We all have work that needs to get done but are you being as productive as possible now working from home is a reality and likely to continue long-term? What do productive people do to stop getting distracted and even increase productivity? Here are simple yet effective ways to unlock home working and get organised in isolation and beyond.
Your Home Office
“We all get distracted, it’s how we manage this that counts”
To start with, think about what you like best about working from home? Maybe it’s more sleep in the morning or being able to get involved with daily family activities? What have you enjoyed doing and what really matters to you? Are you now having lunch together or have you recognised that your partner really needs you to be around for home schooling when they take work calls in the afternoon? So think about what is non-negotiable in your day and what you don’t want to miss out on. Book these in to your routine and remember this is the trade off for other parts of your working day.
Secondly, we all get distracted, it’s how you manage it that counts. We get interrupted by others at home, lose focus, get frustrated or anxious as we try to keep on top of work or finish projects.
Start with the physical space and set-up of your work area to reduce distractions. Be deliberate in your choice of work space. Don’t underestimate the effect a good home working environment has on your concentration and well being. Keep an area tidy, studies show a mess reduces our ability to focus on a task (Sabine Kastner 2015).
Then think about those you share your house with. Discuss your working hours together, consider what everyone needs. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you are off work. This might not always translate to younger members of the family but explain when and what you will do together daily, and talk to them about what you do in your work time.
Are you looking after yourself outside of work? If you are physically and mentally well then this will show in your work. Don’t allow good habits to slip while at home. It will be better for you and your work long-term. Eat your 5 a day, rest, divide work and relaxation clearly. Don’t work late and over time, which is really easy to do, allowing a recharge and rest will aid problem solving and decision making. A Stanford study showed longer hours didn’t increase productivity (John Pencaval, 2014).
And lastly, and most importantly, ask yourself when you are most productive? Noticing your own habits and natural tendencies and working with them is key to maximising your productivity. Try different things to find out what works for you: start early, try exercise before work, or swap some work hours to the evening when your children are in bed. It’s time to get creative and really work out how best you work and make the most of it. Don’t forget to communicate any changes you are trying with your colleagues and those you live with. Being flexible and open will help others help you. You being more productive is better for your company or colleagues in the long-term, so ask them to help you. For more support find an accountability partner, a person you trust, to check in with regularly regarding your to do list. You can help keep each other on track. Just by vocalising what you want to do and what you haven’t done, to someone else, will focus your actions.
Consider your personal productivity in relation to these four areas:-
Remember to focus on elements of your work life you are able to change. Maybe you don’t have a separate home office or have a regular conference call at 8 am with your team, notice those things and move on to what you can control.
Choose 5 things from the following list that resonate with you. Write them on a post-it note and put it up in your work area, the act of writing and the visual prompt will help cement them into the wiring of your brain (Forbes 2018) Try working to these principles for a week. At the end of the week consider what worked and what didn’t, swap in others to test. Stick with it and learn your version of being highly productive.
“Noticing your own habits and natural tendencies and working on them is key to maximising your productivity. Try different things to find out what works for you – start early, try exercise before work or swap some work hours to the evening when your children are in bed. Get creative”
What time are you most productive: Really think about when you are at your best. Morning, afternoon or evening? Book time to do your most complex or important tasks then. Make calls or do easy items in your least productive part of the day.
Set ‘office’ hours: Keeping regular times, where possible, helps set your mind and body into a productive day of working.
Take breaks: Keep fresh and allow ideas to flow but taking breaks and sticking to a regular lunch hour.
Start early, if you can: Have breakfast later, after you’ve been working a while. Get some tasks under your belt before the house gets busy and emails start arriving.
Avoid setting alarms: Sleep will aid productive work and build your resilience to the emotional ups and downs that come with change. Give yourself as much sleep as possible by allowing yourself to wake up naturally. This is the perfect time to allow yourself this benefit.
“Communicate with your colleagues and those you live with on what works best for you. Being flexible and open will help others help you. You being productive is better for your company and colleagues in the long-term so ask them to help you”
Get dressed for work: A small but important change in your mindset to start the day focused.
Allocate your working day: Use 60-90 min time slots for tasks you need to get done.
At the end of your day write your to-do list for tomorrow: This will allow you to switch off from work and start the next day clear on what you need to achieve. Use free apps for managing work tasks like Asana, Trello or Dubsado.
Keep communicating: If something cannot be explained in 1-2 email sentences, call instead. This will avoid things getting lost in translation and save time playing email tennis.
Use tech to avoid distractions: Leave home devices in another room. Experiment with free apps like Freedom or Stayfocused to block adverts and websites in workhours. Use separate work and home browsers.
Use music to focus your mind: Background music but not TV can help focus the mind. Change it depending on what you are doing. If I’m flagging I put on a dance track to lift my energy levels.
“Be deliberate in your choice of work space. Don’t underestimate how important a good home working environment is to your concentration and well being. Keep the area tidy, a messy working environment has been shown to reduce levels of concentration”
Have a dedicated workspace: Whether it’s a home office, a corner of a kitchen table or even sofa, make sure you are comfortable, with all you need. The ongoing association of work with this particular area will help you focus.
Make your ‘office’ as inviting as possible: Have a comfortable chair and screen set up. Have plants and good natural light, use directable lamps if you need to. Keep the space tidy. Open the windows once a day to get some fresh air in.
Clear away at the end of your day: Tidy away papers and devices once you are done. If you work in shared living space use a basket to keep items in out of hours, this will help you switch off.
Communicate expectations to those you live with: Discuss you working hours with others in the house. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean your are off work. This might not always translate to younger members of the family but then try to fit office hours around family activities you can join in with, like an agreed lunch break playing together in garden or switching afternoon work to an evening
“If you are physically and mentally well then this will show in your work. Don’t allow good habits to slip while at home. Eat your 5 a day, rest, divide work and relaxation clearly. Don’t work late and over time. A Stanford study showed longer hours didn’t increase productivity (John Pencaval, 2014)”
Use tech to stay connected: Plan social interaction with colleagues and friends. Keep collaboration and banter up via Slack, Zoom, google hangouts or discord.
Decide when not to be in contact: The lockdown has provided a surprising opportunity to step back and assess what you really want and how you connect with people. Enjoy recharging your batteries and reflecting on what you can cut out that isn’t working for you.
Treat yourself: Drink lots of water & get regular hours of sleep. The REM Sleep we get in the later part of the night allows the brain to process anxiety and stress.
Keep up the exercise: There is so much free content available from online yoga, boxercise, ballet, family-friendly classes, everything. Use it and enjoy. Get out in the fresh air for a cycle, run or keep your steps up while you are on the phone.
Make the most of your time off: Decide what you really want to do out of hours. Be mindful to not fill extra time on social media or with TV. They can suck time you have. Make the most of your time. Paint your nails, get in the garden, play football with the kids, anything that makes you feel good.
And what productive people don't do....
They don’t expect one size to fit all and they don’t stop trying things out and learning, until they find what works for them. It is about taking responsibility for ourselves and our work. Never stop being curious, adaptable and focused as these are the keys to successfully working from home.