Working from home is awesome for many reasons: comfy clothes, extra time to let hair masks set in, and being able to do my laundry at a snail's pace. But, it comes with a whole host of new distractions.
Distractions are the drug of procrastination-prone people. And, if I’m being honest, I’m basically the poster-child for anxiety-driven procrastination. I love a good distraction because sometimes it can be so hard to send that pitch or update my site or write a freaking blog post. Of course, a day of procrastination is a day wasted. And that wreaks havoc on my mindset in general.
It was clear early on that I needed to find ways to make it psychologically and physiologically easier to get tasks done. This is beyond making a to-do list and prioritizing tasks. This is about giving myself the best possible conditions to thrive.
So weird as they may seem (some aren’t that weird) here are strategies I use on the regular to keep spirits high and fingers typing.
Listening to ASMR on YouTube
Okay, let’s start with the weirdest one first.
I think by now we’ve all at least heard of this strange phenomenon: people whispering and making soft sounds into a microphone will make your head tingle. It seems like a really weird thing to listen to, but hear me out.
I get distracted easily. My mind wanders frequently, which has been a blessing in many ways but also poses an obstacle to my work and a threat to my business. I’ve used ambient noises, classical music, and what I can only describe as spa music. These have all worked, and I do continue to use them all, but...
ASMR works better than anything else I’ve tried.
You may have guessed that I have an anxiety problem (i.s. I probably told you already). At one point the problem was so debilitating, I couldn’t drive for fear of getting a panic attack. Almost anything can set me off. Although I have developed some seriously time-saving coping techniques* when it comes to the fear of putting myself “out there” as a writer? It easily becomes messy given the chance.
The thought goblins come together at full force to remind me how absolutely untalented I am. It sucks. It wastes my time. One of the ways I prevent the thought goblins from ruining my day and toppling my mindset is by listening to things that relax me while I write.
I have a playlist of videos of “no talking” videos that are close to the 20-minute mark. This provides me with a sort of timer to remind me to stretch and move around.
Getting Up & Move
A few years ago a study came out and caught fire. Its claims about the danger of a sedentary lifestyle minced no words. Basically: it’s bad for you to sit still all day. Period. Their recommendation was to get up around move around every twenty minutes.
The popularity of the study convinced many to purchase standing desks or to swap their chairs for yoga balls. But, physical health isn’t the only major benefit. Your attention span will also thank you—because it works naturally with your brain’s natural ability to pay attention to one thing.
Ever heard that the average person’s attention is roughly 20 minutes?
* 20 minutes *
But it’s not 20 minutes because we can’t pay attention. It’s not because there is something wrong with us. As Alejandro Lleras, a research psychologist at the University of Illinois, says “you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not a problem.”
So, I get up about every twenty to thirty minutes to refresh my brain, do a random household chore, and stretch. As an added bonus I suffer less from stiffness and body pain, while keeping a clean home.
But somedays a five minute break just isn’t enough.
Taking a Nap
Somedays, I burn out more easily than others. Usually, it’s because I didn’t sleep enough the night before. When that midafternoon slump starts to hit me and I feel droopy, I know that a nap is the best cure.
Sleeping on the job may sound like a real waste of time. Especially in a culture that equates hard work (and being overworked) with intrinsic value. But it’s absolutely key to keeping my brain fresh.
As a writer, not only do I write a lot, but I read a lot. I draft and work on several projects at the same time. And don’t forget that in addition to my writing business, I also write as an artist. I have to make considerations about submissions, pitches, line-breaks, blogging, marketing—all of these tasks require different mindsets.
They also require bandwidth. The best way for me to keep that bandwidth running at top speeds is to ensure my brain is well-rested. And the only way to do that is to actually rest.
I set a timer on my phone, which calms any anxiety associated with, “but what if I sleep all day!” When I hit start, I easily slip into sleep mode—of course, this is years into being a nap-regular and practicing yoga. For others, napping may be really difficult at first.
