47 Productivity Hacks when Working From Home
Working from home today? How do you maintain momentum when all you want to do is watch Netflix?
Most of us are working from home at the moment (I promise not to mention the C word). And in reality we could only hope to have a lovely neat desk with fresh roses on it. I’ve heard so many people say how hard it is for them to adjust to it. As I’ve been doing it for years, as a self-employed business psychologist and coach, a friend encouraged me to write a few of my top tips. Here are 47 of them.
To be honest, since moving to the sticks 3.5 years ago, working online has changed my whole attitude to business and the services I deliver. I’m either coaching overseas clients, running online programmes for people all over the world, facilitating 2hour training workshops for corporate clients in different offices in the UK, or hosting webinars and virtual events of my own. And I love it.
You might know that I spend a lot of time helping people to stop self-sabotaging – and I bet most, if not all, employees who are trying to work from home right now, are finding out just how good they are at putting off boring tasks, and finding it extremely easy to be distracted.
How do you manage to be productive and manage your meetings? Are you techie? How do you focus when your laptop is on the dining table and the kids or pets are desperate for your attention? To be honest, I don’t have kids or pets and I still find it difficult to concentrate for long periods… oh hang on, I’m just going to rearrange my bookcase alphabetically by author, back in mo’!
All of the tips below offer either practical suggestions (managing desk space and chores), or ideas to help manage your mindset (motivation, mood and energy), and most of them will also help you to manage your time and your level of focus while working from home:
1. Creating desk space
Where is your ‘desk’ when you working from home? Whether you have a table in the spare bedroom, are balancing on the ironing-board, or you have cleared a space on your dining table, it’s crucial to consider these things:
- Having natural light in the room, or bright lights will activate your suprachiasmatic nucleus and help you to stay alert
- Avoid having sunlight shining directly on you, or reflecting on your screen, or directly behind your screen to avoid straining your eyes and headaches
- Not facing the TV screen – the temptation can be overwhelming – in fact, face the wall so that there are no visual distractions to disturb your focus
- Keeping your desk clutter-free (I’m not very good at this, and I quite clearing the clutter once a week on a Friday so that it’s tidy again for my super-focused, get-shit-done Mondays).
- One-touch admin – I love this method: as soon as you touch a piece of paper, a later, bill etc, you have to do something with it e.g. action it, file it or recycle it.
- Put your laptop away in the evenings, unplug cables if it’s in a living area, to reclaim your personal space to protect your work-life balance
2. Time for chores
It’s too easy to start faffing (cleaning, wiping down surfaces, rearranging books, etc.) when you know there are unfinished tasks, so take a moment to make a list of what needs to be done and allocate an adequate amount of time to do them:
- Decide which time of day they need to be done
- Allocate a time slot for various tasks and do as much as you can in that time-slot (e.g. 30 mins)
- Or choose a specific day (Thursday is laundry day)
- Plan your meals in advance to make sure you have everything you need, and plan your shopping so that you can always get a little bit of what you need. I’m a massive fan of shopping local and I’m doing my best to keep my favourite deli open at the moment
- Allocate chores to different family members to share the workload and reduce the pressure on you
- Time the noisy white appliances so that they won’t disturb you while you work or jump onto a video call
3. Enrol others for support
Too often other people (or pets) will assume that because you are in the house or the same room that you are available for chats, gossip or updates on the latest twitter storm. They probably don’t mean to annoy or disturb you while you are working from home. Try defining your new boundaries, together:
- Be honest with them about how you feel (frustrated, busy, under-pressure) and explain that you’d love to spend time playing or chatting with them but… while you are working from home things have to change…then offer some suggestions
- Then encourage them to say how they feel and what they need from you, so at least by now you have a better understanding about each other’s expectations
- Isolate yourself for short bursts, for example 45 minute blocks, and ask other people living in your house to respect your working pattern – get the kids to design a ‘Do Not Disturb, Mummy’s Working” sign for your door
- Explain why you need to be left alone
- Reward children (or housemates) by giving them lots of your attention when you are not working
4. Time for a Cuppa
Do you really need one or are you just delaying the inevitable?
- “I’ll just make another cuppa then I’ll get on with that…” I know how that plays out. However, instead of randomly getting up from your chair to make a hit drink, allocate a specific time for it, otherwise, trust me, you’ll never get through your to-do list
- Bring your (healthy?) snacks, water, and coffee to your desk space before you start working
- Please put a lid on water containers and keep coffee cups well away from electronics – it happens to us all and you can prevent it!
- If you know you will be taking a mid-morning break between calls or project proposals, plan a time and tell the people in the house so they can spend quality time with you
- Book in a video-call with a loved-one to be sociable and boost your mood- put the time in your diary and protect that time
5. Work with your energy
One of the things that really helps me to be productive when working from home is knowing how my energy naturally flows and changes throughout the day and throughout the week. Of course, not all of us have the luxury to choose our workload or decide our deadlines, but it really helps to explain why you will find some tasks easier at certain times and harder at other times.
