Learning and working from home are most productive when you are prepared. Here are three tips to help your home become an area of productivity and focus. These tips include the proper supplies, a thought-out workspace, and a consistent schedule. Here are some details on creating the most productive workspace your home can provide.
Have the appropriate supplies available for completing professional and academic tasks. A basic school supply list is a great starting point. Be sure to have extras for when the crayons break, the ruler is misplaced, the printer runs out of ink and erasers fall off the pencils. Also, consider electronic supplies such as a calculator, headphones, and charging cables.
Organize Supplies by Type
Organize the supplies by type so they are easy to locate and easy to put away. Open cups or containers work great for pencils, pens, markers, etc., because you can take the entire container to your workspace and grab as you need. Label all containers, shelves, files, and areas that house school supplies. Follow the “place for everything and everything in its place” rule. Even the most obvious storage location should have a simple label.
Keep Supplies Simple
Keep the supplies simple. A fresh box of crayons, matching pencils that are freshly sharpened, a simple set of markers will make it easy for students to select the appropriate tool without overstimulation. A simple, clean file system and basic notepad will keep professional tasks organized. Store supplies in a location that is convenient for everyone to use and put away. If there are young learners, place supplies in an area that they can reach. Older learners will also need a convenient location too, that retrieval and replacement are mindless. The proper supplies will keep your home a well-supplied environment for productivity.
A well-thought-out workspace makes working and learning at home possible. Space will need to have good lighting, be well organized, have space to think, and have minimal distractions. The lighting of a workspace is very important to aid in productivity and alertness. Natural light is important for mental well-being. In the darker, winter months, lamps, and lighting with a warm light can help students feel alert while putting less stress on their eyes. Select a work area that has the best lighting for learning and working.
Organizing and Setting Up Work Space
Keeping a workspace organized will foster learning from home. Students will know where to find what they need to complete their work. The consistency of an organized workspace will also foster learning and reinforce a stable learning environment.
Work areas should have open space on the walls and on the floor to encourage creativity and thinking. While a good selection of wall art and learning posters will create a fun work area, a complete covering of the walls may create overstimulation and distractions. Limit the number of distractions in a work environment. If there are multiple people in the house, try to create smaller work areas for times when independent learning and working is necessary. The workspace should be separate from areas where there is a lot of traffic, younger children may be playing, or where adults will be on calls. Creating a productive workspace is a mix of art and science. Remember to keep it simple and clear for productivity.
Scheduling with Time Blocking
A consistent, time blocked schedule will help you stay focused and be the most productive at home. For adults and children, a consistent schedule is key. Keeping consistency day-to-day will help keep everyone focused on the tasks for the day. When creating a daily time block, you will dedicate each period of the day to a specific category.
What to Include in a Time Block
Time blocks include self-care such as sleep, grooming, exercise, fresh air, and breaks. The work and school day can be blocked out by subject or work tasks. However, meetings and face-to-face time with colleagues, teachers, and teams, may not have much flexibility, so your workday time block may be created around these meetings. There will need to be an end time for your work and school day. The end time gives everyone a time limit to their work and will encourage focus and productivity during work time. Your time block will also need an allocation for meals and meal preparation. Allowing enough time for meal preparation or planning will help keep the day on schedule. Allow for take-out and convenience meals occasionally, so this task doesn’t flood your schedule. The time block schedule should also allow for any housekeeping, yard work, and cleaning, as these are equally important tasks to keep your home a productive environment.
A general time block day that simplifies the details and includes only sleep, self-care, school/work, and family time is completely acceptable. You may personally want to include more details in your time block such as exercise, meetings, planning, etc. Keep it simple when working with the family as a whole. A consistent schedule that is communicated to everyone will promote productive work at home.
Whether your family is working from home full-time or part-time, a well-planned environment will reduce stress and encourage productive work and learning. Take time to select the proper supplies, plan out workspaces, and create a schedule. These three areas will help make working from home as productive as it can be.
If planning and organizing are a challenge for you, Top Shelf Home Organizing can work with you. Contact Jayme if you want help setting up for a productive home.
You should protect your time with time blocking, regardless of your responsibilities. Whether you are a busy professional well into your career, a full-time caregiver to your family, or just juggling many responsibilities, blocking your time will set boundaries around your professional and personal time and allow you to maximize your productivity.
