COVID19 has thrust most organizations—and their team members—into a remote work environment almost overnight.
A few weeks ago, I shared strategies for leading effective remote teams, but today’s post will focus on personal productivity habits for working at home.
The Big Idea—Even if you are new to working from home, some people have been doing it for years or longer. Reading this article could save you months of trying to figure it out on your own.
Almost everyone likes the “idea” of working from home
A 2018 Swiss study by Zug indicated that 70% of people around the world work at least one day from home. This study was highlighted in a 2018 article by CNBC.com.
The 2019 Global Workspace Survey gathered opinions from 15,000 people across 100 countries, and found that 80% of workers said—when faced with two similar employment offers—would take the one that had flexible working arrangements.
It’s clear—more and more workers want the option to work from home.
But over the last few weeks, many people have discovered it’s not always the dream opportunity they imagined.
Working from home can present a number of challenges—and those challenges have been amplified by the restrictions imposed by the global pandemic.
People with children are juggling childcare and homeschooling responsibilities without the assistance of daycare, school systems, or family members to help carry the load.
Given the current nationwide shelter-in-place directives—most people can’t even leave home to get to a more private place to work. If you didn’t already have a home office or large house—this can be a big problem.
It has never been more important to get maximum results from your time than it is right now.
Working from home is also more results-based than working at the office.
Since your employer can’t actually see you logging hours in the office, it is even more vital to deliver on your work assignments.
Below are some ways you can maximize the results you produce while working from home.
I also recommend you go back and read my series 10x Your Productivity, which reviews a mountain of research on habits that produce peak performance.
Turn information into action
- Set up a designated space to work. Having a designated space can help ensure your environment is quiet enough to work with focus. It also helps train your brain—this is the part of my house where work happens.
- Make sure you have the proper equipment. Things like a good chair, a webcam, or noise-blocking headphones can be vital to doing any real work from home. You will also need all the normal things you had in the office. Take the time necessary to set all this up. This is an essential first step. Ask your employer what equipment they might help you cover.
- Create blocks of uninterrupted time. The greatest enemy of productive work is interruption—especially if your work demands deep focus or concentration. When we are interrupted, we are doing something called task switching—meaning that our brain needs to stop thinking about the current task and think about something else for a moment. The problem is that it takes your brain time and energy to switch gears. Cognitive science shows it comes at a huge cost to our productivity. A 2006 study by UC Irvine showed that it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back to focus on a task after an interruption. Additionally, the American Psychological Association says that constantly switching tasks (i.e. multitasking) could cost you up to 16 hours of lost productivity per week! Don’t waste that 16 hours, discipline yourself to work more efficiently.
- Eliminate distractions. If you want to create deep focus, do the following things: close windows on your computer, put your cell phone in another room, and close your email inbox. Check email a few times per day.
- Use headphones or white noise. If your home environment has crying babies or barking dogs, headphones could be critical. It’s well worth the investment. Trying to concentrate with a bunch of other noises generally causes your stress levels to rise, which also degrades your work quality.
- Do your most important projects during your most focused times of the day. If your work demands intense concentration, make sure you do it early in the day when you have the most focus. Remember, your brain is addicted to doing easy stuff first. Fight that tendency and go straight for your hardest—and most impactful projects—as early as possible in your day. Learn to ask yourself—If I only did one thing today, what would have the most impact?
- Take regular breaks. Strangely, this one can be difficult. Sometimes taking scheduled breaks at home can be harder than at work—when you have the opportunity to swing by a colleague’s cubicle for a quick chat. Most studies show that optimal productivity is only retained when you take a 10-minute break about every hour. Set a timer if you need to.
- Create a new work-from-home schedule. Most children—and all humans for that matter—thrive on routine. You might have had a work routine that was completely annihilated when you suddenly started working from home a few weeks ago. Make sure you establish a new rhythm and stick to some structure. This will help your brian adjust to new habits. If your employer can allow for flexible work hours, you may find that your best times to work are no longer 9-5. If you work for yourself, experiment with this. If you have a boss, ask them if your work hours can be flexed to accommodate things like homeschooling, or your partners work schedule.
- Discuss the new schedule with your partner. If you are in a relationship, you should have an explicit discussion with your partner about expectations and needs for the new normal. My wife and I have needed frequent conversations about this to ensure both our needs are met, and we are working well as a team to keep things running smoothly in our house. If your partner understands that you absolutely cannot be interrupted at certain times, this will help you maintain those vital focused blocks of time.
- Schedule time to connect with colleagues by video. Isolation is one of the biggest hazards of remote work. Especially with COVID 19—when we are even more socially isolated—it is really important to make efforts to connect with your coworkers. Get creative. You can even schedule time for coffee breaks or happy hour by video conferencing.
- Dress for work. If you are still wearing your bathrobe and Batman slippers at 3pm, you may be communicating to your brain that you are not really in work mode. Some people find it helpful to get up early, shower, and put on something other than pajamas—in order to keep their workplace professionalism and drive.
Have a great weekend!
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- My series on personal productivity https://leadyoufirst.com/category/10x-your-productivity/
- UC Irvine Study on lost productivity https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/23146/too-many-interruptions-work.aspx
- CNBC 70% of people work remotely at least one day per week https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/70-percent-of-people-globally-work-remotely-at-least-once-a-week-iwg-study.html
- Global Workspace Study 2019 https://www.iwgplc.com/global-workspace-survey-2019