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5 Critical Elements of Successful Work-At-Home Productivity

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5 Critical Elements of Successful Work-At-Home Productivity

You are very excited and full of enthusiasm. It’s your first day working from home after resigning from your day job.

You decided to start your own work-at-home business so that you could finally be your own boss: do work whenever you like, how much you like – without anyone telling you what to do and without anyone watching over your shoulder.

Fast forward to three weeks after starting working from home: even though you are still happy that you started to work on your own, there is something bothering you: your productivity is not as good as you wished. In fact, when you worked at the office on your day job, you got more stuff done.

As time moves forward, you begin to feel stressed due to your ever-growing task list.

Since your family is also at home while you work, occasionally it seems to be impossible to get work done because of the distractions and constant interruptions.

You know that you have to make quick changes to your working methods. Otherwise your home business is not going to succeed and you will have to find a day job again.

Did you underestimate the new environment?

When comparing the home office environment to your former work office one, there are some notable differences.

First, there is no-one watching over your shoulder in your home office. You are your own boss and you are accountable towards yourself. It’s your responsibility that things finally get done.

Second, since you are most likely working by yourself, there are no co-workers to ask help from or delegate your tasks to. It also means that the social aspect in your business is missing. Or at least it’s very different from what it used to be.

Third, you are the person who defines the rules. In fact, this is perhaps the biggest thing to remember: the structure at your home office is different from at your day job.

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By structure I mean the “whole setup.”

When you go to work, there are lots of systems already in place which keep the company’s wheels rolling:human resources, ERP-systems, organization structures.

This same structure is missing when you start out as your own and it continues to be like that until you create it.

So is it any wonder that you feel overwhelmed, when you finally jump to work on your own and you have to create everything from scratch?

The missing elements of productivity

Achieving good productivity is very challenging when some crucial productivity elements are missing.

These elements define the structure of your home office.

However, when the structure is missing, you waste your time on unessential things. In the worst case scenario, you may even burn yourself out, if your working methods are very ineffective.

So, if you have failed to set these elements, you should do it as soon as possible. The longer you delay setting them, the more certain your performance is going to slow down. Eventually it will reflect to your business too.

It’s time to plan your home office

No, I’m not talking which kind of chair you should have nor should you own a PC or Mac. I’m talking something far more important which will define your home office success.

When it comes to structure, there are two important elements involved: systems and boundaries. They can be further broken down to physical and non-physical ones.

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Physical

  • Your physical home office space

Non-Physical

  • E-mail processes
  • Setting your optimum working hours
  • Boundaries with your family
  • Daily/weekly planning

The physical aspect means your office space: do you have just a corner reserved for your home office in your living room or is it a separate room which emulates a true office space?

Then, there is the non-physical part. These are the rules you play by on a daily basis. It consists of setting up systems you work by and boundaries, so that everyone in your family respects your working times (without interruptions).

First, you set an effective e-mail process, so that you are not spending all your day by reading or replying to messages.

Next, you should set your optimal working hours. You know exactly when to work, how much to work and so does your family.

Although you already defined some boundaries in the previous step, you still need to have a good communication with your family about what you do and when you work so that unnecessary distractions can be prevented.

Finally there is the weekly and daily planning part. With this important activity, you are setting yourself goals for the coming week. The daily tasks should reflect these goals and ensure that you can achieve the goals by the end of the week.

Now, which one of the previous steps have you already defined and which ones do you have yet to define or fine-tune?

Creating your true home office

Let’s define your home office elements in more detail:

1. Your physical home office space

When you set your physical office space, you generally have these options at your disposal:

  • Working in a dedicated spot in your apartment (if you don’t have a working room)
  • In a dedicated room which you have turned into home office space
  • Finding a co-working space in your home town/city
  • Renting a dedicated office space
  • Working outside in the nature, in a coffee shop or in a library

Each one of these has their pros and cons depending on the situation in your business.

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For example, you might have to start out by having a dedicated corner in your living room (separated by folding screen), but later when your business grows, you can rent a dedicated office space.

If your home is a bigger one, you might have the luxury of working in a dedicated room. The good side with this setup is also, that there are no additional costs of finding a physical space – it’s already provided by your home.

Then there is the co-working space option. You are pretty much sharing the working space with other workers/entrepreneurs in your area. This provides good possibilities for collaboration, communication or networking.

Finally, if you are on a budget but you’d really like to work in “isolation,” you should go outside your home: work in a nature, in a coffee shop or in a public library. Although you are most likely dealing with other people in these environments, they are not necessarily distracting you and you can truly focus on your work.

