For most of us, working from home was something you’d hear a friend of a friend got to do. You’d hear about this distant person, living a life of luxury, making their own schedule and having a party at home while the rest of the working world was in an actual office doing actual work.
Well, now most of us who are still working, excluding essential workers, are working from home. Here are some tips for being productive and adapting to this new way of life.
Forget about the traditional work day
Try to put aside the idea of an 8 hour work day. When you are in the physical office, the 8 hour work day makes sense. The work day has a clear start and end based on everyone’s physical presence in the office and the agreed dedication to work during that time with limited distractions. While sticking to a specific work schedule at home can work for some, for most of us it can be unrealistic.
Start thinking of the day in terms of specific goals, rather than working for a full 8 hours. Assign yourself the amount or level of tasks that you would have gotten done during a typical day at the office. Instead of trying to stick to the 8 hours, make it a point to complete the tasks you’ve laid out.
Prioritizing the big stuff
While physically in the office, it can be a lot easier to determine what’s on the top of the list of to-do’s. The people around you will often set the tone and give you an idea of what’s most important. At home, it’s not always as obvious. You can easily get caught up in answering not as important emails and other less important tasks. So take a moment the night before or the morning before you start your next work day to sort your tasks into 4 categories:
The urgent stuff This is the stuff that has to get done right at that moment but wasn’t part of your original daily plan. Also known as putting out fires. Some examples might be solving an unforeseen issue with a major client, or fixing a technical issue that prevents you from doing an important part of your job.
The main goals for the day Set out the main goals for your day. This should be the meat and potatoes of your work day. The work should be meaningful and measurable. It can be easy to get overwhelmed and stack too much on your plate, which can lead to even less getting done. Take a look at your to-do list and pick 3 big important things to get done in the day. If you are able to do more, that’s great, but being realistic and focused on the 3 most important things will lead to more efficient use of your time, and higher quality work
The not-so urgent, not so important stuff This category includes emails that are not particularly urgent, or that thing you’ve been meaning to do. This is basically all the extra stuff that isn’t as important. Once you finish your 3 big things for the day, you can move on to this category. Making the distinction between what fits into this category and your main goals for the day will have the biggest impact on your productivity and overall work efficiency.
Distractions/Entertainment This category deals with the TV shows, Netflix, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, calling friends and family. While this stuff is important for your mental health, you have to be aware of the amount of time you are dedicating to it. It can be easy to get sucked into distractions, especially if other people in your house are engaged in this type of stuff. If you haven’t completed your main goals for the day, it can be ok to take a break, just make sure you set a time limit for yourself so you don’t lose track of time.
Become a regular in social groups
Humans are social creatures and for most of us, social isolation can start to take a toll. Think about which social groups you were part of before isolation began and see if there is an online replacement already up and running. Many gym classes, church gatherings, business meetings, and dozens of other group meetings are continuing their regular schedule through online platforms like Zoom, Skype and Facebook. Check to see if your group is still meeting, and if they aren’t, you can always put together a group yourself.
Beyond local groups, many online communities are seeing a surge in activity. Check for topics that interest you on platforms like LinkedIn, Reddit, Facebook and Quora. Even just being a part of an online community can help you feel more grounded socially.
Figure out what works for you
Most people are learning how to work from home for the first time. While sticking to a strict schedule works for some people, it might not work for you. Be honest with yourself and examine your own behavior. What days or weeks did you get the most done? What days and weeks did you get the least done? Take a look at the days and figure out what helps you be productive and happy. For some, it means taking a break or even a nap at certain parts of the day. For others, a productive work day might mean making an effort to connect with co-workers through video and audio chat. Recognize your own rhythms and figure out what helps you work best.