If you’re like me, lockdown revealed a desire to continue working from home so you can pursue that new business venture you’ve been thinking about. You’re probably also finding that remote work-life balance requires maximizing both personal and professional processes at home to have time to tend to that forever growing to-do list.
So, what’s the best way to build a business from home? Build your own productivity systems!
This blog is the self-employed’s guide to building a productivity system while working at home. It includes the most effective productivity methods (techniques) for your home office environment, and a FREE workbook to help you through each step!
Just text SYSTEMWORKBOOK to (205) 964-2122 to get the workbook link plus a few productivity tips a month!
WHAT IS A PRODUCTIVITY SYSTEM?
A productivity system is a step-by-step process consisting of routines and habits that simplify your day to maximize your efficiency.
Since the goal of systems is to achieve a desired end result, you can apply them to any personal or professional outcome you want to optimize. 2 well-known examples of productivity systems are Getting Things Done / Zen Habits and 12 Week Year.
Productivity systems are commonly confused with productivity methods (or techniques). Productivity methods are the tricks and tools employed to help you achieve the desired end result, or your goal. Think of the methods as the steps in your system’s process.
BENEFITS OF A PRODUCTIVITY SYSTEM
Whether you struggle with work-life balance altogether or productivity in-the-moment, I know from my own experiences that creating your own system will:
- Take less energy to get things done
- Free up the time to do the things you really want to do
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed
- Spark motivation and creativity
- Boost mental health
Take Less Energy to Actually Do Things
According to Psychology Today, humans make roughly 35,000 decisions a day. Forbes pointed out that working from home is even more mentally exhausting – how much do you want to bet that remote entrepreneurs make a lot more than 35,000 daily choices?
Given our brain is thinking about literally thousands of things a day, a common challenge solopreneurs face is decision fatigue – or making low quality choices due to mental exhaustion from the day.
A huge benefit of using a productivity system is reducing your need for in-the-moment decision making. Since building your system means predetermining your step-by-step workflow, you just need to follow the flow to achieve your result as efficiently as possible and save that energy for more important things.
Increased Control Over Your Time
By reducing your decision fatigue, you also reduce the time it takes to complete the process. This means that you can use the leftover time to do whatever it may be – which greatly increases control over how you spend your day.
Saving a few minutes of time and thought here and there may seem useless, but it quickly adds up to more than you realize! Imagine how good it would feel to check the most important things off the list faster and easier than you have before?
Simplifying the Process with Better Habits
When building your productivity system, the phrase Keep It Simple and Stupid (K.I.S.S.) should be your motto. Let’s be real: if your system is not as easy to do as possible, you probably won’t use it.
To ensure simplicity, the steps later on help you analyze what is currently working and not working in your processes. Once you realize what’s not working, you’ll more clearly see any bad habits that may hinder you. The benefit, then, is replacing those bad habits with more effective, easier ones that streamline your workflow. And who doesn’t want better habits?
Thanks to all the above, you’ll successfully achieve your end result quicker than you ever thought you could.
Pretty soon, you’ll reach milestones before you planned, and get your business to where you want it in no time. As you can tell, implementing just one productivity system can affect much more than one goal!
Increased Confidence & Motivation
Once you grow comfortable using your system, your confidence in your abilities will automatically grow, too. Knowing that you can definitely accomplish the task, be it big or small, with extreme ease feels empowering. As a result, motivation to maintain your success and consistency will also increase.
CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
Trying something new is not easy, as we both know, but if you follow my building process you’ll already have some tips and tricks installed that counteract the obstacles described below.
Forming new habits
At first, the biggest challenge is growing comfortable even using your productivity system. Just by implementing it, you’re disrupting the status quo and going against your muscle memory – of course this will take some trial and error!
Questions asked in the building process will unfold your internal trigger(s) – or occurrences within the mind and/or body that instigate a certain behavior. As you’ll notice, internal triggers will help you form the habit of beginning your first step in your system when you need to.
Consistency & Accountability
Once those triggers are in place, the next challenge will be to listen to them. Having consistency means exactly what you think it means; accountability, though, not so much.
According to Merriam Webster – and society – holding someone accountable implies enforcing consequences when mistakes happen. But that definition fails to mention the lasting negative effects of these consequences, like lowered confidence and lack of motivation.
