With the shelter-in-place orders everywhere, we’re all getting a little more time to spend with the people we live with. For many of us, that’s a great thing, spending time with the people we love, making fun memories, learning how to cope with each other’s differences, and developing new ability to put up with the boredom of each day bleeding into the next.
To help ease the pressure, everyone is offering something to do in all that extra time. Art classes, sewing classes, business development, personal development, how to play guitar, tour all the museums virtually, Monday night plays, streaming concerts. All the cool things!
Not trying to discount the severity of this situation, but when it comes to those of us who are working from home – whether that is something we usually do or a temporary measure – all of this becomes …
How am I supposed to concentrate on work when there are so many wonderful things to do available? Sure, they’re online, but if I’m learning something, I’m having fun.
How do you use this time wisely without getting lost in this computerized candy store and still get your work done?
Here are a few strategies I’m using:
Make a physical list
Yep, an old-fashioned, pen (or pencil or marker or implement of your choice) and paper (or whiteboard or chalkboard or surface of your choice that is NOT your working computer screen) that you can keep visible.
This list should have three columns – work, professional, personal – and be divided into three uneven horizontal segments – Active, Actively Interested, and Inactive Interest.
Each column should start with what you Actively have on your plate right now – any current work assignments, any professional development programs or activities you’re currently enrolled in, and any hobbies or personal pursuits you’ve already started to explore.
Strike through any items on the list that are currently on hold because of the quarantine – they don’t count for this exercise, but it doesn’t hurt to remember they’ll still be there when we can come out to play again.
Now add all the things you want to pursue in each of those categories, the things you’re interested in pursuing – work might be upcoming projects, professional might be new skills you want to learn, personal might be new hobbies you want to explore and all those intriguing things everyone else is doing.
Add as many things as you want to each column when thinking of what you’re interested in, but keep in mind, your next step is to prioritize these items so the most important/thing you’re most interested in is just under the last item on the already active segment.
Limit your Actively Interested list to 2-3 items, everything else goes into the Inactive Interest list at the bottom.
Here’s a glimpse at my list:
Now that you know what’s most important to you, you can check this list every time a new shiny object presents itself. If it doesn’t fall within the first two divisions, you can add it to the third and move on.
Fill your calendar
The next strategy also helps you prevent the next new thing from bumping you off course.
I tend to do this weekly on Fridays for the week to come.
Obviously, start with the active projects, making sure you’ve built time into each day or week (depending on the number of active items you have) for each of the items on the list that are already important to you – for work or pleasure.
This step accomplishes two major objectives.
- It ensures you actually work on the active projects consistently, even if it isn’t done every day or fully completed in the time you have allotted. Some progress is always better than no progress.
- It helps you visualize how much time you have available to add extras. That new karaoke night meet-up is calling your name? Check your calendar. If there’s already time for it, great! Go for it! Otherwise, what are you going to drop to fit it in and is that in keeping with your overall goals and objectives.
It is important for us to have fun and enjoy life, especially right now when we’re surrounded by the uncertainty and fear of the present time. That’s why we’re prioritizing based on Active ideas across three categories (work, professional, and personal) rather than always putting work first. You need the flexibility to cut loose sometimes. Personal projects give you that option while still keeping you moving on things that are important to you.
Leave plenty of overflow time
Finally, this is a crazy time. One day, everything seems like normal, the next day, you find yourself in the depths of despair. Okay, maybe you’re not quite so melodramatic, but there are going to be some days when you simply can’t focus no matter what you do.
Karaoke night might not be anywhere near your radar, but you need to blow off some steam with real human interaction, even if it’s just through a computer screen. Or maybe you need to binge watch Outlander on Netflix or watch all your favorite childhood Disney movies on Disney+. If you need a day or two for this, make sure it’s built into your calendar.
Even if you’re sailing through the chaos like a champ, other glitches can throw you a curve ball. Zoom won’t work before your next big meeting, your headphones went missing, the kids aren’t accepting any attempts to placate them today, the cat has decided you’ve given the computer too much attention today. Half an hour here and half an hour there dealing with randomness can quickly throw a tight schedule out of whack.
I recommend planning two hours per day for overflow time if you can. If you don’t need it in a given day, you can begin working on things scheduled for tomorrow or throw in an extra fun activity. But if you need it, you can allow yourself that moment of grace, feel your feelings, tap into the collective experience of this, and be ready to move forward again once the moment passes.
Those are my big three strategies to stay on task as much as possible right now. What tactics have been working for you?