How to stay productive in unstructured times

In case you read this article at a later point in time, it was written during the Corona-Lockdown.

Many people have unstructured time right now due to their workplaces being shut down or in case of remote work the removal of commute time and other time-draining things. Also, the time can only be used for a limited set of things since leisure activities are currently severely limited. The following is not a holistic essay on productivity but just focused on five quick tips that help me to be very productive in this unstructured time.

Build your own routine

One of the biggest benefactors of productivity is a rigid routine. Most accomplished people who get a lot done follow their own kind of work routine. Famous authors often have their own way of getting into the writing flow early in the morning or late at night. Many of them get the most writing done at the same hours every single day and know what to do to get into the zone. Similarly, your body tends to get hungry at the same time every day, if you are not always hungry like me. You can condition yourself to be hungry at a certain time and you can condition yourself to be productive as well.

If you simply get up every day without any plan and without any structure, you will find yourself procrastinating and not in a good way (For reference, the good kind of procrastination). Try to get into some kind of rhythm, maybe create a morning routine and a routine to start your work. I personally always write down the tasks for the day and prioritize them before I start working on them. Currently, I try to start with the most important task to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. However, I have also successfully started with smaller tasks in the past to get a couple of things out of the way in the beginning and get into a productive mood. This probably depends on your preference. The most important thing is that you actually start! Starting is half the equation for getting into a productive flow.

Have Clear Goals or systems

You should know what you want to focus on. It is difficult to be productive if you do not have habits you want to follow or projects you want to work on. If you do not yet know, take time to figure that out first. It can be lots of fun to explore potential projects or topics you want to learn. Once you have a clear idea of the habits you want to follow every day and the projects you want to work on, it becomes much easier to actually work on them and track whether you succeed or not. I suggest using a habit tracker like Way of Life to get a clear idea of what is working well and what has to be improved.

Create a productive environment

Many people are not used to getting their work done at home. There are significantly more potential distractions and often there is no optimized work setup. If that is the case for you, try to remove the distractions if possible and start optimizing your work setup. It is helpful to have one dedicated room or desk in your home that is optimized for productivity. Also, now is probably a good time to get that second screen or external keyboard you wanted to buy for some time. Your work environment correlates strongly with how productive you are. By work environment, I am not only referring to your physical environment but also to your digital environment. Deactivate most of the notifications on your phone, you should do that anyway to keep a calm mind. Additionally, install a productivity tool like Motion to refrain from spending time on distracting websites while you are working. A last thing to note is that usually, a clean room will help your focus and you taking care of yourself and maybe even dressing up for work is shown to have significant productivity and mood benefits for many people. All of this the above will make your life much easier since you need less willpower to stick to your tasks and can get into the flow more effectively.

Rebounding

Not every day will be perfect and that is fine. In my own experience, the most important day after failing to do a daily habit on one day or after having a generally unproductive day is to use all the possible force that you have to rebound the very next day. If you do not follow a habit for two days in a row, the chance of the break becoming much longer rises exponentially. Getting back into your productive rhythm as quickly as possible is important so that you do not get used to living your day without the habit since per definition habits are something you do almost automatically. It is fine to cut habits out of your routine regularly if you don't want or need them anymore. However, this should be an active and not a passive decision.

Accountability Partners

Get yourself a good friend or family member that has the same or a similar goal/habit and hold each other accountable. It is way more fun to go through an online course together or to know that your friend is also dieting right now. I currently have accountability partners for meditation, diet and for an online course I am taking. I am progressing at a faster pace since we can share tips and tricks and also the probability of me not following through is much lower since I do not want to be the one who does not keep up the promise. If you do not have anyone in your close circle who is a good fit, you can also try to find an accountability group online or approach someone in your broader network who is interested in the same activity.

Ultimately, every productivity routine is a bit different. It depends on your environment, resources and personality. However, if you feel that you are not as productive as you want to be, try to use the tactics above to improve your routine and get back on track.