Working From Home: Tips for a More Productive Work Day
Working from home (working remotely) is becoming increasingly popular. According to Flexjobs, the country saw a 159% increase in remote work from 2005 to 2017. So, yeah, it’s popular.
Recently due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many people were abruptly thrown into the world of remote work. For some, this is your first experience working from home. In an effort to help with the transition I’ve put together some tips, tricks, and concepts I swear by.
The Easy Stuff
I’m not going to say what is easy for me will be easy for you, but when I look at all my tips and tricks side by side, I consider some to be generally easier than others.
Own A Spot
Having a dedicated work spot to call your own is critical. I’m lucky enough to have a home office but you don’t need an entire room to have your own spot. When I started working from home, I was at a dining room table and that got the job done. To make that spot my own, I sat in the same chair and would lay out my work equipment (note pads, computer, coffee) the same way every day.
Having a spot to call your own gives you a place to go. Your walk to your work spot is your commute, and you know that on the other end of your commute is work. This sense of “going to work” will lead to the more important sense of “being at work”.
If you have a desk, even if it is temporary, feel free to add some elements of your life that make you happy. Prior to working from home, I spent a few months at a marketing agency where making it to 5 p.m. was a struggle. Part of what got me through the day, was that I made my desk comfortable. To do this I brought in a tea box, an electric water kettle, and some pictures of my friends and family. This method made such a difference to me that I have used it ever since, even while working from home.
Pick Some Perks & Enjoy
A majority of what I have/will talk about has to do with taking steps to make your home feel like work in order to maintain a normal workday. However, when you’re home, you’re home. There is no arguing with that, and there are certain perks that it is ok to enjoy.
Entertainment Versus Distraction
I listen to a combination of the radio and podcasts during my workday. I know some people who can’t do that because it’s too distracting and others who can somehow have the TV on in the background. If either of those interests you, I recommend testing it out. Try the radio and TV and see if they enhance your work day without distracting you too much. This is where you need to be honest with yourself. We all know people who claim to be able to work with the TV on, but in reality, they just watch TV and accomplish very little real work. So ask yourself if it’s making your workday better or simply preventing you from working.
The Joy Of A Mini-Break
One of the best parts of working from home is the ability to take a productive mini-break. There are plenty of times when I am doing some editing and I can’t get a cut to work. In these times I can simply get up and go do something else for 15 minutes. Let’s say my plan was to do some chores after work. Well, I can use a 15-minute mini-break to clear my mind while simultaneously freeing up my evening by getting my to-do list done.
You do need to be careful. Don’t let a legitimate 15-minute break become a 3-hour chore fest. If you find yourself mowing the lawn you’ve probably taken things too far.
I know some of you might think, “But you run a VR company, why not just pop on a headset for a 15-minute escape?” Truthfully, at some point, everyone needs a break from staring at a screen.
Difficult But Important
We all know that life is filled with hurdles that we have to clear, some higher than others. Working from home offers us wonderful opportunities but with the possibility that a lot can go wrong.
Get Dressed For Work
A few years ago I witnessed a friend of mine struggle with unemployment. A few weeks into his quest for a job, his alarm drifted from 7 a.m., to 8 a.m., to 9 a.m., and eventually to no alarm needed at all. Simultaneously, the time spent in the pajamas he slept in kept growing until he was spending the entire day in them.
I spoke with him a few times about how he was handling things. What struck me was, as his physical appearance and self-discipline dwindled, so did his perceived self-worth. We all know that depression can take many forms and some of what I described can be a symptom of a greater underlying issue. However, in some cases, these behaviors can feed depression.
The most important tip I have is, get dressed and get to work on time. It’s not always easy because no one is making you do it, but do it for yourself. If you want to survive working from home, you need to treat it as actual work. If you are forced to work from home due to the current virus outbreak, you owe it to yourself to restore some normalcy. Getting dressed for work is one of the easiest things you can do.
I’ve heard too many tales of people forced into a work-from-home environment complaining of not keeping track of the days anymore, while also bragging they’ve worn the same outfit for the past three days. You owe it to yourself to do better. In a world where there is so much out of our control, we can -and should- try to take advantage of the things we are able to control.
I’ve learned that if I give myself something to do prior to work, that I won’t do any other time of the day, I will have a reason to get up early. For me, I wake up at 5:10 a.m. to be at the gym by 5:50 a.m. This puts me home, showered and dressed by 7:45 a.m. Heck, sometimes I “get to work” early.
You might be disgusted by my rigid routine or you might think I’m just bragging about how good I am at from working from home, but I can promise you nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I do what I do because I have plenty of first-hand experience failing at working from home. In the years that I’ve been doing it I am still amazed at how 15 minutes late on a Monday becomes an hour late by Friday. You won’t even feel it happening.
Quick Note: If you know me you are well aware that I am not a believer in an 8-hour workday. I mean… what even is that? We live in an era of getting your work done and being done for the day. Sometimes this takes 2 hours other times it may take 10. It all depends on your workload for that day. So what’s with the hypocrisy? Why is starting on time so important? Because I believe that starting on time can help prevent the feeling of being overwhelmed that often accompanies falling behind on work. That’s why I recommend starting on time and finishing whenever you are done.
While we are on the topic of time, I cannot stress enough that you should still be going to bed around your usual time. If you typically stay up late, then feel free to keep doing that. However, if you like to be in bed early, you should still be going to bed early. The last thing you want to deal with is a messed up sleep cycle on top of all these other lifestyle changes.
Get Out When You Can
If you are reading this in 2020, there is nothing you can do about this part. So please read it, make a mental note and save this advice for happier times.
My wife works with people all day. I work at home all day. At 6 p.m. every night I want to go out and see people, and she wants to lay on the couch and do nothing. Neither of us is wrong but finding a middle ground is not always easy.
This is why I recommend working at a cafe (or a shared workspace) for 2-3 hours a day, 1-2 days per week. This advice is counter to most of what I’ve said to this point and for a lot of people, you will notice a dip in productivity when you do this. For starters, you won’t be working during your commute to and from the cafe. Add in the time it takes you to connect to the cafe wifi, plus stand in line for a coffee and honestly, you’re just burning minutes.
However, this is all about finding a balance. So if you live with someone who needs some downtime after work, do yourself a favor and get some socializing done during the week. But, do your best to ensure that it doesn’t derail your productivity.
A Quick Recap
Listen, for some of you, working from home is a temporary fix to a problem. For others, this might be a new lifestyle that you’ll need to get used to.
It’s my hope that by sticking to some of these tips your transition will be easier. To recap, I suggest that you:
Pick a designated space to work and make it comfortable. Feel free to add a personal touch to really drive home the fact that it is your space.
Don’t feel guilty about enjoying the perks of working from home.
Find out if working with some form of entertainment in the background is helpful or distracting.
Take a couple of mini-breaks and clear your mind. Do some dishes while you think of a solution to a work problem.
Get to your desk at your designated start time. You’d be amazed at how easily 15 minutes late becomes 2 hours late in only a couple of days. If you can, start your day on time and finish early.
Dress like you might see someone at work. How you view yourself and how you feel about yourself can impact your mood. If you dress for success (I hate myself for saying that) you may find that your entire mindset will change for the better.
Socializing from time to time by working in a shared workspace or cafe is a good way to prevent yourself from going stir-crazy.
If this is your first time working from home and you love it then treat any temporary situation like an audition. Let the person signing your paycheck see that they are getting the same great employee no matter the location of your desk.