working from home

Working From Home?

A lot of people are working from home now for the first time.  This post offers some suggestions to maximize your productivity and maximize your time.  If you’ve been working from home for a long time (i.e., you already left your “day job” so you could “work at home”) this post has some suggestions for you too.  You probably are already aware of the suggestions below, but it’s a good idea to have a refresher.

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work from home - location
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1. Choosing a Location for “Work at Home”

Your work space is a key to your productivity. A clean and tidy work space will really improve your overall mood.  If your current work space is cluttered, try spending a half-hour to clean it up and organize it a bit.  I’ve always found that organizing my space is a boost.  It helps clear away the physical clutter but also, amazingly, it helps to clear the clutter in my head.  Like a fresh start.  Probably should do this every Monday morning.

If possible, separating your work space from your living space is important too. Having somewhere to ‘go’ to focus on work makes a big difference.  Try moving from your “designated work area”, to a different place in your apartment or house.  Try going outside for a short walk while you phone conference with someone or you just take a break to clear your mind.

work from home - setting goals

2. Setting Goals

Everyone needs daily goals.  If you used to work outside of the home, at an office for example, you probably already know the importance of setting daily goals.  I’m sure you do, but take a minute to remind yourself how that went.  In the morning or the night before, you made a mental list of what needed to be done.  You prioritized your mental list and decided when you would take on each challenge.

Now that you’re working from home, you need to do the same thing. Make a mental list, prioritize, and maybe even make a to-do list.

Working from home, you can set your own schedule.  That’s a plus, but don’t get lazy and let things drift.  Look at your list and decide when you will spend time on each task.

Your goals will be your motivation, pushing you towards a realistic, time-bound achievement. For a ‘regular’ day (whatever that might mean for you), ensure your goals include several ‘hit points’ — points you are aiming for with approximate times, whether or not they mark the end of a task.

Subdivide your day into morning, afternoon, and evening working sessions to evenly spread your workload. Don’t want to work evenings? Spend more time in the morning and have evenings free! Only want to work two hours at a time with more frequent breaks? That can also be achieved.

Try ‘push days’ — days where you really strive to maximize your output by setting tough objectives that will take some doing to meet. Interspersing push days with regular working days is a key to making the push-days productive.

‘Push days’ are useful when you need to make headway into big projects. Whether it’s launching into new ones, or pushing for the completion of old, lingering ones. We’ve all got to that stalemate situation, where a project has reached the point of moving forward in unenthusiastic drips and drabs. A push day will move it leaps-and-bounds towards finally being wrapped up.

work from home - create variation

3. Creating Variation

A varied workload might seem unachievable depending on the business (or job) you have. But there are ways to keep things interesting whatever you do, in the way you order your tasks. Your morning could be reading emails, your afternoon, focusing on creative direction, your evening, engrossing yourself in analytics.

This kind of variation into your day automatically helps to reduce the tendency to stare aimlessly at a flashing cursor, praying for inspiration — instead, you just move on to the next pending task.

Avoid switching between tasks too much, though. You need to allow yourself time to really sink your teeth into things. To push through the initial time drain that naturally occurs when you start any new task — the ‘getting into it’ phase. Too much switching, and you’ll soon find a disproportionate amount of time is spent this way.

If tasks are long (several hours or more), try to spend a minimum of an hour per session. Working only five minutes here and there on it will drag these kinds of tasks out indefinitely, and result in more time spent overall.

Likewise, you have a bunch of smaller, five-minute tasks, put them together into 30 minutes of ‘quickfire’ tasks. By identifying how long a task you’re working on should take before you do it, you minimize the risk of accidentally spending an hour on, for example, replying to unimportant emails.

A good time to have these quickfire sessions is during your ‘afternoon lull’, or when re-introducing yourself back into work after lunch.

work from home - breaks

4. Distractions & Breaks

When you didn’t work at home, when you were in an office or working at a store, what did you do for a break?  Now that you’re working at home, what will you do for a break.  You still need them.  Your free now to decide how to structure your breaks.  I’d suggest that you DON’T spend any time, or at least not a more than a few minutes, with things like TV, internet, or cleaning the kitchen.  These things have their time and place, but you weren’t doing those things when you worked outside the home, so why would you now.  Go back and review #2 above about the goals.

Many people find music helps them to focus. It can! But pick the right songs — make a playlist that inspires you to work, or use some of the ready-made ones designed for this on Spotify. Blasting out Mariah Carey power ballads that demand to be sung as a duet is unlikely to help concatenate an Excel file.

Breaks are as important when working from home as anywhere else, so don’t neglect to take them.

Do whatever makes you feel great, but you will work better if you’ve gotten away from your screen for at least an hour throughout the day.

work from home - exercise

5. Exercise

Without your commute, it’s easy to become stuck inside. Aside from obvious health implications, you might find that you find it more difficult to sleep. So, it’s important to use up that energy.

There are some great indoor workout videos on YouTube if you are unable to go outside. Alternatively, get creative with other ways of exercising indoors, or use a garden or courtyard if you have access to one.

Consider scheduling a half-hour walk or bike ride every day.  It will give you something to look forward to and you will return to “work” refreshed. 

Find your perfect balance

Ultimately, you will decide what works for you; your personal habits and strengths. These five suggestions are meant as flexible guidelines to be adjusted to suit you.

You may be a night-owl who finds focusing on one thing for the whole day helps you focus better, or someone who finds switching between tasks more regularly helps you stay focused.

Whatever you decide on, make sure the work pattern you create is sustainable.