Progress Over Perfection with Emma Norris

With many of us still working from home during COVID, we spoke to editor and author Emma Norris about her working from home tips, productivity secrets and her new book Progress Over Perfection: A Guide to Mindful Productivity


What are your top tips for staying organised (during self-isolation or during a normal work week)

I've tried out pretty much every digital and paper planner on the market, but at the moment I swear by my Best Self Co planner! This is a quarterly planner that allows you to break down your goals into weekly and daily tasks — which I'm huge on, because goals can feel way too overwhelming if you're just looking at the big picture. During a normal work week when my schedule varies a lot, I'm a fan of time blocking — breaking my calendar into hourly chunks and designating tasks to each timeslot. I used an app called Plan for that, but you can easily just use your Google calendar or iCal. However, now that we're in self-isolation and every day is pretty similar (groundhog day!) I'm now just religious about setting my top three priorities for the day. These are my top three tasks that if accomplished, would make the day a win. So, I always make sure to tackle them first. I find that doing this, as opposed to just having a never-ending to do-list, helps take the pressure off me a bit — which is really important during this challenging time, for all of us!

How do you stay focused working from home with so many distractions?

Ah, this is a good one! I'm very familiar with the siren call of Netflix when you're working from home, or finding it hard to focus when the apartment is a mess or you've got an overflowing pile of laundry. The thing that has been an absolute game-changer for me over the last couple of years is productivity sprints. This is working on just one thing at a time (no multitasking or checking social media!) for designated periods of time — normally 50 minutes. When I'm working from home normally, I use an app called Focusmate that pairs you with people from all around the world for 50-minute virtual co-working sessions. You both share what you're going to be working on, then work away in silence for the session, and check in at the end about how you went. Sounds weird, but it's super effective!

But now that my partner is at home too, I've just been setting 30 minutes to an hour on the time on our Google Home Hub and working away with my headphones on until time's up. I have a pretty short attention span, and I find that I struggle to sit still for much longer than that — so it's the perfect amount of time. The delayed gratification of knowing you can do whatever you like after that time has passed also makes it so much easier to stay on task.


Copywriter, Editor, Founder of Girl in Progress lifestyle blog and most recently new author. Emma's first novel Progress Over Perfection teacher readers how to practice daily habits that will help you incorporate productivity into their routine, so they can live a less stressed, happier, and more purposeful life.  

What are your 2 or 3 non-negotiables to make working from home effective?
Not going to lie, one of them is definitely having a coffee machine! It's been an absolute lifeline during self-isolation, as I'm pretty much powered by caffeine and obviously going out to get takeaways is frowned-upon.  If you don't have a coffee machine, I highly recommend Robert Timms instant coffee bags — they taste like Frenchpress and are super quick and easy to prepare

Another thing would definitely be noise-cancelling headphones and instrumental music. I can't listen to anything with words in it while I'm writing (which is all the time!) but I find this really helps me shut off from the outside world and stay in the zone. At the moment, I'm really into Japanese lo-fi — I find it weirdly relaxing, yet motivating!

Lastly, it would be just having a couple of different spots in the home to work. For me, it's really important to regularly switch up my location when I'm working from home, to add novelty to my tasks and allow me to approach them with fresh eyes. Obviously, getting out and about isn't really an option at the moment, but I like to do a stint sitting at my desktop computer at my desk, then pull it up to a standing desk, then work on the laptop on the balcony and so forth. I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have as much space, but there's definitely ways you can get creative with changing it up — like using your ironing board as a standing desk! 

How do you switch off – when working from home and when home and work are the same place?!

I definitely still struggle with this, and am guilty of sometimes still being on my phone just before bed. But lately, I've established a really good routine of doing a 5-10 minute meditation or body scan on the app Calm, which helps me wind down before bed. I also use the automatic 'grayscale mode (black and white) on my phone after 9 pm to try to deter me from using my phone

You can order Emma's book, Progress Over Perfection: A Guide To Mindful Productivity, from Amazon.

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