The current COVID-19 health crisis has caused some drastic changes to our day-to-day lives and one of the most significant has been the impact of social distancing measures on our livelihoods.
Sadly, but inevitably, many businesses across the UK are being forced to lay-off or furlough their staff in order to remain in operation. For those fortunate to remain in work, many of us have had to adapt to a new place of work: our own home. This is unknown territory for lots of people and so we’re going to share some tips to help you remain productive.
The prospect of being able to stay in bed for an extra hour due to the saved commuting time, or sit on the sofa in your pants all day, can often seem appealing. It’s empowering to be able to have more control over your time and liberating to know you don’t need to impress your fellow co-workers with your style or lunch choice. Speaking from experience, I can attest to there being some useful benefits to WFH, but there are some equally dangerous pitfalls too.
With less direct pressure to remain on task, it’s amazing how easily you can become distracted at home. Whether it’s checking Facebook, watering the plants or clearing up the vase your son just smashed, our homes provide a fertile environment for distraction and it’s incredibly difficult to avoid. When our focus is continually being stolen, it’s almost impossible to make any real progress against our to-do list; so it’s crucial to have some tactics in place.
Without further ado, here are our top tips for remaining productive whilst working from home.
Switch from home-mode to work-mode
The subconscious has been habituated to see the home as a place of leisure, not work. Therefore, it can prove to be a struggle to rewire your mindset into focusing on what is often fairly mundane and monotonous, when you’re in a relaxed, informal environment. The usual signals that tell us it is time to begin working, like our stressful commute or morning greetings, are no longer there and so it can be helpful to build some triggers which replicate this shift. This is all part of sticking to a daily routine, but by adding small sensory stimuli it can help you transition into a more focused state of mind.
Personally, I always make up a pot of fresh coffee which I leave to brew at my desk, and this is the signal that I’m about to start working. The process of doing this and the smell of the coffee itself seem to move me into a more productive gear and that’s before I get the caffeine kick. Other tricks to consider are: light a candle or incense by your workstation, go for a stroll around the block, or listen to your favourite podcast before you sit down at your laptop. All of these practices have the power to connect your mind to its ordinary, work pattern of thinking, making you feel more energised and focused.
Allocate a work area
Most of us don’t have the luxury of a specific room that’s dedicated to work or study and this can prove to be problematic when we need to be productive at home. Work-from-homers often resort to setting up their desk at the dining table or rearranging the contents of the dressing table in order to squeeze in their PC and notepad; but this can make it tricky when we need to distinguish between work-time and family-time, or when we need to switch off before going to sleep.
If possible, it’s a good idea to find an area in your house that’s separate from obvious distractions and that you can clearly define as being for work and work only. This way you’ll know when your day has started and thankfully, when it’s finished too. If you have a spare bedroom, why not set up a table and chair in there? Or turn your shed into your very own office cubicle.
Get showered and dressed
If you don’t need to see anyone all day, then why should you bother getting out of your pyjamas? As long as you have a shirt on for your client video call at 2pm, then that’ll be fine, right? Well, admittedly, it can be very tempting to roll out of your pit and go straight to your inbox without so much as brushing your teeth, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
Getting physically prepared for the day ahead is a key part of most people’s usual morning routine: kickstarting the transition in mindset to one of usefulness. Showering offers a sense of invigoration akin to a double espresso, without which, we can remain lethargic and sluggish until 5:30 comes around.
Equally as important is getting dressed into normal work attire. At face value, it may seem unnecessary to sit at home in anything other than some trackie bottoms and a hoodie, but it can have a huge effect on your output. As with many of these tips, it links back to our mindset. When we’re not dressed as we ordinarily would to work, our brain doesn’t associate this time with being focused and so, well, doesn’t.
Make time for regular breaks
Without a normal structure to your day, it can be easy to fall into the trap of just sitting idly for hours on end and not achieving much. The brain is only able to focus on one thing for so long and so it’s vital to implement short breaks into your working day. Ordinarily, these would happen organically: in the form of tea round smalltalk or a stroll outside during your lunch hour. But when at home, we can often find ourselves barely leaving our chairs for the whole day.
To help remain focused, it can be useful to employ a method called the Pomodoro Technique. Originally created by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980s, it is so-called because he used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to manage his level of focus when studying. The method involves using 25-minute long periods of attention, followed by 5-minute breaks. Then after the fourth cycle, the break is extended to 30 minutes. In my experience, it can be much more motivating to remain on task for a short period of time when you know you’re entitled to a break at the end of it. There are plenty of apps available that make it really easy to follow Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique, so give those a try.
Block out distractions
When I need to really focus, the chances are I’ll be sat down, looking intensely at a screen, wearing my all-important noise-cancelling headphones. When doing this in an office, I’ve had colleagues assume I’m rude or anti-social (also true), but really I just don’t trust my scatterbrain to avoid the inevitable distractions. Even when working from home, there can be a myriad of disturbances that your mind is trying to fight; whether that’s children playing, the neighbour’s dog barking or the washing machine telling you it’s finished. So it can be really useful to find a way to block out the outside world.
As I mentioned, my trusty headphones are the best solution I’ve found so far for this and I rely heavily on them. The fact that almost all aural distractions are diminished is a game-changer, but so is the choice of music I listen to: I’ve found that calming, instrumentals work best when I really need to dial into a particular task, such as those on the ‘Lo-Fi Beats’ Spotify playlist. But see what works for you; you might be more of a ‘party like it’s 1999’-kinda-worker or perhaps a bit of gangsta rap will get you going in the morning.
Plan your days more tightly
‘Time flies when you’re having fun’, they say. But time can also fly away when you don’t give your days some sense of structure and intent. This might sound boring, but it can make a huge difference to what you’re able to achieve. We often don’t realise how much our days are planned for us when we’re in our usual work environment: our hours are set, our calendar is dictated by meetings and our tasks by the irritating person we call our ‘boss’. So when the time comes that we’re provided slightly more freedom over our days, this structure can go out of the window. Quite literally.
A good way of ensuring you remain on track is by writing a plan for the day. Before you open your laptop or check your emails, spend a few minutes creating a list of the most important tasks you need to complete during that day and allocate some time to each of them. This way, you’re able to concentrate on the key priorities and feel more motivated to work through them. Plus, there’s a massive sense of accomplishment when you’re able to cross things off of the list.
I’ll bookend this point with another quote; this time from Albert Einstein, ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.’
Use technology to your advantage
Finally, here’s one for all you technophobes out there. It can be incredibly tempting to aimlessly browse your favourite trashy ‘news’ sites or scroll through social media feeds when working from home, instead of producing that much-needed report. But there are some helpful tools you can use to avoid this (other than willpower). If you use Google Chrome, then install an extension like StayFocusd or Freedom that block certain distracting sites for a set period of time. Or if you’re a Mac user, then download Self-Control from the App Store, which does much the same thing.
This constant battle can be even harder if you’re using your own computer to work from, as you’ll often have these pages bookmarked or favourited in your browser. So why not create a separate browser profile for when you’re working, so that the Facebook logo isn’t staring you right in the face all day?
So, there we have it. Hopefully, you’ll be able to use some of these tips to become more productive and keep your manager off of your back in the process. These are difficult times and it’s a challenge to try and adapt to new ways of working with little guidance. There are lots of others out there facing the same difficulties, so speak up and share what you’ve learnt or struggled with. If you think this post is useful, then why not share it with your colleagues or on social media so that we can all do our best to remain in control during the coronavirus crisis.