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7 Daily Habits To Be More Productive Working At Home

7 Daily Habits To Be More Productive Working At Home

It’s the dream, right? Waking up whenever you want, not having to get dressed and squeeze yourself onto mass transit or sit in traffic for several hours just to sit in a cubicle for another 8 hours or so.

Working at home is the ultimate lifestyle — until you actually do it.

More than 23% of Americans report working from home at least some of the time according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number has increased by nearly 25% since 2005 and continues to grow as the “workplace” takes on a more ambiguous meaning.

But it’s not all late starts and TV in PJs while checking email. Working from home, while an important perk in a culture with increasingly blurred lines on the work-life spectrum, can be a stressful experience if you’re not accustomed to self-motivating and driving productivity in a new setting.

Home is where you rest. It’s where you relax. It’s where you spend time with family. Your mind and body are trained to act a certain way when at home. Throw work into the mix and no matter how productive you are in the office, you can find yourself suddenly unable to focus nearly as well, overcome with distractions you didn’t even realize were there.

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It doesn’t have to be that way, though. By installing new habits specific to how and where you work while home, you can be as productive as you would be in the office — if not more so.

Set A Clearly Defined Start Time On Your Calendar

How long does it take when you get to the office to start working? What does that transition look like? Most of us have trained ourselves to almost instantly shift into work mode when we walk in the door. There is a very stark transition from home to commute to the office and those lines make it easy to shift gears.

It’s a lot harder to shift like this when you never actually leave the house. So, this transition needs to be simulated. To do so, use a calendar. Set a clear start time and know that when that time arrives, you are “at work.”

If this remains difficult, go for a walk or visit a coffee shop just before work starts to simulate that gear change and prepare your mind for the work day.

Build An Office Space That Is Unique Within Your Home

Dedicated space is a must. Whether you work at home once a week or are a freelance consultant home every day except for meetings, you need a space that’s only for work.

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This does two things. Not only does it provide a private space where you can be productive with minimal distractions; it also physically separates you from the space in your home in which you relax. While you may technically only need a warm seat and a laptop to get things done, it’s much harder to be productive when sitting on the couch where you typically unwind at the end of the day.

Maintain A Lunch And Break Schedule

Much like a start time, your body is trained to follow a certain rhythm each day. Work for several hours, go for lunch, work for a couple more hours, take a break.

Maintain this schedule as much as you can. Sure there will be days on which deadlines overlap or calls push back a normal lunch time, and it can feel weird to take a “break” and walk 10 feet to your kitchen, but the familiarity of it will help you stay in that work mindset.

Build In Emergency Breaks To Avoid Distractions

Home is full of distractions: family, pets, TV, books, video games. You name it and there’s something on a shelf across the room from you begging to steal your attention.

Create a system in which you have a response when this happens. A Pomodoro timer is highly recommended as it will force you to stay focused for 25 minutes at a time in short bursts of productivity. Sure, you can get to that next Game of Thrones chapter, but only after you’ve completed one more short work session.

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By creating a habit of focus and measured breaks, you can avoid falling down the rabbit hole of distractions that your own possessions can create.

Use Dark Periods To Stay Focused

One of the great benefits of working from home is that it’s much easier to go dark. In the office, you can turn off your WiFi, but if your boss really needs your attention, they can just walk over and tap on your desk.

At home, unplugging really means privacy, and that privacy can lead to your most productive hours of the week. If you work for yourself, this is even more important. It allows you to focus on large tasks in spurts of 1-2 hours during which nothing can distract you.

Set A Clear Stop Time

We’ve talked about start times and we’ve talked about break times, so of course we need to touch on when to stop.

When I started working from home less than a year after graduating from college, I worked for upwards of 12 hours of day. To be more accurate, I sat in front of a computer for more than 12 hours a day. A large chunk of that time was spent surfing eBay, watching music videos, and playing video games. I was a procrastinator, because I knew I could be.

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Parkinson’s Law says that when given a set period of time to complete a task, we will fill that time. Imagine what happens when the time given is infinite? You never quite finish.

So create deadlines for yourself. It might be different every day, but set a clear cutoff time in your schedule when you plan to be done for the day. Whether this is 5 pm or you opt to take advantage of your newfound productivity and clock out an hour early, mark it on your calendar and build your daily to-do list around it.

Identify Work Triggers And Surround Yourself With Them

Work isn’t something we “just do.” It’s a state of mind we must create and maintain to remain productive. It’s not like you’re a paragon of productivity in the office either. Facebook is just as distracting. Friends are just as likely to drag you out for coffee.

The difference is that there is a certain social pressure to be productive. Everyone can see you, your deadlines are more visible, and an inefficient day means a long night.

The goal of working at home is to be less stressed, not more, but consider bringing home a handful of triggers that will help to put you into work mode and keep you there.

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Notebooks from the office, a coffee mug from the company, even a toy with the company’s logo on it — these will all remind you what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It seems small, but with the right nudge, you can more effectively stay in work mode even when the entire world seems to conspire against you.

Featured photo credit: picjumbo.com via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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