If you work from home, you need to read this to improve your work productivity, giving you more free time. This is not the holy grail, but will give you a head start in reaching your maximum potential.
Many of you will have been uprooted in your comfort zones at work, and may be working from home. This is not an easy transition and can require some very clear guides set by yourself in order to achieve a basic level of efficiency. I’m one of the fortunate few who have been working from home for years now. My role at aelf has allowed me to work remotely and half of my colleagues are based in home offices. This has allowed me to finetune what works for me, and I must say, it has not been easy.
At one point I was working in my lounge room which also doubled as the dining room, sitting room, and childrens’ playroom.
That was a tough time. So let me give some of you the advice that I wish I knew when I first started working from home. Now, I’m not saying that you have to adopt every one of these suggestions to be efficient in your role, but this is what works for me, and some of these might help you.
1. Separate work from home life
This is advice often given out and it can’t be more important. As a father, I found this to be even more critical. By creating defined boundaries in time and space for your work environment your mind can relax a bit subconsciously as you won’t have to worry about if you’ve done enough or if you should be working or doing something else right now. This can impact your stress levels and as a result, improve your efficiency.
By doing this it will also help those in the same house as you. Any children will understand clear boundaries much better, and it also makes it easier for your partner/housemates to know when they can or can’t approach you for anything not work related. It is tough for me to say to my children, I can’t play right now, I have to work. But what helps is knowing I have a designated time after work where I can uncompromisingly spend with them playing.
2. Have a clean, uncluttered workspace
Research has found that your efficiency is directly related to your surrounding environment. Having a clean desk, room, or nook for you to complete your work, not only allows you to find documents, items or anything you need for your work with in less time, but it also helps to make the space a more enjoyable experience for you. For maximum efficiency you really should be relaxed and comfortable in the place you are working. Now this doesn’t mean you should set up a bed in there, I’m not talking about physical relaxation, although there is a balance here, but mental and emotional relaxation.
The other thing I want to clarify, is that a clean and uncluttered space does not have to mean an empty and sterile space. You can have plenty of things around you, as long as they have a purpose and are in a place they belong. There is no point having the dishes from the last 5 lunches left on your desk, as they serve no purpose except to make you hungry and hide the papers that you actually need. But a vase of flowers, a bottle of water, a box of tissues, or a company mascot teddy all have a purpose and can easily have a belonging in your work space.
I also want to add onto this point, that it is important to ensure your workspace receives natural light. This will go a long way in aiding your focus and attention span.
3. Take breaks like you would when you were in an office
It doesn’t matter where you are working, it is and will always be important to take regular breaks. This can mean, taking a 5 minute break to look outside, walk around the house, do 5 push-ups or have a drink of water. This also means, you do not take your lunch at your desk while working. By taking short breaks you will find that the time when you are working becomes more efficient.
4. Stop working when you become unproductive
Now I mention this with a little hesitation. Although this is a good practice for some people, if it is not actioned hand-in-hand with discipline, it can breed a spirit of laziness. The more disciplined you are, the more you will be able to employ this tactic. But you will also find the more disciplined you are, the less often you will need to rely on this approach.
When you are working from home you will find that there are times when your productivity drops to almost 0, and nothing you seem to do can change that. In the office, you are often limited in what you can do, and will end up just having to push through it. This isn’t ideal. At home you have more options. Take a break and decide to do something else that will not seem like a waste of time, wash the dishes, sweep the yard, vacuum the lounge. Whatever you do, try and make sure you feel refreshed at the end, keep yourself active and ideally use the time to accomplish something. This only needs to be a 15–30 minute break. Then get back to work and work hard.
5. Don’t use entertainment during work hours
The last 2 points have been on when and how to take breaks and there is one important rule to add onto this. Do not use entertainment to fill your breaks. What I mean is don’t take that unplanned break to play a video game or watch the next episode in the tv series. Don’t go have an hour long nap etc. All these activities are hard to stop, will make you more lethargic and are very ‘more-ish’ they make you want to do more of the same activity. When you do this once, it will become easier to do it again, then again, and before you know it your work is a break from watching movies and you’ll be counting down the minutes before you can ‘justify’ to watch something else.
