With more of us working from home more than ever before, I thought I’d share a few of the lessons I’ve learnt to stay super productive working from home over the last 17 years. Goodness! It’s safe to say that I’ve had time to discover what works for me and what doesn’t.
Working from home is a luxury I am grateful for every day. It’s convenient and efficient, it saves time and money and allows me the flexibility to work my schedule around my family commitments. I get to work how I choose to work. That all sounds fantastic – right up until your printer won’t work, a supplier arrives unannounced when you’re ill and your dog throws up behind your desk. So how have I managed to stay sane, motivated and productive? Read on for some work at home tips and tricks that have worked for me.
SETTING YOURSELF UP TO SUCCEED
I have a spacious home office now, but it wasn’t always that way. At one period, we lived in a tiny 2-bedroom cottage and I was forced to work on our front veranda. First up, set yourself up so that you’ve got the best chance of making ‘work from home’ work for you. I’ll fill this post will some beautiful home office images to inspire you too!
1 CREATE A DEDICATED WORKSPACE
The beauty of working from home is that you have the freedom to create the environment that’s most productive for your mind and body. Everyone is different. I like to have a dedicated workspace. If I work away from my designated office, I find too many distractions and that I don’t have the tools I need at my disposal. A dedicated workspace has been essential to making work from home, work for me.
If you’re lucky like me, you will have a separate room with lots of natural light, fresh air and a door you can close to block out distractions. For others, the only option might be a corner of the dining table. If you’re a free spirit, a bean bag on the floor might do it for you. No matter what your workspace looks like, if at all possible, I recommend dedicating it to work and nothing else. If you live in a small space and work and eat at the same table, keep these activities separate and re-set the space each morning for work.
2 MAKE COMFORT A PRIORITY
Comfort is key to working efficiently. My key tips:
- Make sure that your chair supports your body and encourage good posture with keyboards and monitors at the appropriate heights.
- Move your body when possible. Research advises that for each hour worked we should spend 30 minutes standing. Consider investing in a sit-stand desk and take regular breaks.
- Select a position with as much natural light as possible but position your computer to minimise glare.
Remember that posture still counts when you work from home, and how you sit today will shape your body forever.
3 HAVE THE RIGHT TOOLS
Having the right tools to stay productive and connected to your team are critical to being productive. For me this means having a large monitor as well as my laptop and phone, access to samples and supplies and a reasonable amount of layout space. It also means making sure that all of my IT systems are running smoothly and that I can print documents and drawings as necessary. Having a really good, reliable IT contact for emergencies has been a godsend for me. Your requirements will be completely different and personal to you.
MY WINNING FORMULA
Once you have a dedicated space to work and the tools to function, here are the tips that get me working like a well-oiled machine.
1 ESTABLISH BOUNDARIES
You might think working from home encourages work/life balance but if you’re not careful it can do the opposite. When you don’t have the physical experience of leaving home in the morning and coming back at the end of the day, it’s harder to tell where work ends, and your personal life begins. I set boundaries with where and when I work and I’m strict with them. I don’t answer work calls when I’m with my family and I avoid personal chores when I’m meant to be working. Define your work hours and do your best to stick to them but remember too that flexibility is one of the biggest perks of working from home.
2 PRETEND YOU’RE GOING INTO THE OFFICE
No matter how you feel – get up, dress up and show up. You will feel so much better and I promise you, more productive, if you are comfortable but well presented. I get out of pyjamas, get dressed, and make sure my hair and face are presentable every single day. I then feel so much more comfortable answering the door for deliveries, bumping into anyone I know or having that unexpected visit. Comfortable outfits that you can dress up in a flash are perfect. Then if you do have an impromptu meeting, you can simply pop on a jacket, slip on some heels and know you’ll feel your best.
3 CREATE A START RITUAL
I can’t focus on work for the day until my bed is made and the dishes are done. Once they’re tidy that’s my cue to get to work. Many people start the day with a small ritual instead of the usual commute – it could be a cup of tea before you sit down at the computer, turning on your playlist or walking the dog for an energy boost. These little things give your day some structure.
4 STRUCTURE YOUR DAY
For some people the greatest benefit to working from home is the lack of enforced routine. I’ve found that unless I create my own structure it’s really easy to fritter away the day. Choose a routine that makes you as productive as can be.
I am a list person. I make lists for everything and it is my way of remembering the important things I need to achieve. Set yourself goals to accomplish each week and plan further by breaking these into daily to-do lists. Rank your tasks in order of importance so you can ensure that the most critical are achieved first. Have a notebook and pen on hand and go back to your list regularly. If you have a routine, with a regular schedule, it is much easier to stay focused.
5 SET THE TONE
The first thing you do each morning sets the tone for your day. I prepare my to-do list the afternoon before so that I can hit the ground running. You can then get stuck into the first item while you’re fresh and energised. I also try not to start my day checking emails but prioritise important tasks first.
