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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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Last Updated on October 23, 2018

How to Eliminate Work Stress When You’re Stressed to the Max

How to Eliminate Work Stress When You’re Stressed to the Max

Workplace stress is a modern epidemic. More than one-third of American workers experience chronic work stress. This is estimated to cost American businesses up to $300 billion a year in lost work hours and medical bills.[1]

Clearly, if you’re suffering from work stress – you’re far from alone. But, work stress isn’t inevitable.

In this article, I’m going to help you identify the root cause of your stress and suggest the most suitable ways to cope with job stress so you can become a happy and productive worker again.

Where Work Stress Comes From

Certain factors tend to go hand-in-hand with work-related stress. The causes of stress include:

  • Too much work – you feel overwhelmed by your work and find yourself saying: “There are not enough hours in the day!”
  • The job is too easy, not challenging or inspiring – this is where boredom (which is stressful) sets in.
  • Pressure from co-workers or lack of social support – colleagues are not helpful or only care about their own tasks.
  • Little praise and lots of criticism – this is where a lousy manager uses constant criticism to ‘try’ to motivate you.
  • Very demanding or competitive working culture – sales departments often fit this category.
  • Not having enough control over job-related decisions – this is when people try to micro-manage you.
  • High expectations on yourself or seeking perfection – while it’s good to do your best, being a perfectionist can be a powerful stress generator.
  • Low salary – if you work hard but receive slim financial rewards, you may start to feel downhearted, frustrated and stressed.

The Negative Effects of Stress on Your Mind and Body

Chronic stress is bad news for your mental health and physical health. These are some health symptoms of stress:[2]

    If stress hormones are triggered in your body for extended periods, they can lead to increased physical aging. This is because stress makes your cells look and act older – and this is reflected in your physical appearance.[3]

    In addition to the negative effects on your body, stress also has a significant influence on your brain – negatively impacting your daily performance.

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    I recommend you watch the 4-minute video below to see just how stress can wreak havoc on your brain and your performance:

    How to Cope with Work Stress (A Step-By-Step Guide)

    You don’t need to be a victim of work stress. Here’s how to manage stress in the workplace:

    1. Set aside some time for planning

    If work has become too much for you, and you’re constantly falling behind… stop! Instead of trying and failing to catch up, you’d be much better off spending some time thinking about your goals and how your prioritize your tasks.

    Learn how to set clear goals with this step-by-step guide.

    For instance, if your initial goal is just to get on top of your work (probably for the first time in months), then take 10 minutes to think clearly and deeply about how you can achieve this. Most likely, you’ll be able to come up with tasks that you need to complete to reach your goal. And once your goal and tasks are clear in your mind, you’ll be ready for the second step.

    2. Align your tasks with your goal

    Just knowing your goal and associated tasks is not enough. Many people reach this stage but still fall behind with their work and fail to achieve their goals.

    The secret is to understand which of your tasks should be high priority and which ones can be done when you have spare time.

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    For example, checking your inbox every 20 minutes may seem to be a productive task for you, but in reality it acts as a constant distraction and productivity killer. Instead, you’d be better off setting aside 30 minutes in the morning to check your emails and 30 minutes in the afternoon to do the same.

    By doing this, you’ll free up the bulk of your day for tasks that can help you reach your goal. These tasks are likely to be things like: writing a business proposal, creating a PowerPoint presentation, and finishing an important project.

    These tips on how to prioritize will help you align your tasks with your goals and work 10X more efficiently.

    3. Remove, change or accept the stressors

    How to tackle specific work stressors? I recommend the following method that WellCast introduced:[4]

    Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. At the top, write remove in the first column, change in the second and accept in the third.

      Next, think of the stressors that are getting to you the most. Perhaps it’s your paycheck; it might be way smaller than you’d like or feel that you deserve. Don’t worry, this is your chance to break free from the stress surrounding your low pay.

