5 tips for boosting productivity when working from home
Written by Professional Academy guest bloggers, Nicki Hayes and Shari Bollers
Working from home once a week could make all the difference in improving your work-life balance. Whether you’re convinced by the idea but don’t know how to persuade your boss, or are lucky enough to already have the flexibility of working from home, yet are struggling to focus, experienced home-workers, Nicki Hayes and Shari Bollers, have some useful advice…
It is now widely recognised that working from home pays. For your employer, it decreases absenteeism and increases employee retention, engagement, well-being and productivity. Need to convince them? Ask them to read How to boost workforce productivity? Send your staff home! For you, it can deliver the associated benefit of work/life balance too. Yet, if you can’t knuckle down and deliver, it can have the reverse effect.
So, how do you stay focused when working from home? Here are 5 ways to stay on track and deliver results.
Tip 1: Create an inspiring space to work in
Working from home requires discipline. People, things, fridges and thoughts are just a few potential distractions. Many home-workers find creating a physical space to work from in their home beneficial. When setting up your space its worth considering sources of light, noise, heat and comfort (e.g. working too near to food sources, sofas or beds can be very distracting; working from a table with the screen at eye level, a comfortable chair providing good back support and natural light can aid focus). Of course, the type of space that inspires varies from person to person, so identify what works for you and make it happen.
Shari finds it helpful to work from her home office area at all times and to keep her desk organised. Her desk can get a little bit messy throughout the day, but at the close of play the ritual of de-cluttering and creating neat and tidy order for the next day helps her maintain focus and productivity.
Nicki, who, over the last 17 years, has worked from broom cupboards, bedrooms, landings, kitchens, campervans and log cabins, finds that it is as much about creating the right mental space to work in as it is physical space. Starting workdays by reflecting upon successes, positive intentions and process goals that she wrote down at the end of the previous workday, helps her to stay focussed and productive.
Key points: Consider what things might distract you from the task at hand and where/how you can avoid such distractions in order to stay focused and productive. Consider too, what might help you to get into the right mental space to focus on tasks in hand. Is there a ritual, like Shari’s desk tidying or Nicki’s positive reflections, that will help you set yourself up for a successful work day at home?
Tip 2: Get dressed for the office
This might seem like a silly idea. Why would you want to get dressed for the office, when working from home? You're quite right in theory, but in practice, there is a growing body of evidence supporting the theory that, in an always on digital world, simple rituals to mark “working”, “playing”, “resting” time are becoming increasingly important; rituals such as dress codes.
There have been plenty of studies that prove clothes and appearance affect the way others perceive us, there have been some too, such as one by Northwestern University researchers Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky, that show how certain clothing can systematically influence the wearer’s psychological processes.
Fast Company, the magazine dedicated to reporting about how the "fast companies", entrepreneurs and cutting-edge are doing what they do, agrees. In a recent article a contributor not only gave the rational for dressing appropriately, she also recommended fashion brands targeting the home-worker.
Still not convinced? Consider these scenarios:
- An unexpected Skype or conference call
- A neighbour, seeing you are home, persistently popping round for tea and comfort (or whatever their chosen beverage and emotional need may be), unable to take the hint “I’m working!”
- Family members seemingly deaf to your assertions that you are working
Think about the visual clues you are giving out in these scenarios if you are still in pyjamas or loungewear. Still think dressing for work is a bad idea? Try our video-call proof compromise: smart top; casual bottoms; bare feet.
Key point: Consider reflecting upon the visual clues you are giving to others, and the mindset you are giving to yourself, when getting ready for your workday at home.Seriously consider what needs to be accomplished each day and prioritise your workload. It is all too easy to get lost in the freedom of working from home and we both find it necessary from time to time to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, still at work. Maintaining broadly the same kind of structure to our day as if we were in the office has been vital to our success.
Tip 3: Be organised
So, work out what you need to accomplish each day, how long to spend on each task and how to prioritise these tasks. Being organised puts you well on your way to being more productive. Making a list ahead of time lets you get on with your work and also provides something to look back and reflect upon.
Talking of lists, Shari loves them! She writes one at the beginning of the working day (while the computer loads, she takes about 10-15 minutes and lists all the tasks that she needs to complete for the day.) This simple technique ensures that she doesn’t waste valuable time throughout the day, thinking about what to do next. Shari also writes a list at the end of the day, detailing anything that did not get completed that day and adding anything else she would like to get done the next day. When prioritising her to do list she schedules the really hard things into the morning, where her mind is at its sharpest and freshest and leaves all the easier tasks until the afternoon.