The trick is to think of accountability as the authors of the book Uncommon Accountability Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington do: a personal choice that can’t be forced. “In its truest form, accountability is simply taking ownership of one’s actions and results.” (p. 14)
In other words, your productivity system will not work unless you understand that your mindset drives your actions, and your actions have real impact on all of the results. So to be consistent, you should hold yourself not accountable but capable of accomplishing it. Take ownership of your play in all results, and turn those failures into feedback.
But sometimes, for whatever reasons, it just ain’t happening. The challenge becomes avoiding the urge to tear yourself down when it doesn’t go according to plan. How?
Practicing positive self-talk in these moments switches your mindset from blaming yourself (or others) to accepting how and why the situation unfolded. For example, rather than getting frustrated with myself that I’m taking way too long to write this not-so-good blog, I instead told myself the amount of ideas in my head is impressive but I need to narrow it down…see the difference?
For those of you who think positive self-talk isn’t for you, it is. Start small – forgiving and/or complimenting yourself for the tiniest of things may feel silly at first, but believe me when I say it’s by far one of the most effective productivity tricks I’ve ever used.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Man plans, God laughs.” It’s true. Interruptions are a part of everyday life, creating a challenge when it happens in the middle of your system.
Multitasking, as ample research has proved, just doesn’t work – so don’t waste your time trying it. Instead, apply the 2 Minute Rule, use a collection tool (both talked about later), or check out my blog on handling interruptions!
Since you simplify your step-by-step process when you build your productivity system, accomplishing the actual task at hand should be anything but overwhelming. Unfortunately, it’s getting in the hang of using your system in the first place that can cause you to feel overwhelmed.
If you’re feeling stuck, follow the Rule of 1%: focus your energy on whatever pushes you just 1% closer to your outcome. This trick always focuses my mind and gets the ball rolling again!
Building your productivity system is not as hard as you think: it’s centered around you! The steps are:
- Pick your focus
- Reflect on your why
- Emotionally connect with your vision
- Pick your productivity methods (+7 effective WFH productivity methods to try)
- Build your productivity system
- Test it out for a month, then optimize
Grab a piece of paper, open a Google Doc, or text SYSTEMWORKBOOK to (205) 964-2122 for your FREE printable and fillable workbook plus to join my list for productivity inspo texts every now and then.
Step one: pick your focus
Write down the productivity challenge that you want to solve with your system.
I suggest choosing only one challenge for now so you can actually make progress. Once you feel comfortable using your productivity system (after at least a month!), choose, again, just one challenge to create another system, and so on.
Step two: reflect on your why
List at least 3 reasons why it is a challenge for you.
Think about what it’s typically like before, during, and after confronting your challenge. Reflect on your: environment, routines (or lack of), mindset, physical activity (or lack of), habits, etc. Now make your list of at least three reasons why it is a productivity challenge.
Step three: emotionally connect to your vision statement
Ask yourself, “What if _?” and summarize into your vision statement. Then list at least 3 reasons why solving your productivity challenge matters to you.
As authors Moran and Lennington emphasize, one of the only things we can control in life are the way we think. They outline “The Emotional Cycle of Change” to show the process of our thinking shift while tackling something new – in this case, your productivity system:
To find the solutions to your productivity challenge (your system’s “given” steps), you must first think about this change as a real possibility for you. In other words, if you keep telling yourself you can – that this is “possible” – you’ll eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the desired result becomes a “given.”
The easiest way to shift your thinking about something as “possible” is to create a detailed vision in your head of what it would be like to achieve your desired result by asking yourself, “What if _?”
Imagine how the benefits of your productivity system would alter your process in reaching your end result, plus how it could positively affect others in your life. What if you could start or finish your work days earlier? What if you could make more money? What if you could better your relationship with your partner? What if…
While reflecting, consider both the subtle and obvious challenges that would fade, differences in availability, attitude, and attention, and speed of results.
Once you have a clear vision in your head of your ideal scenario, summarize it into a phrase or short sentence and write it down – this is your vision statement.
Now ask yourself, “Why does achieving my vision really matter to me?” Reflect on why you care about solving your productivity challenge and those internal factors that drove you to read this blog in the first place. Then make a list underneath your vision statement. These are your internal triggers.
Internal triggers are natural occurrences within the mind and/or body that instigate a certain behavior. They’re crucial to forming new habits given their power in transforming your mindset, or thought pattern.
