Working from home can be a liberating experience but it does require a bit of discipline, too. Having worked from home for over 12 years, this is what I’ve learned from my own experiences and those of other colleagues, to help you maintain your productivity (and possibly your sanity, too) if you’re new to working from home.
Establish a workspace
Deciding where you’re going to work and turning it into an office, make-shift or not, is very important. It’s somewhere for you to associate with ‘work’ and not home, which helps maintain a boundary between work life and home life and will help you focus. But it also means that you’re less likely to lose or misplace things if they are in your dedicated workspace. Wherever you choose to work, I always advise away from working in bed. You need to be able to separate where you work from where you sleep.
Get dressed and ‘go’ to work
To help get you into the mindset of going to work, get dressed as you would for work outside your home, and if you can, take a walk around the block before stepping back in your door to your workplace. If you can’t walk around the block, just stepping outside of your front door and back inside will help. Both of these things help you to separate work from home and should aid your productivity and focus.
Devise a schedule
You might be expected to maintain ‘normal’ office hours while working from home, but if you’re not, use working from home to your advantage. In this case, work out when you are most productive and when your concentration drops a little. Devise a schedule for your workday that accommodates this. If that means working for two hours before you’ve even had breakfast but stopping mid-afternoon, then go with it! All of my books were written on this kind of schedule, but I know that for other people, working later into the night was more productive for them.
It’s also a good idea to tackle your most difficult or demanding tasks when you are at your most alert and do less intensive activities in lower moments. If you have a task that you really don’t want to do, and something that is a little more pleasurable, schedule your more enjoyable task to follow the one you’re not keen on. Think of it as a carrot!
Be sure to build breaks into your day. Every 75 to 90 minutes, step away from your workspace for 10 or 15 minutes. Get a drink, stretch your legs and focus on something in the distance to give your eyes a rest. It’s easy to feel guilty about taking a break when you’re working from home but you mustn’t. You cannot be continuously productive and focused. Give yourself a break!
The people who share your life with you might be very excited to have you working from home and think that they can stop to chat with you or drag you away for a long lunch. Sure, you might be able to build a longer lunch into your days and you can definitely chat with them during your breaks, but be firm about telling them when you need to concentrate and are unavailable. I’ve found that saying something like: ‘I’m due a break in 20 minutes, I can talk then,’ or ‘Let me finish this section and I’ll be with you,’ is helpful.
Write a to-do list
To-do lists aren’t only for helping you get everything done that you need to, but also for organizing your time. They also provide a great sense of satisfaction when you cross or tick-off your completed tasks. Write your to-do list at the end of your working day ready for the next morning. This way, you can reflect on and review the day that has just passed, get yourself organized for the next one and be ready to hit the ground running.
Learn what inspires and what distracts you
If you find that you work best with a pretty view, set up your home office to face the window. If, on the other hand, a view distracts you, make sure you sit with your back to the window. Maybe you work best in complete silence. Perhaps some tasks require silence and others something like music, a podcast, or even mindless TV on in the background. If you are distracted by clutter, like me, you might need to find five minutes every day to tidy your workspace. Be aware of what makes you tick and use it to your advantage.
Find your soundtrack
Music can be a terrific inspiration and motivator. If you’re listening to music, for example on Artlist, you might well find the soundtrack for a project that you’ve recently shot or perhaps something that inspires your next video! It’s also entirely possible that different types of music help you to concentrate on different types of tasks. Try it and see what works for you!
Restrict social media
Social media can be inspiring, amusing, comforting, and enlightening. But it can also be a terrible time-sink (not to mention frustrating or downright infuriating). Restrict your social media activity so that you can concentrate on your work. There are apps that can help you to limit your time on the platforms of your choice. Otherwise, try muting or disabling notifications, putting your phone in a drawer and making sure that you don’t have any social media sites open on your desktop. I often leave my phone in another room, close enough to answer if it rings, but far enough from me that I’m not tempted to ‘have a quick look at Twitter’.
For lots of us, taking exercise is something that we do on the way to or from work. If you’re working from home, that’s going to change. You’ll need to set aside time for either your usual exercise or a modified version of it. Being physically active assists your brain in staying active. As well as going for your daily cycle or power walk, have a go at a little exercise during one or more of your scheduled breaks. Even if it’s just a quick walk or a brief yoga session, it will help you to re-energize and re-focus.
Stop! Switch off.
This final point is so important. When you work from home, it is very easy to never actually leave work. You might be answering emails from your laptop while watching TV or just drift back into work-mode after eating dinner. Stop! When your scheduled workday comes to its conclusion, save what you’re doing, switch off your computer, put away your tools or equipment and (if you can) close the door to your office. You are now done for the day and it’s time to focus on yourself and the people whom you love. They need your full and undivided attention, and your work will benefit from a distinct separation between the two. Unless I’m working to a very tight deadline, my workday ends when I start to cook dinner. Work has switched to home, and that’s my space now.