The pandemic has supercharged the trend toward doing more work from home. In fact, for many, it has meant figuring out a way of doing most, if not all, of your work from home, avoiding the office altogether or only going in rarely for specific reasons. As attractive as the concept of working from home may seem, it is not all that easy.
I have worked significantly from home for years reserving the office for meetings both virtual and in person. I also go into the office in order to tend to some operational needs. Others in my family have reserved home for doing things other than work, even a reprieve from work. I have developed tools for working from home, remaining productive, and at the same time assuring that I have a home life away from work. These tools fall into several categories, are relatively few in number, and easy to institute.
First are some tools that I like to put in the category of maintaining or increasing productivity.
Create/Maintain a Workspace
It is important that you designate one or two specific workspaces around the house and avoid doing work anywhere else. This can be a room or a home office, or it can just be a table or a corner. You should also assure that the space is uncluttered with non-work items. Have your work tools, be they a computer, screens, or other electronics, or pen and paper, in that workspace just as you would have them in an office environment.
While a workspace can be virtually any location within your home which you organize and dedicate to work, there are additional considerations for your workspace as described below that will help you better avoid distractions.
Set Regular Work Hours and Block Time
One of the most important tools to assuring that you stay productive is to set work hours. This gives you a set amount of time that you know you have to stay focused on work. It also acts as a way of giving you a deadline for finishing tasks. At the same time, it provides rest and recreation time as the time that is not part of your work hours is necessarily not to be spent on work.
You should also block time within your work hours by setting specific amounts of time that you would spend on accomplishing certain tasks. You can set two hours working on a report that is due next week and spend the next hour on a presentation that you have to give. Time blocking allows you to divide time among various projects or portions of projects and assure that each is receiving its due attention. It also compels greater focus.
Just as you would if you were going into the office, make sure that you take breaks. This can happen in between your time blocks depending on their length. Take time to stretch, have a cup of coffee, or a snack. Also, make sure you take a lunch break, and if you don’t have lunch, make it an exercise break.
Maintain a Task List
Task lists can be as elaborate as you want them to be. Some find a detailed task list that contains categories of tasks and every item they have to accomplish each day no matter how small. Others find long lists and various small tasks to be daunting and anxiety-provoking. A task list can be as detailed or as general as you find appropriate for you. Regardless, assure that you have at least a list of two or more items that you need to accomplish on a given day.
Maintaining a daily list will require a master list as well. This would be a comprehensive list of everything you have to get done over time – a month, a quarter, or even the next 12 months. Your daily list should be derived from this master list. There are various ways of making your daily list. You should choose one that best fits you and maximizes your productivity.
There are certainly additional tools that you can deploy to maintain and increase your productivity, but these are among the most important. The next grouping of tools are ones I categorize under the heading of avoiding distraction.
Isolate Your Workspace
There are additional considerations regarding maintaining your workspace that aid in reducing or eliminating distractions. First, if possible, it would be best if you could dedicate a room with a door as your workspace, so that you can isolate yourself from the rest of the goings-on at the house. If that is not possible, choose a location that is isolated, out of the way, or less traveled.
One of the biggest source of distraction when working from home are the people with whom we share our homes. The type and level of distraction depends on who our housemates are – babies, teenagers, a spouse or a partner, or roommates, etc. Regardless, you need to manage their expectations and set boundaries.
A closed door is one of the best ways of signaling that you are working and are not to be disturbed. However, to the extent you do not have access to a space that can be fully closed off, you can use signs, such as a do not disturb sign or a flag on your desk.
Avoid Non-Work Tasks
As described above, you should have work hours and time blocks. This allows you to be more productive and efficient, but only if you respect those hours and blocks. Therefore, you should avoid breaking those times for non-work tasks unless it is an emergency. Your work hours are just that and should not be used for daily chores and the like. Those items can be scheduled for time that you have not set aside for work.
With the increasing number of electronics and communication methods comes an increasing number of distractions. Our electronics can be every bit as distracting – and even more so – than our housemates. Therefore, it is important to manage our electronics and make sure that they are not getting in our way. One method is to turn off our smartphones and other communication devices. If that is not possible, there are do not disturb features and apps that can limit intrusions. Another method is to set times during the day or periodic intervals for checking email, social media, and other communication apps and methods.
As with productivity tools, there are additional tools for avoiding distractions. I found the above to be among the most effective and essential.
The third set of tools that I use, I categorize under the heading of maintaining motivation.
Never Forget Your “Why”
Your “Why” is your motivation for doing anything – your motivation for doing what you are doing. It’s your purpose. Specific to your work, it’s the reason you do the work that you do. This can be because your job, your work, are in line with your passions. It could be that you work to take care of your family. If you haven’t done so already, draft a “Why” statement, and keep it somewhere easily accessible to you so that you can remind yourself as often as needed.
Comedians and comedy shows have devoted a fair bit of attention to people’s attire and the temptation to dress extremely casually when working from home. This may be good material for some laughs. However, what you wear has been shown to have an affect to how you work. The more lazy the outfit, the more likely you are to act lazy in your work. Additionally, we all associate different clothes with different moods and activities. Therefore, take the time to get dressed in attire that actually motivates you to be productive.
A common way to create motivation is to couple the task or activity with a reward. In terms of work, this would mean building a reward system where upon completing a given task, you give yourself a reward. This could be as simple as having a scoop of ice cream or taking a 30 minute break to watch an episode of your favorite show. It is important to make the reward large enough to actually motivate you to do the work. At the same time, you should assure that it is proportionate. Doing an hour of work should not entitle you to a weekend camping trip.
As with the other two categories, there are other techniques that you can use to motivate yourself, including an exercise routine, which should be maintained for other reasons anyway. However, the above few are ones that I have found to be among the most effective. Working from home may sound ideal, but it can be quite challenging to maintain. In order to assure top productivity and efficiency, avoid distractions, and maintain motivation, it is important to develop a toolbox.