Working from home productivity tips
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Have you called into a morning work meeting while still in your pajamas lately? Or competed with your cat for access to your keyboard? Have you struggled to finish a client report on deadline – to the not-so-soothing sounds of your roommate’s guitar practice?
If these scenarios sound familiar, you’re no doubt one of the thousands of workers across the country getting a sudden crash course on the unique perks and challenges of working from home.
Thanks to social distancing precautions, many people used to working from an office are now contending with bringing their careers into their bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens – and finding it tough to get anything done.
But don’t despair! It gets easier with practice, and a little insider knowledge. Here is how to maximize your productivity while working from home:
1. Create a dedicated workspace
Working productively at home on a regular basis requires more than a laptop with a WiFi connection. While you may not need a home office, you do need a dedicated workspace that puts everything you need close at hand and minimal distractions.
If you have a desk that’s normally stacked with books, bills, and your latest load of laundry, don’t just shove things aside to make space for your laptop. Clear away the clutter. Find another place to pile it if you need to – just not in your new workspace.
Gather everything you need to do your job – reference materials, a notebook, the printer, a fresh stack of printer paper, a jar of pens. Whatever you need so you don’t have to go looking for essential items in the middle of your work day, or have to venture out into more distracting territory in your home on a regular basis.
Don’t hesitate to rearrange furniture. Investing a little time now in setting up your work environment will pay off in higher productivity and less frustration later.
2. Earplugs are your new best friend.
Quiet is essential for most people to concentrate on work. Even if you live alone or the other inhabitants of your space are cooperative and respectful, you might find daytime traffic noise or the footsteps of your upstairs neighbors more disruptive than you expected.
If you happen to have noise-canceling headphones, that’s ideal. If not, though, most pharmacies carry foam earplugs that work great for tamping down distracting background noise. If these irritate your ears, look for earplugs made from silicone putty that you use to cover the ear opening rather than insert into the ear canal. They don’t usually block quite as much sound but can be more comfortable.
For more protection, add earmuffs or over-the-ear headphones if you’ve got them. You can even pull a close-fitting winter hat down over your ears. (Just remember to adjust your fashion a bit before taking any Zoom meetings.)
3. Get some natural light.
Getting enough exposure to natural light doesn’t just make for a more pleasant work day – it will also improve your sleep, interest in physical activity, and overall sense of wellbeing, research shows. And all of those benefits can help you be more productive.
Spending more time exposed to natural daylight helps regulate your body’s circadian rhythms – your natural sleep and wake cycles. It also helps your body make enough Vitamin D, which impacts your energy levels, immune system, and mood.
If you don’t have much natural light in your home workspace, use a desk lamp that mimics sunlight or a soft white bulb in a warmer tone rather than a harsh fluorescent, which can aggravate eye strain.
4. Minimize visual distraction
Most people focus on reducing noise distractions when they need to concentrate, but visual distractions can be equally disruptive. It might not be enough to pop in earplugs if you’re trying to work in a heavily-trafficked public space in your home, like the kitchen. Setting your desk against a window at street level might be similarly distracting.
When you set up your workspace, think about what’s directly in your field of vision and how likely you are to be interrupted by wandering roommates, partners, pets, and people out on the street. Just turning a desk to the side of the room, away from a street-level window, can help you enjoy natural light while eliminating visual distractions.
5. Communicate your needs to the people you live with.
Many people are facing the challenges of working from home at the same time that a roommate or partner is, too. Or maybe your housemate is not working but is trying to keep busy at home in other ways – guitar practice for the triumphant return of her metal band post-pandemic, say. (Hey, we all find our own ways to keep our morale high.)
Or your roommate might be struggling with loneliness and financial worries and turn to you for support, while you are still working full-time and stressed about navigating new technological hurdles to get things done. Maybe your partner keeps popping their head into your bedroom-turned-office to ask you minor questions – like where the dog leash is, or what groceries you need.
In all of these situations, communication is key to ensuring everyone understands and respects each other’s needs. A conversation can go a long way to heading off conflict before it starts. Consider setting regular do-not-disturb hours so you can focus exclusively on work – then, outside those hours, you can give full attention to the people you live with, without feeling conflicted, guilty, or stressed.
6. Create boundaries between work and home life
Boundaries between work and private life have been blurred for many workers for a long time, thanks to technology that keeps us constantly connected to the office. But navigating work/life boundaries is even tougher when you’re trying to do both from the same space every day.
Anything you can do to reinforce psychological boundaries between work time and off-time will help you stay productive when you’re working – and feel more relaxed when you’re not.
We’ve already mentioned some things that can help, including setting up a dedicated workspace and keeping a regular work schedule with enforced do-not-disturb hours. Some people who work from home find that getting dressed for work helps them shift their mindset into professional mode – even if no one else will see them all day.
Other tips: Don’t answer emails until you’ve started your workday (no emailing from bed first thing in the morning!). Take full breaks for meals rather than eating your cereal in front of your laptop. And don’t try to multitask with house chores like laundry or cooking between answering emails from your boss and putting together a presentation.
7. Take breaks to move
This is something that can help any worker in an office environment, but not all workplaces allow for it. Working from home gives most people more freedom and control over their movements – so take advantage of it! Every two or three hours, take a 15-minute stroll around the block, do jumping jacks on your balcony, or try a quick online workout video (there are lots of free options available right now).
Getting your heart rate up and your eyeballs off the screen for a few minutes can ease back and neck pain and eye strain, improve your mood, and increase your energy and concentration.
The Bottom Line
Thanks to social distancing measures, many people are finding out that working from home can be more of a struggle than they imagined. But with a little thought and preparation, you can overcome most of the common challenges and create a functional home work environment.
Working from home temporarily can also help you learn more about what you really need to be productive. Hang onto any useful insights you gain during social distancing and you’ll be able to take them with you to the office later!
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