Working from home can be a dream. It can also be very challenging. Since the world seems to be adopting a work from home mindset, I wanted to share some tips on how to stay productive while working from home that I have found helpful over the years.
Take Time to Prepare
When working from home, you must prepare for the day ahead. You don’t want to be caught like a deer in headlights when your alarm clock rings. Think about it. You are working from ‘home.’ Your home is a place of rest, relaxation, and distractions. Generally speaking, a home is not a place designed for maximum deep work and productivity – it’s a jungle.
Now that we have established that our homes are a minefield of personal and professional obstacles, it is easy to see why having a plan going into your day is so important.
Start planning a day in advance
Take some time at the end of your workday. Look through the tasks of the day and check off everything that you have accomplished. Now it’s time to make a new list. Write down a list of everything that you would like to do tomorrow. Make sure to include any tasks that you didn’t get around to during the day.
With your list more or less completed, take a moment and think about what your day is going to looks like tomorrow. If you’d like, you can stack this process with another good habit of cleaning your desk (more on this in the next step). While thinking about the next day, you may find you need to consult with a team lead or partner. Check-in with them to see if there is anything that they might require you to do. Maybe you need to run an errand for a spouse, meet with a potential client, or start dinner a little earlier. You should have a compiled list of tasks at this point, and already a clearer picture of what the next day would look like.
Grab the Calender
Take your list and sit down with your calendar. At this point, you want to try to visualize your day as best as possible. This process is not supposed to be perfect, but rather a rough outline of your day. Try to be realistic with the time it takes to complete tasks. Give yourself some leeway, and don’t expect a robot-like performance from yourself. Again, be realistic.
Develop a Routine
Similar to planning your day, a routine is there to help define boundaries for your home and office. Do you remember a time when you worked a job at an office? Chances are you had to be out of bed at a specific time; you performed a particular set of tasks to get ready and have some commute before arriving to work. While those things may have seemed like a drag at the time, they were helping you to get available for work.
Once we get into the flow of a routine, often, it may seem like we are in auto-pilot mode. Slowly drifting along until arriving at our destination. A routine helps prime your brain and body for the next event. Once a set of tasks are completed, like waking up, brushing your teeth, and driving to work, your brain is ready to do the next event – usually, work.
Because we work from home, you might find it a bit difficult to have a set routine. Each day is different because we are privileged (and cursed) enough to have flexibility. If you just roll out of bed and open your laptop on Monday, but only start working in the afternoon on Tuesday, you might have a difficult time trying to focus or getting in the zone when it’s time to work.
Try to set up a simple start-up routine to get into the swing of things. You have the freedom to set this routine and start at any time that best suits you. A start-up routine doesn’t have to be time-consuming, complex, and cumbersome.
I am currently trying a simple routine. When I am ready to start work (which is usually more or less the same time every morning), I head out the front door for a quick 10-minute walk around my neighborhood. When I get back home, I put on some coffee and wait for it to brew while casually browsing my phone. After the coffee is ready, I pour a cup for myself and my wife and head to the office. As you can see, this is almost mimicking a commute along with grabbing a coffee before sitting down to work. I find that a 10-minute break to be alone and outside helps re-align my thoughts. It also adds some distance from myself and my home. It allows me to refresh my brain, ready to take on the workday ahead.
Similar to the start-up routine, the shutdown routine happens at the end of your day. When you’re ready to “Pack up” and go home, I’ll admit, some days, I rush out my home office and into the kitchen. But ideally, I like to first close all my browser tabs and apps on my computer. Start making a list of to-do’s for the next day, and clean my desk. If I am feeling like a groggy-zombie, I like heading outside to get some fresh air or take a quick walk around the block to clear my head.
When I get back home, my brain has been reset and I am ready to spend time with my family.
Take a Breather
Have you ever had a friend jealously ask you about your workday? Maybe they begrudgingly scuff at the thought of you doing an hour of work while the rest of your day is spent lounging around?
This could not be farther from the truth, at least in my experience. As a remote worker, I find it incredibly easy to sit in front of my computer for a copious amount of hours at a time – not a good idea.
Try taking regular breaks. While this may sound easy, it is pretty tricky to put into practice. Frequent breaks are essential to staying productive while working at home. Your body needs it, and you might find that you perform better by taking these small but frequent breathers—bonus points for having your break outside.
Work to Your Strengths.
The beauty of working from home is that you have the power of flexibility at your disposal. Mostly, as long as you can get your work done promptly, companies don’t mind when and how you get your job done.
If you’re an early bird, go ahead and get started nice and early. Prefer to take on your tasks like a cape crusader in the night? Why not? You might need to clarify this with your team leader, but if they say it’s all good, you’re ready to roll – whatever time suits you best.
I prefer to work later in the day or even at night. My family dynamics, however, have me working closer to a standard 9 to 5 office hours kind of deal.
Work to your strengths. You have the power to leverage your natural productive abilities when you feel most productive.
I would love to be more consistent in this regard, but I find journalling a great tool to stay productive while working from home. Journaling no matter how simple is fantastic at developing one’s self-awareness muscles. This self-awareness comes in handy when you need to realign a routine. Speak up in a meeting or know when to take a break (or push a little bit harder).
I use a simple Bullet Journal method that helps me record my day’s tasks, organize my thoughts, and take note of new ideas. My bullet journal is also my anchor. If I am working, it is right by my side, ready to be flipped through and scribbled in at a moment’s notice.
There are a lot of different journaling methods that can boost productivity, creativity, and personal development. I use the Bullet Journal system, but I’d encourage you to find a journaling method that best suits you.
Here are some tips to help you get started journalling:
Don’t think you need to write pages of words a day. A simple sentence can be considered a journal entry.
Analog systems are incredibly satisfying to use, but your journal can be digital. There are loads of apps out there to try. If you use Mac or IOS, why not give Apple Notes a go?
Start simple or get creative. It’s your notebook. Do with it as you will.
Watch some Youtube tutorials on journalling. There are loads of ideas out there, and don’t be ashamed to copy someone else’s system. Chances are you will develop your system over time. I use the ‘Perfect Day’ system that I created myself. Let me know if you’d like me to write more about it.
No matter how small, go ahead, and start. You can stop anytime you want if you feel that after a few days or weeks that it’s not for you.
Give Yourself a Break.
To end this article, I want to leave you with one last piece of advice. When times get tough, don’t be too hard on yourself. You will have the best intentions of making the most out of your day but it will fail. Life happens. and seemingly more so when you work from home.
When this happens, try your best to recover your day as best as you can. Don’t beat yourself up. Dust yourself off and try again tomorrow. It’s going to happen, and it happens to us all who already work from home. Staying productive while working from home is tough – but you’re tougher. Get it done.