2. E-mail processes

Here’s how I handle email:

  • I check my mail two-three times per day
  • When I check my mail, I batch process the messages at once.
  • I unsubscribe from e-mail lists which don’t bring any value to me (you can use services like UnRoll.me for unsubscribing from many lists at once)
  • I create labels and filters (in Gmail). This way I can organize and even hide certain messages that I don’t need to see, thus helping me to keep my inbox clean. At the same time, important messages are easier to find.
  • Finally, when I batch process my e-mails, I extract the possible tasks/assignments in those messages to my task list or set and notification about them to my calendar. After this I archive my mail.

I suggest that you define your own processes too, since it systemizes your e-mail handling and frees up your time to other essential things in your business.

3. Setting your optimum working hours

Have you defined your working hours? If you haven’t, now is the time to do so.

Setting the optimum working hours may require some testing and being aware of your energy levels throughout the day, but it’s definitely worth it.

For instance, I like to work in the morning before going to work and that’s when I’m very productive. When I wake up early (05.00 – 05.30 AM), I’m not “stealing” the mutual time with my family.

This setup works for me, but you might have to do some testing to see which part of the day you are most productive and what is the optimum amount of hours of work you can do on a daily basis.

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4. Boundaries with your family

I already touched on this topic a bit when I explained about setting the optimum working hours.

On the other hand, there are also other kinds of boundaries that you have to set. For instance, you need to communicate clearly what you are working on your computer and why you shouldn’t be interrupted when you work.

When you set the expectations right, no-one shouldn’t have difficulties of respecting your working times, since it’s possibly bringing money into your household.

To make things even more transparent, have a family calendar, where you mark for example your travelling days. This is an easy, yet simple way to keep everyone posted on what is going on and when you are away from home.

5. Daily/Weekly planning

I’m planning my coming week on Sundays. I sit down and think a bit what the next week might bring on its way. I then create my weekly goals list which is then extracted to daily tasks lists.

This way I’m working on important things on a daily basis and this helps me to achieve my weekly goals.

To keep track on my daily tasks, I use an application called Nozbe, which is based on Getting Things Done ideology (GTD). Naturally, there are many other task list applications like this (OmniFocus, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk, IQTell …), but you have to find out your personal favorite by testing and seeing what works the best for you.

As you can see, you have to create a structure for your home office so that it supports your productivity.

Sure, planning and setting things up takes some time, but it’s definitely worth it.

Over to you: What elements make your home office productive? Please share your comments, tips and experiences in the comment area.

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Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Are You Addicted to Productivity?

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Are You Addicted to Productivity?

“It’s great to be productive. It really is. But sometimes, we chase productivity so much that it makes us, well, unproductive. It’s easy to read a lot about how to be more productive, but don’t forget that you have to make that time up.”

Matt Cutts wrote that back in 2013,[1]

“Today, search for ‘productivity’ and Google will come back with about 663,000,000 results. If you decide to go down this rabbit hole, you’ll be bombarded by a seemingly endless amount of content. I’m talking about books, blogs, videos, apps, podcasts, scientific studies, and subreddits all dedicated to productivity.”

Like so many other people, I’ve also fallen into this trap. For years I’ve been on the lookout for trends and hacks that will help me work faster and more efficiently — and also trends that help me help others to be faster. I’ve experimented with various strategies and tools . And, while some of these strategies and solutions have been extremely useful — without parsing out what you need quickly — it’s counterproductive.

Sometimes you end up spending more time focusing on how to be productive instead of actually being productive.

“The most productive people I know don’t read these books, they don’t watch these videos, they don’t try a new app every month,” James Bedell wrote in a Medium post.[2] “They are far too busy getting things done to read about Getting Things Done.”

This is my mantra:

I proudly say, “I am addicted to productivity — I want to be addicted to productivity — productivity is my life and my mission — and I also want to find the best way to lead others through productivity to their best selves.

But most of the time productivity means putting your head down and working until the job’s done.” –John Rampton

Addiction to Productivity is Real

Dr. Sandra Chapman, director of the University of Texas at Dallas Center for BrainHealth points out that the brain can get addicted to productivity just as it can to more common sources of addiction, such as drugs, gambling, eating, and shopping.

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“A person might crave the recognition their work gives them or the salary increases they get,” Chapman told the BBC.[3] “The problem is that just like all addictions, over time, a person needs more and more to be satisfied, and then it starts to work against you. Withdrawal symptoms include increased anxiety, depression, and fear.”

