How I get things done

 

I have had several people ask me how I juggle my diverse workload at home. When the pandemic pretty much shut everything down, a lot of people ended up having to work from home or go to school from home. Unfortunately, (or fortunately), that’s something I’ve been doing for years because of my disability.

A couple of people who’ve emailed me mentioned that it’s hard for them to be productive at home. I get it, I really do. Your home is where all your relaxing stuff is stashed. Things like your super comfortable clothes that you wouldn’t wear to work or school. Distractions like Netflix, Amazon prime video, your e-books. Then of course there’s your kitchen … whether Oreos, Goldfish crackers or grapes are your weakness, you know they’re right there for the taking.

I have 3 children, each of them in school, and 2 of them with part-time jobs. I have 3 small dogs in the house who seemingly love to hear themselves bark at anything and everything. Then there’s the disability that leaves me stuck in the house, unable to escape the madness even to get out for an iced mocha latte, or even a walk in the fresh air.

That disability further complicates my efforts to be productive. I deal with some degree of pain on a daily basis and don’t really take anything for it except the occasional Aleve tablet.  My right hand is purely decorative since my disability worsened, and that’s been a huge time-sucking hassle because I’ve had to teach myself to be a left-handed person. My grandmother was a natural lefty and she was great at it. Me? Not so much.

On a daily basis I typically have to do all or a majority of the following tasks:

  • Check and respond to emails on 5 email accounts

 

Ridiculous right?  But it does help me keep things organized. I have separate email addresses for –

 

  1. My personal email
  2. My blog brand email
  3. My Georgetown email
  4. Email for the nonprofit I run
  5. Email for my genealogy interests

I do muddy the waters sometimes by occasionally giving people from a different specific category my personal email address, because that’s the one I check most frequently. I do try to limit that overlaps though.

 

  • Read at least one book

 

Sometimes it’s one book a day, sometimes 5 a week depending on length. President Obama’s most recent book is almost 800 pages … I read pretty quickly but even I couldn’t do that in a single day.

 

I read my books on Kindle usually. I have the Kindle app on my computer which is what I use most often. Some Advance Reader Copies for review can only be sent as a document file to a Kindle email address, so I have a Kindle Fire device for that purpose. Other review copies can only be delivered as PDF files.

 

I would be lost without my e-reader options. It’s extremely hard to manage reading a book in a traditional bound format when you have to do it with just your left hand, and turn the pages with that same hand. Extremely hard as in Impossible!

 

  • Manage all of my social media accounts: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook community page, LinkedIn

 

A couple of months ago, I brought someone onto my team to help me with keeping the content I create posted on some of the social media websites.  He does a great job… and ironically his name is Nick. I say it’s ironic because my son is named Nick, both of my daughters are dating young men named Nick, my father-in-law went by that name and my husband’s middle name was Nick.  An abundance of Nick names, right?

 

  • Write book reviews

 

When you choose to read a book it often costs you money. It always costs you time. Thoughtful, honest book reviews can help you make a good decision about what books are worth your time and money. Statistics show that the people on average reads less than 12 books per year. Whether you read 2 books a year or 200, hopefully they’re all a good experience in some way, and truthful book reviews can help you make choices that lead to that outcome.

 

I don’t publish full reviews for every book I read. If a book is going to get a particularly poor review, I may alert the author or publisher instead. Sometimes I do post somewhat negative reviews on various book review sites, because I would never be less than honest about it.

 

I do choose to only post 4-star and 5-star reviews on my blog because those are books I most highly recommend. I’m generally more interested in promoting good books then in bad mouthing authors who missed the mark.

 

  • Write blog posts

 

Sometimes I decide ahead of time what I’m going to write and sometimes things going on in the news really dictate my choice of topic. There are times my blog posts are complete a matter of sharing my perspective, and at other times they include research or statistics about issues that I’m discussing with readers.

 

Depending upon the subject matter of the blog post, it can require anywhere from 2 to 8 blocks of time, and occasionally even more.

