cross the line between pushing yourself toward productivity and bullying yourself. That’s why we schedule in fun time and chill time. And if your own boss (you) ever brings you to tears with her harshness… tell that chief to eff off and go take your lunch break early. She’ll understand.

11. Get enough sleep.

You know that expression “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”? I think it’s one of goofiest things I’ve ever heard. People need sleep. You know what happens when you don’t sleep? You die. So… yeah, I guess you will “sleep when you’re dead”… and it will be a lot sooner than the rest of us.

Snark aside, not getting enough sleep is a huge problem in our society. When I was in college, people were always surprised by how regularly I maintained high grades. They’d ask me how I did it, and there were really only two answers: 1) Review new information within 24 hours of learning it, and 2) Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Not kidding. Most people could get high grades if they religiously followed those two rules.

The mistake so many people make is cutting sleep during the week and “catching up” on the weekend. The problem with this (aside from the fact that sleep is directly tied to the immune system, and a lack of sleep will lead to increased illness, which will lead to decreased productivity) is that the brain needs sleep each night to process, sort, and store all of the information of that day. If you miss sleep that night, there’s no going back; that information (or some of it) will be lost—inadequately stored. So while, yes, you’ll sleep more that weekend because you’ll be tired, it won’t reverse the negative effects of skipping sleep during the week. There’s no such thing as “catching up on sleep.”

A rested brain means a higher-functioning brain. A higher-functioning brain means faster, higher-quality work production. Get your eight hours each night so your noggin is ready to go each morning. Plus, you’ll get rid of that dragged-out-of-bed–by-an-angry-raccoon feeling, which is always nice. Speaking of which…

12. Make the bed.

I thought about writing a whole paragraph here about how starting your day off with a neat, lovely, productive attitude sets the tone and gets you in a positive frame of mind (and there is truth to that — no, really)… but then I realized that I just prefer when people make the bed.

So make the bed.


What did I miss? Do you find yourself wishing you were more productive? Do you have any extra tips you can share with my readers? Jump in below!

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  • read something inspirational, or listen to a good song or a quick youtube clip to remind yourself of the bigger picture. be strong enough to turn positives into negatives and stay motivated to keep doing so.
    Thanks for the blog!!!

  • Melissa

    Not surprising that our twinness continues… I never attributed my college grades to getting sleep and reviewing notes within 24 hours. But by golly – I think you’re right (I did both). During four years of undergrad, I pulled only ONE all-nighter and vowed I would NEVER, EVER do it again. My motto: “If I don’t know the material by now, it’s not worth it!” Yes, my eight hours (my preference, exactly) is THAT important. Other than that one time, I was in bed every night by 10 during college. 🙂

    But our differences might begin with the bed-making. Heh heh. Though I have to say, the house is spotless, and I KNOW that cleanliness helps with my creativity. So – you’re on to something there as well. Great tips (esp. the fun and chill time rules ;-)!!)

    • Yes! I bet it was. I can’t remember the school, but I learned in psychology that one of the ivy leaguers did a study that proved memory retention was increased dramatically with an immediate review + full night’s sleep. Who would have thunk it? 😉

      True confession: I don’t always make the bed. Especially on weekends, when a nap seems imminent. But I *do* feel more ready to tackle my day when I make it on weekdays.

      Thanks Melissa!

  • Ha, I didn’t know it was so easy to turn off the wi-fi. Downside: it’s just as easy to turn it back on, lol! I guess that’s why I have Freedom, because I don’t trust myself to leave it off. 😉

    Oh, sleep! This one is so important for me! I can seriously up my productivity by 300% just by coming to the job well-rested. When I’m tired, I just can’t focus on anything creative. I can’t even BE creative. I’m better off not even trying and going to take a nap. I suppose that’s a perk of working at home – I CAN go take a nap if I need to. 

    My bed is not made though. But that tip does kind of relate to advice I’ve heard to “get dressed” in the morning before starting work. Of course, we can write in our pajamas if we want to, but getting dressed does put you in a different mindset. Like you really, truly are going to start your day.

    Great tips, Annie! Thank you for sharing these!

    • That’s true; you can just turn it back on. Which is nice if you have a legitimate reason to (like a fact check that can’t wait for revisions), but not so nice if you have low willpower. =) For me, turning it off helps, because I have to be aware of turning it back on. I’m less likely to cheat if I have to consciously push the button than if I just have to open the browser as usual.

      Naps = one of the best benefits of working at home. If I really need a nap, I’ll take one, although that to me is an indicator that I haven’t been doing a good enough job of getting adequate sleep each night. So if I need a nap, I make a larger effort to go to bed on time for the rest of that week.

      I like the getting dressed thing, too. I do that along with making the bed. I don’t get “real world” dressed complete with shoes and makeup, but I do change out of PJs and into clothes that I wouldn’t be mortified to be seen in. I agree; it’s a different mindset.