If you would watch an episode of something during your lunch break at the office, ok, you might be able to do that at home. But home is your place of comfort, and there are much stronger attractions to relaxing, so something that might work in your office, might not work at home.
6. Balance your kids expectations
This is obviously aimed at parents, but can also work if you have housemates or a partner. Chances are, they are not used to you working from home and will struggle to see this as a normal work day or week. It is important to set clear guidelines and rules to adhere to. This goes both ways, they need to respect your work boundaries, but you also need to respect the pre-existing home boundaries. When you finish work for the day, you have FINISHED. Don’t go back into the office to check something else, spend quality time with your family like you would when you were working at the office.
You will inevitably be seeing each other more while you’re both at home and this can cause a strain in your relationship. Don’t add missed expectations or miscommunication to this already stressful time. Know that this adjustment will take time and there will be times where you need to be flexible; be firm, but gracious.
7. Expect tension in relationships
As a flow on from the previous point, there is now no break between being around your household members. This could easily cause a strain in relationships overflowing into your work efficiency. Be aware of this and be proactive, talk about this concern with the relevant parties, or think about how you can get a break when needed from each other. This could mean instead of walking around the house, you take a walk around the block. Or instead of eating all your meals together, you eat your lunch outside. Whatever it is, it will look different for each person and the more prepared you are, the easier this transition will be.
8. Remain professional
Just because you are not in the office and your boss can’t see you, it doesn’t mean you can stay in your pyjamas all day. Believe it or not, there is another reason behind professional dress and appearance, besides looking good. Research has found that those who take care of their appearance tend to be more driven at their work too. This is part of separating work and home life.
When you don’t take care of your appearance you will inevitably start to let other responsibilities slip too. I’m not saying you have to dress up in a suit everyday at home. For some people they will need to ensure their productivity continues, but get changed into day clothes, comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. You will need to decide what degree of appearance you will need to adhere to in order to keep your productivity up.
9. Check in with your colleagues
With this isolation, it will be very easy to lose touch with your colleagues that you would normally rely on for interaction, advice and support. Check in with them, simply ask them how they are doing, do they need help in their work, do they want to do a video drinks call after work together. Things like this can not only maintain relationships, but could in fact strengthen them. You will also find that working together in this manner will allow you to be aware of what others are working on allowing for more coherence in your projects.
10. Keep your boss updated
This is also quite an important point. In your office, you are all on the same system, in the same room, on the same floor, in the same building. Your boss will be quite aware of what you are doing at any point in time. At home, they have no idea what you are doing. They don’t know if you are working right now or taking your 10th break for the morning. Being proactive about sharing with them will alleviate a lot of their concerns. If you are forthcoming in what you’re working on or your hours or how you are going, they will feel more at ease to leave you to your own discipline. No one wants to be micromanaged, and a good boss will not want to micromanage anyone. Could you imagine how tough it would be for your boss to do their job, but also have to spend time checking in with each individual to keep up to date on what they are working on and how they are going?
If you want freedom to work at home, then be forthcoming with information to your boss. It’s as simple as that. It could be once a week, once a day, or every couple of hours, it depends on the level of autonomy your role allows. I have a very autonomous role and I try to check in with my boss around 2–3 times a week.
What about if you have no boss, or you are the boss. Well, check in with your colleagues or employees. Let them know what you are working on, how you are going and this will encourage an atmosphere of sharing, hopefully giving them the example to proactively share their progress with you.
Personalize for Yourself
Now I’ll repeat again, that by doing every one of these suggestions, you are not guaranteed to have the same productivity and efficiency as at the office, but on the other hand, nor do you need to adhere to each one religiously in order to maximise your work ethic. Working from home is very tricky, and everyone’s situation and personalities are very different, accounting for an almost endless variation to the best solution. What works for me might not work for the next person.
Hopefully, this post will be a platform to which each one of you can build up your own strategy to ensure you not only survive, but thrive while working from home. Even if you aren’t working from home, you will probably know someone who now has to work from home. Show them you care and share this article with them. Caring for others is a big step towards taking care of our own mental health in these trying times. Use this opportunity to grow your attentiveness to others and your personal character, for it is only through trials do we grow the most.
I’ll be following this article up with a post listing some points from my colleagues around the world.