Are you new to working (or schooling) at home? Or are you a work-at-home veteran facing new challenges because your once-quiet house is now filled with your quarantined family or roommates? If so, here are some helpful tips and ideas to help you stay sane and productive!
1. Get started early
One way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. Simply getting a project started first thing in the morning can be the key to making progress on it gradually throughout the day. Otherwise, you may be tempted to prolong breakfast and let the morning sluggishness wear away your motivation.
2. Pretend like you are going into the office
Author and Motivational Speaker Jon Acuff recently tweeted this work-at-home advice: “Start the day with a shower and then dress like you normally would for work. I love pajama pants too, but they’re a breeding ground for depression. Flannel feels like failure by day 3.” When working from home, do all the things you'd do to prepare for an office role: Set your alarm, make coffee, and wear nice clothes. This will help you get into the professional mindset and prepare you for your day.
3. Choose a dedicated work space
Just because you're not working at an office doesn't mean you can't have an “office”. Rather than cooping yourself up in your room or on the couch, dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to work. Try to only use this space for work, if possible - this will make it easier to get into your “zone” when the workday starts. If you don’t have a dedicated work computer, you can create a virtual one by signing out of your personal browser and signing in to a separate browser you only use for work activities. A separate browser account can easily be created for free through many internet browsers such as Google Chrome.
4. Be prepared and structure your day
Spending time figuring out what you'll do today can take away from actually doing those things. Solidify your schedule the day before to make it feel more official when you wake up the next morning and get started on it. To stay on schedule, segment what you'll do and when over the course of the day. Use an online calendar (google calendar is easy) to create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks.
5. Work when you're at your most productive
Nobody sprints through their work from morning to evening -- your motivation will naturally ebb and flow throughout the day. To capitalize on your most productive periods, save your harder tasks for when you know you'll be in the right headspace for them. Use slower points of the day to knock out the easier, logistical tasks that are also on your plate. Some people find it helpful to save phone calls and meetings for the afternoon.
6. Use laundry as a work timer
Is your pile of dirty laundry nagging at the back of your mind as you try to focus on professional tasks? Tackle that chore and your work at the same time by using your laundry as a built-in timer for your home. Put your first load in, then use the time to start and finish something from your to-do list before changing the load. Committing to one assignment during the wash cycle and another during the dry cycle can train you to work smarter on tasks that you might technically have all day to tinker with.
7. Take clear breaks
It can be so easy to get distracted when working from home that you avoid breaks altogether. This can make you feel more productive initially but may backfire later in the day as you fatigue. Use your breaks to get away from your desk. Don’t work through your meals - leave your desk and eat somewhere else in your house. If possible, find a way to go outside - take your dog out, grab a snack behind your house, go for a walk, etc. If your children or spouse are also working/schooling from home, you can ask them to join you.
8. Make Technology work for you
Are you distracted by ambient sound in your home? Invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Do you waste a lot of time bouncing back and forth between multiple programs? Set up a second screen or device to dedicate to the program you use the most, and use the other one to view everything else. Does your internet load slowly or freeze up during video calls? Bandwith problems can often be remedied with a call to your service provider or by purchasing a new router from an office supply store. Sometimes a modest investment in technology can pay huge dividends in productivity.
Technology can also help you stay connected. Working from home can make you feel isolated from your coworkers and your company’s overall mission. Instant messaging and videoconferencing tools can make it easy to check in with coworkers and remind you how your work is contributing to the big picture.
9. Kill your Vampires
Technology can be your biggest friend, but it can also suck the lifeblood of your work: focus, productivity, energy, and creative flow. If your phone is your top distraction, place it in a different room while you are working and only check it when you’re on break. If accessing your social media accounts on your work computer is a constant temptation, remove them from your browser shortcuts and log out of every account. If this isn’t enough to curb your addiction, there are a variety of free and low-cost apps and programs (Freedom, StayFocusd, etc.) that can help you maintain focus by shutting down or limiting access to social media during your workday.
10. Set boundaries with family and friends
Set clear boundaries and expectations with family and friends. Just because you work at home does not mean you are freely available during all hours of the day. Ask other housemates or family members to respect your space during work hours. Let them know when you will be on “break” so they can save non-urgent conversations until then.
11. Prepare your meals the night before
When you're in your own home, it can be tempting to spend time preparing a really nice breakfast and lunch for yourself. Working from home can help you avoid the temptation of relying on fast food, but meal prep can also be a major time suck. Prepping healthy meals and snacks the night before can help your breaks feel longer while also ensuring that you don’t “chew” up valuable work time trying to figure out what to eat.
12. Know when to quit
Having the freedom to work as long as you want on a project can feel good initially, but long days make it harder to keep healthy boundaries and can lead to burnout. Set an alarm at the end of the day to indicate your normal work day is coming to an end. You don't have to stop at exactly that time, but knowing the work day is technically over can help you start the process of saving your work and calling it quits for the evening.
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