Emphasis on the word “temporary”, because I want to stress the fact that productivity techniques don’t have to be permanent resolutions. But more on that later. First, the strategies:
Top 3 tasks per day
In my first month of unemployment, I started making daily to-do lists of the three most important things I wanted to get done that day. This included job-hunting tasks like “apply to 3 jobs” or “spend 1 hour searching for jobs to apply to” as well as personal tasks like “go to dentist” and social ones like “go to lunch with ex-coworkers”.
This was as much about helping me feel productive as it was about helping me actually be productive. After getting laid off I was in shock and pretty sad about not seeing my former teammates every day anymore. I knew that staying busy and checking tasks off my to-do list would make me feel accomplished and happy. I caught up on medical appointments and got my apartment cleaner and more organized than it’s ever been. This strategy helped me move on from seeing getting laid off as a misfortune to seeing it as an opportunity.
Another thing that helped me feel accomplished was a basic morning routine. Nothing fancy, just some typical tasks:
- Work out (most days)
- Shower and get dressed (in clean pajamas—screw real clothes!)
- Eat breakfast while reading a book
- Clean while listening to a podcast
Just like the top 3 to-dos, this was as much about helping myself stay busy and feel accomplished as it was about actually doing the things.
I’ve been that person who’s content to have 3,000 unread emails. It’s fine during times when basically none of my emails are from humans or need to be followed up on.
But during my job search there were lots of emails that needed follow-up in a timely manner. Keeping my inbox under control was essential for keeping track of what needed to be done. I didn’t maintain strict inbox zero, but I read everything, archived everything that didn’t require any action from me, and let a handful of emails requiring follow-up hang out in my inbox until I got to them.
Laptop for work, iPad for leisure
My go-to strategy for when I don’t want to be distracted by the internet is usually shutting down my computer, and not turning it on until I’ve done the things I wanted to do for the day.
This has worked well when I wanted to prioritize offline activities like cleaning, running errands, exercise, and reading books. However, while I was job hunting my most important tasks had to be done on the computer.
So, I created a rule for myself that my laptop was to be used strictly for work—which in my case meant job searching and various “adulting” tasks. I could still do time-wasting activities like browse Reddit, Youtube, and Twitter, but only on my iPad—and I did’t touch the iPad until I had done what I needed to do for the day.
I knew this was working the first time I opened up my laptop to do a small task, did the thing, and immediately shut my laptop.
(An added bonus was that I finally figured out what to use my iPad for—I had bought it about six months earlier and never really used it much, since my laptop is more comfortable to use and my phone is more portable. Now, I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth.)
But I’m not using these techniques anymore
Things changed. I accepted a job offer, yay! So now I’m not job searching, I’m just on vacation until my job starts in February.
I don’t really have that many things I need to do anymore. There aren’t many emails that need follow-up, or other time-sensitive tasks to do on my computer. I don’t need the feeling of satisfaction from checking tasks off a to-do list as much as I did when I was facing the uncertainty that comes with unemployment. I’m ok with wasting time on the internet, letting the emails pile up a bit, and letting a day go by without accomplishing 3 things. I’m watching Youtube on my laptop where I have Adblock and a bigger screen and allowing myself the luxury of composing tweets on a real keyboard.
I’ve felt bad in the past about giving up on other productivity strategies that I’ve tried, but this time I’m recognizing that I can let these ones go because I don’t really need them right now. I’ll remember them and come back to them if I need to, but it’s not a failure that I’m not sticking to them permanently.