Sun, 1 Mar, 2020
Telecommuting— working from home, or from anywhere in the world you want, for that matter— is the dream of many. Freedom to choose your working hours, to pop over to the kitchen and grab a snack in peace, to not wear those dreaded office clothes (no one cares if you wear pants at home!)… Sounds like the perfect work style, doesn’t it?
While working from home has clear advantages, it also has its downside. Namely, distraction. Of course, the office also has its portion of sidetracking elements, like that friendly but too gregarious coworker that stops to chat at your desk at all times. But, when you are in your home office (or favourite library or cafe), the opportunities to lose your focus multiply. If you’re not careful, you might get to the end of your workday with no results to show for it.
However, you don’t need to panic. With the right strategy, mindset, and habits, you can totally slay at-home productivity. In fact, studies show that 91% of workers think remote working makes them more productive.
To help you get there, we put together this quick guide by our own telecommuting experts.
The ultimate guide to at-home productivity: 20 top hacks.
These 20 productivity hacks and habits are a tried-and-true map of what works for most folks. You can test each tip in your own workday and see for yourself!
1. Pretend you aren’t working from home.
Yes, you are working from home and that is fantastic. You don’t want to forget it— you want to celebrate! But in order to be productive, you need to keep up an office-like type of discipline.
Pretend you’re still grinding away at the office: set your alarm clock early, get a good cup of coffee, and (please!) get out of your pyjamas. Use a different browser and email account to stay in the mindset. You’ll be surprised at how much more efficient you are when you keep up the office vibe going.
2. Keep an office-like schedule.
When you work from home, there’s no manager breathing down your neck and checking in on your progress. While that’s a welcome change for most, it also means you’re now responsible for managing yourself— a daunting task.
Did you have a fixed schedule when working at the office? If so, keep it going. Habit and structure are your best productivity friends in this situation. It’s a good idea to rely heavily on an app like Google Calendar: a tool for you to keep track of all your due tasks and know exactly when you should be doing what.
3. The early bird gets the worm.
In the same spirit, the earlier you get started on the day’s work the better. If you don’t begin as soon as possible, you’ll end up procrastinating indefinitely and using every possible house chore (like making a big breakfast or doing last night’s dishes) as a crutch.
Don’t dawdle— get your coffee and dive head-first into the hardest tasks on your to-do list when your energy levels and mind are at their best. Also
4. Get out of the house.
Your house is full of your everyday, personal-life objects and your favourite hobbies. So you might find yourself reading your favourite book or pruning the plants instead of doing your job. If this is you, consider changing your environment.
You have endless options— a café, the local library, a dedicated coworking space, that glam pool with Wifi… all these are spaces devoid of your usual distractions. Plus, you’ll feel the pressure of having to get something done (otherwise, why are you even there?) and, in consequence, become more efficient.
5. Section off a regular office spot.
If getting a change of air isn’t cutting it for you, you still have the option to work at home. However, you’d do well to not leave the specific location up to chance.
To create a ritual feel that keeps your focus steady, set up a space dedicated solely to your work. It doesn’t even have to be a whole room (though that doesn’t hurt)— even a table or armchair, when used only for work, can get you in the zone to be productive.
6. Take your biological clock into account.
Your body has its own rhythms, and they don’t always match up to your typical work schedule. While everyone’s circadian rhythm varies a bit (there are both early birds and night owls), we all experience a steady ebb-and-flow in our energy levels.
The best strategy: make sure you can get work done when your mind and body are at their peak performance. That means carefully planning your schedule to tackle your most difficult tasks at those specific hours, leaving the easiest or most mechanical ones for when your energy lags and you feel tired.
For most people, the highly productive moments are either early, first thing in the morning, or late at night. Energy slumps typically happen after lunchtime or any large meal. You need to find what works for you!
7. Save social tasks for later in the day.
We get it— waking up is hard. You might not want to hear voices or see the face of another human until you’ve had your coffee or even for a few hours. This works well with your body’s rhythm: you can tackle all the solitary, intellectual, or challenging tasks in the early hours.
Then, after taking a break, you can focus on the more social (calls, meetings, etc) and creative side of business. This way, you’ll be able to have productive interactions without wanting to run away from your coworkers, clients, or collaborators.
8. Swear off social media— or reduce the scrolling time.
Unless social media is your job, of course. But, in all cases, you can become more intentional with your screen time and optimize your usage. How? By counteracting the easy usability that’s built into these apps.
If you find yourself randomly opening your social media for no reason whenever you get distracted, delete the app shortcuts immediately to get out of the mindless habit. Set an in-app timer to tell you when you’ve exceeded the daily usage time you prefer. Logging out of every account and disabling the browser’s autocomplete function can also help you stay off.
9. Plan your day in advance.
If you wake up and find yourself aimless, you’ll waste an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out where to get started and lose your most productive early hours in a logistical frenzy to create a to-do list you’ll probably undo later. No-go.
Instead, try creating a general weekly schedule at the beginning of the week, then refining each day’s list the night before. This will keep you from deviating from your now official tasks as well as letting you jump straight into productivity.
Against what most people think, overcommitting is actually a good thing— when you work from home, at least. It’s a known fact that we tend to overestimate the number of things we can get done in a day, as well as how long each task will take us.
