How to Stay Productive When Working From Home.
More and more people are transitioning to either working from home everyday, or a couple of days a week. While this sounds great to most, it does come with its unique challenges that will only become obvious once you test it out. Here is some advice that might help you from falling into some of the traps that many are experiencing from the home office lifestyle.
Creating Boundaries With Your Family.
For those who live alone there is less of a transition, but if you are sharing your home with a partner and especially if you have children, defining boundaries at the beginning is very important.
You may be in the next room, but you need to make it clear with those you live with that this does not mean you are any more accessible than you would be were you working from the company office building. Frequent interruptions about things that are not work related can be detrimental to keeping your workflow focused and efficient.
“Do Not Disturb” signs and lockable doors will be your new best friends.
Daily routines like getting dressed and commuting to the office become part of the subconscious preparation of getting you into ‘work mode’. Over time our brain learns that when we are taking a certain series of actions it will be followed by an 8-hour workday, so it gets itself ready for this.
However, when these actions are removed from the equation we find it takes much longer to get focused once we sit down at home and attempt to work.
One way of overcoming this is to try and recreate your previous routine as much as possible. An example of this was a corporate office worker who was previously expected to dress in a suit, with polished shoes and immaculate grooming. During the pandemic he was forced to work from home, and since no one would see him during the workday he wore what he wanted and didn’t even shave if he didn’t feel like it. His productivity plummeted.
Having made the connection, he then got up early every morning, shaved, neatly combed his hair and dressed in a freshly ironed suit. He would then walk into the next room and sit alone for the workday. It sounds like a waste of time, but it worked. At 5pm he would go back to his bedroom and change back into his casual clothes.
One-space, One Function.
Now that your workspace and your home are one and the same, it is important to set some boundaries here too. It is difficult to remain focused when you are in a space you have always associated with relaxation. Procrastination became a big problem for people who transitioned from an office environment to their home, because without even realizing it they would start doing things like watching YouTube during their workday, or constantly visiting the refrigerator because in this space it was almost instinctual. Others would go get a glass of water and before they even knew what was happening they were cleaning the kitchen.
There is no one-fix solution to this, but it would help if you can limit your trips to the kitchen outside of your lunch break. If you have no option but to work in the same space, then you can turn your work table around so your back is facing these temptations. If it is in your visual field it will be hard to ignore it. Keep a jug of water on your desk to limit the amount of times you visit the kitchen area. It is also a good idea to do some meal-prep for the week so your lunch breaks are not taken up or extended from having to spend large amounts of time in the kitchen.
If you are lucky enough to have your own work desk in your home then great, but if you are using the dining table it is important to create a rule here too. Choose one side of the table that you will use for work, and work only. When you are doing anything else, move to another seat. In the absence of having a private office in your home this can be your version of the ‘One space, one function’. It does work.
Tools to Limit Access to Entertainment.
So you have created the perfect working environment and locked your partner and kids out of the room, but there is still one problem. Unless you have brought your office computer home with you, you are probably using your personal computer for work purposes. The one that you use for Netflix binges and going down YouTube rabbit holes.
It becomes difficult to stay focused when your browser keeps auto-completing your searches to things that should not be happening during working hours. You type an F, it thinks you want Facebook and before you even realize it there you are scrolling your newsfeed.
Fortunately there are some fantastic tools to help prevent any type of digital distraction. For the purposes of this article we will choose a product called Freedom. We are in no way affiliated with them, but we had to choose one. There are lots of equally great products, so shop around to see which one does exactly what you want.
With tools like ‘Freedom’ you can:
- Block certain websites for a specific amount of time.
- Block certain apps on your phone.
- Block the entire internet except a couple of sites you might need for work.
- Create a ‘Locked Session’ that is impossible to switch off, so you cannot be tempted.
- Sync these settings across all your devices.
- Schedule these settings in advance so they automatically repeat during certain days and work hours.
The “9 to 5” Isn’t so Bad After All…
Remote working was actually quite popular before the pandemic, and there is a large community of people around the world who have been living like this for years. There is also an increasing number of companies, especially in the tech industry, who have been functioning with a remote workforce from day one.
All around the world you will find ‘Co-working Spaces’ where these remote workers rent desks in communal spaces. These are usually beautifully designed with all the amenities you would find at a ‘Google type' office, and a community of other remote workers doing various different jobs.
You might wonder why, after getting complete freedom to work from wherever they want, a person would choose to pay for an environment so similar to what they left behind. Well a lot of this has to do with preference. Some simply prefer a social environment and feel more motivated when working in a space with others who are also focused, even if their jobs are completely unrelated.
While using a co-working space is not necessarily better for some than working from home, what is interesting about these rented spaces is observing when people choose to work.
With complete freedom to work whatever days and whatever hours they want, you will see that most of the longtime remote workers will gradually revert back to the traditional 9 to 5, Monday to Friday routine. It’s not because they have to, but because it works for most people.
The problem with having too much freedom of choice is that your work life starts to bleed into your personal time. The temptation to take blocks of free time during the day or choosing to take entire days off is that your evenings are no longer your own and your weekends are used to play catchup.
Recreate the Office Environment.
Not only is it important to try and create an environment that has the functionality of your former office, but also for the day to have a similar structure, so you are ready to ‘leave’ at 5pm having completed all your tasks for the day.
With no boss looming over your shoulder and no colleagues putting on their coats to give you a hint, you need to schedule your day carefully and stick to it. If you have put all the previous steps in place then it should be much easier to stick to a plan once you create it.
Spending a few minutes first thing in the morning to map out your day will ensure you waste no time throughout the rest of your work day deciding what to do next.
A quick and effective way of achieving this is through the Sorted³ Hyper-scheduling feature. You can enter in a list of everything you want to achieve in the day, how much time you want to spend on each, and with the click of a button your entire day will be mapped out for you.
With the correct setup and systems in place to help you stick to your schedule, working from home can be an incredibly productive and rewarding experience. Sure, it can have its drawbacks, but hopefully we have provided you with some ideas to counteract those.
Feel free to contact us with any other tips for staying productive when working from home, and we would be more than happy to share them with the Sorted³ community.
James manages the Twitter account for Sorted³, and periodically contributes to the Blog.