Like many of you, I’ve been working from home. But unlike most of you, I’ve been doing it for more than three decades, and it’s not as easy as you think.
Based on my decades of experience working at home, here are the two techniques I find most helpful.
Start your workday with a plan
I realized long ago that a to-do list is not a plan. So, I start every workday by determining what I need to accomplish today and how long I expect each task to take. I then highlight the three most important items to remind me I need to finish them before I tackle less-important tasks.
Use the Pomodoro technique.
After mapping out my workday in the morning, I use something called the Pomodoro Technique to help me stay in the zone and finish more work in less time.
This technique requires only a timer and uses work intervals (traditionally 25 minutes) separated by short breaks. Each 25-minute session is called a “pomodoro” (tomato in Italian), and the frequent breaks help improve your mental agility.
Here’s how you do it:
- Decide on a task.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes.
- Work only on the task you chose in step 1 until the timer rings.
- When the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper:
4a. If you have fewer than four checkmarks: Take a short break (3–5 minutes).
4b. If you have four checkmarks: Take a long break (15–30 minutes) and reset the checkmark count to zero.
- Go back to step 1 and repeat the process.
If you’re interrupted mid-Pomodoro, make a quick note and get back to work immediately, if possible. If not, deal with the interruption and then restart the timer when you’re ready. Of course, you want to avoid abandoning your session whenever possible—the objective is, after all, to complete your session successfully. But sometimes stuff happens—use your best judgment.
Use a timer—any timer
There are dozens of Pomodoro timers and apps in the App Stores; my favorite is called Zonebox, which is free in the Mac App Store. I like that I can load it up in the morning with all of my planned work and that it displays the time remaining in two places—the menu bar and its window.
Or, you can just ask Siri to “set a timer for 25 minutes.”
Finally, I keep track of everything—my daily plan, most important tasks, and Pomodoro sessions—on a worksheet I invented called SuperPlan (a free download at www.tinyurl.com/SuperPlanPDF).
In the early days, I often worked all day and well into the night. And I was always struggling to finish my projects on time. Today, with my daily plan and pomodoros, I complete more work before 5 PM than I used to complete working past midnight.
Planning and Pomodoro sessions are my secret weapons to do more work in less time every day. If you’re not using them yet, give them a try!