10 Tips To Be More Productive Working From Home
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
If you’re like us, working from home comes with some major ups and downs. At moments, it can be a dream, not having to commute or even dress up for work. Other times, it’s hard to manage everything and feel productive, especially with news about Covid-19 swirling in the background. Use these 10 tips to be more productive working from home.
Let’s start with 3 ways to maintain work-life balance and separation.
1. Stick to a schedule
When your office is so close to your bed, it’s easy to work at all hours. Don’t! Your brain needs rest time to be at its best. How many hours per day did you work at the office? Target working roughly the same amount per day or work from home.
You may want to shift your schedule to sleep in, take care of family, or for other reasons - that’s fine. Still, make a plan for when you’ll work throughout the week so that you have predictability and can make sure you’re not working too much.
Keep an eye on your hours throughout the week. If you work a really long day, try to carve out a shorter day later in the week. When you have an eye on your schedule, it’s easier to keep work and live balanced.
2. Separate office and personal space
When you’re in your home, it’s easy to get distracted. Find or create a specific space where you can work each day. It doesn’t have to be fancy - we’ve seen people happily creating desks out of ironing boards or taking over the kitchen nook. Just make it consistent. Set up your essentials, like a notepad, phone charger, water, and other items you kept on your office desk.
Each day, think of the move from your personal space into your designated work space the same way you’d think of commuting to your office. Shift your mindset and your focus to work. If you get distracted by home chores, make a note of what needs doing and tackle it after work hours.
Perhaps most important, when you have a consistent office space, you get to leave it at the end of the work day to “commute” back home. When your work time is over, according to the schedule you set up from (1), wrap things up, close your computer, and sign off for the day.
3. Take a lunch break
This makes a huge difference! Block out time for lunch each day and do your best to avoid meetings getting scheduled over it. I recommend a repeating calendar event, which you can always move if you need to.
Plan for a nutritious and satisfying lunch, so you aren’t as tempted to snack in the afternoon. If you enjoy cooking and have enough time, take a few minutes to prep lunch each day to transition yourself into some down time.
Find something you enjoy doing during lunch that will take your mind off work. Perhaps you can schedule lunch at the same time as your family so you can eat together. Recently, we’ve been enjoying a 20-30 minute comedy show as a lunchtime break.
Now that we’ve talked about creating separation between home and work, let’s talk about prioritizing and managing your work time.
4. Set monthly priorities
Even more so than usual, when working from home it helps to keep a close eye on your priorities. I like to reassess my priorities on a monthly basis (and sometimes even weekly too). What are the most important things for you to do in the next month? Pick no more than 4-5 and then stack rank them. Each day, review your priority list to make sure you’re making progress on them.
What types of priorities work best? Identify a few big projects that you want to either finish or move forward. If a project won’t be completely finished in this month, pick a specific goal, like completing a rough draft. You can also write down a few specific tasks to accomplish under each goal to help you stay on track.
5. Plan your day the night before
At the end of each work day, take just a few minutes to plan the next day. When will you start and stop working? What meetings do you have, and are you ready for them? What projects do you want to get done? Planning at the end of the day, rather than the next morning, means your brain is alert and still in a work context, so it’s easy to think through what you need to get done. If you plan in the morning, you may forget key things from the day before, or you may get pulled into emails and other things before planning. As a bonus, planning the night before helps you feel more in control of your work, making it easier to sign off for the evening and relax.
6. Block out time for key tasks
Ever find that you’re rushing all day, and yet you don’t get anything done? Try blocking out time. At the end of each day, after you set your next day’s priorities, take things a step farther by blocking out time on your calendar for projects. In each time block, identify a specific task you want to accomplish in that amount of time to make progress toward your goal. Notice how long you think something will take versus how long it actually takes, so you can block time more accurately in the future.
7. Combine similar tasks
Tackle small tasks more efficiently by doing them all at once. Emails, HR forms, expenses, and various small tasks pop up often and can distract you from work on your top goals. Instead of doing these right away, keep a running list of all tasks that will take less than 10 minutes and do all of them during a single block of time. I like to block time at the end of the day for these various tasks, since they usually don’t require a lot of brain power. You can also block one time in the morning and one in the evening for these.
8. Find a to do list that works for you
There are many to do list apps and methods out there, so invest some time in finding one that works for you. Whether it’s paper or digital, a written list or part of your calendar, keeping at least a basic to do list is enormously helpful to keep you on track. If you get distracted by a meeting or something in your home, refer back to your to do list to remind yourself of what to do next. My recommendation is finding an app that works well and has a good desktop version, so that you can have the list available anywhere from your iPhone or Android and also pull it up on your work computer.
Don’t think of yourself as a list person? That’s okay - start simple. Once you have your monthly priorities, try making a list of 5 weekly priorities. Then try a list of 5 priorities each day. That’s it. Trust me, keeping a list of tasks is worth it.
Ok, we’ve covered managing your own time - let’s talk about how to manage working with your team remotely.
9. Balance meetings and focus time
Meetings can take over your schedule and reduce your productivity, so find ways to manage them. Of course you can’t completely control meetings, but whenever possible try to align them with your needs. Here are a few ways to do this:
As a first step, review all of your meetings over a couple of weeks. Were they all necessary? Were any longer than they should have been? Especially for repeating meetings, think carefully about whether you need a certain meeting, or whether you can change the duration and frequency.
Find the right time of day for meetings. Some people think better in the morning, some in the afternoon, so decide when you want to have solo time and when you want to be talking. Move the meetings that you own accordingly.
Book back-to-back meetings. If you’re like me, an extra half hour between meetings isn’t that productive; at least an hour of solo time is needed to really get into a project. Whenever possible, book a few meetings in a row so that you can get all of them done and then refocus on solo work.
Block solo time. Based on your meeting schedule, block out a few 1-3-hour chunks of time over the next few days for solo work. If you lead a team, you may even want to select a no-meeting day or time for everyone.
Ask for a clear agenda. When you get a meeting invite, make sure there’s a clear agenda and it’s a good use of your time. Don’t be afraid to ask what the meeting is about or how the organizer wants you to contribute and push back if you don’t think it’s a good use of your time.
10. Plan for dependencies in advance
Working from home, it’s easier for each of us to focus on our own priorities and not coordinate as much. Without overhearing what teammates are working on at our desks or over lunch, we may not be aware of projects that will soon need our input. Try to plan ahead when you’ll need to ask someone else for help and give them a heads-up. Provide a bit of background info, details on the task, and roughly when you’ll need it. By doing this, you’ll make your teammates’ lives a little easier and avoid any delays in your goals.
Working from home, it’s easier to get sidetracked by everything from laundry to emails to meetings. We hope these tips for adding more structure and planning to your workday will help you be successful at work, and relaxed at home!