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UPDATED: Jan. 4, 2021 —

be productive

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With many of us still working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we could probably all use a little help being more productive. It’s just too easy to get distracted at home. Something always calls your name—the dishwasher needs to be emptied. The mail needs to be opened. Your partner or roommate is playing music or watching TV. Your dog is doing something cute. You want to hang up that painting.

The home is full of things to keep us busy all day, which is one of the reasons the commercial office space exists. No distractions. Everything there is related to work—well, except for when it’s someone’s birthday in the break room. But now, we’re home. We need help focusing.

“Here’s the stark truth,” says Jono Bacon, CEO of Jono Bacon Consulting, a completely remote company who has worked and run his organization from a home office most of his career. “Remote working is not a panacea. Sure, it seems like hanging around at home in your athleisure wear, listening to music and sipping on buckets of coffee is perfect, but [it takes a large] amount of discipline to be out of the office and continue to maintain the same level of efficiency, productivity and communication as if you were still showing up to the office each day.”

It’s also worth noting that you’ll stay organized and more productive at home with a system in place. Eliminate overwhelm, and stop reinventing the wheel every time your space gets cluttered. “A system includes four things,” says Darla DeMorrow, founder of HeartWork Organizing, LLC and author of The Upbeat, Organized Home Office. “1. A place, 2. Supplies, 3. Time, and 4. Process. SORT and Succeed is a five-step system to organize any room the same way, every time, and keep it organized for longer. She’s what she suggests:

1. Start with a written bullet-point plan.

2. Organize into groups.

3. Reduce, release, reset.

4. Tweak your space.

5. Succeed and celebrate.

Once you have a plan in place, be sure to buy the items you truly need. You know the saying “You have to spend money to make money?” That doesn’t just apply to things like equipment for your business, or a loan. It can also apply to simpler things that just help you stay productive.

Here are 16 products and apps you need to be productive in 2021:

1. A whiteboard

If you need visual reminders, then having your to-do list somewhere on your phone, or your appointments and bigger projects somewhere in your Gcal, isn’t very helpful. A whiteboard lets you keep track of the important stuff on a big surface, with dry erase markers, that’s right in your face. And, most doubles as a magnetic bulletin board for added versatility. Best of all? When you finish a task, erase it and move on to your next goal.

2. A cooling, portable lap desk

A change of scenery can help re-energize you. Right now, that may not mean going to a coffee shop, because of COVID-19. But, it could mean moving from, say, your desk to your balcony or backyard. A good padded, cooling, portable lap desk gives you a comfortable, secure surface to place your laptop, and lets you set up shop just about anywhere.

3. Noise-canceling headphones

The garbage truck is beeping. Your neighbor is running a blender. Your spouse is watching TV. The dog is barking. You can’t ask the world to be quiet. There will always be something going on. But you can quiet your own mind by using noise-canceling headphones. You’ll be amazed at how much more you get done in an hour when you don’t stop to check out every sound.

4. Temp control thermos

If you like to drink coffee or tea throughout the day, slowly, then you run into this problem: your beverage keeps getting cold so you have to constantly reheat it. But while you’re doing that, something distracts you, and you’re away from your desk longer than planned. A temperature-control thermos will keep your beverage at the ideal temperature, so you’re no longer managing temperatures.

5. Larger cookware

This may not seem related to productivity, but hear me out: when you work from home, you probably stop to make yourself a rather involved lunch. The whole kitchen is at your disposal. Suddenly, you’ve been on break for an hour and a half and you only meant to stop for 20 minutes. Invest in larger cookware, and possibly a crockpot, so you can make huge batches of food, to have leftovers you simply reheat throughout the week. That’ll instantly save you time cooking each day.

And speaking of productivity in the kitchen, did you know that bags are one of the most clutter-adding parts of a messy pantry? “They are easily crushed, reducing whatever was inside them to a crumby mess,” says Marty Basher, a design and organization expert at Modular Closets. “Hard-sided containers are easy to label, stack, and they are air-tight to keep their contents as fresh as possible.” Also, hanging a shoe organizer on the inside of your pantry door instantly maximizes your space and helps minimize clutter. You can use it for cans, granola bars, snack packs, and even seasonings. Shoe organizers can be used for a lot more than just shoes, so be creative, he says.


6. A wrist rest

If your wrists start to feel strained and fatigued, it can be hard to keep working. You may have to take breaks because being at the keyboard can be painful. A nice cushioned, ergonomic wrist pad will help fight wrist fatigue, so you can keep typing away.

7. A timer

You know the scene: you tell yourself that you’ll finish projects by a certain time, but, you let things linger. You slow down and take unexpected breaks. Having a timer going—whether it’s a stopwatch or even an hourglass—has a way of really putting the pressure on you, so you actually finish that task in 90 minutes, 60 minutes, or even 5 minutes.