Blocking your time is a written reminder of where you need be, literally and mentally, at any time of the day. Time blocking allows you to focus deeply on the task that needs to be completed. For example, when you have time blocked for self care in your schedule, all you need to focus on in the self care time block is caring for yourself. Just like budgeting your money, time blocking makes you aware of how you spend your time (and where you waste your time). Time blocking is a written commitment to what you spend your time on.
To start time blocking, make a list of your daily tasks, this is a high level list. Each task may have multiple sub-tasks within it. We will address these later. This is just a list of what you should do everyday. As an example, here is a list of Jayme’s daily tasks. Included in the list are a couple items I would like to make time for (reading, a hobby and free time).
- Self care
- Family care
- Email, Social Media
- Planning for tomorrow
- Free time
Combine smaller tasks into a task batch. Task batching is grouping smaller tasks into one chunk of time. This could include checking and responding to email, returning phone calls and checking social media. Another batch may include a few items that are complete during some personal time (reading, hobby and free time). A morning routine could also be batched, as these events naturally occur together and fit into a schedule by design (self care, family care and exercise). In this example, family care is also a batch. Family care may include cooking, mealtime, bathing, homework help, and carpooling.
Your work time is naturally where you would task batch items you need to complete to make money. Notice I wrote, “make money.” This is where you mark your time as busy to focus on the items that eventually pay your bills. You tell your assistant or whoever you work with that your door is closed, and non-critical family chats and conversations can wait. This is the time you focus on your work. There are other times of your day where you may mark yourself busy, as well. These times may be when you are physically not available such as sleep and exercise.
Day theming works well if you have large portions in each day that you need to dedicate to different areas to meet the same goal. For example, if you work from 9am to 3pm each day, you may want to dedicate one day for client meetings and client follow up, another day for writing, another day for administrative tasks, and two other days for marketing. If you have projects, there are days of the week you may need to dedicate to the one or many projects you have going on.
Time blocking takes planning and revisions. Your initial plan for a time block may need to be revised frequently in the beginning. Give yourself some grace. If you are not seasoned to planning your day, keep it very simple in the beginning and allow flexibility. Life if going to happen and your schedule may go astray. You will find peace though knowing that there is a daily plan, and if you stick to the plan productivity will happen. As your productivity increases and evolves, you will find more free time in your day and your week.
Time blocking can be done with a simple paper calendar or planner, or with an online calendar or application. I would recommend starting with a simple paper and pencil to plan your time. After getting used to the idea of scheduling your time into blocks, try a digital calendar or app where you can experiment with colors and tags.
If planning your time causes you stress and anxiety, Top Shelf Home Organizing would love to help you on your journey. Jayme can help you plan your time blocking, set your goals, and keep you accountable to meeting those goals.
Whether you are in high school or in college, having a system to organize your course work will set the foundation for success in your courses. Keeping an organized course portfolio for each class can help with homework, studying for exams, and reference for the next course in a sequence. In the long term, having organized work can assist with future courses, standardized test preparation and professional licensing. These portfolios can also serve as sample work for college applications, graduate school admissions, job applications and scholarship applications. A portfolio could be created with a simple three ring binder or electronically using PDF documents.
The cover to a course portfolio should include:
- Course name
- Course number
- Course term and date
- Instructor name
- Your name
To save time, consider creating a template in a word processing document so that information for each course can be easily entered and saved.
Table of Contents
The basics of a Table of Contents is to assist you in finding the information that is included within the portfolio. At a minimum, this page will include the titles of each section of the portfolio. These sections are listed below in bold. If you want to add detail to the table of contents, a suggestion is to add subtitles to each section. The Lecture Notes section, for example, would include the topics of each lecture, and the Lab section would include the titles to each lab.
The lecture note section of the portfolio is where you gather and store the lesson information that is presented in the classroom. The material is placed chronologically in the portfolio. Lessons may be provided in a visual presentation software such as PowerPoint or Google Slides, PDF or another file. Some instructors may not provide lesson outlines or notes, as they may feel a student is more engaged and likely to retain material if they create their own notes.
