A guest post by Joy Manning
If you work from home due to the coronavirus, would you like to be more productive? Here’s help. I’ve been a work from home food writer, whether full or part-time, on staff or as a freelancer, for 10 years. If you are trying to get into the flow, here are my own best practices, routines, and mindsets that have served me well over the past decade.
Before I get to my daily routine for the week, I set up on Sunday. I make a new list of goals and tasks for the week. Then I schedule my workouts for the week on my Google calendar. Moving my body energizes and refreshes it and my brain, so I schedule something every day. Since the gym is closed, I schedule a mix of walks, runs, and at-home online workouts like yoga and bodyweight strength training.
I also set aside an hour to create a meal plan for the week. This blurs the line between the personal and professional. I review my own kitchen notebook. There I jot down ideas for dishes as well as things I’ve cooked on the fly and whatever cookbooks most interest me (right now it’s Cool Beans). Then I plan out dinners based on my current food inventory, recipe development in the works, and my whims.
Want to be a productive work-at-home food writer? Here’s what works for me daily:
1. I make my bed.
There’s a fair amount of research around why you should do this, but to me, it all comes down to “messy bed, messy head.”
2. After breakfast and coffee, I do household chores.
I might load and run my dishwasher and throw some kind of laundry in. I also give the kitchen a quick clean up to make it more appealing to cook in later in the day. I’m always surprised by what I can get done in 20 minutes.
3. I get out of my pajamas.
A lot of work-from-home advice would have you change into business casual at home, including shoes, accessories, and makeup. That really works for some people. Not me.
I like to change into my workout clothes. It feels stupid to take them off later if I didn’t work out. Because, as I mentioned, moving my body is a key part of my productivity. I also feel stupid wearing an apron over my athletic outfit, but it happens. I’m not above cooking in Spandex.
4. At 9 a.m., I get to my desk.
I start with a review of email, and then I look at my list of tasks and goals for the week. I open a new page in my notebook and write the date and day at the top in pen. Then, using a pencil, I write timeslots in 30-minute intervals in a column on the leftmost edge of my page.
Most people can do about four hours of focused work each day. I break it down into two 120-minute blocks: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Usually, I will be working around other stuff on my calendar–those aforementioned workouts, conference calls, or interviews for stories I’m working on.
Generally speaking, I work on a project for 1 or 2 hours at a stretch. These blocks are reserved for what author Cal Newport calls “Deep Work,” concentration heavy, focused effort. For me, that means writing, editing or recipe development.
Sometimes I’ll spend both 2-hour blocks on the same thing depending on what’s going on in my work world. Block A often runs from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm, followed by lunch. Block B might be 1:30 to 3:30 or 3 to 5 or whatever. It changes day by day. I fill this in on my daily plan–in pencil–during the interval between 9 and 9:30 am. I write “planning” in that timeslot.
With my work blocks in place, I schedule less focus-heavy work in the other time slots (things like admin/invoicing, organizing recipes, posting my podcast, emails), leaving room for a couple of breaks. The break spots are often when I waste time on social media.
Then I follow my plan to the best of my ability.
But I wrote it in pencil because I often erase stuff and move it around. I make a plan but remain flexible because things come up. My energy crumbles. Unexpected calls come in. I get super motivated to do something I didn’t plan to work on. I spend the whole day in the kitchen instead of two hours working out an unexpectedly troublesome recipe.
That’s OK. This is why I don’t write tasks in pen and constantly get angry at myself.
5. I allow myself to not be disturbed.
During these work blocks my phone is on DND, I do not open my email inbox, and I only have a browser tab open if I need to look something up. Otherwise, it’s just me and a word doc or me in my kitchen testing recipes and making notes. And I disable push notifications.
6. When there’s a lull, I work on my own projects.
Many of us, myself included, have experienced a swift decline in paid work from clients and assignments from publications. This gives us the opportunity to dedicate more of these precious work blocks to our personal projects that may not pay off until much later such as:
- Starting or finishing a book proposal
- Working on growing our email lists and creating content for our newsletters
- Creating digital pieces to serve as opt-ins or to sell on platforms such as Gumroad
- Creating online cooking or writing courses
- Sprucing up our blogs or website
- Refreshing our LinkedIn profiles.
7. I eat a real lunch.
You likely already know not to turn on your TV and that it’s better if you eat lunch away from your computer screen. As food writers, I know many of us eat random food over the sink while we’re working, but it’s mentally, physically, and emotionally healthier to take a break and eat your lunch from a plate while sitting at a table.
8. At the end of the day, I prepare for tomorrow.
I list my three top priorities. Then I walk away. I am lucky in that I have an office at my house and I try to stay out of it when I’m not working, especially late at night.
9. Lastly, I’m human: this system doesn’t always work.
There are days when my system completely falls apart. At this point, I turn to a new clean page in my notebook and write, in pen, the date and day and the words, “I Did It! List.” I write a new column of time slots. Instead of writing what I plan to do, I write what I did do. Any accomplishment large or small personal or professional goes on the I Did It! List. I have added items such as “brushed my teeth” and “ate a sandwich.” Sometimes the pleasure of adding things to the list gets me rolling and productive again.
If working from home is new, give it some time to grow on you. One possible silver lining to life under the coronavirus is that workplaces will better understand the importance of giving employees the tools and flexibility to work from home more often. Once you’ve got a system in place, you’ll look forward to those days.
Overall, we’re all about to learn just how much can be done remotely. I know from experience that the answer, when it comes to food media at least, is “almost everything.”
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In the time before coronavirus, Joy Manning was a writer, editor, and recipe developer focused on food and health. For updates, find her on Instagram @JoyManning, where she shares what she’s cooking while social distancing. Listen to her home cooking podcast, Local Mouthful.