As the world becomes increasingly connected, more and more people are opting to work from home. Whether it’s the allure of a virtual commute into a corporate office, or the entrepreneurial adrenaline rush of self-employment, working from home is largely appealing to many for a number of reasons.
But, as the work-from-home numbers grow around the world, and more people begin cutting the cord to physical employment, so to speak, the question that begs an answer is, “How can we stay productive while working from home?”
Working from home has many benefits, not one of which is the drop in productivity that we all experience over time, especially when the newness of having a home office wears off. If you’ve worked from home for any period, you know just how difficult it can be to remain productive.
The truth? When we lack the structure of an actual office or a corporate environment, staying focused, motivated, and staying productive is largely a challenge for most people, myself included. At home, distractions abound. We’re in our comfort zones, and kicking bad habits that might slowly creep in over the course of the day, taking us away from our workplace mindset, can be discouraging, to say the least.
But, there are most certainly many ways to stay productive while working from home. These work-from-home productivity hacks will help give you the added boost you need to draw a distinct line in the sand that will allow you to mentally separate your work life from your home life, even in the comfort of your own abode.
So, how does it work? How can we manage to boost our productivity rather than see it wax and wane?
Increasing Your Work-at-Home Productivity
I know, firsthand, just how difficult it can be to work from home. I’ve worked from home for a large part of my life, and still struggle with my productivity levels from time to time. But, today, I can recognize my dwindling productivity, and step in with some all-important action steps to snap myself out of it.
I know, from experience, that there are certain things that I can do in order to boost my productivity, and when I don’t do those things, it’s far harder to stay focused. But, when I do do those things, my productivity skyrockets, going through the roof. So, if you want to be more productive while working from home, follow these steps, and you’ll find yourself getting more things done.
#1 — Separate Your Workspace
Whether you live in a large home or a small apartment, in order to be more productive while working from home, you need some delineation between your work-life and your home-life. The biggest problem when trying to work from home, is not having a separate space to do your work in. Even if it’s just a small corner desk with a whiteboard above it, you need that separation to get things done.
When you don’t separate your workspace, it’s easy to slip back into the routines and habits that run your home-life. Maybe you’re sitting on the couch and turn on the TV without even realizing it. Maybe you pick up a video game controller and become immersed in a video game. Or, maybe you chat on the phone with a friend for too long, or get carried away doing another non-work-related activity.
If you don’t separate your workspace, you’ll find a harder time being productive while working from home. Quite possibly, this is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. While working from home is a great opportunity for people, especially those with children, it’s easy to allow our personal lives to get in the way of work.
Of course, the best way to delineate your workspace in your home is to have a separate room for an office. But, if you don’t have an extra room in your home or apartment, it’s understandable. If you do, however, be sure to turn that space into your work sanctuary and watch how it does wonders for your productivity.
#2 — Use Daily Goal Setting
Without some sort of system for setting goals on a daily basis, it’s harder to stay focused, and easier to lose productivity. However, when you’ve set goals for what you want to achieve in the day, staying on track is a little bit easier. But, in order to set daily goals, you need some long-term goals in place. If you don’t have those yet, then you need to start there.
When you set long-term goals, you can create milestones. Milestones can be quarterly, monthly, or even weekly. And, when you have milestones, you can engage in daily goal setting, which help to keep you on track for what you’re trying to achieve, boosting your productivity in the meanwhile.
To set daily goals, all you need to do is to first review your milestones, and then ask yourself the following question in the morning: “What did I achieve today?” Project your morning-self to your evening-self, reflecting on what you achieved. This way, when you do start your day, you can do so knowing specifically what you need to get done.
What you’ll come to find over time is that this is quite possibly one of the best methods for increasing your productivity while working from home. Since it’s so easy to get sidetracked, having a productivity hack such as this at your beck and call will do wonders for you over time.
