Productivity comes and goes. While we will nail some days, some others will not be as brilliant. Nothing wrong about that. No need to feel guilty about it. That is how it is. We cannot always stay productive. There will be ups and downs and that is fine. A big part of staying productive is to understand that you cannot be at 100% all the time, especially in the current context, and that accepting it is the best way to get on with your work. It is also crucial to self-care that you do not feel guilty if you are not productive everyday. However, in an effort to help you cope with social-distancing and self-isolation, we came up with eight tips to help you stay productive during self-isolation.
While we hope those top tips to stay productive will help you get work done, this post will also recall to our top self-care tips to cope with self-isolation. Although it is important to remain in a work mindset, get things done and try to carry on with life as much as possible, it is also okay to not always feeling like it and be a bit discouraged from time to time. We would not blame you, given the current circumstances. These are stressful times and your well-being is what matters most. First, that's how you'll cope best with social-distancing. Second, that's how you'll be ready to get back outside when the restrictions lift.
Top tips to stay productive while working from home
1. Set up a dedicated work space
When it comes to staying productive, your environment and the vibe it provides are critical to put you in the right mood. Surely, sitting in a bar would not have you take your laptop out to do some work. Sitting in your bed under your blanket might work at the weekend, but to work well throughout the day, it won't do. Your bed will make want you to relax and probably sleep as opposed to focus on something for a couple of hours before you take a small break.
Setting up a dedicated work space will be critical to help you stay productive during the working day. It does not have to be something elaborate, a separate room or anything. Especially if you live in the city and only have so much space available. Your dinner table will do just fine. As long as you decide on somewhere to be your work space and a clear separation to what is not your work space. Your mind will associate you sitting at the dining table and opening up your laptop with work time. Thus, you will be in the right mindset and mood to actually do some work.
Furthermore, a dedicated work space will not only help you to stay productive, it will also help you separate working time and personal time. Indeed, bringing work stuff to your relaxing area like your bed or couch will make it very hard to actually relax once the working day is over since you will still associate that space with working. If you live in a share flat, like many do in New York City for example, setting up a work space whether in the common area or your room will send a clear message that you are working and should not be disturbed.
2. Be realistic
When it comes to working from home and staying productive, it is important to remember that the rules that applied in the office, also apply at home. As a matter of fact, the pressure to be as productive as you would in the office, may make you want to accomplish a lot everyday. Which is fine. Being ambitious is great. It helps your drive and makes you want to get more out of each day. It is a great motivation. However, being over-ambitious as per your ability to complete every single task in the time you have available may have the exact opposite consequence to the intended one.
In other words, you might just not be productive at all. One of our top tips to stay productive from home is to be realist, for sure. However, it is also to be smart about your goals and objectives for each day as well during social-distancing. You would set up SMART goals in the office: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound. Remember, achievable. Taking into account how you did in an office environment, you will be able to set goals that are achievable for you.
The thing with being overly ambitious, is that the greedier you get, the closer you might get to failure and burn out. Having too much on your plate might become overwhelming, which in the end will discourage you and take away your motivation. Having to divide your time between so many tasks means that you may not have be able to dedicate enough time to each. This may impact the quality of your work. A key to staying productive is to be realistic about what you can do in a day. Plus, know the amount of time each task requires to be completed with good quality.
3. Make to do lists
One way to stay productive during the day as you work from home is to have some directions. Knowing what you need to do will be really helpful to get things done. Making to-do lists of all the tasks you need to do each day will help you know what actually needs to be done. Then, you will be able to cut your day in smaller fragments and dedicate time to each so that you complete your tasks.
Writing to-do lists will also help you separate tasks as "everyday maintenance" and "bigger projects". You will know what is important and will be able to prioritize tasks accordingly. Frame your list to be focused around your biggest purpose at work. It may also help keep you productive and motivated to add a short sentence summarizing the value of the task to emphasize on why it is important.
Remember to keep your to-do list realistic. No point adding a lot of things if you are not able to complete half, which can be discouraging. What you can do is divide major tasks in smaller tasks. Then, you will have the impression that you indeed accomplished a lot during the day. Or, you can have two to-do lists: a list of the things you will probably do and a list of things you will get on with if you have time and energy left.
4. Take regular breaks
This is the most important of our tips to stay productive while working from home. Actually, they are all equally as important but we know that some people feel guilty over taking short breaks from work. Thus we want to remind you that it is essential to you unplug. Even two tiny minutes will do. Breathe, let your brain rest for a short while and be ready to get back into work. The secret to productivity is breaks! Don't believe us? Carry on reading!
Researchers from the University of Illinois studied four groups of people. Each of the groups worked on a brain-intensive task for 50 minutes. The group that took more breaks had the highest mental stamina at the end of the 50 minutes. By taking a break and momentarily using another part of your brain, you give a break to the skills you were using and then can later solve problems or be creative with renewed energy.
