There are a few facts about myself that I sometimes have to say out loud:

“I work from home. I am a disorganized human being. I am extra-good at procrastinating. I am not as good at working on a tight deadline as I was in college.”

In college, I could go to bed early the night before a paper was due, wake up at 4 am, crank out a passable 5-pager, and take a nap after class. (All while under the influence of college-aged hormones, mind you.) Now, I can barely get up at 5:30 am (on a full night of sleep) in order to exercise with my friends. Waking up at 5:00 to work is something that only happens in very dire situations.

I just cannot afford to procrastinate anymore. When I procrastinate, work builds up. Laundry builds up. Stress builds up. None of these things are good, so I’ve been doing my best to boost my productivity and motivation and, for the most part, it’s been working fairly well.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Beat the stress by confronting the stress.

When my plate gets overwhelmingly full, the only way I can pull myself out of the stress-quicksand is to make a list of everything I need to get done, and start crossing things off of it. I’m really good at building my workload up so high in my head that I paralyze myself with stress. Usually that workload is significantly smaller than what my brain has imagined, and the simple act of realizing that can help pull me out of the rut.

2. Plan it out.

Whether you use a planner or are strictly digital with your scheduling, having your near-future plotted out will save you from surprises. Remembering a dentist appointment 12 minutes before you’re actually supposed to be there is not helpful when you’ve got a deadline and no babysitter. Write that stuff down. In one place.

I’ve been on an epic search for the best planner to balance both home and work life, and have found only one option to truly fit my needs. You can purchase the files created by Miss Tiina on Etsy, but are responsible for printing and assembling, which made me almost lose my mind. I didn’t realize until it was a little too late that I could simply have had Office Max put a spiral binding on it, and so I gave up and bought two separate planners:

The Passion Planner: I am going to try to use this one for business. It’s simple but goal-oriented, and I think it’ll work nicely.

The Design Love Planner: I’m trying this one out for home. It’s also simple, but has spaces for budgeting and bill-paying, which is important to me. Also, since I’m not using it for both work and home, there is room for meal planning each week as well.

3. Make the most of your time.

I’ve recently stumbled on the “Pomodoro Technique,” and I can’t stop singing its praises. There’s actually a lot of strategy put into it, but let me boil it down to the most basic of basics:

Work for 25 minutes, break for 5, work for 25, break for 5, work for 25, break for 5, work for 25, break for 15. Repeat. 

Now, since I don’t work an 8-5 shift, I rarely fit  in more than 4 sessions of 25 minutes, but this technique has been a total game-changer. If I know that I’m going to get 5 straight minutes of unabashed recreational internet usage, I can work on something for 25 minutes. I’m not sure what it is about the 25 minute time increments, but it’s perfect. Right as I feel myself getting distracted or frustrated with an assignment, the timer will go off. I set the break timer and watch a silly video, and am fresh for the next 25 minutes.

The cool thing about this technique is that it doesn’t just apply to people who work at a desk. I’ve used it for folding the 9 loads of laundry that have been moved from our bed to the floor and back to the bed again. Turn on an audiobook and those 25 minutes will be over before you know it.

You can use this website or find an app for your phone. Obviously you can also just use a stopwatch… but that’s not nearly as fun.

4. Budget

Money stresses me out. Feeling up in the air about finances stresses me out. Going through our bank accounts once a week and just making sure I know exactly where we stand can turn my stress-dial down significantly. It’s almost become an exercise of zen for me to write down bank amounts in colored pens.

Seriously, give it a try. You’d be amazed at how productive you can be when you don’t have a dollar-bill-shaped-rain-cloud hanging over your head.

5. Just get something done.

There is great power in crossing something off of a list. Even answering an email you’ve been avoiding can give you the motivation to move on to the next task.

Just. Get. Something. Done.

Even if you’ve got giant things on your list that are more important, you’ve got to start somewhere. Work your way up to the big stuff by taking care of the little stuff. It usually lights a fire under my butt that’s hot enough to actually make me get to work.

What about you guys? If you’ve got productivity tips, I’m more than willing to listen. In fact, I can hear the laundry on my bed calling to me now…

Lauren Bonk

Lauren Bonk is a freelance copywriter out of Omaha who's been wrangling family life and words since 2010. She always shows up with a healthy dose of optimism, a mug of coffee in her hand, and a solid high five. (But not too solid, because coffee is hot and that would be painful.)