With time, you will become accustomed to it. You might consider an ultra-calming guided meditation to begin. I highly recommend giving it a try (and I would love to know if you do give it a try!)
A Two Hour Lunch Break
That being said, I don’t need to nap every day. I’ve been blessed with an undue amount of energy (keeps me up and anxious). If I’ve slept well the night before, I usually don’t get the midday sleepies.
But, I never work the day through like I once did in my 9 to 5.
Back then, I returned home generally too cross-eyed to read—a large reason why, for much of my working career, I’ve tried to leave my mornings open for my writing—and generally feeling like a sack of potatoes.
Nowadays, it’s a matter of getting to my desk by nine and completing my most important tasks by 1 o’clock. Currently, this means writing for clients or my blog. Then my break followed by three to four hours of work that’s less creativity-dependent, like revision, media planning.
During my break, I can read and relax, go for a hike, take a nap, pet the cat, go grocery shopping. Basically, anything that can be done in less than two hours. Once the break goes beyond that mark, I find it exceedingly difficult to return to my desk.
The truth behind this one is that I am a smoker. I don’t smoke anymore (tbh: for now) but I loved smoking. I mean, I loved everything about smoking except smelling like an ashtray. It was key to my productivity in college—a period of time where I worked two jobs to stay afloat.
I’d work for an hour and then take a smoking break. It’s where my best ideas came to me. All the better if I could smoke on a roof. I rolled my own cigarettes. There was a lot of ritual involved.
But, smoking is terrible for the lungs. And I don’t have great lungs to begin with. So, now
I sip tea.
Tea solves a lot of problems. It’s hydrating, provides antioxidants, and there is a ritual. I love rituals. Plus, it comes in so many flavors that I can’t get board.
Oh, I also drink a lot of coffee, too. I just have to be careful about caffiene.
If you’re trying to cut back on smoking, I’d give tea-substitution a try. There’s nothing like taking a victory sip after finishing that email or a perfect sentence.
Wrap Party aka Look for Something to Celebrate
This one took forever for me to really put into practice. I used to think to myself, what you did today didn’t really warrant a celebration. But now I know that taking a moment for some self-support, especially to say thank you to myself, is a small action with a HUGE impact.
Why shouldn’t I be grateful that I showed up? Why shouldn’t I be proud of my efforts? Why shouldn’t any of us allow ourselves to be inspired by our own courage, action, and resiliency?
I’m not talking about self-delusion, I’m talking about self-encouragement. Self-encouragement is my secret to ending a cycle that looks like this:
I love when I check things off my to-do list, but sometimes the day doesn’t unfold the way I wanted. And I needed to develop the humility to deal with this sort of ‘loss’ instead of consuming myself with thoughts of self-doubt.
One of the ways I transform this situation into something motivational is to:
Look for what I did well and celebrate it. Every day I know there is at least one thing I did right. I discover what that is—if I can make a list, all the better. And I thank myself for making that effort.
Find the opportunity. I try to figure out where I went wrong when I didn’t check the box. Usually, it’s a case of procrastination (fear) or overwhelm (too big a task). These are areas of opportunity for improvement.
Plan for success. Once I discover the opportunity for improvement, I make a plan to work new strategies into my life to avoid a failure in the future.
A good thing to remember is that we never really run out of opportunities. There is always a next level we can aim for once we’ve mastered the level we’re at now.
You may have noticed that basically everything on this list is as much self-care as it is “productivity hack.” That’s definitely by design. I firmly believe that self-care is the path to accomplishing anything great.
I also recognize that for many of us, offering ourselves some care and kindness can be shockingly difficult. It was for me! Yet, with time and humility—and plenty of IDGAF about the how—I have been able to develop plenty of ways to keep productivity up and spirits high.
What do you think? Is self-care part of your productivity? Let me know below.
* I have had the help of several amazing therapists over the years. I encourage anyone to seek the counsel of a therapist, especially if you have a history of anxiety, depression, or trauma. Zoc Doc and Psychology Today have many listings to choose from.