Despite the harmful consequences, addiction is considered by some experts as a brain disease that affects the brain’s reward system and ends in compulsive behavior. Regardless, society tends to reward productivity — or at least to treat it positively. As a result, this makes the problem even worse.

“It’s seen like a good thing: the more you work, the better,” adds Chapman. “Many people don’t realize the harm it causes until a divorce occurs and a family is broken apart, or the toll it takes on mental health.”

Because of the occasional negative issues with productivity, it’s no surprise that it is considered a “mixed-blessing addiction.”

“A workaholic might be earning a lot of money, just as an exercise addict is very fit,” explains Dr. Mark Griffiths, distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “But the thing about any addiction is that in the long run, the detrimental effects outweigh any short-term benefits.”

“There may be an initial period where the individual who is developing a work addiction is more productive than someone who isn’t addicted to work, but it will get to a point when they are no longer productive, and their health and relationships are affected,” Griffiths writes in Psychology Today.[4] “It could be after one year or more, but if the individual doesn’t do anything about it, they could end up having serious health consequences.”

“For instance, I speculated that the consequences of work addiction may be reclassified as something else: If someone ends up dying of a work-related heart attack, it isn’t necessarily seen as having anything to do with an addiction per se – it might be attributed to something like burnout,” he adds.

There Are Three “Distinct Extreme Productivity Types

Cyril Peupion, a Sydney-based productivity expert, has observed extreme productivity among clients at both large and medium-sized companies. “Most people who come to me are high performers and very successful. But often, the word they use to describe their work style is ‘unsustainable,’ and they need help getting it back on track.”

By changing their work habits, Peupion assists teams and individuals improve their performance and ensure that their efforts are aligned with the overarching strategy of the business, rather than focusing on work as a means to an end. He has distinguished three types of extreme productivity in his classification: efficiency obsessive, selfishly productive, and quantity-obsessed.

Efficiency obsessive. “Their desks are super tidy and their pens are probably color-coded. They are the master of ‘inbox zero.’ But they have lost sight of the big picture, and don’t know the difference between efficiency and effectiveness.”

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Selfishly productive. “They are so focused on their own world that if they are asked to do something outside of it, they aren’t interested. They do have the big picture in mind, but the picture is too much about them.”

Quantity-obsessed. “They think; ‘The more emails I respond to, the more meetings I attend, the more tasks I do, the higher my performance.’ As a result, they face a real risk of burnout.”

Peupion believes that “quantity obsessed” individuals are the most common type “because there is a pervasive belief that ‘more’ means ‘better’ at work.”

The Warning Signs of Productivity Addiction

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you may be succumbing to productivity addiction. After all, most of us aren’t aware of this until it’s too late.

  • Can you tell when you’re “wasting” time? If so, have you ever felt guilty about it?
  • Does technology play a big part in optimizing your time management?
  • Do you talk about how busy you are most of the time? In your opinion, is hustling better than doing less?
  • What is your relationship with your email inbox? Are you constantly checking it or experience phantom notifications?
  • When you only check one item off your list, do you feel guilty?
  • Does stress from work interfere with your sleep?
  • Have you been putting things off, like a vacation or side project, because you’re “too swamped?

The first step toward turning around your productivity obsession is to recognize it. If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then it’s time to make a plan to overcome your addiction to productivity.

Overcoming Your Productivity Addiction

Thankfully, there are ways to curb your productivity addiction. And, here are 9 such ways to achieve that goal.

1. Set Limits

Just because you’re hooked on productivity doesn’t mean you have to completely abstain from it. Instead, you need to establish boundaries.

For example, there are a lot of amazing productivity podcasts out there. But, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them all in the course of a day. Instead, you could listen to one or two podcasts, like The Productivity Podcast or Before Breakfast, during your commute. And, that would be your only time of the day to get your productivity fix.

2. Create a Not-to-Do List

Essentially, the idea of a not-to-do list is to eliminate the need to practice self-discipline. Getting rid of low-value tasks and bad habits will allow you to focus on what you really want to do as opposed to weighing the pros and cons or declining time requests. More importantly, this prevents you from feeling guilty about not crossing everything off an unrealistic to-do list.

3. Be Vulnerable

By this, I mean admitting where you could improve. For example, if you’re new to remote work and are struggling with thi s, you would only focus on topics in this area. Suggestions would be how to create a workspace at home, not getting distracted when the kids aren’t in school, or improving remote communication and collaboration with others.

