When you skip the commute and can stay in your pajamas, you should find yourself with far more hours in the day. So why isn’t this the case for most people when they work from home? Because their productivity drops. They end the day unsettled, having spent their hours blended – neither productive with work, nor relaxing from it.
As someone who worked from a company office, as well as a home office, and now works entirely from home, here are some of the best tricks I have found to keep me productive, and allow me to run my company while working from home.
1. Create Your Work Space
This is mandatory. No hunching over your laptop on your couch. You need a designated place that is for working and working only. If all you have is your dinner table, that’s fine, just make sure to sit at a different seat when you are working versus when you are relaxing and eating. This physical shift will subconsciously help you to stay in work mode. (And it will help others around you to identify when you are working as well.) Set up your lighting and the scene behind you so that you are always ready for video conference calls.
2. Make Sure the Tools You Need Are in Place
For years I juggled working too many hours from the office as well as even more hours once I got home. With so much to do I could not afford to lose a minute of time setting up my workstation again each night. The greatest hack I found: I have the same monitor, keyboard, chair, mouse and mousepad in each location. When I came home and plugged in it was a completely seamless experience. If you cannot afford to purchase the same items for both locations, figure out what works best for you, and keep it consistent. If you are suddenly working from home for an extended period of time, see if you can bring items that work best for you from your company office to your home office. (Some companies are supportive of this as it helps with productivity.)
If you are one that likes to use the computer on the couch later to Netflix and Chill, make sure you have two power cords. One stays at your “office” and the other by your couch. Make “going” to work as easy as possible.
3. “Go” to Work and Stay There
When I first started working from home, I was so productive I couldn’t believe it. I was doing my 10-hour days, but instead of that short conversation with a colleague on the way to the restroom, I was maintaining my focus as I tossed in my laundry. As the weeks wore on however, I noticed that when there was a pause in my thought process “at work” I would get up and do something around the house that was productive. There are many times our brains need to pause while still maintaining their focus, and my new pattern of jumping up to get water or unload the dishwasher, was suddenly breaking my much needed deep focus. Don’t fall into this trap. Tell yourself “I am going to work” as you head to your desk, say it out loud if you have to, and make yourself stay “at work” for a couple hours. Take breaks, but schedule them, don’t let the pause just before your next big idea turn into a reason to check your phone or fold the laundry, or you will miss the benefit of deep work.
4. Take Scheduled Breaks
I am one that loves to work too much. I love to focus on something till everything else falls away. Sometimes it’s a blessing, sometimes it’s a curse. But working for too many hours in a row (though I hate to admit this) typically does slow your productivity down. You need breaks. But you need to be smart about them. Make sure you are getting both a switching of focus (even if it is still on the computer) as well as some physical breaks to move, stretch, change location or even get a quick walk outside. These breaks can be set for every couple hours, or at the end of a certain set of to-dos. Schedule when you want to take breaks, and when you need to go back to it. And if your break includes doing something non work-related on your computer remember to change your location! This will alert you that it is a break and will remind you in a few minutes that you need to get back to work.
5. Maintain Accountability
When working from home, and especially when running your own company, it is extremely important to set clear goals for yourself and hold yourself accountable to achieving them. Without the added pressure of bosses or colleagues looking over your shoulder, it can be easy for some people to let themselves off the hook. To maintain a high level of productivity I find it extremely effective to share my goals for that day or week with someone, and force myself to check in and give my progress update. They do not need to be interested or educated on the work I am doing; they just need to be someone I can hold myself accountable to via a quick end of week email. I do not rely on them to check in with me, I make my updates my responsibility. With luck you will find the right people and help inspire each other to keep going no matter how different your tasks may be.
6. Don’t Let Your New “Co-Workers” Distract You
Probably the hardest piece of advice to take that first week of working from home, is to resolve not to document how irresistibly cute some of our new “co-workers” are. I confess, when the stress of launching my company was on me, I felt calmed and compelled to capture how impossibly comfortable my “co-founders” appeared to be. While this did do wonders for their Instagram likes, I quickly realized it was cannibalizing time I needed to spend keeping my focus on the bigger picture so I could bring in new clients (and keep affording to cover their pet rent). So smile, take a deep breath and enjoy a moment of living vicariously, but don’t reach for your phone. Put them in another room during calls, and establish a “no walking on my desk” policy as best you can. As this last one was hard to negotiate with one of my “co-workers” I now have a bench next to my desk chair so she can be next to me while I work for long hours, with no chance of hitting “delete” with her tail. And if said “co-workers” do successfully disrupt your work, well, I suppose it’s ok to give in at the end of the day add to the growing posts across social media about what our new “co-workers” have done today. Because I’m not gonna lie, one of my co-workers chased a pen cap around the living room for 30 minutes and my other co-worker slept on the stairs for five hours.
Good luck, be well, and stay productive!
And thank you Gabriel Beaudry for the image!