#3 — Use a Whiteboard, Chalkboard, or a Cork board
While working from home, clearly it’s easy to get distracted. No mater what we do, things will ultimately throw us off course, because, well, we’re at home. So, in order to truly stay focused, we need a constant reminder somewhere we can see it all the time. Use a whiteboard, chalkboard, or a cork board to write out or post what needs to be accomplished for the day or even the week.
The mind has a difficult time focusing on too many things at once. While we might all think we’re expert multi-taskers, the mind doesn’t exactly work that way. The mind is good at accomplishing one thing well enough when enough focus and attention is given to it. And, switching gears from one task to another task, or even one project to another project, surely slows us down.
But, by using a system to remind ourselves, we can subconsciously gear up for the task ahead by merely glancing at the board. We know we have to shift gears once the present task is done, and a large whiteboard, chalkboard, or a cork board, helps to reinforce that. You can easily order an inexpensive one of these online from several sources such as Amazon, Wal-Mart, or any other local e-tailer in your area.
In the morning, after you set your daily goals, use the board to lay out the plan for the day so that you can keep your focus. Then, glance up at the board as a reminder of the next task ahead to try and keep yourself on track.
#4 — Implement an Effective Time Management Strategy
There’s virtually no way to stay productive without implementing an effective time management strategy. When you’re working from home, it’s an essential part of focusing your mind on the right tasks that will help you build momentum and keep you on track, because we all know just how easy it is to get sidetracked in a familiar environment.
To implement an effective time management strategy, pick one system that works for you. For me, it’s the quadrant system. In the quadrant system, all of your time is broken down into four separate categories based on two things: urgency and importance. Everything that you can can be broken down into a scale based on those factors.
- Quadrant 1 – Important and Urgent: This includes short-term crises and problems, some of which can be avoided, others which cannot be avoided.
- Quadrant 2 – Important, Not Urgent: These are your long-term goal related activities, and should be the subject of your focus.
- Quadrant 3 – Urgent, Not Important: Distractions and interruptions that take away from your focus and your productivity.
- Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent, Not Important: Time-wasting activities that should absolutely be limited such as excessive socializing, partying, or television watching.
To use a system like this to manage your time and increase your productivity while working from home, grab a notepad and spend a week jotting down everything you do during the day. When it’s time to begin working from home, jot down the activities that you engage in. Then, next to each one, write the quadrant it relates to and circle it.
At the end of each day, calculate how much time you spent in each quadrant. The goal? Spend as much time working on Quadrant 2 activities as is possible and limit Quadrant 4 activities by all means. Remember, time is the great equalizer. We all have the same amount of time in this world. No one person has more time than you or me.
Clearly, it’s not about how much time we have. Rather, it’s what we do with the time we do have that matters. If you’re serious about being more productive, and even achieving some of your long-term goals, use a system to track and manage what you do with the precious time you do have in the day.
#5 — Focus on Chasing the Frog
If there’s one thing you should above all else, it’s to “chase the frog.” The term actually comes from a book that I wrote called Chasing the Frog – How to Achieve Success in Life by Building an Empowering Morning Routine. But the overall concept actually stems from a well-known quote by Mark Twain.
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” — Mark Twain
What Twain was referring to is handling the biggest item on your to-do list first thing in the morning when your mind is still fresh and clear. If you want to think along the lines of time management, this might also be known as your Quadrant 2 activities, or your Most Important Tasks (MITs) of the day.
When you tackle these things first thing in the morning and you get them out of the way, you build momentum. And, building momentum off of progress is far easier than feeling like you’ve been stuck on a problem or an activity all day with little to no progress.
Your job, then, along with everything else you need to do in order to stay productive while working from home, is to identify your MITs in the morning. This might coincide with your daily goal setting, but your MITs might only be a small part of your daily goals.
On your whiteboard, chalkboard, or cork board, put up a list with all your daily goals and place your MITs at the top, making sure to tackle those first. Then, as you complete each one, place a line through it with a red marker. This will help you to stay on top of things even further.
