Business

My 10 working from home tips that will make your day more productive

An increasing number of people are working from home. This may be because they are  starting a new business, through choice or their work may have encouraged it with new flexible working arrangements.

The majority believe that working from home would be their ideal scenario.

  • You can organise your own schedule.
  • No commuting (thus saving money).
  • No office distractions.
  • Greater independence.
  • You can wear what you want.
  • You can incorporate house chores/ pick up kids /run errands into your daily routine.

And some of these are certainly true. Working from home can be a great thing.

But it is also very easy to fall into a routine that makes your actual working day far less productive and inefficient.

I know several people who work from home or work remotely from the office part time but find it difficult to stick to a routine and as a result get very little done. They struggle to achieve what they set out to at the start of the day or week and are always in ‘catch-up’ mode.

Working from home doesn’t mean you suddenly have lots of spare time. Believe it or not, you’re expected to WORK!

Your surroundings may have changed, but the amount of time you should be spending working hasn’t.

Yes, you may have a more flexible schedule and no commuting does save time and money. But if you’re not careful, there are many factors that could hold you back.

I’ve been working remotely for several years now, so, I thought I’d write a post to help those of you who are finding working from home less productive than you thought it would be.

Here’s my top 10 tips for making your time in the home office much more productive.

1. Set yourself work hours (wake up early)

You’re working from home. That means you’re AT WORK.

Yes, you don’t have to tolerate that long, tedious and painful commute into work and yes, that will save you time. But do not forget that the only thing that has changed are your surroundings.

Do not get up later than normal. It is a good idea to get up at the same time that you would have done to get into the office, regardless of your prior commute time.

So, if you previously needed to be at your desk at 8.30am with a 45 minute commute time and got up at 7am, still get up at 7am.

In this example, if you start your day at, say 7.30am, this will enable you to:

  • Catch up on any work you hadn't completed from the day before.
  • Set up your daily schedule, if you hadn’t done it the night before.
  • Use that extra time to compensate for the unexpected distractions that will likely occur during your day.
  • Use it to get some exercise (see below).

And you need to stick to your set hours. If you decide to finish your work day at 6pm, bar any pressing work you need to finish, then stop at 6pm.

If you need to get the kids to school and you’re most productive in the mornings, then you could start work at 6.30am and finish at 4pm.

Everyone’s schedule and commitments will be different. You need to generate a time plan that works for you. Once you have honed down the best plan, you will see how effective and productive you could be.

And when you have figured out your routine, stick to it.

2. Get dressed into ‘work’ clothes

Most people I speak to say that working from home must be brilliant – you can wear what you like – even your PJs!

No!

I find that not getting dressed or even working in ‘non-work’ clothes psychologically prevents you from having the right mindset for work.

It may seem a great idea at the start, but if you’re dressed for bed, your brain will think it is bedtime.

That doesn’t mean you should get up and get dressed in a suit to start work in your home office (although I know at least one person who does do this and it works for him) but in my view, you should be dressed smart-casual at least. This is what works for me.

If you’re spending an extended period of time at home from the office or you’re setting up your new business venture from home, then getting dressed to start your business day will become an important part of your daily routine.

And routine is key to maintain strong mental health (source).

This also applies when you finish your work day. Changing back into non-work clothes may seem unnecessary, but it helps your mind to separate the time between work and leisure.

3. Separate your work environment from your home environment

You need to separate your work space from where you would normally spend time at home or with family.

That may be setting up a home office in an empty spare bedroom. If you’re pressed for space or don’t have a desk, then perhaps use your dining room table.

Don’t use the sofa.

Don’t sit in front of the TV.

Don’t set up the space where your family will often come in and out, such as the kitchen.

You need to ‘feel’ that you are at the ‘office’ and be situated where distractions are kept at a minimum. It will also enable you to leave your work behind when your day has finished.

Once you have figured out the best space for your work environment, commit to working in this space on a daily basis.

You may also need to invest in comfortable office furniture – a desk, office chair, bookshelves. It all will contribute to your new productive work-from-home mindset.

4. Exercise and take regular breaks

Rolling out of bed and into your home office chair is not a good way to start your work day.

The whole process of getting up, dressed and out of the house to your office means you’re moving and at least, to some extent, exercising.

So, if your office is just a short walk across the hallway from your bedroom, it would be so easy to skip this part.

Don’t.

Make sure you incorporate some form of exercise into your day.

A significant amount of evidence exists that shows how physical exercise makes your brain work better and sharpen your ideas and focus.

Whether that’s a quick workout in front of the TV, a brisk walk around the block or a 20 minute run, it will be worth it.

You may be totally knackered after just getting the kids to school but try to fit something else in too!

I find that some form of exercise before you start work in the morning really refreshes the mind and has a longer payoff throughout the day. However, you may feel that incorporating this into your routine in the late morning or even in the afternoon also works well for you.

You should also take regular breaks throughout your day.

Stand up. Move about. Stretch. Go make yourself some tea.

Sitting in one place for too long is no good either. Taking quick breaks or having a brisk walk outside in the fresh air will re-energise your mind to take on the tasks that remain in your daily schedule.

5. Set up a workflow management system

Managing your workflow from home or even if you are managing a team of people from a remote location, is not so easy.

Encouraging collaboration and communication with colleagues or even clients, when not in the same office space can be a challenge.