The content of the Lecture Note section will include:
- Lesson outlines provided by instructor
- Your notes (these may be handwritten, markups on a PDF, notes added to a visual presentation file file, or notes added to other files the instructor provides)
The instructor may provide handout or additional files to supplement their lecture materials.
The instructor may include reference material that they used to prepare their lecture, or material that the student can refer to for additional reinforcement.
- Current articles can be helpful to reinforce the lecture materials and add interest to the material being presented.
- Other materials provided by instructor
- Reference material
Chronologically placed in portfolios
Original assignment sheet
Chronologically placed in portfolio
Exam cover sheet with material, lectures and chapters covered
Chronologically placed in portfolio
Lab team member names
Formal lab write-up
Lab lecture notes
Handwritten notes and data collection
Photos of procedure and results
Having organized files on your hard drive and on a network is equally important. Providing structure to the way the work is saved and titled helps students access their work when assignments are due, study for exams and reference work in the future.
- Make one main file devoted to your schoolwork. Title this folder with your school name. Add subfolders with the school year or term. For example, “Spring 2020.”
- Within the term file, create a subfolder for each class you take. (Tip: Use the full name of the class, i.e., “AE 1001 Freshman Seminar.” If that’s too long, use the department abbreviation and course number, i.e., “AE 1001.”)
- Each class will have similar subfolders to keep specific material. These folders will likely include Lecture Notes, Handouts, Assignments, Exams and Labs. The files within these files will have a clear and unique name starting with the category followed by the details of the file. For example, lecture notes from the sixth lecture may be titled “Lecture 6.” Your instructor may require a particular file-name structure that includes your name if the work is being submitted via e-mail or a cloud-based workspace such as Dropbox or Box. To ensure that your work will be accepted for full credit, pay attention to the guidelines provided in your syllabus, in class, or within the course.
- Save your final file to the appropriate course folder. You may consider saving to your own drive and backing up to the cloud, or an external drive to protect your work.
Keeping course work organized is a critical aspect of a student’s success. Guiding them through this process a few times will help them build structure for future success and independence. An organized course portfolio can serve as application and scholarship material, be used for reference for future courses and careers, as well as a reference for standard testing and professional licensing.
See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you get your next organizing project started and completed. Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.
Preparing for a season transition can be stressful, especially if you have school aged children wrapping up their school year and end of year performances. While May is a busy month, I have created a list of things to do before summer is in full swing. The key to summer is to have a plan.
Summer days feel carefree and wide open. Your budget, however, may not be. Take some time to think about your summer budget. Summer time brings extra childcare and camp expenses. You may also be working a reduced schedule. Sticking to a budget can make your summer less stressful and more accomplished. No one wants to end the summer in debt and stressed out.
A change in schedule for the family will bring new challenges. Plan ahead for summer activities and childcare. For you, schedule time for self care and exercise. If you are good about getting to the gym during the school year, you will want to schedule similar exercise time in the summer. It’s easy to put other family member’s schedules before yours in the summer. Your local library and school are great resources for scheduling activities for your children.
Its time to plan your travel routes and lodging for summer travel. Choose your destination, and schedule and research the best flights, routes and lodging. If you have your travel plans nailed down, its time to get into the details. Research the best local cuisine, fun day excursions, the best parks in the area, and free things to do with kids. It is also a good idea to gather all important travel documents, and know where the local medical clinics are and drug stores for necessities while traveling. For the weekends you are local, research your city’s summer bucket list for fun local explorations.
- Lazy Days
Plan plenty of lazy days for you and your family. Allow yourself some time to read a book, nap in the hammock or putts in the garden. Kids love exploring in the backyard, creating fairy gardens, collecting bugs and camping in the backyard. These creative activities are tough to accomplish with an overscheduled summer.
- Self Care
Do a few things for yourself in advance of summer time. Schedule a hair appointment for a fresh cut and color. Pay attention to your feet by starting the sandal season with a fresh pedicure. Stock up on sunscreen for both your body and your face. Declutter your makeup, toss the old items and add a fresh lip color to your collection. This is also a great time to clean out your medicine cabinet. Dispose of expired or unneeded medications, and ensure your first aid kit is stocked.