 

  • Read and select poetry for the week (which usually takes approximately 2 hours a week)

 

I’ve always enjoyed poetry, and it’s almost like a little secret because it really isn’t something people seem to discuss very much. I initially included the poetry corner on the blog site simply because I enjoy it and hoped that others would as well. I’m happy to say that I do routinely get emails from people about poems I’ve shared.

 

At times the poem of the week melds with the theme that is ongoing that week for me. And sometimes I just share a poem I find particularly beautiful, or that reaches out to me in some way.

 

  • Read and select quotes for the week – this usually takes 45 minutes to an hour each week

 

There are times I come across a quote while doing other things and jot it down. I also search for them in the writings of people I admire, or scour the Internet searching by topic.

 

  • Provide feedback and edit suggestions to various authors

 

At times, authors of all different types of books ask me to review the manuscripts they’re getting ready to send to publication, or to give my thoughts on alternative scenes, or read a work in progress for a variety of purposes.

 

  • Work on graduate school coursework for Georgetown University

 

As a distance learning student there are all sorts of things a person has to master. Even the youngest of students have how to learn how to deal with different types of distance learning during this pandemic. At the graduate school level, it’s particularly intense, and requires a serious commitment to the work.

 

This current semester will be my last in earning my master’s degree. It involves putting together a public relations and communications plan for a company in the real world, having telephone meetings with a representative from that company, having telephone meetings with an advisor assigned to me for the purposes of the project, and attending a weekly class for several hours via Zoom. In between those person-to-person obligations is the extensive research and work creating the final project.

 

  • Be available by telephone and email to people coping with the death of a loved one who was killed by a drunk or drugged driver.

 

When a loved one is killed by a DUI driver, the survivors are thrown into a maelstrom of emotion compounded by the practical concerns of coping with the aftermath and rebuilding a life. As someone with the unfortunate experience of living through this, I’ve found out I could be helpful to others with the same situation.

 

In addition to these things, I do research for people, consult with people about certain speeches and presentations. Deal with the responsibilities of homeownership. Pet ownership.

Children.

I have been a widow for nearly 8 years now and I won’t sugarcoat it – it’s been a brutal experience.  I do my best but I feel like I am missing the mark … Not doing or being all my kids deserve. I suspect more than a few single parents feel that way at times.

Setting blocks of time

The way I juggle things is by allocating time in blocks. I find it usually works better this way than to simply complete every task to the finish. When you push through every task right to the end, you can easily run out of time to do other things. Your brain also focuses so much on what you’re doing that you can lose sight of the bigger picture or lose perspective about the task you’re working on. You can get kind of obsessed about one thing and lose track of others that require attention.

If you allocate segments of time you won’t run out of time, and you also won’t have the frenzy of panic to finish what you doing right then and there. I find it’s often better to be able to come back to something with “fresh eyes” instead of developing a kind of muzziness that comes with looking at it too many times in a very short period.

For example, on a particular day I might have time blocks set aside for reading a novel, writing a few book reviews, having meetings, planning promotions, checking and answering emails. I tried to plan those time blocks around the usual rhythms of my household, and the times when I am naturally most inclined to get things accomplished.

I typically pay bills and do other banking type things in the very early morning hours. During week days after the kids leave for school at 7, the dogs usually go back to sleep and the phone is usually silent so I tend to write until around 10 o’clock. It might be research writing, writing for the blog, writing book reviews … some kind of writing.

 

From about 10 AM till noon I find is a good time to reach people on the phone or scheduling meetings. It’s late enough for them to be awake and alert, early enough for them to not be starving for lunch, early enough for them to not be too aggravated by their day, and early enough for them not to be anxious to be done for the day.

 

Between noon and 3 is usually pretty good reading time. I will usually open up a document on my computer and save it as a book review page for whatever I am reading. I will jump on to that page and go down any quotes I might want to include in my review, or bullet points about things I may want to mention. It makes things much more efficient when I do a write up because I can’t always finish a book in one fell swoop.