There are various strategies that you could incorporate, but I’ve found these to be the most useful:

  • If you are in charge of a team of people, you need to ensure that each person on your team has clearly defined roles and objectives. The clearer these are, the more likely your objectives will be met.
  • Implement automated task management systems. This will help ensure that the most important processes can and will be implemented without error.
  • Use productivity software, such as Slack or Monday.com to create a pipeline of work, assign specific tasks to individuals, meet your deadlines and/or to collaborate more effectively with your colleagues. This will also help with the record keeping and documentation of your work.
  • You should incorporate accountability into your work process. That goes for yourself as well as all members of your team. Communication with your colleagues here is key.

6. Avoid interruptions from family during your working day

Yes, I know, this is easier said than done.

If you’re in your home office and you have kids or pets running around, it is not going to be easy to completely avoid them.

Should you find yourself in this situation, I know how you feel - my three small children are often around and seem to find it funnier the louder they are.

But setting some boundaries early on will certainly help.

When you are working, ensure that your door is shut and kids aren’t allowed in during certain hours.

Set up a schedule for your children, with lots of free play and reading time.

Take advantage of your garden if you have one; allow them to work off extra energy, which I’ve found means they are somewhat quieter for longer periods after.

If you’re part of a two parent household, both of whom are working from home, you need to work out a timetable for yourselves; if one needs to be on a conference call or in a meeting at a certain time, the other could look after the kids. Shift patterns can work. When you both need to work, putting on a movie for them to watch is not such a bad thing.

Of course, such a set up will mean you need more flexibility during the working day. However, working out what is best for your household can still mean that you can have an enhanced level of productivity than what would otherwise be the case.

7. Turn your social media notifications off!

Ping!

You just got another notification come through. It’s a new recipe from that group you joined on Facebook three years ago but hardly ever look at now.

You pick up your phone and check it out.

That’s also a good time to browse your newsfeed. You just looked at another recipe, read about your friend’s charity drive and ended up viewing a cat video that lasted 4 minutes. It was funny, but not that funny.

You also notice you’ve got 8 emails in your inbox that have come through in the past half an hour. 7 of them are not work related but you can’t resist looking through them.

Oh and as your phone is in your hand, you had just better wish you friend a happy birthday on WhatsApp and ask if there are any plans for the weekend.

You glance at the clock. 25 minutes have passed. EEK!

We’re all guilty of this. Social media can be great, but it can massively eat into your time without you realising.

Most phones or social media apps now can show you how much time you spend on a specific activity. If you haven’t looked at this yet, you will likely be shocked how much time you’re spending casually browsing social media.  

My tip is to turn off social media notifications during your working hours or muting notifications. You can always check them out over lunch or maybe on a walk.

You will be shocked how much more work you can get done without such distractions.

8. Set up your own rewards system

Just because you’re working from home, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reward yourself or your team.

Everyone wants to know that their work is valued and even if you are working for yourself, having something to look forward to can be a healthy motivator.

This can be as simple as going for a run, grabbing a healthy snack, a trip to the cinema or taking your friend or partner out for a meal in the evening.

It may seem something trivial to actively consider but incorporating this into your mindset will do wonders for your drive and determination to finish off a project or complete your to-do list, as well as giving you a higher sense of fulfilment.

If you are considering rewarding your team, apart from verbal recognition, which always goes a long way, some non-monetary benefits could include setting up an event for your team to come together once a month, family days out, an extra holiday day outside of their annual allotment, retail discounts or even a small gadget such as a laptop case.

9. Communicate

Communication does not end when working remotely. In fact, it is probably more important to get right.

Certainly, staying engaged can be difficult.

If you’re based in a centralised office then location is hugely important. But if you’re part of a remote team, it’s all about how you communicate with each other.

This requires effort but is of primary importance to remain engaged with your colleagues and stay productive as a team.

If you get it right, working remotely can result in having the best of both worlds.

On the one hand, you have the peace and quiet required to get stuff done without, hopefully, too many distractions.

But if you also have the ability to effectively communicate with your team, clients or colleagues when you need to, be it via video chat, voice or video meetings or simply via one of the software packages mentioned above, this could result in a very productive set up.

With the right approach and preparation, your communication habits will improve and the lack of physical contact will seem less of a communication barrier.

Finding the right set up may take some time, so experiment with what suits you best.

10. Stop going into the kitchen

If you’ve worked from home before, you know that the kitchen is the enemy.

Somehow, that’s where you normally end up. You can be on a conference call and suddenly you’ll find yourself in the kitchen taking another chocolate biscuit out of the packet.

Or your ‘I’ll just take a few crisps from the monster size packet back to my desk’ ends up being ‘I can’t believe I’ve just finished that monster size packet of crisps’.

When your home is your office, the kitchen can play havoc with not just your productivity, but also your waistline.

So how do you stop yourself from snacking all day long?

Here are my kitchen do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t work in the kitchen. Turn yourself away from the fridge. Don’t look at it.
  • The longer you stay in the kitchen, the more likely you’ll be grazing or preparing food more than you should. Try preparing your lunch before your work day commences or even the night before.
  • Have set meal and snack times. You don’t make ten trips to the fridge in the office, so don’t do it at home.
  • Do eat. Don’t ignore food – just don’t revolve your day around it (unless you’re a chef, in which case this is going to be hard!).
  • Eat more healthily. Instead of reaching for the crisps or chocolate, have more balanced, nutritious food to hand. Fruit, nuts, fibre etc works well for me.
  • Drink water. Being dehydrated results in tiredness and headaches, which would clearly reduce your productivity level. Perhaps keep a water bottle on your desk.

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