The past few months have encouraged so much of the global workforce to move from working in a communal office space to working from their kitchens, home-offices, living rooms, backyards and bedrooms.
This certainly has its benefits; seeing your family more, no time wasted in a daily commute and more comfortable workwear (particularly on the bottom half). This hasn’t been the case for everyone though, as working from home can also bring a multitude of challenges like interruptions (pets, children, partners & technology hiccups), feeling disconnected from your team or a lack of communication across the company.
I’m sure we’ve all experienced the seismic shift in process and teamwork going from spending our days in a busy, bustling office environment to working from our homes. For me, it took around a month to adjust, as I was accustomed to seeing my team every day and addressing work issues as they popped up - by simply strolling to someone’s desk and having a chat.
Gone are the days of a face-to-face coffee with your boss while you figure out the next move in your quarterly plan, gone are the days of lunch breaks with colleagues where you can socialise and make new work friends in person. With physical separation comes a set of challenges to conquer for each individual who is now working from home.
I have talked to friends, colleagues, scoured the internet and sprinkled my own methods of productivity in, to produce this non-exhaustive but hopefully extremely handy little guide for a more productive time while working from home.
1. Create a schedule, form your routine and use a calendar. This is one of the most basic but effective ways to be more productive while working remotely. Personally, I like to plan out my work week on a Monday morning before I start the day - I sit down with a cup of tea and I schedule all appointments, work meetings and downtime before the work week begins. This way, there is a clear path to follow and I can amend certain points as I move through the week.
2. Exercise! Go for a run, walk or do some yoga. There is a lot to be said for endorphins and the pride that accompanies a solid workout. Not only will you feel more refreshed physically, your mind will be clear and ready to tackle the next challenge of your work day.
3. Use lists. Spend five minutes every morning to set out priorities for the day and order them, so you know what to do first. You can utilise Stephen Covey’s 4 Quadrants Method, pictured here to help you prioritise. This tool is based on the theory that sorting your tasks based on importance and urgency can help you be more productive and best utilise your time. Logically, you start with Q1 tasks or activities and work your way through the remaining quadrants in order. The great thing about using this tool is that you apply most of your energy early on in the day to the most important and urgent tasks.
4. Get outside at least 3 times a day, for at least a few minutes! While exercise is an awesome way to feel empowered and clear-headed, studies have shown that small bouts of sunshine on your face activates the production and release of serotonin. This aides in feeling happy, fulfilled, calm and focused!
5. Make a list of things that you will do in your lunch break/after work so you don’t flick between the two during work hours. Dividing up your time and tasks will allow for more consistent and productive time during your assigned work hours.
6. Use a time tracking app like Toggl - this way you know where your time is going. A timer app has helped me not only divide my time in a more effective way, but you can go back at the end of each week and reflect on what projects need more time next week. The Pomodoro Technique is another great way to improve efficiency, as described in the video below. I use this method when I am fighting a deadline or need to smash a target.
7. Looking after yourself during a pandemic is important. While we’re stuck inside, it’s great to practice some self-care rituals while you work - use a face mask, drink some herbal tea and listen to your favourite music. These small moments of self-care can make such a difference to the trajectory of your work day, particularly in high pressure situations.
8. Take a 10-20 minute Prophylactic Nap during your lunch break. This sounds strange, but studies have shown that taking a short nap will increase productivity and make you feel more alert. Other benefits of a nap include improved learning, increased memory formation and emotional regulation, all of which will make you a more productive and agile employee.
9. Use a white noise or ambient sound app such as Peace & Quiet if you’re working in a particularly loud part of the house. This will keep your mind on work and away from distractions. It is known that white noise can increase the brain’s ability to hold information and improve memory function.
10. Ensure you have the right set up. This should look like ample warm lighting, either a supportive chair with your feet flat on the ground, or a standing desk to aid good posture and lots of snacks. Always lots of snacks. I like to set a reminder on my phone for every half an hour to ‘posture check’ to do a small stretch with my arms raised above my head, but there are multiple different desk stretches you can perform to stay mobile during your work day. I find they help me stay limber and comfortable sitting for long periods of time without getting cramped.
11. Set up a dedicated workspace. Now, this doesn’t need to be an office or a study - not everyone has an unused room just laying around. However, it is important to define an area that you will work in. While it’s oh so tempting to lie in bed or slouch on the couch while working away, it ends up being a far less productive way to operate. Defining your work area allows a distinction between work and the rest of your life, it means you have a place to go when you start the day and somewhere to leave when you end it.
12. Pick out a nice outfit for the work day. This is what I hear from my friends and family, so I've started adopting it myself too. For the first part of lockdown, I just wore my sweatsuit every day, maybe even some pyjama pants. It felt like a combination of thrill and rebellion to have the freedom to wear whatever I wanted. After a while though, I realised that how you dress can have a massive impact on your emotional state throughout the day. Now, I try to pick out a cute outfit the night before, and even put some shoes on during the day. It really does make such a difference to my overall mood and ability to stay focused while working.