If you are reading this, you are probably working from home and looking for some advice on getting productive. Working from home has many challenges from making sure your WiFi is working, to making sure you can access your company's network, email, etc. But more likely than not, you have most of that figured out by now. What you may have not been prepared for is the very act of working from home and making sure that you are productive too.
I've had the privilege of working from home off and on for several years now, and I can tell you that it's no cake walk your first two days. It takes mental fortitude and strategy to get the systems of productivity in place. But when you got them, they can really boost your productivity.
Here are some tips that will help you stay productive while working from home.
Take care of yourself at home
1. Keep your bedtime and morning rituals intact.
It's easy to treat working from home like a holiday. You are not on holiday. You should still lay out your clothes the night before. Wake up an hour early, get dressed, put on shoes, listen to a podcast (if that's what you did on your commute), etc.
Keeping your morning routine will lower the tension and stress and discombobulation.
2. Take breaks.
When I first started working from home full- time several months ago, I was horrible at this. I didn't want to take breaks because I would rather crush it. Give yourself grace. You are not superman. There is a really cool practice I am certainly not perfect at called the 50/10 Method , the skinny of it is to take a 10- minute break on the hour. Currently, I'm able to do about three of these a day, and that is good enough for me.
3. Set boundaries and expectations with others at home.
Make sure your family knows what your work boundaries are. They should know your schedule, your workspace, and your end time. Make sure your 3-year-old knows it's not okay to barge in the door.
4. Use plants and natural light.
If you can set up a plant in your workspace or set up next to natural window light, you will have a much more enjoyable time working. Nature is calming and reduces anxiety. If you cannot set either of these things up, try to take your breaks outside.
5. Sit, stand, kneel, and push.
Don't let sitting in the exact same position cramp your style. If you need to kick your chair out from under you and kneel, or stand up, do it. Not all of us have the luxury of a standing desk at home, but if you do, use it…. And then lower it. You can even do push-ups to break up the day. Variation in posture is very effective at helping your mind stay sharp.
6. Sign out of work at your assigned stopping point.
This one is tough to do, especially if you have a work team that is constantly breaking this rule. Use your best judgment, of course. But avoid being the one who initiates a text, email, or phone call way outside work hours. You will be doing your team a favor as they, too, are trying to break up work and home life.
7. Find your ambiance.
Some people work well with music, some with a tv running in the background, and some don't. If it works for you, fine, if it doesn't, then don't do it. For myself, the only ambiance I like is either silence or soothing music. Right now, I'm appreciating Hammock's music on Bandcamp.
Stay professional, even while working from home
1. Commit to doing more.
You should be crushing it working from home. Prove to your employer that you are more valuable to them when you work from home than when you work from the office. How else are you going to keep this privilege? You might be thinking, okay … how? Keep reading.
2. Make a separate workspace.
You will want to separate work from play as much as possible if you’re going to stay focused. We don't like boxing in our time and life, but for productivity, it's very important.
If you can, turn a corner, closet, or portion of a room into a workspace. Keep the rest of your family out of it for the most part during work hours.
3. Dress for success.
Forget "dress to impress”. Instead, dress for you. I cannot emphasize this enough, KEEP YOUR MORNING ROUTINE. You should be dressed head to toe. You might know someone (very close to you … wink wink) who jokes about going to work in pajamas. These are fun and cute jokes, but after 3 days of sluggish work, it's time to put on your big-boy (or girl) pants and get busy. It's recommended to keep the same type of dress you would in the office.
4. Limit social media.
You are at work, and just because no one is watching you like a hawk, it doesn't mean that you should be on social all day. Have windows of opportunity (AKA breaks) that will allow you your social media, but I'm telling you, once you start spending your breaks calling a friend or going for a quick stretch outside, social media might not seem that appealing.
5. Sticky note your ideas.
I go through sticky notes like crazy. You are welcome 3M. Here I record my distractions/ideas on sticky notes. When I am working, I try to stay focused. If a brilliant idea comes into my head (for example, "I should call dad!"), I pad it down. This becomes a future action to do on my next 10-minute break.
6. Start with a 5 minute declutter ritual.
Workspaces get cluttered from everyday work, especially if you use sticky notes. A 5-minute declutter ritual is crucial for helping me to stay focused. I would suggest trying it too. Set a 5-minute timer and see how much you can clear before the timer goes off. You will be surprised at how tidy your workspace will be. This is like "sharpening the saw" for the rest of the workday.