- Your Wardrobe
If you have not yet transitioned your wardrobe, do it now. Purge the fall, winter and spring items that don’t suit you, instead of packing them away. If you didn’t like them this year, you won’t like them next year (even if you lose the ten pounds you are working on). For your summer wardrobe, get all items from storage. Carefully select the items you want to wear, purge the rest. Make a list of items you need to complete your wardrobe and carefully purchase only those items.
- Kids Wardrobe
This purge is very similar to what you would do for your own wardrobe. The good news is that it is easier to work through someone else’s clothes than your own. Remove the fall, winter and spring items that are worn, stained and will not fit your children next year. If you are saving clothing for a younger child, only save the items that you truly love and are in good condition. There is no reason to handle stained or worn clothes more than one time. Neatly pack away the clothes you are saving. Make sure they are clean and neatly folded, and placed in clear plastic bins that are labeled so you know right where to find them. Make a list of the items your children need for the summer season, so you can once again shop with meaning. Keep in mind summer camp and extended trips when inventorying kids clothes.
- Purge Toys
With the kids spending more time outdoors, it is a great time to get into the playroom and basement, and purge the toys they don’t receive joy from. Consider the plastic toy sets they received for their birthday that are now missing parts and have broken pieces, the toys they scatter around unproductively, the nostalgic toy your mother-in-law picked up at a rummage sale last summer, and the toys they have simply outgrown. Keep the basic toys that allow for creative play such as Legos, Magna tiles, dolls and a few Nerf guns.
Prepare your house for a fresh start to the summer. Taking care of a few things inside and out gives you a neat and clean feel for the summer. Inside the house a good deep clean and purge will free up some space. Clean the windows for a clear view, and clean the oven now that roasting season is over. Have your air conditioning system inspected and serviced. Moving to the outside, give your grill a good scrub down. You’ll be amazed how great a clean grill can feel. Wash down patio furniture and the cushions for meals on the porch. Tackle the weeds in the garden now while the soil is moist and soft, and weeds are small. Apply a pre-emergent to your gardens as well to prevent new weeds from appearing. Seed the areas of your lawn that are thin. Add some fresh annual flowers to the front flower beds for some curb appeal. Clean the walkway, driveway and garage floor. Prepare your lawn mower by servicing the engine and sharpening the blades. Inflate the bicycle tires and grease the chains for summer bike rides.
At Top Shelf Home Organizing, we love to help people get stuff done. See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you get ready for summer. Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.
Productivity is all about being efficient and accomplishing more in less time. Schedule your day to be the most efficient you can be by having a plan for every day.
Here are a few tips to make the most of your day whether you work in your home, run a business, or work for a large company.
- Difficult Tasks
Schedule your most difficult, undesirable tasks for the time of day when you are most focused. For many, this time is first thing in the morning. And doesn’t if feel good to get it out of the way?
Prepare, review and stick to a meeting agenda to ensure everyone stays on topic. Issues that may come up during a meeting can wait to be discussed at a later time with only the people involved. Set up video conferencing equipment ahead of the meeting so you can tackle the agenda on time and save everyone valuable minutes with each meeting.
Schedule a couple times in your day where you devote time to checking and responding to emails, voicemails and messages. Having a set time to do this will help you avoid being interrupted throughout the day, and keep you focused on the project you intend to accomplish. Also, use the phone to communicate more often versus the never ending back and forth of email and other messaging communications.
Schedule blocks of breaks throughout your day to keep your mind fresh.
- Me Time
Schedule me time every day. Taking time first thing in the morning to focus on your health and faith will get your day off to a good start.
Use a checklist for daily repetitive tasks. This will keep you focused and help minimize errors in the tasks you do everyday. Also, create a weekly checklist to help keep your week on task, so you can accomplish your goals. Create your weekly checklist at the end of the previous work week so your week is off to a strong, focused start.
- Work Space
Keep your work space neat and organized to ensure focus. Keep only the current project on your desk. If it makes sense, plan certain tasks to be completed offsite or at home. Offsite work allows for focus without the office interruptions and can save commute time.
If scheduling and organizing are challenging, a professional organizer can help. See if Top Shelf Home Organizing can help you on your journey. Contact Jayme to schedule a consult or chat about organizing.