In 2019, I became my own boss and began working from the comfort of my own home. The advantages of this are endless, but it can, on occasion, be a little challenging to adjust the mindset. Now that I am coming up to a year of living the self-employed, working from home life, I find myself in a world where many are also working from home due to the global pandemic that has ripped through the world, leaving a trail of uncertainty and disbelief in its wake.
Admittedly, given that I have been working from home for almost a whole year now, I thought it might be useful to share some of the tips I apply to my own life on how to be productive at home. I hope that it may help others who suddenly find themselves at home through no choice of their own, and who are struggling to adjust. This won’t help to ease the boredom and unpredictability of where we all are right now, but it may just give you the boost you needed.
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The Positives in Working from Home
You see, the truth is, I didn’t adjust from the corporate life to the self-employed life easily. The sudden working from home was hard and there were many tears in the beginning. But now, as I am now coming up to a year of working from home, I’ve learnt to value the freedom it provides and how to overcome the mental challenges it initially comes with.
If you’ve been at home for a few weeks now and are beginning to lose your mind, I promise things will get better. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, but there are many positives to be found in working from home. From speaking with friends, it seems that I am not alone. Many are enjoying more of a work/life balance – from being able to cook at home instead of eating out every lunch, being able to workout at a time that works best rather than when office hours dictate and being able to go for a walk for some fresh air when it is needed.
For me personally, I love that I get to decide on my working hours, and if I want to work into the night and start a little later the next morning, I can do just that! I can work in yoga pants rather than a suit, I don’t have to style my hair or put makeup on every morning and if I feel like keeping to myself a little (as let’s be honest, we all have those days), then I am free to do that too.
It also let’s me deal with things around the house that would normally take me weeks or months to do if I was working my old full-time office-based job. Things like selling a load of bags and shoes that I don’t wear anymore or sorting out boxes of items that really don’t need to be in boxes but just need organising. I can also work with my Frenchie at my feet, which just makes me so happy.
All that said, like everything in life there are two sides to a coin. Overall, I believe the positive outweighs the negative, but there are of course, negatives. It means that sometimes you can do things which, although useful in their own right, are not productive or helpful to your work or business. I’ll be honest and say that at first I struggled with these things. As time has passed though, I have learnt how to be productive even when working from home and maybe some of these tips could help someone reading this that may be struggling with productivity too.
How to Be Productive at Home
Plan Out Your Day
This has to be the tip that was given to me the most when I first started out, as well as the one which has helped me the most. Rather than just winging it everyday, plan out the day ahead and list all the things you want to get done – just a simple to-do list. Now there are many ways of working through this, one suggestion is to start with the things that are your least favourite so you get them out of the way. The second suggestion is to prioritise that list.
But here’s how I work. Once you’ve decided how you plan to work through the things you need to do, break up your day into hourly slots and fill them with what you plan to do in those hours. If something does not get done by the time I have allocated for it and there is no deadline, I move it over to the next day. If there is a deadline that is non-negotiable, I make that one item my priority for the day.
I go a step further and plan out different things for different days. For example, I like to schedule all my calls and meetings for a single day of the week. Having one day away from the desk where I get all my calls and meetings done saves me so much time for the rest of the week. I appreciate this isn’t always doable, especially if you’re not the one scheduling the calls, but it absolutely helps to try and group them.
I plot my to-do list in 30 minute blocks and assign each block to a day of the week. I had initially hoped to limit my working days to eight hours only but I now accept my workaholic nature isn’t going to be happy with that – you do whatever feels right for you. It might even be helpful to track the time spent on different tasks throughout your day so that you can establish habits and patterns and rectify what you are not happy with – this is such a game-changer if you are looking to improve your time management. Make your new boss at home the clock!
What I’m talking about here isn’t a new concept, it’s actually known as the Pomodoro Technique – a technique that involves using a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.
Clear Space and Desk
Another useful tip, because if there is one thing a cluttered work space will cause, it’s a cluttered mind – not to mention unnecessary distractions. I’m lucky that I have an office to work from at home and I make it a point that my desk is clear of papers that I do not need.
This also applies to tabs that open in your browser – that needs to be clear too. For most, this means closing or logging out of all social media and closing any unwanted tabs with websites that are going to distract. To ensure you hit peak productivity, turn the sound off on your phone and move it where you can’t see it. If you still find yourself getting distracted at home, pick up your laptop and head to the nearest quiet spot with WiFi, like your local Starbucks or library (where possible).
Write Out Your Goals
The other evening at about 1am, I decided to head into my home office and work on my list of goals. I wrote out everything that I want to achieve in the next few months, the projects I want to work on, all of my bright ideas that I said I would do the day I stop working…
Since then, I’ve kept these points hung up where I can see them so that they are a constant source of motivation. They are hung on a cork board sitting just towards the left of me. When I find my mind wandering, I look over and see my goals and remind myself that they aren’t going to happen if my mind keeps wandering.
Whilst this helps me as a self-employed person, there is no reason that it cannot help someone who is employed. We all have our own specific goals that we just need to remind ourselves of every so often. If you’re reminded of them all the time, you are more likely to retain your focus and productivity level.
Try to get out of your pyjamas as soon as you wake up. At least on weekdays. If you have no reason to go out then I understand how remaining in pyjamas could be tempting, but it sets the tone for the rest of the day. Get up, take a shower and get dressed like you are going to work; brush your teeth, comb your hair and start your day. I’m not talking about getting dressed in a suit, or putting on make-up – I mean just do those basic things that make you presentable and motivated to get stuff done.
As I write this, I’m sitting in yoga pants, a sweater and a fresh face feeling pumped to get this article done – plus these images at La Mamounia Spa remind me that this is what I work hard for.
Establish Your Peak Hours
Introducing the concept of ‘deep work’, developed by Cal Newport. Simply put, deep work is a skill – the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. In doing so, it will allow you to quickly master complicated information and produce results in less time. To master this skill, Cal states that “the key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimise the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”
Over the years I have learnt that I am not a morning person. My mind is just not as sharp and things take me so much longer to do than they would in the evening. One task that might take me 30 minutes in my peak hours might take me 2 hours if I’m doing it at 8am. Office jobs choose our working hours for us – and these may not match our peak hours.
Working from home means we are able to focus on deep work in our peak hours and get as much done as possible. If you are wondering how to be more productive, have a little think about those hours where you are most focused, and make it a point to get your most important tasks done then. This way, you’ll still feel more productive, yet spend less time at work.
And with a bit of luck, this article has given you some tips on how to be more productive and you can start applying them today! If you’d like to share your own personal story on how they have helped, feel free to share your story with me, by sending it to email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are already a productive person with more tips that have helped you, just drop them in the comments below so that we can all become more productive people!
All images were taken at La Mamounia Spa in colourful Marrakech, Morocco.
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