Manage time while working from home
1. Know your work hours.
Time management is vital when working from home. Going back to setting clear boundaries and expectations with family and roomies, knowing your work hours is going to take care of a lot of pain and hurt with those around you, and free you from being a workaholic, which I'm very prone to.
2. Pick a hard stop.
For me, it's 6 PM. This has been pre-negotiated with my wife. My work hours go till 5:30 PM. 6 PM is my hard stop. I set up a smart light that will shut off at 6 to remind me that work is over.
3. Structure your day like you would in the office.
When you are remote, you have a lot of ownership in what times you do what work. Don't neglect what has been working. If you are still unstructured, move on to the next tip.
And remember to visit the water cooler (kitchen).
4. Chunk your work time into themes or projects.
For example, you might have a slew of things to get done in your workday, make sure you aren't multi-tasking communication time and project time. The categories I use for my workday are "Creating, Relating, Strategy, and Prep”. My buddy Weston, calls all admin time, "reset time". Do whatever works for you.
5. Do one thing at a time.
Staying on task is hard. The book, The ONE THING does an excellent job in helping you work in a way that keeps priorities top of mind. Work on your number one priority in any given moment everything else is a distraction. At any given time, you should be able to ask yourself, "Is this my priority or a distraction?" Your answer will tell you if you are following ONE THING thinking.
6. Set your priorities for the day.
An even better way to keep priorities top of mind is setting them. You will be really bad at keeping your priorities at first. But getting the habit of setting priorities each day will help you more in your productivity than anything else. You can even hire an accountability coach for this at a very reasonable rate.
Communication while working from home
This cannot be stressed enough. Mike Chaput shared a great story about a computer engineer who went to a client site, got tons of work done, and then left. The client only saw the engineer once when he came in. Mike then compared that to another engineer who went to a client site, said hello, got some work done, told the client what was going on with the network, then got some more work done, and communicated more with the client, and then wrapped up, and said goodbye to the client. The second engineer created more trust and a better experience for the client. Think about your manager and team. They want a good experience and they want to trust you more.
2. Use technology to stay connected.
Microsoft Teams and Slack have worked wonders in the area of staying productive. In MS Teams, you can click on an employee and open a chat log, make a video call, and share a document that multiple people can edit at the same time.
You can even call your whole team at the same time. If your company has either of these two pieces of software, do not neglect them. Press in and get started.
3. Keep your shared schedule up to date.
If you have to watch the kids and will not be available to work, block it out on your calendar. The same goes for virtual meetings with clients, heads-down work, or anything. Your employees can't swing by your desk and see you are slammed. Let them know in your calendar.
4. Know how to best reach your manager and team.
You should know how to reach your team and manager. If you don't, that needs to be the next conversation you have with your manager and teammates. Getting unstuck can make or break a workday.
5. Use the phone.
Without a bustling office environment to connect to employees, it is easy to become lonely. If you go an entire workday without talking to another human, it can feel demoralizing. I encourage you to pick up the phone and call your team mates. If you have MS Teams, hit the video feature. Scared of video? Me too. We all are. But don't let that stop you from interacting with your team on a deeper level. Communication is much more than just words, vocal tone enriches it, face to face enriches it more.
6. Be a pro at video conferencing.
About a year ago Seth Godin gave some advice on his podcast called Akimo. A listener asked how to show a client that they are very important if he didn't have the bandwidth to drive more than two hours to a client's site for an in-person meeting. Seth said if you are willing to drive two hours there and two hours back, totaling four hours, you should be willing to spend the same amount of resources to make sure that a video meeting was stellar. That means, great lighting (pro tip, use window light for best lighting), an excellent webcam and phenomenal sound quality. Highly consider this if you plan on being remote long term.
7. Return phone calls, emails, and messages quickly.
Your boss and team mates need to know that you are contributing to an efficient team and not MIA. Give them a reason to trust you and to know that you are there for them. Prompt communication is one of the easiest ways to do that. You should be available.
8. Ask your manager for feedback about your remote work.
Do not overlook this crucial point. Conversations about work can be terrifying. You must know how your manager perceives you. Make sure you know what your manager expects of you.
Truly, don’t let this list bog you down. I just want to encourage you with this: take ONE or TWO items from this list and write them on a sticky note and put them in a place you will see them. No one expects you to do all of this, so just take this one step at a time.
You got this! Happy working from home!
If you want working form home top security tips, view the PDF here.