Now, take that principle and use it to your advantage. Create an ambitious to-do list. Then, you’ll feel the pressure to get things done and, even if you don’t get to everything (which is most likely), you’ll get a good chunk of work done. If you’re part of a team, it can also help to inform them of your goals for the day— the peer pressure is bound to make you deliver what you promised.
11. Set aside downtime.
We’ve established it— when working from home, it’s easy to get distracted. But this can have a paradoxical negative effect: because you’re getting sidetracked so often, you won’t take as many clear breaks as you need. As a result, your productivity will suffer.
Ideally, you should take a 5-to-15-minute break every hour, then a longer (say, 30-minute) break every 3-4 hours. The best solution: use a timer and take those breaks. Don’t stay in the same environment, though. Get away from all screens and move your body, interact with other people (even if it’s the barista down the street), or make a cup of your favourite beverage. You’ll feel refreshed when it’s time to get back to work!
12. Explain the situation to those around you.
You might feel annoyed when some relative barges in on your home office time to start talking about that new pancake spot in town. But, really, if you didn’t set clear boundaries around your work hours at home, it’s on you (also, pancakes).
How to fix this? Start by communicating openly and empathically, but don’t compromise your needs. Explain your remote working situation (if you haven’t already) as well as your typical schedule. Also useful: agreeing on a non-verbal cue that signals you’re busy. It can be a ribbon hanging from the doorknob, headphones on your head, or— like Jo in Little Women— a special writing top hat.
13. Don’t be a hermit.
Working from home means way less human interaction than your typical day at the office. If you can’t handle this at all, you might want to reconsider your remote working choices or, at least, look into coworking spaces.
However, there is a middle point. Use your breaks to get into more populated spaces and talk to people. Anyone! Even if it’s a passing conversation while running errands, it will do you good. Alternatively, bring more social activities into other aspects of your life— take up a group class, join a book club, get involved in activism… You get the gist.
14. Technology to stay in the loop.
Physical isolation from your coworkers used to mean you were also out of touch with the goings-on and important decisions at the office. To stay motivated and productive, you don’t want to lose sight of the bigger picture.
Luckily, nowadays, we have endless tech options to help us work as a team— even when some members are working from home (or from Kuala Lumpur, for that matter). Google Hangouts for meetings, Trello to keep tasks organised and prioritised, Slack for handy message options… There are no excuses!
15. Meal prep is your friend.
If you keep breaking up your workday to prepare meals, you’ll end up losing a good amount of time that could be devoted to upping your productivity. Think of it like this: if you were at the office, you wouldn’t spend an hour making lunch, right?
Don’t let food break up your rhythm. Instead of devoting precious minutes of your working day to chopping, cooking, and seasoning, prepare your meals (or at least the ingredients for them) the night before. Then, you just have to throw everything together or warm it up and enjoy your lunch break without so much time pressure.
16. White noise or TV as a background.
Sometimes, noise can be a distraction (think of that construction site just down the road or your neighbour’s dog constantly barking). But, for some people, background noise that’s completely unrelated to the task at hand actually helps.
The easiest option: turn on the TV and keep it running at a low volume. Try the channels or programs you find the most soothing. Some favourites seem to be NatGeo, old movies, or the History Channel. If the TV doesn’t cut it for you, search YouTube for a white noise track— there are plenty!
17. Work with the power of music.
Maybe you need sounds that are more stimulating than white noise. We’ve got you covered! The key is to match the rhythm and melodies to what you’re doing. You can even create different playlists for different tasks: classical music or video game soundtracks for deep focus, high-powered 80’s classics to go through your inbox or run errands. This strategy is guaranteed to keep you motivated.
18. Time yourself, do your laundry.
Typically, you don’t want to get distracted with household chores, as that can quickly snowball into Cleaning Day and zero work gets done. Laundry is the exception to the rule: you set it, you forget it, you get alerted that time’s up.
It’s the perfect timer: once your machine gets started on a new load, you begin a new task. The goal is to finish it before you need to change the load. Think of it as a productivity-enhancing race against technology. Fun or nah?
19. Distract yourself.
While it might sound counterintuitive at first, distracting yourself just a little makes perfect sense. Why? When you’re focusing on just the one task, your mind is more likely to wander.
But if you choose one extra task to concentrate on throughout your workday, you’ll be (paradoxically) more productive. The busier you are, the higher the pressure and the faster the rhythm you’re working at. If you are, for example, taking care of a baby, you’ll use every free moment to get work done efficiently.
The more exacting pace will keep you from involuntary distractions and carry you through your day.
20. Get a handle on your work-life balance.
Your first instinct would be to think remote workers have a spotless work-life balance, right? Not necessarily! Many people working from home find that, because their ‘work’ and ‘life’ space is the same, work tasks start bleeding into the rest of their day.
It’s better to avoid that— after all, isn’t a better work-life balance one of the key motivations to switch to remote working?
What can help: decide on a regular ending time for your workday and stick to it. Of course, if there are urgent matters to be addressed, you can still work on those after hours. But you should make your regular ending time a habit. This way, you’ll keep healthy boundaries and stay away from burnout.
These 20 expert tips for productivity when working from home are not the Ten Commandments— meaning you can tailor them to your preferences. Take each for a test ride and decide: does it make your workday better? Does it spark energy and productivity? If yes, keep it and add another! Soon enough, you’ll be a remote working pro.
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