24 Apr 13 Ways to Actually be Productive When You’re Working from Home
Home office, you poisoned chalice you. Like the lime green waistcoat I really thought I wanted when I was 14 but then never ended up wearing, working from home has not been as good as I imagined it would be. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It has its perks. But my will power is really being tested and occasionally wilting in this new environment. My cooking and watercolours, however, are the best they’ve ever been. And my sock drawer is looking so gloriously neat it’s a joke. Priorities, people.
As we’ve all come to learn over the past weeks, it’s hard to stay focused on the couch. But there are tricks we can use to keep productive. The first one would probably be to get off the couch. With the right tips, tools and mindset you can make it work. We’ve collected the best work-from-home hacks to help you make the most of your new environment. Good luck!
1. GET DRESSED
As someone with a soft spot for the sweet joy of wearing pajamas all day, I know this is tricky. But the experts agree (and I hate to say this), but you need to put on clothes. ‘Although a dress code may seem silly when you think about working from home, work clothes impact you on a business and personal level and can affect your career,’ says workplace expert Mason Donovan. ‘Getting dressed for the day can make you feel more determined to get your work done.’
As my housemate, Pienaar used to say: ‘Dress smart. Think smart.’
You don’t need to go full business attire though. It just needs to be something one tier up from a nightgown that will send the right message to your brain.
2. STAY AWAY FROM THE NEWS IN THE MORNING
This is something that’s particularly relevant in today’s environment. Since the news has gone into hyperdrive, the usual pattern of waking up and looking at your phone straight away is likely to start your day off in a stressed state. If it’s possible, try a new routine: put your phone on airplane mode before you go to bed, wake up and don’t touch it until you’ve showered, had coffee and, if possible, done some yoga or meditation. Only then, turn on your phone. And, if you have the will power, stay away from the news until lunch or even after work.
3. CREATE A COMFORTABLE WORKING SPACE
Designing a place to work that promotes productivity is a key component of successfully working at home. If you can, try to find a place that has limited noise and is next to a window. Sunlight can help with productivity and lighten the mood. A comfortable chair is important too. Even if you live in a small apartment with other people, it’s important to carve out a space of your own from which to work, even if it’s at the end of your dining table, in a hallway or closet. Being able to walk away from your work station when you need a break or when the day ends will let you symbolically and mentally leave work behind, and pick up where you left off the next morning.
Top work from home tip: Whatever you do, try not to work from bed or the couch. Those spaces should be reserved for relaxation. Your mind associates different environments with different things and if they get muddled it can mess with your sleep during the night and productivity during the day.
4. PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN
I don’t care what new parody the Kiffness has brought out or what Schalk Bezuidenhout just shared, it can wait. Research confirms what we already know: frequent social media usage isn’t helpful while trying to work. Several studies show that the human brain isn’t very good at multitasking and it’s even better at tricking itself into thinking it can. ‘People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,’ says neuroscientist Earl Miller. Unless your job involves staying connected to social media, try to schedule specific times to check your social media accounts. If not, you’ll be constantly distracted whenever you receive a notification.
5. SET SPECIFIC TIMES TO CHECK EMAIL
Get your mind ready for the day by emptying your inbox first thing. This is like decluttering your brain. From then on, set specific times to check your email. This will help you focus more on each task at hand (rather than feeling scatterbrained from multitasking). Experts recommend checking your emails two or three times a day. If possible, try once before lunch and once more before finishing up your workday, that way it doesn’t accidentally seep into your work time.
Don’t leave your messenger or email program open, because as soon as you see new messages coming in, you’re going to want to check them. Turn off the push notifications and sounds on your computer and phone. All those little sounds and pop-ups may not seem like much of a distraction, but they are taking your attention away for a second and that’s enough to lose focus.