- My ability to focus for long periods and for detailed work is strongest on Mondays
- I’ll never agree to write a report on a Friday because that’s when I’m at my most social and outgoing. It’s the warm-up to the weekend and my body knows it.
- On a daily basis, do you notice that you are more clear-headed in the morning or would you rather work until late? How does this suit your workload? Could you offer creative suggestions to colleagues who might also want to change their working patterns?
- Women – noticing how your energy shifts throughout your cycle can make a huge difference to how you approach certain tasks. Knowing your biochemical pattern can help to explain A LOT of things.
6. Connecting with Colleagues
When you are in the office you can go and chat to friends at the coffee station, or meet them for lunch or drinks after work. This serves three potential purposes – sharing information which enables you to build trust and be more productive at work, have fun, and off-load tension regarding your (shared) stressors. When you’re isolated and working from home, you have to make an effort to connect with colleagues in a different way. Engaging confidently via a video-link can seem impossible, but it’s not. Here are some practical suggestions:
- Who do you need to communicate with re work-related tasks and projects? Priorities these people first and set up calls with them
- How frequently do you need to be in contact with these people? Every Monday to set up the tasks for the week and every Friday to review progress?
- Communication can become even more challenging when you can’t see (non-verbal cues) or hear (poor internet connection) the other person so have a clear agenda with clear expected outcomes for the meeting, allocate a time-slot for each item and ensure someone is acting as ‘chair’
- Maintain rapport: Look into the camera, position your notes or any electronic documents as close to the camera as possible so you don’t have to look down or away for very long.
- Being heard: Speak slowly to allow for any time-lag, signal visually when you want to interject so that others can hear you
- Listening: give others the chance to speak and be patient, interrupting someone when speaking online often causes the line to cut out
- Turn up on time – allow yourself at least 4 minutes to log into a call; there will always be tech issues
- Turn up as you: well not exactly in your PJs, but turn up just as you are at home as this helps to build rapport
- Don’t be afraid to show your home, or your display of holiday memorabilia to colleagues or clients – the better they get to know you, the more productive your relationship will be
- Go to the loo before your call – that’s all I’m going to say on the matter 😉
7. Maintaining Momentum (when all you want to do is watch Netflix)
Maintaining your motivation and focus can be one of the hardest things to do when you’re working from home, even if the task is something you enjoy doing or will be proud to have achieved.
- Reward yourself – hurrah! Remember as kid your teacher would write ‘well done’ and give you smiley face or gold star sticker? Well, what is one thing you can treat yourself to once you have completed your tasks?
- Your to-do list will NEVER get shorter. but the items on it will change. So please don’t hold an unrealistic expectation of rewarding yourself “when ALL of these tasks are all complete…” but treat yourself frequently to help maintain your momentum
- Make a long list of all of your energisers and do at least three of them every day to boost your mood (see my #BoodMoosters video here)
- Plan your down-time: when will you engage in mindless activities to switch off, or mindful activities to tune in, or family activities to connect, or online social “wine-ins” to stay in touch with friends
8. Allow your Emotions
We would much rather shrug off negative emotions than deal with them. We deny the worry, ignore the anxiety, to do the very British thing of keeping calm and carrying on. But often this has an accumulative affect – the tension increases, builds up, gets worse and can also manifest itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, neck pain, back ache etc. You will be much less productive when working from home if your steps increases and you manifest aches and pains, so try this instead:
- When you are feeling pants (overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, low, lonely, anxious, etc) try to allow yourself to feel this way instead of trying to trick your brain to think positively (which doesn’t work, and makes you feel even worse because you try and it still doesn’t work)
- Notice what specific trigger led you to feel this way – a call, a task, a tech issue etc – knowing your triggers helps you to anticipate your reaction in the future and, ideally, help you to choose a different reaction
- If you experience physical symptoms of stress, try to go into that pain, approach it, describe it out loud as if to a 6 year old. Doing this will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help your body to rest and repair itself.
9. Connecting with your Community
Have you seen those heart-warming moments shared via Twitter of a guy, isolated in his flat in Barcelona, playing “my heart will go on” on his piano on his balcony? Another guy came out onto his own balcony and started playing along on his saxophone, to all the neighbours cheering. Magical. It makes me wonder what ‘good’ thing can come out of this don’t-mention-the-C-word period. And it got me thinking: What can you do to make or maintain contact with your (elderly) neighbours?
- Video-call then to make eye contact
- Wave at each other from your windows (this sounds a bit creepy though)
- Take their dog for a walk
- Do some gardening for them
Stop self-sabotaging and find your focus
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, or still procrastinating, or sabotaging your goals, join me online for my next interactive session on how to “Stop Self-Sabotaging & Find Your Focus”. You can read all the details here and book your place (there are various payment options too).
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You can leave a comment below or Tweet me @jsgbaker with the one idea you found most useful. I’d love to know, and it might actually help someone else out there in the ether