Key points: Being organised means making and following some kind of to do list. There are plenty of app’s to help here if paper and pencil are just nor doing it for you. Many of these app’s though, fail to take into account when you are at your natural best for doing certain types of tasks. Nicki will provide further tips for clarifying this in a future post.
Tip 4: Identify productivity killers
It’s very easy to be in an office environment and be aware of the key productivity killers: noisy office workers/banter/gossip; loud noises; constant tea/smoke breaks; etc; etc; etc. However, when working from home, you can’t blame any of these distractions for your lack of productivity. So you have to be honest and realistic about the things that might distract you.
Shari knows that a key productivity killer for her is noise (and sometimes her tangent thoughts). She finds that quelling surrounding and external noises helps. She does this by creating the perfect sound environment. As a writer, she Iikes to turn on wordless music, anything from jazz, to new world, to classical. This keeps her focused on the words at hand. Sometimes Shari has FOMO (fear of missing out), so she sets a timer, allowing her to fully focus on specific task at hand. Then, when time is up, she takes a little break to check her favourite blog, respond to a text, check social media or even follow that tangent thought down the rabbit hole (from which she often returns with useful fodder for her next piece of work).
Key points: Identify the productivity killers in your home environment and eliminate them. Journaling can help here. Ask yourself “What, specifically, distracts me from work when at home?” Write down everything that comes to mind. Ask yourself “How can I remove this productivity killer?” for each distraction listed and write your answer next to the distraction (see figure 4.1). Put your productivity killer table somewhere you can see and use it as a reminder to keep focused.
|My productivity killers (things that I recognise to regularly distract me) are …
||Steps I will take to eliminate these killers are…
||Wear headphones and listen to non-distracting background music.
||Dress so I look like I am working and be assertive in telling them so, though indicate I will pop round when I am ‘not’ working.
|Hunger, or a perceived feeling of hunger due to knowledge of what’s in the fridge
||Situate my work area in a place where I cannot see the fridge. Keep a stash of healthy snacks to graze from near my desk.
|A compulsion to multi-task
||Set myself a to do list, stay rigorously focused on it, rewarding myself with a treat from my snack stash each time I complete an item.
|Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)
||Use the Pomodoro Technique advised by Professional Academy, rewarding myself with an email or blog catch up once I’ve chalked up 4 crosses.
Figure 1.4. Example of a productivity killer table
Tip 5: Stay motivated
There are going to be times when you aren’t feeling as motivated as usual when working from home; there are going to be times when your energy levels flag. That’s just the way it is. The key is to recognise this and to keep calm.It’s ok to take a break; in fact you might be in need of one. So, when you realise that you are losing focus, change tack, take a break, do something that makes you happy. Maybe going for a walk and getting fresh air is all you need to get you back on track? Maybe going to the gym works for you? Whatever it is that allows you to take a break, reenergise and refocus, do it.
If you find you are still failing to stay motivated, try inspiring yourself by focusing on the meaning behind the piece of work you are struggling with. Can you link it to one of your personal values, your deeply held beliefs? Or consider the value that this piece of work delivers for others. Will completing it make life better for a colleague and is this enough to power you through it?
Still stuck? Try working elsewhere. After all, working from home doesn’t mean you have to be shackled to your desk. Nicki uses this trick frequently, especially when completing maintenance tasks, such as invoicing and book keeping, which do not give her energy. Working in a space where she feels comfortable but somewhat self-conscious, such as a café or library, helps her to focus on her screen and get stuff done.
Keypoints: Take a break. Do something that makes you happy. Still struggling? Focus on the meaning behind the piece of work you are fighting with. Still stuck? Take your work somewhere else, after all, working from home doesn’t mean you have to be shackled to your desk.
Working from home is becoming increasingly popular, but those taking advantage of such flexible working rights need to understand that the buck stops (and starts) with them. To keep on track, try creating inspiring spaces (physical spaces and mindset), dressing for success, being organised, identifying your personal productivity killers and finding those little tricks (such as taking a break, connecting your work with higher meaning, or taking your work to a different space) that help you to stay motivated. Do this, and your work-rate will do the talking for you when it comes to convincing your boss of the benefits of home-working.Conclusion
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