      Glad you liked the tips, Laura! Thanks for the comment. =)

  • Cynthia Robertson

    I have a love/hate relationship with number 7, Annie; it’s true that a certain amount of busy-ness keeps me productive, and you are so right about a crowded days ability to get us to write write write. But I still wish I could have more free time to write (and probably always will chafe if I don’t). Which only goes to prove we don’t always want what we know is best for us, and, I am very contrary.

    I like everything orderly in my house and especially my office. But you know what? I learned a while ago to tune out anything like that that bothers me when it comes to writing – otherwise I would never get any writing done. It took me years, literally, to learn to relax my high expectations in this regard. And it’s made me much more productive. Someday I’d like to be able to say I can write in a tornado!

    • That’s true, and a good point. As with all of these tips (and all things, really) balance is key. Yes, business can help with productivity, but sometimes productivity needs to be balanced with joy. If having lots of time to write brings you joy, that might — at least sometimes — be more important that strict productivity. I don’t think that’s contrary at all. =)

      Same with tidiness. Yes, a clean organized house ups productivity, but that doesn’t mean it should become an excuse when it doesn’t work out that way. I think it goes back to balance again: if you don’t have time to make the house orderly one day/week/year, you can still learn to be productive in spite of that. Absolutely. Writing in a tornado would be some feat. 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Cynthia!

  • Boy, “get enough sleep” is really the one I’m grappling with right now. I’m not going to bed early enough and I’m getting up way way too early. And I can really feel my sleep deprivation cutting into my productivity which of course is leading me to… yes, let’s face it, procrastinate! Thanks for some more great tips, Annie!

    • I hear you. I am impressed, though, that you’re managing to wake up early even though you’re tired. I don’t have willpower when it comes to sleep. If I go to bed late, I’m going to wake up late, too. And I hate feeling like I’ve wasted my day!

  • Richardsfive

    I am a true believer in the eight hours of sleep a night.  I try to be sure that happens for everyone at my house. It’s the Be Hard on Yourself part I need to work on. I think the trainer vs. self is a perfect analogy. I’m working on it. * she cracks the whip at herself*

    My tip: don’t waste car time or kitchen time. I have a cd player in the car and one in the kitchen. I make sure both are loaded with classes recorded at writing conventions (I get these free from an organization I belong to that maintains a library of them). While I’m cooking or scrubbing the floor or loading the dishwasher or driving to the mall I’m listening and hopefully learning.

    • Hehe.
      You go! And that is a FANTASTIC tip!! That would be a great way to get more
      reading done, too, if you like audio books. I would listen in my car if my CD
      player wasn’t broken. And my iPod. =( I need to remedy this situation ASAP.

  • #8 is really hard. 🙁

  • jclementwall

    Oh, a link between two of your pieces of advice. If you exert yourself physically during the day, you sleep better at night. There are lots of reasons for insomnia and this won’t solve all of them, but you’d be surprised by how much of a difference it makes. Regular physical activity signals to your body the need to rest.

    Writers spend so much time in their head and at their keyboard (being obsessively cerebral), they often forget about their bodies. But engaging in physical activity, and then sleeping well promotes health and creativity. And according to NPR, sleep makes you smarter.

    No downside there!

  • I have to say, I take exception to #12 – I’ve always thought making the bed was the least useful thing I could possibly do with my time. But I love the rest – especially the part about sleeping! I didn’t sleep much during college, and while my grades were very good, I feel like I missed out on a lot of other things because I was so tired. Sleep is good. Very good.

    • Haha! Well, I was mostly joking, and I can see what you mean about it being a waste of time. That’s many people’s argument: you’re just going to get back in it in 18 hours or so. But the grain of truth in the sentiment is less bed-specific and more about mindset. Starting the day with something easy + productive is a good way to feel ready to tackle a larger list. It doesn’t have to be the bed. 🙂

      And of course, sleep is one of my favorite things.

  • Here’s a funny oxymoron: sometimes I find I need more routine in order to be productive, but when the routine isn’t working then changing the routine makes me more productive. Right now I think I’m in the “need more routine” stage, because things have been crazy lately.

    Also need more sleep. There’s no substitute for sleeping — no amount of coffee or food or exercise can make up for a good, full night’s sleep.

    • Huh. You know, that’s true for me too, but I’ve never thought about it that way. Usually sitting at my desk at the same time of day gets me going, for example, but sometimes I get stuck and need to move somewhere else to write. That’s kind of weird, when you put it that way.

  • Pingback: On the Difficulty of Staying Focused During Writing | Books and Body()

  • Hey, Annie – Tex here. I don’t comment nearly enough, but I have to stop and tell you how fantastic this list is. I have been struggling enormously with this very thing, and it is such a relief to know that it is A) legitimately challenging for loads of people and B) absolutely fixable. Thanks so much for bringing it down from the mountain!

    • That is so great to hear!! I’m thrilled this helped you; thanks for letting me know. And best of luck with it all.