As November turns to December, it gets harder and harder to flip the switch from holiday festivities to emails and spreadsheets. Take it from me: I work from home as a freelance writer . While I love the flexibility and freedom of this arrangement, it can be challenging to get motivated without a team of colleagues and a conventional office environment to show up at every day, especially at this time of year.
But here’s what I’ve found to be one key to my success: a set, regular, step-by-step morning routine. Some parts of the routine are constructive, and others are more ritualistic, but I’ve discovered that my greatest times of productivity occur when I stick to this practice.
So, if you’re having trouble wrapping your head around the workday, try kicking it off with my eight-step plan. Whether you work in your cubicle or your kitchen, these tips will arm you with that extra “oomph” you need to get started on the grind—and stay focused on it all day long.
1. Stretch it Out
My day starts at 6:30 AM with Ashtanga yoga, a moving meditation that grounds me, stretches me out, gives me focus, gets my blood flowing, and puts me in the right frame of mind for work. I can’t imagine my life without yoga, but if it’s not for you, just pick another get-your-heart-pumping activity : a run, a stretch, a Pilates routine, or a spin class are all great ways to start your morning.
2. Gotta Have a Java
Straight from yoga, I race for my coffee (I would probably inject it intravenously if I could). My caffeine addiction notwithstanding, a little extra jolt can be helpful to distinguish between night and day. If you’re not a coffee drinker, you might find that a cold shower, protein shake, or cup of tea can have the same rejuvenating benefits.
3. Feed Your Belly
First the coffee, now the food —remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? If you haven’t satisfied your growling stomach, there’s no way you’ll be able to focus on work. Along the same lines, make sure that you’re rested and hydrated—taking care of yourself is the best way to remain focused throughout the day.
4. Dress the Part
Okay, I admit it: I do sometimes work in my pajamas (it’s one of those work-from-home perks ). But I find that I’m much more productive and energized if I take the time to dress professionally—and don’t just throw on something I’ve pulled out of the laundry pile. Something about a crisp white button down and a bright scarf makes me feel ready for work—even if I’m my only company for the day.
5. Put Your Workspace to Work
Whether you’re in a formal office space or you work from your desk at home, it’s important that you’re organized and that you equip yourself with the tools necessary to get the job done.
For example, I like a clean desk, good lighting, a supportive chair, and my coffee within arm’s reach. My computer has to be amply charged, and I need easy access to a notepad and pen. (A sleeping dog snuggling by my feet is an added plus.) Figure out what you need—and then make sure you have it there with you each morning.
6. Deter Distractions
Wherever you are, distractions are hard to manage . Unexpected visitors, noisy co-workers, Facebook alerts, Tweetdeck updates, and a relentlessly ringing phone can all wreak havoc on a good work groove.
But especially with the holidays only weeks away, it can be difficult to ignore our other obligations. So, to avoid compromising your attention to your work, make sure you’ve addressed those distractions—called your mom, sent that Evite, whatever— before you sit down at your desk.
7. Make a List, Check it Twice
Before I initiate any project, I create a skeleton framework of what I need to do. Since I’m a writer, I’ll sometimes develop a detailed roadmap that includes references, bullet points, and a draft intro and summary paragraphs. But no matter what, I’ll begin with a list of notes that I keep near my laptop for reference.
Regardless of what you do for a living, starting with a comprehensive list can help you flesh out your ideas for a project or for the day more thoughtfully, and it’ll keep you on track so that you maintain focus.
8. Set a Timer
Even if I’m not timing a project for invoicing purposes, I like to work with a stopwatch in plain view—I’ve found that I’m much more productive when I know exactly how long I’ve been working. A timer is especially helpful if you preemptively set a work goal (e.g. “I’m not going to take a break until I work on this brief for at least an hour”). You’ll feel much more accountable to that goal—and motivated to get it done—if you track and time your work.
The best part about getting a solid start to the workday? It almost always ensures enhanced productivity and better results all day long. So try these techniques—or develop your own routine that works for you—and you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.
What tips and tricks do you use to jumpstart your workday? Tell us, and you'll be entered to win a gift from Runa Tea! (Contest runs through Dec. 11)