How to work from home and maintain productivity
More and more, companies are relaxing the rules around being physically present in the office to get work done.
The rise of cloud technology and other tools for remote working have made it easier than ever for employees to work from home or elsewhere if it’s more convenient.
This also applies if you’ve started your own business and are keeping overheads low by using your home as an office.
However, everything has a downside.
And the biggest ones when working from home are the myriad of distractions, and staying disciplined and focused away from the watchful eyes of colleagues and bosses.
We’ve put together some tips to help you stay as productive at home as you are in the office — if not more!
1. Limit distractions
Before you begin, take some time to think about what you find personally distracting. If you’re particularly sensitive to noise, don’t put the washing machine on. If you’re prone to sleepiness when it’s too warm, equip your work station with a fan. Make the most of being the boss of your ‘office’ and set it just as you like it.
2. Take a lunch break
While it’s tempting to just keep going all day, less is definitely more in terms of giving yourself regular screen breaks and treating yourself to an hour-long (healthy) lunch break. It’s also worth scheduling time for a couple of coffee or tea breaks throughout the day to give yourself a boost.
3. Get your workspace perfect
Particularly if you’re a creative person, you might feel that a bit of mess and clutter helps your mind stay alert and active. However, studies have shown that a clear desk really does lead to a clear mind. So try to make sure that you have a dedicated and organised space to work. Keeping everything digital as much as possible can help you achieve this.
4. Limit email checking
Emails can be a huge time-stealer, and most employees are generally encouraged to keep an eye on them throughout the day. However, to keep yourself focused, and if your job allows, you should try to limit these checks to just three times a day: first thing in the morning, after lunch, and towards the end of the day to deal with anything urgent that can’t wait until tomorrow.
5. Don’t let your mind wander
One good thing about working in an office is that it’s easier to focus on your work. Under your colleagues’ scrutiny you don’t want to get a reputation as a serial gossiper or social media addict. At home though, you only have to answer to yourself. One good way to stop your mind wandering is to use the Pomodoro technique. Set a timer and work for 25 minutes before taking a five minute break and starting the process over again. These short burst of productivity can help prevent burnout and procrastination.
6. Eat healthily
Colleagues can also be good for policing what you eat. Not many of us would feel comfortable binge-eating bag after bag of Doritos at our desk. However, without this fear of social judgement, it’s a lot easier to raid the fridge. Try to prepare a variety of healthy snacks and make the most of the fact that you have access to your own (non-communal) kitchen and don’t have to rely on pre-packaged sandwiches. Plenty of fruit will also help prevent afternoon slumps and the urge to succumb to daytime TV.
7. Go for a walk and get fresh air
As you don’t have a commute to break up your day, going for a walk around the block every morning before you get down to work could serve the same purpose. Or you could go for a regular walk in the park at lunch or at the end of the day.
8. Set official work times
As you’re working from home you can be more flexible with yourself. That is, if you’re a morning person you can set your work hours to 7 – 3 and vice versa. If 11 – 7 suits you then go for it. Just make sure that you stick to what you’ve specified so you don’t end up cheating yourself.
9. Set aside a specific place
Make sure you have a dedicated work space in your house. Obviously sometimes this might not be possible but even if you have a tidy, dedicated corner which you ONLY use for work, this will help your brain to switch automatically into work mode and save you battling through piles of clothes or plates to get to your work space.
10. Talk to someone every day
If you work from home, and especially if you also live alone, you might start to feel a bit isolated. Try to schedule a meeting in town or a regular lunch with friends, who might also work from home, so you don’t feel too cut off from the rest of the world. You could also consider dragging your laptop to the local cafe for a change of scenery. Some hustle and bustle might also stimulate new business ideas.
11. Consider insurance requirements
If your home is now your official workplace you may need to think about getting some form of insurance in case of accidents, theft, or other damage. Contact your home insurance provider to talk through your personal situation and figure out the best plan for you. You might also be able to claim some tax back for energy and other bills if you work from home a lot.
12. Set an agenda
Often, in the office, what you do is dictated by others and you find yourself planning your day around meetings and other people’s interruptions. Enjoy the freedom you get at home by setting yourself an agenda and allocating certain tasks to the time of day that works best for you e.g.if you tend to get a bit tired in the afternoon, save that time for admin and easier tasks.
13. Work in business clothes and never in bed!
Make sure you get up, have a shower and get dressed (semi-smartly) at around the same time you would if you still had to commute. If you’re lounging around in a dressing gown until midday, you’re not going to feel very professional and you’ll have to interrupt your workflow to shower during the day.
14. Don’t let family or friends interrupt your work
While non-home working friends and family might think you live the life of Riley at home drinking tea and watching TV, the reality is you don’t. So make sure they know that you can’t pick up their dry-cleaning or meet them for a boozy lunch at the drop of a hat. You need to stick to your working hours as much as they do.
15. Don’t schedule appointments when you’re working
While it might make life easier, you should try to avoid scheduling doctor, dentist or hair appointments in the middle of the working day. Yes, it’s quieter and more convenient but if you give yourself an inch, you might take a mile. Join the rest of the commuting world and scramble for an early morning or evening appointment. At least you don’t have to commute afterwards!
16. Use the cloud
Nowadays the cloud can help you do almost anything — sharing files, managing your accounts, and keeping track of your to-dos. Make the most of the cloud and tasks will become much faster and simpler. It’s also much easier to share and communicate with colleagues who are in the office or who are also working remotely.
17. Reward yourself with nice things at the end of the day
Promise that you’ll give yourself a reward if you manage to have a truly productive day. Before you start work write down some things you want to achieve that day. If you do it, treat yourself to something that makes you happy. If not, then try again tomorrow.
18. Ignore the internet
Whether you’re at home or in the office, the internet is a major distraction for everyone. One minute you’re enthusiastically researching suppliers for your company and the next you realise you’ve been staring at pictures of cats for an hour. There are tools that can help you focus and switch the internet off for certain amounts of time. If you really feel out of touch, allow yourself to read the news twice a day — and have the radio on in the background so you can get your hourly bulletin fix without switching from tab to tab.
19. Stock up on productivity apps
Before you get down to work, it’s worth spending some time researching the best productivity apps and tools for your business. Whether you need a to-do list application, a timer, or somewhere convenient to plot all your ideas you’re spoilt for choice.
20. Don’t do housework
If you’re working from home, avoid using this time to catch up on the housework you put off at the weekend. You’re supposed to be working so avoid the temptation to finish the ironing, clean the bathroom, or vacuum the whole house.
21. Don’t let your phone distract you
Checking your phone for new messages and emails is an addiction for most people now. It’s particularly tempting when you hit a slump and are looking for a dopamine hit. Ways to resist the temptation include putting your phone on flight mode, having one phone for work use and one for personal use, or simply leaving the phone somewhere it’s inconvenient to get to— such as hiding it in the attic if you’re feeling extreme.
List of resources:
- Pomodoro Technique: http://pomodorotechnique.com/
- The dangers of a messy desk: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennagoudreau/2012/03/27/the-dangers-of-a-messy-desk/
- 15 top time-saving apps: https://www.clearbooks.co.uk/2015/06/22/15-top-time-saving-apps/
- Tax relief for employees working from home: https://www.gov.uk/tax-relief-for-employees/working-at-home
- Insurance for home-based workers: http://www.confused.com/home-insurance/guides/home-insurance-for-home-based-workers
- 6 apps that block online distractions: http://mashable.com/2012/01/03/block-internet-distractions-apps/