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5 Critical Elements of Successful Work-At-Home Productivity

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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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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