It’s key to understand that your mindset affects how you live your life both positively and negatively, consequently affecting your results in the same way. Therefore, connecting with your vision should always be the very first step in any productivity system. Writing down your vision statement before getting started on the rest of your workflow allows those internal triggers to do their job: remind you why you care about following your system in the first place.
Warning: having a genuine desire to achieve your vision is an essential prerequisite to moving up The Emotional Cycle of Change and thinking the steps needed to solve your productivity challenge are “probable.” If you do not strongly identify with your vision statement yet, moving to the next step could cause you to abandon your system due to feeling overwhelmed.
Step four: self-discovery
For each of your reasons from step two, ask yourself, “How might I overcome this?” and note what comes to mind.
With incentive and triggers in place, the next step is to brainstorm potential tools and actions that will help you solve your productivity challenge. For each reason you listed in step two, ask yourself, “How might I overcome this?” and write whatever comes to mind. Simply by noting the possibilities, your thinking pattern shifts from seeing your vision as “possible” to “probable.”
Your brainstormed solutions will serve as a guide for your productivity methods, or steps and tools, in your productivity system.
Step five: pick your productivity methods
The internet is oversaturated with productivity techniques, making it impossible to find the most effective tips for those of us who work at home. Luckily for you, I’ve discovered which productivity methods are incredibly effective for working from home throughout my entirely remote career.
Dive deeper into my favorite productivity methods below then make a list of the techniques you want to put into your productivity system.
Remember, though, productivity is personal! Make the techniques work for you by mixing and matching or taking bits and pieces of any method. No matter what, be sure to only choose the methods that will easily supplement your brainstormed solutions from step four.
Want help? Book a consultation and we can choose your productivity methods together!
7 EFFECTIVE WFH PRODUCTIVITY METHODS
Rituals are very similar to routines. Both are essentially workflows, yet the fundamental difference is that a ritual is intended to positively affect your mindset before you begin something. In No Fail Habits, productivity coach Michael Hyatt defines a ritual as, “complex habit chains that manage your mental energy” – which is your most precious resource (p. 16).
Remember that a challenge of implementing a system is forming new habits. Well, rituals can automate those habits and other important activities by putting daily decisions and actions on auto-pilot, thereby also reducing decision fatigue.
If you want to learn more about rituals, check this blog out, too!
2- Time Blocking
Time management is the general process of strategically managing up your time for activities. There are dozens of time management techniques, but when working from home its best to mix and match methods so you can apply them in unison with each other.
Time blocking is the process of designating a specific timeframe in your day to focus on specific work effectively by limiting distractions. By setting hard boundaries with your clock and purposefully removing the surrounding noise, your sense of control over the day automatically increases.
There are several types of time blocks you can try, my 3 favorite being:
- Single-task / deep work block: focusing on only one, intensive task
- Buffer block: focusing on many simple, don’t-need-my-brain tasks like administrative work and answering emails / texts
- Pro tip: start and end your day with buffer blocks, and tend to your day’s incoming distractions during this timeframe so you can actually focus during your other blocks
- Task batched block: focusing on 2 or more related tasks to avoid multitasking and context switching.
- Note: Since task batching can be a method used within its own right, this is a perfect example of what I mean when I suggest applying methods in unison with each other.
The challenge with time blocking is successfully limiting distractions coming your way during the block. Beyond using buffer blocks, I silence all notifications and, as mentioned before, apply two of David Allen’s tricks from his system Getting Things Done: The 2 Minute Rule and a collection tool.
Let’s dive deeper:
- The 2 Minute Rule: if an incoming distraction must be tended to ASAP and takes 2 minutes or less to completely handle, do it now and get it off your mind
- Collection tool: if an incoming distraction takes more than 2 minutes to completely handle, note it in your planner, notebook, or etc. to review later on
- Pro tip: review your collection tool during your workday startup and shutdown rituals so you don’t forget about anything you noted!
3- Task Batching
Task batching is the process of organizing related tasks to execute in the same timeframe and, more importantly, reduces context switching and multitasking.
- Context switching: the process of toggling back and forth between different topics or activities (like checking an incoming text while doing client work)
- Multitasking: the impossible process of attempting more than one task at a time (plus wasting time and energy)
You can think of task batching as an extension of time blocking since the goal is to complete all similar tasks during one timeframe.
The challenge with task batching is figuring out which tasks belong in the same block. Since most of my career has been based around my clients, I batch all tasks for one client together. However, you could instead batch your tasks based on:
- Types of tools used (computer, pen and paper, certain platforms, etc.)
