Back in 2008, I shifted my working days to Tuesday to Friday in the office, then from home on Saturdays. Overall it worked well, but some Saturdays were harder than others. I wasn’t sure why, but on those days I found it particularly hard to concentrate, and ended up having to work on and off all through Sunday, too.
A handy article published by A List Apart, comprising tips from readers for working from home, was the first step towards improving the situation. I was intrigued by the different approaches that worked for different people, many of which were simple common sense. One piece of advice that I put into practice straight away was the “Apply technology” section. (Let’s be honest — what geek needs an excuse to apply technology to any of life’s problems?) That got me on to Remember The Milk, a fantastic task-management tool which has long since taken over from my scrappy, often-updated, paper to-do lists.
Immediately, creating flexible to-do lists with due dates and priorities (and let’s not forget that oh-so-satisfying “Complete”) got me more focused. This became even more important when I finally realised that at the times when I find it difficult to concentrate, it’s either because I don’t enjoy the task itself, or more commonly, because I’m not 100% sure that I’m doing the right thing. I wasn’t able to commit to a task because I wasn’t sure it was the most important thing to work on, or whether I was taking the right approach to it. Essentially, I hadn’t gone to the effort of making some hard decisions about priorities, or breaking down the task, before jumping in. That was a breakthrough for me.
Google Calendar has become more important to my work, too. I prefer RTM for keeping track of my day-to-day tasks, but Google Calendar for keeping an eye on upcoming events (for some clients, these events are added to the calendar up to a year in advance). I then translate the preparation required for those events into smaller tasks in RTM.
The third Firefox tab that I open up every morning is Tracklr. Since I started using Tracklr to clock my work, I actually have an accurate idea of how long I have been working on a task, and I can record notes on what I did in that time. (In the past, trying to remember just why something took so long, weeks after finishing it, was a source of headaches.) It also helps guard against those times when I would get a little… too focused on fixing a problem, shall we say, and stay on it for hours instead of taking a breather and coming back to it with fresh eyes. Now, even when I’m well in the zone, part of me remains aware that there’s a timer running somewhere, and I remember to stop and clear my head.