Similarly, I leave a document open for any school assignment I may be working on. A lot of times I will be researching things and dropping my notes and thoughts into that document. Then as time allows I will go into it and craft a report or a paper out of the material there. This brings me to another point …

Save, save, save. Autosave is your friend. Know how to recover a document if you lose anything on your device. If you’re writing a long email consider creating it in a document format and then when you’re done copy and paste it into the email.

And speaking of email … until you have the email perfect be sure to save it in draft form, and do not put anybody’s email address onto it! Accidentally sending an unfinished or unproofed email can be a cringeworthy experience. I’ve done it, so I know that be painfully true.

From 3 o’clock when kids get home from school until around 6 o’clock, I’m usually dealing with family related stuff and sneaking in occasional email checks when the kids are not in the room with me. Between the hours of 6 PM and 9 PM I am frequently doing stuff for school, writing again, posting on social media or planning posts. From about 9 PM until 2 AM is often peak reading time for me. The house is quiet, the dogs are quiet, even telemarketers can’t call you.

I should confess that I do work on all these things pretty much 7 days a week, but that time blocking on the weekend is different. I know and admit it’s not a great work/life balance. My situation is different from that of most people. As a disabled widow in a pandemic, I’m not going out anywhere. Even before the pandemic I was pretty much stuck in that house for a year. Yet I’m still involved with people and causes and life.

I love to read and to write … always have. When people who know me encouraged me to start a blog, I suddenly realized it was exactly the right thing to do. One of my kids told me more than once that I am “extra” – no surprise then that I realized I might be able to encourage other people because let’s face it, life is beautiful but it’s also hard.

Other things that help

In addition to blocking out time section, I’ve found that having the right equipment for me makes a huge difference in my productivity level. All different types of devices are created for reason; Everyone has different needs and preferences.

Since I have to do all my typing with one hand, my days of a fast ‘words per minute’ count are over. With this setup I have to have, it’s very hard to use a horizontal keyboard. Some trial and error proved that touchscreen works best for me. A device that can hold itself up on its own kickstand has a limited the need for me to try and prop it up on the side of the table, a pillow, or something else. I needed ample memory, a quick processing speed,

 

When you do any type of work at home, you need a very clear understanding of what you need to accomplish. Figure out the order in which you would want to do things based on the rhythm of your home and family, and any requirement just others who need to be part of your efforts. Then accept the fact that you may need to adjust your plan.  You need to remind yourself to go with the flow, even when it’s really hard to do that. As much as it seems that you have all the control if your work space is your living space, the truth is that there will always be a lot of factors potentially affecting your efforts.

Are there any tips and tricks that are effective for you when you’re completing work at home? I’d love to hear about them!

2 thoughts on “How I get things done”

  1. Love this post! Very timely as I was just consulting a friend whose temporary work from home status just went permanent. She has young children and is trying to carve out a better work space and work habits. I work from home full time as well and am lucky to have older children that are self-sufficient and usually out most of the day in school or at work. But it was a process to get to the point of how my day is now structured. I also assist in running a home-based business so I have to be very disciplined about my time. I have a dedicated shared workspace for both of these work obligations. Classical music, scented candles, and a closed office door (if needed!) make my work day bearable. A cleaned desk at the end of the work day helps me to officially start my evenings or weekends. Personal phone calls and texts generally get answered at lunch time or in the evening. I find I am much calmer and feel more organized now that I have separated my work and home life. It is a constant adjustment though and I try to be flexible as much as possible to make it all work.

  2. Wow! You are a superwoman, Denise!
    Great to learn your system and see how well you structure your time. I noticed you don’t get much sleep though. Seems like you read all day and then read some more at night! What does it do to your eyesight?? Just asking as mine is really getting affected and I have to cut back on too much reading especially from my phone.
    Love your blogs and the topics you choose-
    they’re real, interesting and helpful!

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