      Think for a few moments, which would you prefer:

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      • To remove yourself from the company
      • To try to change your salary by asking for a pay rise
      • To accept that your salary is okay for you

      You may be surprised at what thoughts come into your mind. Don’t reject them, but allow yourself time to be clear on how you’d like to proceed.

      If the status quo feels good to you, then write “paycheck” in the accept column. If you decide you want to increase your salary but stay in the same company, write “paycheck” in the change column. And finally, if you decide the time is right to seek a new opportunity at a different organization, then write “paycheck” in the remove column.

      By being decisive in this way, you’ll immediately feel freer and in control of your destiny. And your stress levels will begin to trend downwards. All that remains is to set yourself a clear goal of what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do this.(Luckily, steps #1 and #2 above will help you out!)

      Of course, if you have multiple work stressors, then use your remove, change or accept sheet to work through all of them. It will be time VERY well spent.

      4. Create positive relationships at work

      One key to improving your ability to manage stress is being able to accept help from others. Not only does it alleviate negative circumstances by simply distracting you and creating a buffer between daily tasks and their negative connection, it will provide a sense of support and relief.

      Make an effort to create friendships with your colleagues. Go to the after-work happy hour or just ask a colleague out for coffee at lunchtime. Not only will you have someone to confide in, but you will start to associate positive feelings to work.

      Forming a healthy relationship with your manager or supervisor is also a good way to alleviate stress. Positive, two-way conversations about where you stand in your job, being honest about how you feel, and working together to make a plan of action in terms of improved work conditions and expectations are paramount. This will lead to opening up and receiving the necessary resources you need to support or help you.

      5. Take time out for yourself

      Anyone can get overwhelmed when stress occurs at work, and this can spill into other areas of your life. This is why it’s important to clock out mentally from your job from time to time.

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      Take time off to relax and unwind in order to regain your energy and come back to work invigorated. Make sure you actually do something you enjoy like spending time with your kids or partner, or visit that country you’ve always wanted to explore.

      If taking time off work isn’t possible in the midst of your stress, take scheduled breaks throughout your day. Sit quietly somewhere or do some stretches to get your blood flowing like in the example below:

      6. Take mindful action towards your health

      The irony of stress is that your healthy habits can take a backseat. Maintaining and even improving your health will keep your stress under control. Here are some ways to keep you physically fit:

      • Eat healthy foods. Make sure your diet is full of foods that provide your body with sufficient nutrients. Eat more fruits and green vegetables, whole foods, omega-3 rich fish, and seeds such as flax, chia and hemp. These types of food ensure your body is working optimally to cope with its stress mechanisms.
      • Avoid unhealthy foods. This is obvious, but it’s these kinds of food you reach for in times of stress and negativity. High fat foods such as cheese and red meat cause sluggishness and tiredness. Foods high in refined sugars like biscuits, chocolate bars, and bread can be convenient snacks, but they cause you to crash and burn. Same with caffeinated drinks such as coffee and sodas – these are just ‘band aid’ habits that interfere with your ability to sleep.
      • Exercise regularly. Endorphins are the best for counteracting stress, and what better way to release them than doing physical exercise. Exercise creates a distraction and helps you get your thoughts back together in an orderly way. Start a new exercise regime – whether it’s running, swimming, cycling or walking to work. Getting your blood and endorphins flowing will make you feel happier.
      • Get enough sleep. Make getting 8 hours sleep a priority. When we’re stressed it can sometimes feel hard to get to sleep but sleep deprivation only exaggerates our current stress. A well-rested mind is able to find solutions to problems more easily and reacts better to daily stressors.

      Final Thoughts

      Everyone encounters stress at work. It’s a natural and normal human reaction. The difference between letting the stress overcome you and coping with it is getting a head start by creating a positive environment and lifestyle.

      Counteracting stress is both an inside and outside job. Focusing on improving your health will create a positive mind able to react better. Forming positive relationships with certain people around you will give you emotional support.

      Beat stress with the right mindset!

      Featured photo credit: whoislimos via unsplash.com

      Reference

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