Taking a break is essential to higher productivity, energy, concentration, efficiency, creativity, and just about every other good thing that you need to survive. While the average attention span is really short (as short as 8 seconds for some people), the productivity span can range between 50 and 90 minutes. Thus, it is okay to take a short break every 90 minutes so that you give your brain the time to rest. The length of break will vary from one person to another as each task and/or job is different. When taking a break, do not work, stay away from your screen, shift your attention but most importantly, stop concentrating. You have of course no obligation to take a break if you do not feel like you need one, but if you do, do so without feeling guilty!
5. Set a work schedule
Knowing when the working day starts and finish is great to organizing your day. It is also great to assess how much time you have available to complete all your tasks. Indeed, it will allow you to break your day into blocks of hours for work, breaks and lunch. Setting a work schedule is great to install a routine that will remind you of your office environment and work routine. Thus, it will create the proper environment for work and put you in the proper mood as well.
Although you do not have to be very strict when it comes to your work hours, it is still a good idea to stick to your normal work schedule. It will give you a frame of reference you are already familiar with when it comes to what you know you can accomplish in a day. If you stick to a work schedule that looks like the one you had at work, you will also know which hours you are the most productive at. Maybe it is the morning, maybe the afternoon. This will help you prioritize task according to their importance. Better do the most important tasks when you are at your most productive.
Finally, a work schedule helps making a clear divide between working hours and personal time. People who work from home tend to often let work brim over their personal time and cannot always differentiate the two. In the current context, it is important that you also get some time for yourself to unwind, do things you like and relax. Which is why you need to stop working when the working days is over. That way, you will avoid burning out and will be full of energy for the next day!
6. Remove all distractions
There are two major differences between working in an office and working from home. First, you will not be under supervision. You may get a call or a meeting once in a while but overall, it is up to you to be trustworthy and do the work without the need to be supervised. The other difference is that there are way more distractions at home than there are in an office. To be precise, the office will just offer what you need to do your work. At home, however, such is not the case.
If you are a parent, of course, you will have to deal with children. As they are also social-distancing, they will need attention and supervision. You and your partner can set rules. Thus, you ensure that the kids either do their homework on their own, know to be diligent and hardworking when it comes to online classes and that they have enough things to keep them busy. You may also want to assign time between the two of you so that you each take care of the kids in turn.
If you are living alone or with your partner, the distractions will be of another kind. Especially if you are a series, book or video games lover. Your phone will also prove difficult to resist. And since you will use your own laptop, it will be really easy to drift away from your work. That's why taking break and setting a work schedule is so important. Do your own things when you take a break or after work hours. Remove distractions that you can remove and make sure your work area (as well as living space) is tidy and clean. Thus, you won't have to deal with dirty laundry on the floor or crumbs over the dining table.
7. Dress up for the day
Dressing up for the day and setting up a work space go hand in hand when it comes to staying productive throughout the day. They basically provide the same benefits and will have the same impact on your mood. The expressions says that you are what you eat. And that you do what you are dressed for. Thus, it makes sense that what you are wearing at any point during the day will have a huge impact on your mood and mindset.
It is obvious that staying in your pyjamas will not give you a work mindset. On the contrary, you will just want to chill in bed, relax and will not be very productive. If you wear your workout gear, it is likely that you plan on working out. You mind will associate the outfit you are wearing to what you usually do when you wear that outfit. If you wear your pyjamas, your mind will associate it with sleeping, not working. Plus, getting out of your pyjamas and in the shower will signal to your brain that the time for sleeping is over and the time for working is starting.
Dressing up while you work from home does not mean you will have to sport the same attire as you do in the office. Especially if you dress business casual. You are allowed to be a bit more casual but you need to make a clear break between non working hours and working hours. Dressing up will do just that. Things are full of emotions, including clothes. Putting on those jeans might just give you the energy you needed to complete a task or meet a deadline.
8. Do not force it
Last but not least, one of the most important of our tips to stay productive, is to not force it. As simple as that. We are aware of the hustle culture being promoted on social media. This is something we touched on briefly in a previous post. It is also something that may make people feel bad about not always being productive or not doing more than what they are doing. Given the particular context, which is both highly unsettling and very stressful, there is nothing wrong in not using your time at home to start your own business, create something mind-blowing, be super productive, etc.
As a matter of fact, we each have a different way to cope with what is happening. If your way is reading books or playing on the Switch then, it is fine. During working hours, it is indeed better to be as productive as you can be. However, there will be days with and days without. And that's fine as well. While you will accomplish a lot some days, you might just focus on maintenance work when you are not as productive. It is good to try to carry on with work, especially if you complete tasks that are quite mechanical and do not require much thinking. But it is also important to listen to your body and stop when you need to.
Trying to force productivity can only have negative effects. Burning out is one of them when you end up overwhelming yourself with work. Discouragement is another effect when you feel bad because you feel like you are not accomplishing enough. And finally, the quality of your work may also be affected. Working just for the sake of it has never proven to be efficient. Especially because forcing yourself will not make you enjoy your work, nor stimulate creativity. Working smart is about you make the most of your productivity hours, do menial work during those non-productive hours, take breaks and rest to be ready for the next day.
That is it for out top tips to stay productive and make the most of your productivity hours as you work from home. Remember that something important is to listen your body to ensure that you look after your well-being. People working long hours often are not more productive than people working shorter hours. Look after yourself.