As recommendations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 evolve by the day, many of us are suddenly working remotely. If you're new to the Work From Home life, you're probably a little worried about your productivity taking a hit (after all, that couch looks comfy 24/7). But get this: Research by Gallup shows that employee engagement can actually increases when employees spend time working remotely. Findings also show that remote workers tend to be happier.
Still, we may be looking at months of working from home, so we checked in with some top productivity and workplace experts to get their top tips (hint: working around the clock is not one of them). Read on to find out how to work smarter from your own personal HQ:
1. Establish your workday hours.
Although people certainly bring work home even when they work on-site, it's particularly easy to blur the lines and never turn off when you work remotely. That's why Sue West, a professional organizer, advises setting regular hours for your day—including when you wake up and go to bed.
Psychotherapist Lucas D. Saiter agrees that making and setting limits and boundaries is crucial. "Without them, work can start seeping into personal life, which ultimately results in a huge productivity loss," he says.
2. Get into the right mindset.
Figure out what you need to get the day off to a great start. "What gives you energy and makes you start the day calmly, grounded, feeling like you can do anything? Do those things, even if it's only 10 minutes at first. Put yourself first and you'll be amazed at how different you will feel," West says. Whether it's as simple as taking a shower, reading the paper while enjoying a cup of coffee, journaling, or doing a few sun salutations, taking that time to get into the right mindset can work wonders.
3. Change out of your PJs.
Although the allure of working in pyjamas may be strong, getting dressed can help signal to your brain that it’s time to go to work—even if you just switch into different yoga pants. "It's hard to feel serious when we're in our pyjamas and we are telling our brain that it is leisure time. Your clothes can be comfortable, but not what you slept in," says Marcey Rader, a productivity performance coach.
4. Designate a specific work area.
Experts agree that one of the keys to productively working from home is to have a dedicated work space. "Your brain makes associations with different parts of your home (kitchen for cooking, dining room table for eating, desk for working, bed for sleeping, etc.), so it helps you to have a specially created space that your brain associates with working only," says Rachel Ann Dine, L.P.C., who specialises in helping women gain more clarity about what they want from life. Of course, this is easier in a large house than a studio apartment, but work with what you have to try to carve out even a tiny bit of space.
5. Track your time.
Similar to how you'd analyse your money-spending habits before starting a budget, keep track of how you're spending your time when working from home to boost efficiency. "Are you spending too much time responding to emails? Are you getting lost in projects that could wait? How are you prioritising your tasks?" asks Susan Petang, a certified life coach who specializes in mindful lifestyle and stress management. If you realise you're actually spending three hours of your day staring at social media, then it's probably time to rethink your habits.
6. Streamline tasks.
Once you've done an internal audit of sorts, take a look at any commonly repeated tasks to see if there are little ways you might streamline them on a regular basis. For example, if you notice you're always sending a variation of the same email, Ashley Hampton, a psychologist and entrepreneurial coach, suggests creating an email template to save time. "If you send that same email 10 times a week and the template saves you two minutes of time, you’ll save 20 minutes of your time a week and 80 minutes of your time a month," she says. "What if you could monetize that 80 minutes a month that you saved? You are not only more productive by using systems but also could increase your revenue."
7. Save the chores for later.
Working from home doesn't mean you suddenly have more time to do chores around the house—which can be difficult for a partner with an office job to understand. "You both work, and just because you work out of the home doesn’t magically give you more time to do everything," West says. A tough conversation about how to divvy up the chores is often necessary."The more separation you can keep between work and personal chores, the more efficient you can be with both," adds Petang. "It can be difficult to go back and forth between our 'work hat' and our 'personal hat.'"
8. Prioritize your to-do list.
It's easy to get overwhelmed when you have a million things on your to-do list, and sometimes this can lead to procrastination or confusion about what to work on. "Create a priority list of tasks for the day," suggests Melissa Wolak, a coach who works with professionals to improve time management and productivity. "Identify one to three tasks to complete that will truly make you feel accomplished or make your business move forward."
Suzanne Brown, a work-life balance speaker and strategist, advises taking some time the night before to strategise and prioritise your tasks. "That way you can hit the ground running instead of planning your day and wasting what might be valuable productive time," she says.
9. Set a timer.
Once you've prioritised your tasks, start setting timers—then focus all your energy and attention on that one task until the timer goes off. Wolak suggests playing around to see what a good chunk of time for you is "before you become fidgety or want to look at social media." Whether you choose to work in 25-minute or hour-long chunks, set your timer—then walk away from your computer when it goes off. "This will prevent eye strain as well," Wolak says.
10. Take meaningful breaks.
Pausing for a break is as crucial to productivity as focused work time. "Take small, meaningful breaks to recharge," Saiter advises. "Things such as taking a walk outside, sitting at a park, or meditating have been very effective. Stepping away from the work to do things you enjoy can significantly recharge you."
11. Walk and work.
And note that you can walk while you get business done too. "Take walking meeting breaks," suggests Rader. "People who work from home don't get the daily exercise people in an office do because they are not walking from car parks, to lunch, or down the hall to the bathroom. Use your phone calls to walk around your neighbourhood, or take at least a 10-minute walk at lunch."
12. Schedule time for yourself.
Though traditional wisdom may have you scheduling self-care and family time around work, Maria Reyes, a mental health counsellor, suggests turning this paradigm on its head. "Prioritise yourself by scheduling time dedicated to what brings you joy first on your calendar, whether it's exercising, breakfast, reading, etc., then schedule the rest around it," she says. Do the same for family time. One of the main perks of working from home is ability to spend more time doing things that are important to you—and doing so can actually increase your productivity.
13. Combine to-dos.
It can be very helpful to batch similar tasks together in your day, whether it’s making phone calls or doing research. For example, Hampton says she often has to write and scan reports. Rather than writing one then scanning it, she completes five or six, then scans them all at once. "This saves my time and mental energy because I’m not doing context switching. Context switching is a fancy way of saying moving from task to task," she explains. "When we move from one task to another, like typing a report to scanning a report, our brain needs time to transition from the first task to the second one. That time is lost and hurts our ability to be productive."
14. Practice "mono-tasking."
Multi-tasking might seem like the ultimate key to productivity, but it may be that the opposite is true. "Be aware that only 2% of the population is truly capable of multi-tasking," Wolak says. "The brain is more efficient and productive when you focus on one task at a time. Monotasking is the most productive method of focusing your 'brain dollars' or energy." This can be particularly hard when working from home, where distractions can quickly shift our attention.
15. Tidy up for tomorrow
Even if the rest of your home feels on the verge of imploding, try to keep your work area neat. "When your workspace is too overcrowded with random objects, it can overload your mind and induce stress," Dine says. "Invest in inexpensive paper racks to hold your documents, an old favorite coffee mug to hold your pens, and at the end of each work day, take a moment to set your next day up for success by straightening up your work space."