How to Get Things Done (Starting Today)

I work from home three out of six days a week. I wrote a few weeks ago about how I'm now taking Sundays off, but that still leaves half of my days in my home study, sitting in front of my screen, often staring at it blankly or surfing through the bazillion links I've saved for later on Facebook. There is just so much to see on the Interwebz.

All of this is to say, if I want to get things done, I need to discipline myself to do it. At home, nobody sits staring over my shoulder to make sure I'm not on social media when I'm supposed to be working. I have no boss who questions whether surfing pictures on Pinterest is really research (hey, sometimes it is.) So, since I do actually have freelance deadlines to meet and emails to answer, that means I have to self-motivate.

Some days, this is easy. I wake up and spring out of bed, splash cold water on my face, do 15 minutes of yoga, inhale breakfast and coffee, and then sit in front of the laptop ready to work my little fingers off.

And then other days, I'm sort of just likeā€¦no.

But no matter which way I wake up, I have to work. For my own benefit, in case I one day forget all the things I know, and hopefully for your benefit as well, here is what I know about how to get things done (starting today):

  1. Set goals and reward yourself for achieving them. That may be a to-do list (mine are epic), a calendar or day planner, voice reminders, asking your spouse to bother you at the end of the day to see whether you achieved your tasks -- whatever it looks like, set goals for yourself. They can be daily, weekly, hourly, whatever works for you. This is important not just to ensure that you don't forget anything, but also to give yourself that oh-so-good feeling of crossing things off as you complete them. Rewarding yourself with other things is important too, like an hour of TV for completing three hours of writing, or buying yourself a little gift for meeting your workout goals.

  2. Set consequences for missing the mark. This one's no fun, but it's just as important as the first. Didn't write your 1000 words today? Guess you can't have dessert. Cheated on your diet? No TV for you. Read a book instead (for me, that would be the thing I would have to lose out on, but hey). Only did one load of laundry instead of two? Well then...put the second load in. We don't always have to be creative with our self-flagellation. The point is that you not only reward yourself for meeting your goals, but that there are consequences in place if you don't meet them. If you're a writer hoping to lose weight, try linking the number of words you write in a day to the number of calories you can consume, and you'll drop some fat and finish your work in progress. Win-win.

  3. Be disciplined about something new. Right now, I'm trying to have more structure in my work-from-home days and to be more efficient with my writing and reading time. However, I've been trying to do that for years. Sometimes, it helps to develop discipline in a new area that will carry over into the other parts of your life. So, with the support of my incredible husband, I decided to do Whole 30 for the next month. This may seem counter-productive, as doing a new diet usually means more time required for cooking, and in a way it is. But breaking bad eating habits, having more energy, and feeling better about myself are all bonuses definitely worth the price of a few extra hours of food prep. Plus, going without certain foods is a major exercise in self-control, which can only be a bonus when you're trying to strengthen your ability to say "no" and do the things you need to do regardless of 'feeling like it'.

  4. Take a break now and then. This is different from rewarding yourself for your accomplishments. Every once in a while, you need to take time off. Whether that's a day off during the week, or a week away during the year, having down time where there are no checklists to tick and no deadlines to meet is good for the soul. Go to a cabin in the woods to escape technology, or get pampered at an all-inclusive resort. Heck, just say no to all commitments for a week and hole up in your own house with your own family. Organize your life and your time so that you can have occasional rests. We were never meant to work just so we could afford to keep working.

I've actually found that taking one day off from work every week has allowed me to be more productive on the other six. It might not make sense logically, but having that time to rest my brain and enjoy my life makes going to work the next day so much easier. Give it a shot -- what do you have to lose?

I don't know everything. What are your favorite tips for getting things done?