This year many of us have been thrown for the first time out of their comfort zone when it comes to work. Work from home might be a challenge for many people, especially when they have to do it every single day of the week. There is something about offices, that fact that we see people around us focusing as well, that association we have with the place itself as a space to work, that might be missing when we have to do our tasks from the comfort of our home, surrounded by numerous temptations and distractions. Personally, I enjoy this type of work, being a person who needs complete silence when focus is needed. However, either one likes it or not, no one is immune to distraction unless we actively ensure our environment encourages productivity. Here are some productivity hacks, backed by studies, that I have found most helpful in increasing my efficiency and enjoyment when working from home.
- Switch off sound and notifications – We live in a world in which our attention is constantly sought for – by advertisers, by applications, by call centers or family members. We have gotten used to having very short attention span by apps and websites that offer us shortest possible bits of content. Unfortunately, this has been proven to be extremely harmful when we are faced with tasks which require more thought. I find it incomparably beneficial to switch off the sound and notifications on my smartphone, at the very least for the time that I am working. I even go as far as putting my phone in a different room sometimes to make sure I am not tempted to “just check” something or get distracted seeing someone calling me on the screen. If you can, I also recommend switching off the nagging notifications in your computer from your emails, Skype and any other applications, at least for dedicated periods of time when you have a specific task you need to complete. This way your mind is free to focus on one thing only.
- Make a to-do list – Any time you have a new task coming up, you can free yourself from the stress and burden of having to remember it by putting it immediately on your to-do list. I have been resisting doing that for a long time but since I started, it has made a huge difference for my productivity and stress levels. I now use a Trello board which is great as I can define the different types of tasks in different columns and quickly add new ones as they come up. Paper lists can do just as well if you’re more of a pen and paper kind of person! A great rule to have, as mentioned by David Allen in his famous book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity is to apply a 2 minute rule – when a new task comes up, you assess whether you can do it in 2 minutes – if yes, do it immediately, if not, just put it on your list to take care of later. Having dedicated blocks of time throughout the day for things like checking your email or planning what needs to be done work like magic too, freeing your mind from the temptation of distraction outside these slots.
- Get a second screen – I have been hesitating with buying a second screen for a while, but since I did, I can’t understand how could I have worked without it all this time! If you’re working from your laptop all the time, a second, bigger screen can for one help prevent the back and neck pains from looking down all the time. I like to put my to-do list on one screen sometimes and work on the other and it somehow gives me this comforting feeling of being well organized.
- Use habit and association – The fact that we are more prone to focus in places like offices or co-working spaces has a lot to do with our brain associating these places with work. You can create the same effect by forming a specific habit that will lead to the start of your working time and dedicating a space at home specifically for work. Avoid the temptation of waking up and working from your bed and instead work out a routine which will let your brain know that it’s time to work, not to sleep ;P I personally always wake up over an hour before I start working in order to have breakfast, meditate, read a page or two of a motivating book and prepare my coffee. This makes it easier for me to get into a productive mode with less effort because I don’t have to convince my brain that we need to start, it already knows through the habit and association.
- Prepare a motivation playlist – If you’re having a tougher day and keep on getting distracted, you can take advantage of autosuggestion through music. We often underappreciate how much we can consciously manipulate our mood through different type of content. For an extra boost of motivation, this can be a motivational Youtube video or article or a pre-prepared playlist with songs that give you that extra boost and encouragement.
- Take breaks and move – Your brain needs some time off the tasks at hand to make those extra unexpected connections needed especially in creative work or problem solving. Take breaks and ensure you completely free your mind from your work during that time. Doing a mini workout or taking a walk (if you can) work great here as you additionally ensure that extra oxygen boost and blood flow that help your brain too! This can help you replenish your willpower reserves as well!
- Prepare the night before – Willpower is not something infinite and it gets depleted as we force ourselves to do more and more things (I really recommend to read Maximum Willpower by Kelly McGonigal if you’re interested in exploring this topic deeper). That is why it is good to minimize the number of decisions you have to make in the morning before you start working and leave the reserves for later when you truly need it. Even doing as much as picking the clothes you’re going to wear the next day the night before can be of great benefit. You can also, if possible, make your to-do list or plan for the day the night before, plan what you’re going to eat for breakfast. This is also where a morning routine helps a lot as you free your mind from the effort of having to make multiple small decisions in the morning and instead, you can use the automatic system of your brain.
- Make it fun – Always make sure that whatever you need to do, you make it as enjoyable for yourself as possible. Wear something that makes you feel good, take out that fancy cup to make a tea or coffee in for yourself, prepare that extra pumpkin spice latte – make every moment special, you deserve it! You can totally take advantage of the fact that you work from home. If you find even a little bit of pleasure in everything you do, you will see that you will not only be more relaxed but also more productive, having taken care of the desire of your brain to get rewarded.
I hope these tips will make your work days at home more efficient, fun and smoother. Happy home-office’ing! ;D