For those of you who have been ordered to stay home from work, and are trying to continue working from home, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the best practices that I have developed to work from home over the past 12 years. Being surrounded by family, laundry, dishes and phone calls from friends can be extremely distracting and make it very difficult to stay productive. Here’s a few tips that have worked for me.
Have a Dedicated Workspace for Work
Carve out a dedicated space at home that you ONLY use for work. This is really important.
Don’t do anything else in your workspace. No bills. No recipes. No Facebook. No laundry folding. No snack preparations. No phone calls with your family. You can help your mind to focus on your work by physically teaching your brain that if you are sitting in a certain place, you are JUST doing work, nothing else.
Having a dedicated workspace also helps you to keep track of the time you are really spending on work. For those of you that bill for your services in increments of an hour, it is easier to calculate those increments of time when you are physically in your dedicated workspace.
If you mix personal activities like phone calls with your family or Facebook time while you are in your workspace, you will feel like you have spent a lot of time working, but be dejected by the apparent lack of productivity. Subconsciously, you will begin to get resentful of work because you feel like you’ve been at your desk for a long time, but you haven’t accomplished as much as you think you should.
Keep Your Workspace Distraction & Clutter-Free
Try to keep your workspace quiet so you can focus on work. The TV, the doorbell and home phone can interrupt so often that you become unproductive. Shut the door to the room, or leave it only slightly ajar, as a message to the rest of your family that this is the time you need to focus on work.
Try to keep your workspace organized. You can line up the projects on the bed or floor next to you with the title of each project on Post-it notes at the top of each pile.
Remove all your coffee cups and bottles of water so that you have a clean workstation for the next morning.
Before you turn off your work light, organize your piles so that the project that needs your attention first in the morning is ready to go.
Set Yourself Up for Productivity & Reward Productivity
If you are part of a team, set up calls every day where you can report to each other how far you have moved the client’s projects and you can assign tasks to each other. Work is more rewarding when you feel like you are supporting your colleagues and you are more likely to complete something when you know that your teammates are relying on you.
When you interact with your work colleagues, remember that they are all trying to stay productive too. Use the opportunity to provide comfort and counsel to each other and inspire each other to continue moving forward.
Try to stay at your workstation for at least 1 ½ - 2 hours at a time. As you think of things around the house that might need your attention, resist the temptation to get up. Instead, jot them down on a list.
Every couple of hours, get up for a break. Try to solve something difficult right before you take a break. Use the break as your reward for solving the difficult problem. Leave your workspace and bring your personal list with you. Interact with your spouse or kids or a friend on Facebook and have a few laughs; check off a few things on your list. Go for a walk. Then make a cup of coffee and sit back down at your workstation.
When you return to your workstation, pick something that feels rewarding right away- e.g. call the office or a colleague to discuss something about a client that needs noodling. If you reward yourself with this kind of action each time that you return to your workstation, you’ll teach your brain to look forward to the productivity you feel when you return to work.
Try to finish one project before you pick up the next. If you have to go back to a project over the course of several days, you can jot notes on the Post-it notes about the time intervals you have spent on the project so that you don’t lose track of the time.
At the end of the day, go back through your emails to make sure you captured the time that you spent on various clients’ projects. Send out a few email responses or inquiries to colleagues and clients. This will start your next morning with activity in your in-box to trigger productivity right away.
Give Your Brain a Break
If you’re not used to working from home, the line between when your work life ends and personal life begins can be blurred. Don’t get stuck in the rabbit-hole of endlessly chasing the completion of work projects. Having the dedicated work space helps maintain the division of your work life and personal life.
Earlier, I mentioned that you shouldn’t bring the distractions of your personal life into your dedicated workspace. The reverse holds as well. After the workday is over, resist the temptation to watch the news or fold your laundry in your work room at night. Give you brain a rest so that you can recharge for the next morning.
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