#6 — Overcome Your Natural Tendencies to Procrastinate
Procrastination is the silent killer. It can simply and easily eat away at any progress towards your goals. It can set a person back, even if they’ve made some significant strides, and it can help slip us back into old patterns and routines that might not serve us.
The worst part? Much of our tendencies to procrastinate come from the devices that we use every day, especially for work. Things like email, social media, and online news play a large role in diverting our attention from what we should be doing. But, most of us can’t actually work from home without an active Internet connection. So, what are we supposed to do?
Procrastination usually involves Quadrant 4 activities — the ones we absolutely shouldn’t be engaged in. But it’s still hard to avoid. However, there are some procrastination hacks that we can use to overcome our natural tendencies to put things off.
The best method that I’ve found is to use the 15-minute rule. Set a timer on your smartphone, or any other device, for 15 minutes. Agree to do whatever task you’ve been putting off the longest for those 15 minutes only. Do not commit to more than that. Why? It’s too small of a goal to fail at. When we promise ourselves just 15 minutes, it’s easier to get past the hurdle of starting.
Our tendencies to procrastinate really originate from our fears and anxieties that reside in our subconscious mind. So, we have to do whatever it takes to overcome those. When we promise just 15 minutes to ourselves, and we actually get started, we build momentum. Usually, we keep going after 15 minutes, but even if we stop, at least we broke the cycle.
#7 — Declutter and Stay Organized Throughout the Day
In a recent study on the effects of clutter on the brain, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers determined that an increase in clutter can actually take away from our focus and ability to get things done. Specifically, they stated the following:
“Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”
When there are too many things in our field of vision, we tend to get distracted and veer off course. That’s when things like procrastination and other bad habits kick in. So, if you’re working from home and the place is a pigsty, you should put serious thought into organizing and decluttering immediately.
If the thought of decluttering your home or office is just too much for you to handle, then start small. Take one small part of your home and start there. Even if it’s just a drawer in a desk, begin right there. Spend just 15 minutes decluttering that space, then the next day, spend another 15 minutes decluttering something else. The habit will build over time, but you have to start somewhere.
#8 — Eat a Healthy Breakfast
Start your day off right and eat something healthy in the morning. The benefits of eating a healthy breakfast are enormous, and it will give you the physical fuel that you need for your mind to fire on all pistons. Ensure that you get the right mixture of nutrients into your body in the morning because breakfast is by far the most important meal of the day.
However, many people have been known to skip their breakfast entirely and simply opt for the route of caffeine. While it’s okay to drink coffee in the morning, or even throughout the day, your body and your mind needs fuel to keep it going. Eat a balanced breakfast that includes things like good carbs, proteins, and juices.
If you’ve been known to skip your breakfast, you need to start planning your morning meals right now. Come up with a plan for what you’re going to eat. Make sure that it’s something healthy. Then, head to the store and buy what you need. When you wake up, prepare a healthy breakfast and eat it immediately. Or, do it after you exercise (if you’re so inclined to do so), but don’t skip the breakfast.
#9 — Take Frequent Breaks Throughout the Day
Staying productive while working from home can be hard without taking frequent breaks. Your mind needs a few moments to unwind, no matter how short it might be. However, you should avoid doing things like smoking cigarettes while taking breaks. And, if you have the bad habit of smoking, it’s important that you do what you can to quit it.
Schedule a 15-minute break every two hours of work. During those 15 minutes, do something that you enjoy doing. Read a book, watch a TED talk, or just go outside and take a walk. You’ll be surprised at just what those 15 minutes can do to your levels of stress and anxiety.
If you enjoy journaling, spend those 15 minutes writing about something. Use the stream-of-consciousness technique to simply write what’s in your mind. You might just be surprised at what comes out of the depths of your mind when you put pen to paper. There’s a certain cathartic release about doing this, and doing it often.