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31 Simple Ways to Maximize Efficiency in Your Home Office

31 Simple Ways to Maximize Efficiency in Your Home Office

Your home office can be many things: a place to work without interruption; a way to get a bit of a break on your taxes, or perhaps your home office is the source of your livelihood. With so many uses and definitions of home offices, it’s impossible to know just how many are out there in the world, but there are some universal truths about working at home.

One major problem is the amount of time we tend to waste in a home office.

There are many reasons why time seems to slip by unnoticed in a home office, and it’s not usually because we’re so focused and working so hard. In fact, even with our annual pledge around this time of year to be more productive and get more done, work efficiency still lags behind its potential. Admit it—you could be doing so much more in your office to be productive on a given day.

It’s a New Year, and you’re likely already making some resolutions for 2013. Why not make the bulk of your promises to yourself something that will help you in the long run? After all, boosted productivity in that home office usually means two things: higher earnings, and more time away from the office. How much time are you wasting getting ready to work? Or “catching up” on other things before you really get busy? Wouldn’t you rather be making a profit or using that extra time to do something fun and rewarding outside of your career? It’s amazing how much is possible when you simply maximize efficiency in your home office.

1. Claim a Space: If you haven’t done so already, your first step to a productive home office is to actually get an office. You need to have a spot in your home that is yours alone and ready for work anytime that you are. This shouldn’t be your family computer room or a laptop that usually lives by the couch. Carve out space for a small desk—you can even convert a closet into a clever office if you have a bit of experience with hand tools.

2. Clean Out Distractions: Once you have your office established, get rid of anything that might be distracting or negative in the space. Keeping your treadmill by the desk, for example, might drive you crazy thinking about working out—and how you should do more of it—instead of working. The same can be said for televisions or other household items that may prove to be distracting.

3. Personalize Your Space: Since this is your desk or work area, it should be personalized so that you feel comfortable in the space. Your home office may need more than just a desk and chair: for instance, if you spend time reading manuscripts or long documents, consider an armchair in the corner with a good lamp. A large table may be necessary as well if you often spread papers out or hold client meetings at home. Once you have your space set up to your liking, you’ll be able to move more quickly though the space and put it all to use.

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4. Establish Work Hours: To truly maximize your work hours, you should have set working hours. You might work a “typical” schedule of 8 to 5, or perhaps you’d rather shorten your hours since you’re being so efficient and work only 9 to 3 every day. Unless you have a parent company dictating your availability, you get to set whatever sort of hours you’d like.

5. Maintain Your Hours: It’s not enough to have your hours; you have to maintain them as well. Be sure to be in your chair, working, at 8 in the morning and call it a day around 5 if that is your set time. You may realize you can adjust your hours later to be more efficient for you, but don’t make it a habit of stretching out your hours—it just invites wasted time.

6. Separate Work and Home Computers: Not only is this required if your want to claim a home office deduction on your tax return, but you should keep work and play areas separate anyhow. Buy an inexpensive laptop for your family to use as the household computer, and keep your work computer off-limits. Not only does this protect confidentiality, but it also allows you to work and focus without interruptions.

7. Test Different Time Frames: If you’re working on maximizing efficiency, and you’re not bound to a particular work schedule, consider using different time frames to see when you feel most productive. You may find that the early morning is more productive; starting work at 4 or 5 am, for example, and finishing up by noon. Alternately, you may prefer a night schedule away from the distractions of the day.

8. Check Email Three Times: Email is one of the greatest time-sucks in business. To minimize this distraction, simply close your email program. Don’t even open it (unless your boss has said otherwise, of course.) Work with your email closed and check it only three times a day: about an hour after you’ve started work for the day, just after lunch, and before you close up shop for the day.

9. Install Blocking Software: There are programs that help you stay on track while you’re working. If you have a habit of wandering off to check out the news or you feel compelled to just peek in on a favorite forum during work time, downloading a program that will block those sites that waste the most time can be a huge advantage.

10. Use Online Timers: Another great feature online is the digital timer that’s available for your computer. Set a timer like CookTimer or FocusBooster, and then you can get working without  also trying to keep an eye on the clock. Allow yourself an hour on a particular project and break things up with your timer, or set the timer to alert you to other obligations like picking up the kids from school, so that you have minimal distractions.

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11. Plan for the Long Term: Rather than getting organized for the day and working just on your list of things for a few hours, plan over the long-term so that you can see how big projects need to be broken up and when other obligations may interfere with your regular work hours. Knowing in advance means you have more time to plan around distractions.

12. Use Online Calendars: Make a special calendar in Outlook or use a specific Google Calendar to keep track of all your regular work in your home office. This may also be synced with your regular office computer and various personal devices to keep you up to date on meetings, phone calls, projects and any number of items. The more you record in your calendar, the more prepared you are every day to simply check things off a list.

13. Work Small, Big, Small: When you sit down to work every day, set yourself up in a particular pattern that is different from your typical routine. Start with a small project—other than checking email—and then after the small task is complete, move into your biggest task of the day. Once that one is finished for the day, cool down again with a few small tasks to wind the day down.

14. Leave Work Ready for Tomorrow: Make it a point to never leave the office without being prepared for the next time you sit down to work. This may be as blatant as opening up the document you’ll need first thing in the morning, or as subtle as making a quick to-do list in Outlook or Notepad and leaving that on the screen. A small paper notebook can serve the same purpose. Having work ready when you sit down means you get started faster and have fewer distractions.