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4. Understand Why You Procrastinate

Often, we procrastinate to minimize negative emotions like boredom or stress. Other times it could be because it’s a learned trait, underestimating how long it takes you to complete something or having a bias towards a task.

Regardless of the exact reason, we end up doing busy work, scrolling social media, or just watching one more episode of our favorite TV series. And, even though we know that it’s not for the best, we do things that make us feel better than the work we should do to restore our mood.[5]

There are a lot of ways to overcome procrastination. But, the first step is to be aware of it so that you can take action. For example, if you’re dreading a difficult task, don’t just watch Netflix. Instead, procrastinate more efficiently,y like returning a phone call or working on a client pitch.

5. Don’t Be a Copycat

Let’s keep this short and sweet. When you find a productivity app or technique that works for you, stick with it.

That’s not to say that you can’t make adjustments along the way or try new tools or hacks. However, the main takeaway should be that just because someone swears by the Pomodoro Technique doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

6. Say Yes to Less

Across the board, your philosophy should be less is more.

That means only download the apps you actually use and want to keep (after you try them out) and uninstall the ones you don’t use. For example, are you currently reading a book on productivity? Don’t buy your next book until you’ve finished the one you’re currently reading (or permit yourself to toss a book that isn’t doing you any good). — and if you really want to finish a book more quickly, listen to the book on your way to work and back.

Already have plans this weekend? Don’t commit to a birthday party. And, if you’re day is booked, decline that last-minute meeting request.

7. Stop Focusing on What’s Next

“In the age when purchasing a thing from overseas is just one click and talking to another person is one swipe right, acquiring new objects or experiences can be addictive like anything else,” writes Patrick Banks for Lifehack .

“That doesn’t need to be you,” he adds. “You can stop your addition to ‘the next thing’ starting today.” After all, “there will always be this next thing if you don’t make a conscious decision to get your life back together and be the one in charge.”

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  • Think about your current lifestyle and the person you’re at this stage to help you identify what you aren’t satisfied with.
  • By setting clear goals for yourself in the future, you will be able to overcome your addiction.
  • Establish realistic goals.
  • To combat addiction, you must be aware of what is going on around you, as well as inside your head, at any given time.
  • Don’t spend time with people who have unhealthy behaviors.
  • Hold yourself accountable.
  • Keep a journal and write out what you want to overcome.
  • Appreciate no longer being addicted to what’s next.

8. Simplify

Each day, pick one priority task. That’s it. As long as you concentrate on one task at a time, you will be less likely to get distracted or overwhelmed by an endless list of tasks. A simple mantra to live by is: work smarter, not harder.

The same is also accurate with productivity hacks and tools. Bullet journaling is a great example. Unfortunately, for many, a bullet journal is way more time-consuming and overwhelming than a traditional planner.

9. Learn How to Relax

“Sure, we need to produce sometimes, especially if we have to pay the bills, but, banning obsession with productivity is unhealthy,” writes Leo Babauta. “When you can’t get yourself to be productive, relax.” Don’t worry about being hyper-efficient. And, don’t beat yourself up about having fun.

“But what if you can’t motivate yourself … ever?” he asks. “Sure, that can be a problem. But if you relax and enjoy yourself, you’ll be happier.”

“And if you work when you get excited, on things you’re excited about, and create amazing things, that’s motivation,” Leo states. “Not forcing yourself to work when you don’t want to, on things you don’t want to work on — motivation is doing things you love when you get excited.”

But, how exactly can you relax? Here are some tips from Leo;

  • Spend 5 minutes walking outside and breathe in the fresh air.
  • Give yourself more time to accomplish things. Less rushing means less stress.
  • If you can, get outside after work to enjoy nature.
  • Play like a child. Even better? Play with your kids. And, have fun at work — maybe give gamification a try .
  • Take the day off, rest, and do something non-work-related.
  • Allow yourself an hour of time off. Try not to be productive during that time. Just relax.
  • You should work with someone who is exciting. Make your project exciting.
  • Don’t work in the evenings. Seriously.
  • Visit a massage therapist.
  • Just breathe.

“Step by step, learn to relax,” he suggests. “Learn that productivity isn’t everything.” For that statement, sorry Leo, I say productivity isn’t everything — it’s the only thing.” However, if you can’t cut loose, relax, do fun things, and do the living part of your life — you’ll crack in a big way — you really will.

It’s great to create and push forward — just remember it doesn’t mean that every minute must be spent working or obsessing over productivity issues. Instead, invest your time in meaningful, high-impact work, get into it, focus, put in big time and then relax.

Are You Addicted to Productivity? was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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