It can be difficult to work from home. Though a flexible schedule is enticing, it also poses a unique set of challenges – namely, being productive and staying focused (i.e. actually getting shit done).
However, away from the brightly lit cubicle and the looming, managerial glare, there is an implicit sense of freedom; the ability to create your own structure and design your day in better accordance with both your professional and personal goals.
Naturally, this is easier said than done. If you’re not proactive in your approach it can be easy to slip into a more permanent state of ‘weekend lethargy’, lacking real effort and enthusiasm. To avoid this, this article will explore five key tips to help maximise your performance and productivity at home.
As Malcom X famously said, “the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Perhaps the most important aspect in ensuring a productive day is to clearly map out the tasks you’d like to accomplish beforehand.
It’s the same reason gym-goers will typically follow a routine. Having a set structure provides clarity, allows you to better organise your time and ensures you don’t miss anything.
By creating a list of objectives, ideally the night before, you become exactly that. More objective. It’s easier to detach from “what you feel like doing”, when you’re deciding on it before seven hours of blissful sleep.
The best advice I can give is to be specific. Remember you’re trying to bring structure to an otherwise unstructured day. The way I see it, any decision I can make the day before, the more mental bandwidth I have to play with the following day. Whether this is true or not I’m not entirely sure – but it has certainly helped.
Consider which tasks are important to prioritise, how you can do them well, where you’re going to do them and so on and so forth. Also, be sure to allow for the human element of feeling groggy, being out of coffee, the wi-fi being slow, whatever. What’s your backup plan? If x, then what’s y?
Alongside a good plan, it’s crucial to ensure you’re getting good quality sleep each night. We’ve all felt the effects of a poor night’s sleep on our performance. We will all feel it again. However, there are a few habits to consider which may dramatically improve your Z’s each night.
Your circadian rhythm is the internal clock regulating your sleep-wake cycle. It should, ideally, coincide with the cycle of day and night. However, an ever-expanding catalog of binge-worthy Netflix titles has made this rhythm increasingly blurred.
One thing you can do (which is particularly important if you don’t have a morning commute) is to get outside early and help your body better coordinate this cycle. Go for a ten minute walk, drink your tea outside, the possibilities are endless.
You’ve probably heard this one before, but that’s for a reason. Our electronic screens emit ‘blue’ light which interferes with our circadian rhythm and keeps us awake at night. You can limit the amount through the ‘night mode’ on your phone or with a program such as f.lux on your computer. For best results, turn them off an hour before bed – or even earlier if you’re crazy.
Your room may not be as dark at night as you think it is – especially if you’re living in a big city. Cop lights, flashlights, spotlights, strobe lights, street lights… they’re all difficult to block out and they’re all affecting the quality of your sleep. To address this, consider purchasing blackout curtains. It’s been repeatedly shown that we sleep better in a dark environment.
For more advice, check out Dr Shawn Stevenson’s article ‘21 Tips to Get the Best Sleep Ever’ or his book ‘Sleep Smarter’. I’ve listed the three tips which have had the most effect in my own life but it’s certainly a worthwhile topic to explore further. It is a third of your life after all.
The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day to come. In ‘Own the Day, Own Your Life’, Aubrey Marcus – founder and CEO of Onnit – stresses the importance of three basic principles to a successful morning routine: water, light and movement:
Hydrate early to replenish your body and kickstart your gears into motion. From there get outside and move around, again, to help regulate your circadian rhythm.
‘Winning the morning’ is especially important when you’re working from home. There’s no morning commute in which you slowly prime yourself for a day at the office. Thus to avoid falling in the procrastination trap, it’s best to build momentum right from the get-go. Alongside Marcus’s three tips, I’d suggest some form of meditation or mindfulness to start each day – as well as a shower, that usually helps…
Perhaps the most difficult part about working from home is not getting distracted by each and every distraction home has to offer. To make this easier on yourself, try and design your environment in a way that will help. This means, for example, no TV on in the background – or it might even mean putting the TV in a different room. Anything to keep your time-on-task is a yes and anything which takes away from it is a no.
Set up camp in whichever room feels most like an office to you, and treat it as such. Simple things to consider may be putting your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ like you would at work, pinning important tabs to your web browser (such as your email/Google Drive) and creating a separate ‘work account’ on your computer.
Essentially you want to make sure all the tools you need are readily available and all the distractions are hidden, out of sight. For some, this can be particularly difficult, in which case you may consider working in a local café or library.
Working from home can be challenging to initially get used to – but, then again, most things are. With time you’ll get a better gauge on how you work, where you typically get distracted and how to bounce back from a ‘slower’ day. It’s a lot of trial and error.
Ultimately, don’t strive for perfection. Strive for progress. It can be discouraging when you don’t get as much done as you would’ve liked. The challenge in that scenario is to try and quickly get back on the horse rather than dragging out any negative feelings you may be harbouring. Consider what you could’ve done better, recognise that you’re human and move on.
Balance your work with breaks when necessary and try to incorporate exercise if your schedule allows it. Both, if done properly, will allow you to do more in the long-term.