6 TAKE CLEAR BREAKS
It is easy to avoid breaks altogether, especially if you have a deadline and you’re on a mission. When you’re on your computer for a lot of the day, it’s easy to become uncomfortable, lonely or uninspired. Take a break to re-charge and energise yourself. Grab some lunch, go for a walk, do a chore or play with your dog. Take regular short breaks to get up and get moving. I also like to make my lunch when I prepare the girls lunchboxes. That way my breaks don’t revolve around trips to the danger zone – hello refrigerator.
7 MAKE YOUR SCHEDULE WORK FOR YOU
While most people are super productive early in the day, I am a creature of the night and work my best to the sound of crickets. I get calls and meetings out of the way first up when I may be a little sluggish and I take advantage of uninterrupted time in the afternoon to work through projects that require full concentration without distractions. If I am super busy with projects, additional work takes place at night, when I come alive and the rest of the household is blissfully quiet! This also means that I get to focus on my family in the afternoon and early evening when they need me.
8 MINIMISE DISTRACTIONS
It didn’t take me long to realise that constant emails, meetings and interruptions killed my productivity. It took me a few years though to put some concrete plans in place to limit this. Some of my tips:
- Try and restrict meetings to a few days a week instead of having them scattered throughout.
- Turn off unnecessary notifications on your phone and computer.
- Schedule 3 to 4 regular times during the day to check and respond to emails instead of constantly checking them on the go.
9 STAY BUSY
Benjamin Franklin coined a well-known expression, “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. I work much better when I have a busy schedule, deadlines and some adrenaline pumping through my veins. When busy I manage my time efficiently, I am super motivated – I am a machine!
If work is quiet, I start lacking motivation very quickly and that is when I can become my own worst enemy. How do I fix this? By starting every day with a list of things to do. If I can see my work day isn’t busy, I plan something else so that when I am working – I’m on fire. There is no point sitting around twiddling your thumbs or scrolling through social media mindlessly when you could be out for a walk, catching up with a friend or organising your closet.
10 COMMUNICATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
If you have company at home, like so many of us in isolation now – it’s important that they respect your work time and that you communicate your requirements. In my early days of working from a small cottage, I had young children. A nanny allowed me to focus and gave me peace of mind knowing that my children were being stimulated with all kinds of activities and were still able to relax in their home environment. This worked really well, except if my children saw me. The tears would start, and it would distress us all. We agreed that when I ‘went to work’ I would remain unseen.
For a couple of years this became my own self-enforced isolation until we moved into a larger home with a purpose-built office. I would enter my workspace and remain hidden except for ducking out to meetings and absolute emergencies. Heaven help me, if I did need food or a quick toilet break. Every move was carefully planned and strategized to cause least distress. Even though this situation was not ideal, it was the best solution for us at the time and good communication ensured that it worked for everyone.
11 STAY CONNECTED
There is one way to drive yourself crazy and that is to stay in the same few rooms alone day in and day out. Trust me, working from home can be isolating. My role as an interior architect includes a lot of human contact but being in a more computer-based role (as a blogger for instance) takes isolation to another level.
Remember that you are working from home – not the moon. Connection to your community is key. Do whatever it takes to keep you sane. This could be regular involvement with groups including the online community. Making the time to go outside, getting the sun on your skin and finding a human to interact with. If you work for a larger organisation, check-in regularly with colleagues to remind you how your work is contributing to the big picture. Hold remote meetings and keep conversations going or get into the latest trend and crack open virtual drinks.
If you are now working from home due to coronavirus, isolation takes on a whole new meaning. Although social distancing is being encouraged, now is the time to really stay connected with friends and family to support one another and boost your mood (even if this has to be over the phone or online). Call someone you love for a different perspective and plan some special activities to do with those sharing your space. Having something special to look forward to boosts our spirits, gives us energy and positivity.
12 FUEL YOUR CREATIVITY
Our creativity needs constant re-fuelling, and this can be limited when you are stuck behind four walls. Stay abreast of current trends, conduct research, consider online learning or courses and have conversations with others so that you know what’s happening in your industry.
Enjoying a playlist can be a real perk of working from home – and a boost to your mood and creativity. Mix it up, so the day does not get monotonous. Find what music motivates and focuses you for different tasks and know when tranquillity is the answer.
13 KEEP ORDER
When you work from home, all kinds of things that don’t belong there find their way into your ‘office’. Your workspace will be so much more productive when it’s clear from clutter. Have a weekly clear out to ensure you’re working in a clutter free environment.
14 KNOW WHEN TO STOP
Finally, select a finishing time and set an alarm to indicate that your normal workday is coming to an end. For me it’s often been school pick-up time. That is my cue to shut my office door and switch into mummy mode for the afternoon.
These are just a few of the things that have helped me stay focused, inspired and motivated as I work from home. I’d love to hear the different ways you stay super productive throughout your day.