Due to the ongoing global pandemic, people around the world have had to transition to working from home. Without an end in sight, professionals everywhere are adjusting to this new reality, one that may continue even as workers are cleared to return to their desks.
For some, working remotely is a new experience plagued with an unfamiliar set of challenges. To show that your productivity level has not decreased, you may feel the need to be glued to your laptop and available at all hours of the day. All of your meals blend into marathon sessions in front of the computer, and your weekends might feel like just another workday.
This inability to draw boundaries between your work and personal life could make you a prime candidate for burnout—a syndrome that 75% of the workforce has experienced according to a recent survey conducted by Flex Jobs and Mental Health America.
One thing is certain: falling victim to burnout will not improve your work performance. Research shows it can lead to decreased productivity and sense of accomplishment; make you more susceptible to illnesses; and in some extreme cases, contribute to loss of personal identity and connectivity to one’s surroundings.
With the challenges working from home introduces, it might be time to adopt some new habits or rethink the way your structure day. Below are 6 tips to help you maximize your productivity and prioritize your wellness while working from home:
1. Set boundaries and communicate them clearly
In a traditional office environment, boundaries are set naturally. You arrive at the office around the same time everyday, by noon the smell of your coworker’s lunch entices you to pick up something for yourself, and by five your colleagues leave one by one, indicating it’s time for you to end your workday too.
At home, none of these external cues exist, making it more difficult to distinguish when to start your workday, when to take breaks, and when to end it. Setting clear work hours and communicating them with your colleagues is essential to maintaining your health and sanity when working from home. Try using daily habits to bookend your time online—sign on after your morning mediation or coffee, and log off in time for an evening walk with your spouse or furry friend—to create a more sustainable work structure.
To make sure your co-workers are aware of the boundaries you are putting in place, be sure to block off time on your work calendar or silence notifications over a certain period of downtime. If poorly-managed meetings are bleeding into valuable working time and keeping you online late, volunteer to set agendas for your meetings and act as the meeting moderator to keep everyone on track.
2. Plan out your week
It may sound simple, but start every Monday by planning out your week. Check your calendar to see what deadlines, meetings, and events are happening in the next few days, and write down action items so you can prioritize the tasks you need to complete.
At the end of each day, spend 15 minutes with your list: Leadership consultant Deborah Grayson Riegel suggests striking the items that you’ve delegated or are no longer relevant and adding the important tasks to your calendar to hold you accountable. You can also leverage various project and task management tools like Smartsheet, Airtable, Trello, or Asana to keep track of your ever-expanding to-do list. If you’re a pen-and-paper person, be sure to update your sticky note or start a new, pared-down list on your yellow legal pad.
Planning your week and creating a to-do list not only can help you stay organized and in control of your schedule, but it can also help you save time and turn abstract goals into real ones. At its best, your to-do list can even unlock future opportunities: Try analyzing your workload after the fact to see which tasks you worked on had the greatest impact. Double-down on these contributions and consider reevaluating the items on your list that aren’t moving in the needle in terms of goals.
3. Eat the frog
Although Mark Twain wasn’t familiar with the unique challenges we face in today’s modern work culture, he has become famous for doling out a widely-adopted prioritization hack: Eat the frog.
When you eat the frog, you begin the day with the biggest task on your to-do list. This is likely the task that is also most essential to reaching company, team, or personal goals. By facing your frog first thing in the morning, you’ll knock out your most difficult task while you still have the most energy. This will also help you determine how much time you have left at the end of the day to finish the other items on your to-do list.
After you’ve completed the most daunting task, there are a variety of prioritization methods you can follow. Take time to research and try out tactics like the ABCDE method, the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, or chunking, to see what works best for you. Implementing a prioritization method can help you reduce procrastination and get things done on time. Your ability to strategically tackle each day will also make it easier to respect the boundaries you’ve set for your workday and let work-related stress go when it is time to have dinner with your family or start that new novel on your bedside table.
4. Forget about multitasking
As much as we wish it was possible to adeptly tackle multiple things at once, experts consider multitasking to be impossible. While you might take a call, write a memo, and confirm your food delivery order at the same time, it is scientifically proven that the attention you are giving all of these tasks is divided. Your skilled “multitasking” could result in mishearing important information from a client or receiving a kale salad instead of one with spinach.
When you attempt to multitask, what you’re actually doing is something Dave Crenshaw, author of The Myth of Multitasking (2008), calls switchtasking. When you switchtask, you’re switching your attention between two or more tasks in a cyclical nature. This reduces your overall productivity by increasing the amount of time it takes to complete one task; decreasing the quality of your output; and even impacting your mood by introducing stress and anxiety.
Remote distractions like calls or messages from coworkers are especially prevalent while working from home and may tempt you to tackle various things at once. Unless you’re performing “zombie tasks”, or tasks that don’t require much conscious attention like sealing envelopes or listening to background music, do yourself a favor and focus on the task at hand. By committing your attention to one thing at a time, even something small like sending a quick email, you’ll knock tasks out more quickly and with greater accuracy.
5. Minimize distractions
According to this article in the Harvard Business Review, it takes an average of 15 minutes (and a decrease in productivity of up to 40%) to get back on track after a single distraction. While working from home, you deal with a unique set of disruptions: from your toddler’s never-ending questions to a mischievous cat, it may seem that there are more interruptions than ever.
In order to minimize intrusions at home, make sure the people you live with know that when you’re working, work is going to be your sole focus. Communicate your schedule clearly and notify your family or housemates of any important meetings or projects you have coming up to help manage their expectations. Close your door, put on headphones, stay off social media, do anything to help you stay distraction-free.
If you’re looking for apps to help you stay focused, there are plenty available to download on your phone or computer. PomoDone and Focus Keeper use the Pomodoro Method to break your day into 25-minute work sessions split up with 5-minute breaks while Toggl helps teams track their tasks to gather data and improve operations. Staying on task is a habit that you need to build over time, but choosing the right methods will help tremendously.
6. Set up a proper workspace
In an ideal world, every person working from home would have a dedicated room to call an office—a room with strong WiFi, few distractions, and good lighting for all of those Zoom calls.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for most people. While some have a space to call their own, others have co-opted their kitchen countertop, bedside table, or even the coffee table in the living room as a makeshift office. Whatever the situation is, finding a spot in the house and transforming it a workspace is essential.
Set up the spot you’ve chosen so that it is comfortable and as free of distractions as possible. Avoid future trips to the chiropractor by investing in an ergonomically correct chair, and position your laptop at eye-level. Clear away anything that doesn’t pertain to work, and try to keep clutter to a minimum.
If space is an issue, consider a fold-out table that can be stored in the closet at the end of the day, or if you live in a studio apartment and don’t have space for a temporary desk, look into a lapdesk that can make it much easier to work on the sofa…or even from your bed.
Although your workspace might look different while working from home, a few small changes can make a big difference in comfort and productivity.
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