#hacks: Productivity Tips for Creatives Learning and Working from Home

Published/Updated on:
May 15, 2020
Picture this: you’re starting a new day working and/or learning from home. You’ve got a nugget of inspiration and you’re ready to turn it into a reality. But in the background, there’s all the news updates by the minute, the kitchen with readily-available snacks, the bed where a nap has never looked so good…

If this sounds familiar, don’t worry - I’ve been there too. It’s a difficult time to stay creative or start your own business with all these things competing for your attention. But after some trial-and-error, I’ve found some tricks that have helped me at home. Try these out and see if they work for you:

  1. Keep a regular schedule
  2. Be as fully present as you can in your class/meetings
  3. Clear your work space
  4. Try a class in something completely new
  5. Invest in productivity tools
  6. Handwrite your notes
  7. Recharge by keeping in touch with your loved ones
  8. Accept that some days will not be super-productive, and that’s ok.

A female student studying on a wooden table, using a laptop with paper notes at her side

1) Keep a regular schedule

It’s tempting to stay in bed until 1pm and rush through all your assignments starting at whenever-you-feel-like-it PM and ending as-soon-as-you-can PM. But your body might not welcome the sudden change, and your mind might be wondering why you’re working instead of sleeping (or the other way around). When you get used to a regular schedule, you spend less time urging yourself to start working on your task list and more time completing it. 

Start by setting a regular sleep schedule - 7-8 hours of sleep minimum is recommended. Add in some time before work to hype yourself up: maybe on your usual train to work, you liked listening to podcasts or creating moodboards on Pinterest, so you can do that at home to get started. Whether your most productive hours are 12pm-8pm or 9am-6pm or 6am-3pm, stick to what works for you - and when you’re done for the work day, commit to turning off all your work windows and treat yourself to free time (you deserve it!).

2) Be as fully present as you can in your class/meetings

But Facebook is just a click away! Though it’s hard to resist, there's a reason why our grade school teachers made us put our phones away during class. 

Sometimes you have to make sure the kids are playing safe, or that pets are fed at the scheduled time, and that's fine. As for your own computer screen, try and make sure that the only tabs that are open are the ones necessary for the work/class at hand. Avoid multitasking if you can!

There are some free apps available to restrict access to distractions. For example, Cold Turkey blocks access to certain sites for any duration of time. I also use the Facebook News Eradicator extension on Google Chrome so that I don’t catch myself scrolling during class.

alan sewing online class
Our sewing trainer Alan keeps a clear space that helps him view all of his pattern drafts in one go.

3) Have a clean, well-lit work space.

I used to think that I could live in the chaos of books and knick-knacks. But when I started working from home, my brainspace felt physically limited by the piles of stuff on my table. With a clean work space, you can type on your laptop, use a mouse, sketch a design idea on your notebook, and place a glass of water on your table - all while having enough arm room to move around your limbs. You focus less on the stuff around you and more about what’s in front of you.

Here’s a level up: have at least two clean, well-lit work space options. If you find yourself getting bored at one, you can switch it up and try working at the other! Studies show that the simple change in scenery can re-energise your morale for the long haul.

4) Try a class in something completely new

If you feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again, shake things up with something you’ve never done before! Perhaps you’ve got a lot of business sense but you’ve never picked up Photoshop or Illustrator - courses like Domestika’s Introduction to Photoshop or TaF.tc’s Digital Apparel Design and Digital Footwear Design can get you up to speed. Or maybe designing is your strength, but you’ve always wondered what it takes to be good in marketing - TaF.tc’s Social Media Marketing or Google’s Skillshop may be good fits for you.

Even if it’s a completely foreign skill, there’s a high chance that you’ll join a community of students trying it out for the first time as well. More than just adding another item to your resume, new courses add variety to your schedule and zap energy back into your routine.

Team management apps like Asana help me record my tasks and keep an eye on my team’s workload so we can help each other out remotely!

5) Invest in productivity tools

There’s no need to splurge, but having a few tools can go a long way. Think about what your needs are and take it from there. 

Have team projects to manage? You can try Trello, Slack or Asana. Do you need a birds-eye view of your task lists? Try a whiteboard, or even just a stack of sticky notes (they’re good for posting inspirational quotes too). Run a lot of programmes at the same time? An extra monitor will help you keep an eye on the Zoom tutorial while trying out the steps on your main screen. Do you get uncomfortable back aches? If it helps you focus better, I’d consider a posture-friendly work chair a worthy investment!

If you buy a tool that doesn’t work for you, no worries. The most important thing is that these tools help you make the most of your study/work sessions. Just be sure to re-sell anything you buy but no longer want so that it doesn’t go to waste.

handwritten notes for online learning
Notes I drew on Microsoft OneNote during an online course about drawing inspiration for illustration.

6) Handwrite your notes

Even if it is slightly slower than typing or taking screenshots, you will better process and internalise what you’ve heard in the time it takes to handwrite notes. You can also draw diagrams, arrows, speech bubbles or even new designs to visually communicate ideas. Handwriting notes has helped me stay engaged in the moment, and made reviewing old notes much more fun!

If you don't want to end up with a stack of old notes, consider investing in a tablet and apps using a digital pen. Free apps like Evernote or Microsoft OneNote are personal favourites.

7) Recharge by keeping in touch with friends, loved ones, and your inner self

When we were in office or school, we always welcomed quick banter over lunch or a coffee break, whether with our colleagues or with loved ones. Even now, you should take some time each week to talk to your family or call up a friend for no other purpose other than to enjoy each other’s company. 

Maybe the person you need to catch up with is yourself! It may help to take some time to reflect about what you learned or how you felt by the end of the day. Not only do these check-ins add some variety to the day: it puts everything into perspective and reminds you why you’re learning/working in the first place.

checking in during home-based learning

8) Accept that some days will not be super-productive, and that’s ok.

We’re living through a global pandemic. We all have our own things to worry about: family, employment, long-distance relationships, the health of those who are vulnerable, the list could go on. There will be days where addressing those needs or those worries will be priority, and we completely understand. 

When those days come, accept that you will do your best and that’s enough. Focus on yourself and your needs for the day. There will always be tomorrow to try again!

In Conclusion...

I hope these tips help your inspiration flourish! There are additional support structures available for online learning students and business owners, from SkillsFuture subsidies from 70-95% for TaF.tc and other WSQ-Certified courses to increased absentee payroll for corporate-sponsored TaF.tc students. Building these small habits first may help you make the most out of the financial support.

Don’t forget: these are unfamiliar waters for all of us, and we understand that adapting takes time. Just do your best, and your creative journey will already be off to a good start!

Isabel Perucho

Hi, I'm Isabel! I am a Product Designer at TaF.tc. I graduated from Yale-NUS College in 2018 where I completed my Bachelors thesis on independent Filipino film. I love good design and have helped with freelance creative projects throughout my college years. I'm consistently on the lookout for ways to learn more about design, content creation, and UX/UI.

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