6. TAKE A PROPER LUNCH BREAK
Your brain needs short periods of rest. This prepares your brain so that it can regain focus and recharge. While we all want to imagine we’re productivity machines that can run infinitely at the same level, the reality is that our productivity dips after a spell of intense concentration. Lunch is the time to walk away from your workspace and switch off for a while. It’s also a good time to declutter your desk. I’ll be honest, I’ve been having three-hour lunch breaks that include naps. Which leads us to the next point…
7.. KNOW WHEN YOU’RE MOST PRODUCTIVE
The secret to working from home is knowing the best time of day that you work. This will ensure that you’re not only productive, but that you can do more quality work. Richard Branson, who works from home six months of the year, says staying flexible is a crucial part of maintaining productivity. ‘Too many companies don’t realise the monotony of a lot of people’s day-to-day life at work,’ he says. ‘I try to encourage chief executives worldwide to make sure that there’s as much flexibility in the workplace as possible.’
We now have more freedom, but also more responsibility. If you don’t have back-to-back Zoom meetings, it’s up to you to figure out the time of day when you’re most awake, productive, and on your toes. We’re in a unique position to get work done at random hours; embracing this can have a huge impact on productivity.
Hack Fact: Nikola Tesla and Leonardo da Vinci both followed the bizarre Uberman sleep schedule, taking six evenly spaced 20-minute naps throughout the day.
8. TRY THE POMODORO METHOD
One of the oldest productivity hacks for remote workers, the Pomodoro Method is a technique whereby you work with a laser-focus on an assignment for 25 straight minutes, no interruptions, then take a five-minute break to regroup and refocus. Knowing there’s less than half an hour in a session means you’re likely to give your best effort and the five-minute break allows you to refresh your mind before tackling the next thing. It’s been scientifically proven to increase your output and you can even use the website Tomato-Timer.com to keep track of your progress.
9. OR TRY THE 90-MINUTE WORK CYCLE
Researchers have also found that your brain cycles through 90-minute periods of extreme efficiency, known as ultradian cycles, when your mind is more attuned than ever. The cycle in which we dip in and out of them is called the ultradian rhythm. ‘Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30% higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50% greater capacity to think creatively,’ says Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project.
As with the Pomodoro Method, set an alarm for 90 minutes and have a small break. During these breaks you can get up, stretch, refill your bottle of water, get some fresh air, eat a healthy snack and come back refreshed.
10. SET BOUNDARIES
This is especially relevant for those living in a busy house – either with kids, family members or flatmates around. A lot of experts have been championing the idea of a ‘work hat’ that signals to your family that you’re working and shouldn’t be disturbed. Or you can place a stuffed animal on your desk or doorknob that lets your kids know that you’re ‘at work’ and should only be disturbed for emergencies.
Extra tip: Remember that boundaries should also apply to your free time. Don’t get sucked back into answering work questions outside of your set working hours. Turn off all notifications and shut down messaging and email programs at the end of your workday, so you can actually designate work to working hours.
11. USE A DIFFERENT BROWSER FOR WORK
This is a safe space so I will admit it: I have a problem with YouTube. I get sucked into its vortex almost every day. Ok, about five times a day. What’s helped with this and other distracting websites is using different browsers for work and for play. The work browser, for example Google Chrome, can have bookmarks, tabs, shortcuts and plugins related to your work. And your personal browser, for example Firefox, can have all the videos, websites and articles you like to look at during your free time.
12. WRITE A TO-DO LIST AT THE END OF THE DAY
This is a popular trick for experienced freelancers as it helps to bring mental closure to the day and you can rest easy knowing that the day ahead is already planned. You can also start the next day efficiently and it gives you a sense of achievement as you tick them off.
13. THEN PHONE A FRIEND
Once your day has come to a close, reward yourself with a quick phone call to a friend. This is something to look forward to at the end of the day and helps to stay in touch with your friends and family. It also acts as a good buffer between ending your workday and switching off. Think of it as your drive home. Instead of commuting, now you’re communicating.