During normal times, people often get rather excited about the idea of working from home, which has indeed some great advantages. You get to sleep a bit more in the morning, skipping the annoying and time-consuming commute, and you’re able to have a healthy breakfast and lunch at home, to name just a few things.
However, as literally millions of people started working from home all of a sudden due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the downsides suddenly became obvious to many. Communicating with your colleagues becomes challenging, you struggle to keep your focus, and it’s very difficult to maintain a healthy work time/personal time balance. Here are some true and tested tips that will help you work from home more efficiently.
1. Create a space dedicated to work
Working from your bed, or from your living room sofa, is not going to help with productivity. A few hours per day of using your laptop this way will take its toll on your back. What you need is a quiet, comfortable space dedicated to work.
It doesn’t have to be a separate room, although it certainly helps if you can set one up. The most important thing is to have a chair and a desk that ensure a correct, healthy posture while working. It could very well be your kitchen table, but just make sure the area is neat and clean before you start to use it as a work space.
Getting a basic, inexpensive home desk and a suitable chair is a good investment right now, if you don’t already have them. There are plenty of compact desks to choose from, suitable for small spaces, such as room corners or even hallways.
That brings us onto another issue and another solution. You may find yourself lacking space for a new desk but you can make some room by packing up pieces of furniture that you don’t use a lot and moving them into a self storage unit. The current situation might last for a while, and, even after that working from home will probably remain popular, so you can continue to make good use of your office.
2. Follow a schedule and have structure throughout the day
The simplest, most productive procedure is to follow the same office hours you had before, as much as possible. One common productivity trap is to postpone work and push it until late afternoons, evenings, nights and weekends. You’ll end up having to cram a lot of work into just a few hours, and during a time of the day when you’re already a little bit tired. Therefore, come the following day you’ll be worn out, and not in the best shape to complete the tasks at hand. It’s a vicious circle that’s hard to break – so don’t start it in the first place!
Once you finished your tasks for the day, try to disconnect from work. Don’t compulsively check work emails and messages during your personal time. No one can be productive for 18 hours per day, not in the long run. Keep a very clear delimitation between working and not working, the same as you did when you were at your regular, shared office.
For parents of young children, sticking to a schedule is a lot more challenging. You need to work around their needs, but, even in such circumstances, you can still introduce some structure into your day. Wake up early and squeeze in a couple of work hours before the kids wake up and do the same during their nap times. Take turns with your partner – one is in charge of the kids while the other works, and vice-versa.
Also, cut yourself some slack – it’s an unprecedent situation, scary for you and scary for them. It’s OK to allow them a bit more screen time than you normally would, or to give them an extra cookie here and there to keep them happy.
3. Get into the right mood
Rolling out of bed and immediately turning on your computer is not the right way to start the workday. Make your bed, have some coffee, and take your jammies off. Obviously, there’s little point in putting on your office suit, so wear some regular, comfortable clothes. This will help you feel better while you’re cooped up inside.
Open your windows to let fresh air in and tidy up a little bit around the house. Completing these tasks will make you feel productive and will help you transition to work mode.
4. Finish the hard tasks first
Do the jobs that you find the most difficult — or the ones that stress you the most — first thing in the morning. Peruse your emails to see if there’s something of consequence that could have an effect on the tasks in your program, but don’t waste the most productive and quiet part of the day by answering communication and messages that can wait.
Instead, use that time to work on important projects, and leave the unessential tasks for the afternoon, when productivity and the ability focus are starting to drop.
5. Take breaks and move around
People tend to move around a lot more when they are at a regular office, and that’s a good and healthy thing. You’re walking to meetings, talking with coworkers at the water cooler, or stepping out for lunch. At home, on the other hand, you tend to be stuck to your chair for hours, which can lead to tense muscles, sore backs, and confused brains. Get up every hour or so and move around a little bit, do some stretches, or get out into your backyard for a few minutes.
6. Lay off social media, TV and news alerts
That’s actually a valid piece of advice for all times, whether you are working from home or in a shared office, but it’s even more important to follow it now. We’re all worried, and the situation is pretty serious, but checking your Facebook and Twitter accounts every five minutes, listening to breaking news on TV and clicking on every news article online is not going to make things better.
On the contrary, you’ll only become stressed and overwhelmed, and you’ll end your day exhausted and with your work unfinished. Turn off the TV and establish a time interval in which to check online news and social media – for example, during your lunch break.
7. Steer clear from procrastinating
Procrastinating is an issue for most people, regardless of where they work, at home or at an office. However, procrastination is a way bigger issue when working from home. You’re not surrounded by your hard-working colleagues, and you have plenty more stuff to distract you. Also, your boss is not around, so you might feel it’s OK to text, talk on the phone and check your social media a lot. However, by the end of the day, when your tasks are not done, you’ll be sorely regretting all that wasted time.
Fortunately, there are apps to help you avoid procrastination. Focus Booster, for example, sets up bursts of uninterrupted work followed by break periods. The reward system of the app, which grants frequent breaks, helps you be productive during the periods allotted for work. The dashboard allows you to visualize your achievements and to improve productivity over time.
Other apps block your access to social media, to news sites, to email or to other online tools that may be your Achille’s heel. Another useful tool is FocusMate, which pairs you with an accountability buddy. Start working with your camera on, and the accountability buddy can see whether you’re working or not. The sessions are 50 minutes long. There are many other apps for fighting procrastination – just don’t procrastinate too much by searching for them.
8. Be precise in your communication with co-workers
Online tools for working remotely are getting better and better, but the efficiency of face-to-face communication can’t be replicated. However, you can take some steps to make sure that the way you communicate with your colleagues is efficient.
Don’t write dozens of emails and messages throughout the day – people tend to stop paying attention to your communication when they’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it. Instead, gather your thoughts and write concise, clear emails that are straight to the point. Compose a subject line that clearly says what your email is about. Start the body of the email with the most important piece of information, as people tend to lose focus as they go through an email.
Limit instant messaging and use it only when you must, as it’s disruptive both for you and your coworkers. If you sense there’s a misunderstanding, simply call your coworker – issues that take 10 emails and 30 messages to be solved can oftentimes be cleared in a 2-minute phone or video call.
Right now, we are in uncharted waters. The current lockdown could last weeks, or even months, depending on how the coronavirus pandemic evolves. And it’s already obvious that it’s the kind of defining event that might completely change the way we live, work and interact. Working from home might become the new normal – and hopefully our tips will help you be prepared.