15. Utilize To-Do Lists: As mentioned above, a daily to-do list can be a huge time-saver. While you’re working on Monday, jot down the various things you need to do on Tuesday as they come to mind. Often, your working mind will have these things ready and sorted out, whereas coming in cold on Tuesday would mean warming up and thinking of them in the moment. Using a to-do list from the previous day—or even the previous hour—means jumping into tasks and skipping the mental memory workout.

16. Unplug Your House Phone: If you still have one, unplug your house phone during the day. If you have children or others who may call with an emergency, turn the ringer down and leave caller ID visible. This is true of your cell phone as well; when a call comes in, glance at the caller ID to determine if it’s important. If it’s not crucial, let it go to voicemail—you can deal with it later.

17. Take Breaks: Generally, we are most productive for about an hour at a time. Break your work up into hour long blocks if you can, or at the very least use a timer to let you know when you’ve worked an hour. Once you get to that hour mark, hop up, fix yourself a drink, do some stretches and get the blood moving again. Take just a few minutes to move around, and then sit down and get back to work again. Long breaks tend to cause a loss of focus.

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18. Limit Work Hours: If you’re used to working an eight-hour day, you may find that working at home, without the distractions of the office, is much less time-consuming. Try shortening your day first to seven hours, and then six. You may realize that you can get the same amount of work done in four hours once you buckle down and focus.

19. Reward Yourself: Rewards are highly motivating, even when we’re just rewarding ourselves. Set up a system where you get to have a longer break during your day for the sort of things you generally enjoy wasting time with. For example, you might take the fifteen minutes after lunch to surf the net and read the news, or take fifteen minutes after you’ve done four hours of work that morning. Knowing that you’re working up to a fun break will keep your energy up.

20. Keep a Household To-Do List:You’re probably already keeping a work to-do list, or you should be, but it’s also important to start another to-do list on your desk, even if it’s just on a sticky note or in a small notebook. The point of this to-do list is to take all the stuff that jumps in your head out of your mind so that you can focus. For example, if you find yourself thinking about making cupcakes later for your child’s class, simply jot down “make cupcakes” and you don’t have to think about it anymore—more brain power for work!

21. Make a Work Playlist: Music can do a lot to motivate you while you’re working. If you have songs that pep you up and get you motivated, make your own playlist. The trick here is to make a playlist that is upbeat and invigorating, but not distracting. If you don’t have your own music to use, try making different channels on Pandora to find the perfect blend of classic rock, smooth jazz or instrumental tunes.

22. Establish a Routine: Within every day, every week and every month you should have a routine. When you have an established routine, you instinctively know what comes next and you’ll be able to transition from task to task easily. For example, you may do bookkeeping tasks on the first Monday of every month, or you might make it a point to update your blog every Tuesday and Thursday morning before checking email.

23. Publicize Your Work Hours: If you work with others routinely, you can cut down on off-hour interruptions and missed opportunities by posting your work hours online. If you use Skype, or another instant messenger, for example, you can set up an outgoing message stating your work hours for others to see. You can also set up an auto-responder to your emails so that clients know you will respond without twenty-four hours or during your scheduled work time.

24. Hire a Virtual Assistant: When you find yourself bogged down in tasks that simply don’t require that much time or effort, consider hiring a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant is the modern equivalent to the secretary of the “olden days”, but much better because he or she is online with you. Outsource some things to your VA as you build up trust in them, and you’ll cut down on busy work dramatically.

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25. Cut Extraneous Projects: There are many things that small-business owners think of that wind up being time-wasters rather than money-makers. It may be that boosting your efficiency is as easy as cutting out non-profitable portions of your business: streamline your profitable business elements from home, and you can focus on those and eliminate the things causing wasted time and resources.

26. Work Unconventional Hours: If you find that conventional daytime hours are too full of family, doorbells, phone calls and the other mess that are all part of what we call life, consider working unconventional hours instead. This is even easier if you normally work less than forty hours per week—simply shift your hours to the early morning or the late evenings to avoid extra hassles.

27. Consider Childcare: If you’ve been trying to work with children at home, the best home office isn’t going to insulate you from most of your distractions. Consider some form of childcare for a quiet home office, or simply dodge around the distractions by working while your child is asleep or at school.

28. Organize Contacts: If you haven’t already, invest in a good smartphone as your business phone, and then use that phone to store every single number that comes through your business. With all of your numbers carefully stored with names, companies and notes in your contacts, you can make calls effortlessly at any time.

29. Organize Your Computer Files: Searching for documents is not a good use of time or effort. Block off an afternoon on your calendar and just clean off your desktop and sort through your files. Once you have everything clean and organized, back them all up, or consider storing files in a password-protected cloud application so that they are safe and available at any time.

30. Keep Paperwork Clean: No matter how much of your business you do online, there will still be physical paperwork to handle. Make a special drawer of files for business paperwork and stay organized. File papers immediately to store them or place action-items in a special tray to be included in your work day. Shuffling through papers can be a huge distractions, so handle paperwork only once or twice during your work day.

31. Include Weekly Clean-Up Efforts: Finally, once you have things down to a system of schedules and minimum distractions, keep up your organization efforts by leaving time in your schedule to organize your home office and files. Every Friday, for example, before you shut down the computer for the weekend, consider taking fifteen minutes to organize your newest files on the computer, to take out the trash and to run the vacuum cleaner so that everything is fresh and ready when you come back on Monday.

Often what works for one home office is useless in another. The best way to find what is most efficient and works best in your home office space is to simply try different patterns and routines until you find what makes you feel like you’re working at your very best. You should leave your home office at the end of your busy day feeling accomplished and ready to relax and enjoy your free time—there is no face time in a home office!

 

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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