I’ll let you in on a little secret. Though I believe in the importance of getting dressed in real clothes each day, I rarely do it before I’ve clocked a few hours in my home office. Over time the midday shower has become my frequent ritual, a way that I carve out a break between one block of work time before diving into the next. As I step away from my desk and my brain enters the process of doing something rote and automatic, I gain clarity about some niggling problem that I’m working on (such as a topic for this blog). I also use short walks to reset my brain, or I’ll schedule a yoga class at lunch time or in the late afternoon.
In a traditional office, meetings, coffee breaks, and lunch serve as natural ways to break up a work day. Although working from home can provide quiet and focus and free you from distractions, it also means that you can have a whole day that you have to figure out how to break up into productive chunks.
I polled other SciLancers, and we have a variety of tips for helping your brain shift gears and rituals that keep work days as productive as possible.
Sometimes you just need to do something different for a few minutes to clear your head between tasks. Twitter or Facebook is one way to make that break. Virginia Gewin (bio) has blogged about her use of movie trailers to craft pitches, but she also uses them in these situations. Or she’ll take a few minutes to take a turn playing Words With Friends. Monya Baker (bio) has a similar routine, a word-free 5 minutes working on a Sudoku puzzle.
When switching from email and routine office tasks to more focused writing, Doug Fox (bio) shifts locations, from home to a cafe or from a cafe to a library, to put his brain into a new place to tackle new tasks. Emily Sohn (bio) starts her morning in a cafe, a routine that helps her feel that her work day has a clear start because she’s left the house.
Get a move on
Exercise routines are a great way to work through niggling problems or clear your head. Virginia and Michelle Nijhuis (bio) take hikes to get bigger chunks of clarity. Rob Frederick (bio) will take an hour to run 5 kilometers and clean up afterwards. “When I’m done, it feels like the start of a new work day, when I’m at my best,” he says.
Emily uses exercise at midday as a transition between her cafe writing time in the mornings to her afternoons at home, when she often schedules phone calls.
Prepare for heavy lifting
When he needs to focus on long days of writing, Doug shifts his routine further. To maintain focus, he tries to catch up on sleep during these periods, going to bed earlier and taking short naps to rest and refocus.
He adds: “If I’ve got a big (and maybe even slightly intimidating) day of writing ahead of me, I’ll often go out and get a quick fatty breakfast at a local greasy spoon cafe — Ole’s Waffle House… it delays my entry into work slightly, but I feel like I just think better (and feel less hunger distraction) after eating a good, hearty breakfast.”
What rituals do you use to keep the words flowing? Share with us in the comments.