Working from home is difficult. There are about a million articles that will confirm this, so I won’t bore you with the same summation. Working from home taught me a lot of valuable lessons in efficiency and organization, but I think the most important gift it has given me is how to prioritize.
I don’t just work from home. I also have a(n exceptionally cute) toddler at home with me all day every day since the day she came home from the hospital with me. So when I say “prioritize,” I don’t just mean client work, internal meetings and email.
First, forget the housework.
For me, housework is for early morning or evenings. I cannot think about a sink full of dishes or floors covered in dog hair and dirt and work effectively. On the days when I haven’t brought myself to do the dishes or sweep the floor, I stay away from the mess altogether so it can’t bother me. Take this off your list of workday priorities because it’s certainly the least important and will likely distract you from more important duties.
Do the most tedious thing(s) first.
As a “raging ENFP” (as my college Psych professor once lovingly called me), menial or tedious daily tasks are the bane of my existence. But as a small business owner, they must be done, sometimes every day. In order to get them done and not put them off for the more fulfilling creative tasks, I do these first. Think: anything with a budget, a spreadsheet or color coding.
Download a tool to keep track of deadlines.
I was once a “write down my to-do list every morning” kind of gal but things were still slipping through the cracks. It’s because my to-do list just included short term tasks. Deadlines would sneak up on me and I would have to be reminded often about ongoing project tasks. I downloaded Wunderlist (one of about 10 million tools that can help you here) and began filling it out every time I received any to-do with a deadline that either I or my team or my client set. If I’d sent a sales email, I immediately put it on my list to remind me to follow up in a week. If I’d received a document that needed edits from an employee, I immediately set a reminder for the end of the day to make sure it was done.
Ask for more communication
Sometimes a task may not seem of high importance to you, so I’ve asked for more communication from my clients and teammates. Do you need this done right when I see this email? Say so. In the subject line. Is it fine to wait to get around to it when I can? Telling your clients and teammates that you need more clarification is just an example of “help me help you.”
Figure out a better way to email
- Email can be a huge time suck. Don’t leave it open all day if you can possibly help it. Try instead to check it three or four times designated throughout the day. Turn off your desktop notifications to stop distracting yourself. Sometimes multi-tasking is efficient and other times, it’s just half-assing everything.
- Flag or star emails that need your attention but were not urgent and go back to them at the end of the day to answer those (or at lunch and at the end of the day if you work in a constant communication type of industry like PR or marketing).
Don’t attend every meeting
Meetings can be helpful or incredible wastes of your time. There are obviously meetings that you need to be in, but are there meetings that you can sit out? Perhaps another teammate is already attending and can fill you in.
If there is a meandering client check-in that sucks up an hour of your time but your update is only 15 minutes, ask them to call you when they’re ready to discuss your portion.
If you’re scheduling a ton of cold sales calls, develop a deck to be sent via email beforehand that discusses the generic “Who We Are” and/or services you provide so that when you get on the call, you can dive into the specifics of what you can do for their business.
If you’re a control freak who needs to be in every meeting (sorry!), then try scheduling them only for a certain time of day so you can be in “meeting mode” and know definitively what you have to accomplish before or after.
And finally, don’t stress when life hands you a lemon.
I once told my business partner, “when life hands you a lemon, say screw the lemon and go get a burrito.” It’s mostly because I really love burritos, but it’s also reflective of how I view stress. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I need to step away for a few minutes and do something awesome like walk around the block, play with my daughter or, you guessed it, eat a burrito. Once I’m back, I can identify and prioritize steps to take to tackle the issue. Leaning into that stress is easier when you’re full of chorizo. You can quote me on that.
Oh, and don’t work from bed.