And, if you’re still lacking time management, use the timer for the Pomodoro Technique. This time management system encourages you to only work within the time constraints that you have—rather than force time you don’t have. The Pomodoro method teaches you to break your workday into 25-minute chunks with five-minute breaks throughout.

Suggested app: The Pomofocus app is a customizable pomodoro timer that works on desktop and mobile browser.

8. A standing desk

Sitting down all day is not only bad for our bodies, but it’s also bad for our brains. Being on our feet has a way of keeping our minds energized so opting for a standing desk might be better for your health overall. And, again, it’s just a nice way to change things up, since variety in setting can help boost your focus. Get a standing desk so you can be up on your feet while answering those emails.

As for organizing your standing desk, you want to make sure you map out your desktop. “Buy contact paper, clear off your desk, then lay the contact paper over the bare desktop,” says DeMorrow. “Now, thoughtfully place your essential desktop items exactly where you want them. Next, take a pen and outline the base of these items on the contact paper, crime scene-style. Lift each item and write its name inside its outline. Now even if you have a completely crazy day in the office, you can easily reset your desk without thinking about it.

Suggested app: StandApp provides alarmed reminders to take standing breaks from your desk throughout the day. You’ll also enjoy 30 low to medium intensity exercises anyone can do at work.

9. The right chair

Are you working in the right chair? If your chair creates uncomfortable pressure points that cause you to get up and stretch every half hour, that’s not very productive. Also, if your chair is really more for lounging, and has you so reclined that you get tired, that’s also not productive. Get an ergonomic chair that is easy on the spine while letting you sit in an upright position.

10. Blackout curtains

Blackout curtains are to help you sleep better, keeping in mind that a good night’s rest is essential to a productive day of work. If anything has been interrupting your sleep, address it, because it’s messing up your days, too. These blackout curtain panels have over 49,000 customer ratings on Amazon, with 80% of them being five-star. One customer reminds us that they are not only great for the bedroom, but also the living room, dining room, and basement. “We have east-facing windows and the sun heats up our house in the afternoon/evening,” she says. “These have been excellent for keeping our dining room dark and cool!”

Suggested app: If you have trouble sleeping try Relax Melodies for relaxing sounds and mindfulness meditations to lure you to sleep quietly.

11. Portable wi-fi

If you really want to switch up your scenery by, say, going to work in a park for a bit, you’ll quickly face one issue: no Wi-Fi. Your home router signal doesn’t reach the park up the street. So get a portable Wi-Fi device like the Verizon Elipsis Jetpack or the TP Link Travel Router point so you can bring the Internet with you wherever you go. One thing to note: Set it up with your phone/tablet (WiFi mobile device) for best results.

12. A wireless mouse

If you can’t navigate your computer with speed, you won’t be very productive. It’s just that simple. We love this mouse as a budget-friendly option—it’s great on MACs and PCs and you can navigate seamlessly on up to three computers. Also, the rechargeable battery offers up to 70 days of power on a single charge.

13. High-caff coffee

Your regular old coffee may not do the trick. If your heart can handle it, and you like to get lots done every day, it may be time to invest in high-caffeinated coffee. It not only energizes you more than the standard stuff, but it does so in just one cup, so you don’t need to waste time making more coffee throughout the day. As for the taste? Think of it as strong yet smooth, but never-bitter.

Suggested app: Try Coffee Nerd to house your preset brew times, ratios, and measurements with each cup of coffee.

14. An opaque desk shield

Do you know the clear shields that restaurants are installing at the cash registers, or between tables? Now you can get an opaque shield for your home desk so you don’t see the visual distractions. Blocking those frequent distractions will instantly boost productivity. You can also go the simple route of putting up a portable room divider. The wide half-round feet offer extra stability to avoid tipping or rocking (from pets or small children) while in use.

Remember: “Not everyone has a room dedicated solely as a home office,” says DeMorrow. “You can turn an alcove, a loft, a corner of your bedroom, or a section of the kitchen island into an upbeat home office. Turn an under-utilized dining room, reach-in closet, or basement into a beautiful home office. Plenty of home offices have to pull double duty as guest rooms, craft spaces, libraries, playrooms, or shared office space.

be productive

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15. More Google drive space

Every time you learn that your Google drive space is nearly full, you have to go through the tedious task of going through all of your photos and documents and downloads and videos, and deciding what to delete, in order to make room for the new stuff. Just invest in some more space and get on with the day.

Suggested app: The Google Drive app allows you to easily invite others to view, edit, or leave comments on any of your Google files or folders from any device.

16. A memory foam seat cushion

This seat cushion is designed to support your tailbone and provide comfort to your whole body while you sit at your make-do desk. It is responsive to heat and molds to your body to provide additional support and comfort. We love that it also has a non-slip cover so that the seat cushion will stay in place no matter how much you shift and turn in your chair.

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