- Work location (your desk, kitchen table, patio, etc.)
- Type of task (buffer tasks, strategic tasks, writing tasks, etc.)
- Energy required (little-no energy needed, high energy needed, etc.)
4- Front-Loading (Eat the Frog)
Front-loading – also known as Eat the Frog – is the process of completing your most intense task of the day first. This technique prevents procrastination by getting the hardest thing out of the way while it also encourages real progress on – let’s be real – those tasks you don’t want to do.
You can think of front-loading as an extension of task batching (based on the energy required) since the goal is to batch and complete the most energy consuming task(s) during your first block of the workday.
5- Internal Clock
Your internal clock – or scientifically speaking: your circadian biological clock – is a 24-hour rhythm literally inside of you that drives your energy flow. Behavioral scientists have verified that everyone’s rhythm is different – for example, I’m most energized in the AM, but my partner prefers afternoons.
I strongly suggest tracking your varying levels of energy throughout the day for at least a week so you can take advantage of your natural rhythm by planning your time blocks accordingly.
6- Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) Principle
The Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY) Principle is the process of using templates to avoid duplicating work. The basic notion is that if you have a problem, you should only have to solve it once.
I create a template for everything – from client deliverables to personal time trackers and even blog writing. Once you experience the innumerable benefits of sourcing from a deck of ready-to-go templates, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start using them earlier.
Sometimes that exact template you need just isn’t out there, and sometimes you’d rather focus on tasks other than template design. Check out my shop to see if any spark your interest; if none do, let me know what you’re looking for in message!
As shared earlier, the way society understands accountability inhibits growth since being held accountable typically leads to being punished in some way for not getting it right.
Avoiding accountability’s consequences leads to lasting negative mental health effects on individuals (and teams), like belittled confidence and dwindled interest in personal progress.
So when being held accountable, how can you avoid those consequences if you don’t get it exactly right? By reframing what accountability means to you.
Transforming accountability into healthier terms helps you see yourself as capable of following through on your commitments. You are then in control of how you follow through (aka your actions), and, thereby, the results. The most productive way to think of holding yourself accountable is instead as holding yourself capable. This means that you have personal ownership over your thinking and you acknowledge that your thinking led to your actions, and your actions led to the results.
A challenge with holding personal ownership is that it does not always feel good at the moment since we naturally want to avoid blame. It’s times like these when your vision statement comes in handy: sometimes all you need to be accountable is a little reminder of what you want.
Luckily this not-so-good feeling lasts only a short time, while the benefits of accountability last a lifetime.
All this being said, holding yourself capable should not be done alone. I recommend sharing your productivity challenges and goals with at least one likewise, trustworthy person and asking for weekly, 15-minute check-ins so you can both monitor each other’s progress. It’s amazing how much more accountable we become once we share our commitments aloud to someone who cares.
Step six: build your productivity system
Order your list of productivity methods from step five into an efficient, step-by-step workflow.
Review your list of productivity methods and think about your desired end result. Trust your common sense: what order do you think the productivity methods should go in to help you achieve your result in the simplest way possible?
Now there is a reason for step 3 – don’t forget that the first step in your new system should always be to connect with your vision! I strongly suggest beginning your workflow with a quick ritual that involves the physical act of writing your vision statement down to instigate your internal triggers. Over time, this repetition will automatically grow your sense of accountability for and motivation towards reaching your productivity goal.
List your productivity methods in the order of your new workflow. Review the list and ask yourself if this is really the best order for the methods to go in, and if any steps can be simplified even more. Pro tip: quickly walk through the steps to gain a sense of what it would feel like.
Adjust if needed, then write down the finalized step-by-step workflow. Congrats – you’ve just built your very own productivity system!!
Step seven: test it out for a month, then optimize
Building a tailored system to solve your work-from-home productivity challenge is the most effective way to boost your daily flow and achieve your desired results – especially if self-employed.
After the first month of trying out your productivity system, you’ll have insight into what worked and what didn’t so you can easily adapt the steps as needed. Like I said before, focus on implementing only one productivity system at a time for best results.
Don’t forget that your productivity system is intended for you and only you. Take what you need, leave what you don’t, and make it work on your terms. Keep a positive mindset, particularly in the beginning, and always have your vision on the forefront of your mind.
If you want to build your personal productivity system but need a little more guidance, book a call and let’s get started!