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How to Be Productive When You Work from Home

How to Be Productive When You Work from Home
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If your job doesn’t allow you to work remotely, it may soon. With that privilege comes a responsibility: you have to be productive when you work from home.

Remote work is coming to companies across the country. A study by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics[1] showed a sharp upward trend in the number of Americans working from home. Between 2005 and 2017, remote work grew by 159%.

The comfortable, quiet environment of your home can make remote work challenging. Staying productive while you’re working from home is a matter of spotting and stopping distractions before they hurt your output.

Productivity Barriers at Home

Even if you have a home office, all sorts of distractions can make it hard to stay productive when you work from home. Common ones include:

Digital Devices

Your phone buzzes: surely, you think, you only need a minute to check out that Facebook notification. Without even realizing it, you get sucked into social media for the next half an hour.

When you work from home, it’s all too easy to fall down a digital rabbit hole. Your computer can access any gaming, social media, or entertainment site you so choose. On your television are daytime shows you can’t typically watch while you’re at work. These can all be tantalizing distractions when you’re working from home.

Children and Pets

Do you have pets? Does your husband or wife work different hours than you do? Are your kids still too young for school, or are they on break?

Unless you live by yourself, you have to learn how to be productive while working when others are at home. Even if you ask them to avoid bothering you, they’re still going to move about the house in ways that may distract you.

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Lack of Accountability

When you’re working remotely, there’s nobody looking over your shoulder to make sure that you get your work done. Staying productive while working from home is a matter of sticking to the task at hand.

One way or another, you have to hold yourself accountable. Different productivity hacks[2] work for different people. Some people dress for work even when they’re working from home. Others use the Pomodoro technique, and still others drown everything else out with music.

Household Chores

If you’re a “Type A” person, you know how distracting a sink full of dishes can be. Even a dirty carpet can be difficult to walk across without hauling out the vacuum cleaner.

If you struggle to be productive when working from a dirty home, set aside time before or after your working hours for chores. Getting a few chores done before the workday begins can make the mess feel less overwhelming. Doing them immediately after you shut your computer for the day can be a great chance to de-stress.

Whatever the Work, Productivity Is Key

When you have a boss to report to, staying productive at home is tough enough. But how are you supposed to be productive when you work at home in other ways? What if you’re a homemaker, or simply someone with an at-home hobby?

Even if you don’t work a traditional job, you have to learn how to be productive when you work from home.

Stay-at-home parents, for example, have more on their plate than you might think. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey [3] shows that the average stay-at-home mother spends 30 hours per week on housework and another 18 on childcare.

Staying productive when doing any sort of work from home lets you take more time for yourself with leisure time or simply educating yourself.

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How to Create a Focus-Friendly Home Workspace

Creating a home workspace where you can focus isn’t hard, but it does take some amount of self-control.

1. Leave Non-Necessary Tech at the Door

If you work from home, you likely do so from your computer. Aside from the tools you need to do your job, it’s important to minimize the amount of tech in your workspace.

Don’t just put your phone on silent or turn it off; put it out of the room altogether. Do the same with your television. And don’t even think of leaving a gaming console in your workspace.

2. Get Comfortable — But Not Too Comfortable

Your work environment has a lot to do with how productive you are when you work from home. Create a space for yourself where you feel relaxed but energized. Whether you have a dedicated home office or not, try to do the following things.

Use Bright But Not Harsh Lighting

Shutting yourself in a cave won’t help you be productive when you work from home. A dim workspace can cause sluggishness and eye strain, especially if you need to read physical documents.

To maximize your productivity, make sure your environment is bright. Choose a space with lots of natural light. Augment it with warm light from an overhead light or desk lamp.

Beware, though, that too much light can also cause eye strain. If you start to experience headaches, blurry vision, eye irritation, or pain in your neck, try drawing the blinds or moving your lamp a little further away.

Choose Firm and Supportive Furniture

Yes, it feels good to sprawl out on the couch or lay in bed, but if your goal is to be productive when you work from home, it’s important to sit at a desk or table.

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The furniture in your home workspace should be firm and supportive. Your chair should encourage you to sit up straight. Your desk should have plenty of space for your computer and other necessary tools. Keep only one chair in the room to discourage visitors.

Close the Door

A closed door signals that the person in the room does not want to be disturbed. It also dampens noise and prevents you from seeing distractions, such as the television or dirty dishes in the sink.

Creating a bubble for yourself is key. If your office doesn’t have a door you can shut, can you don noise-cancelling headphones and hang a curtain? As best you can, keep visual and auditory distractions out.

Maximize Connectivity

Assuming you work from home via your computer, you need access to two things: electricity and internet.

Place your desk near a power outlet. If you need access to more plugs than are available, get a power strip.

Think, too, about the strength of your Wi-Fi connection: even if you pay for high-speed internet, you won’t get those speeds if the wireless connection is weak. Either move your router closer, or move your desk closer to your router.

Keep It Clean

A messy workspace can feel chaotic. Minimizing messes boosts productivity when working from home, not just because it means less time spent picking up, but because it promotes focus.

Take a moment before you begin work to pick up your office. Once a week, do a deep clean: dust, wipe down your workspace, sweep the floor, and take out the trash.

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Think About Air Quality

When you work from the same space all day, you’ll start to notice that the air quality affects your productivity. Dry, dusty air can irritate your respiratory tract. Overly humid air can promote mold and bacterial growth.

If the weather allows, open a window. If not, get an air purifier. Be sure to change the filters regularly. Depending on the climate where you live, you might find you need a dehumidifier in the summer and a humidifier in the winter.

3. Set Expectations for Others at Home

Many people who aren’t used to working from home don’t understand just how much of an issue everyday interruptions can be.

Explain to your children and spouse that you need to be just as productive when you work from home as you do at the office. Tell them where you’ll be working and what your core, no-distractions-allowed hours are.

If you have young kids, either get a babysitter or keep them occupied with things like coloring books. If pets won’t stop bothering you, put them in a room with their food, water, and litter. Consider hanging a “do not disturb” sign on your door if others at home repeatedly drop in.

4. Keep a Stress Relief Source Nearby

One advantage of working from home is that you have access to all the stress-relief tools you would after a long day at the office. Take advantage of them.

A cup of chamomile tea can do wonders if you’re feeling restless. Easing anxiety is one of the key benefits of CBD oil.[4] Placing an exercise mat by your desk can encourage you to fight stress with a set of pushups.

One stress reliever to avoid? Alcohol. Although it’s true that a beer can help you relax momentarily, alcohol can actually induce anxiety [5] due to rebound effects.

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Final Thoughts

Staying productive while you work from home is hard. As with anything else, practice makes perfect: remind your boss of that, and he or she might let you do it more often.

More Tips on Working From Home

Featured photo credit: Thought Catalog via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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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)
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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.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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