The COVID-19 pandemic is fast changing how people work.
Previously, work-from-home setups were largely optional or part of an HR benefits package, but because of mandatory social distancing aimed at curbing the rate of contagion around the world, many people are finding themselves working from home — not by choice but by necessity.
Working from home is no walk in the park, and it’s not for everyone. But if you’re determined enough to make it work, it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself, your family, and your career.
If you’re looking for process hacking and productivity tips to make your current work-from-home situation work in your favor, you’re in the right place. Below are seven useful hacks you can implement right away.
Here are our top seven effective work hacks for working remotely:
- Make your workspace work for you
- Stick to a routine
- Don’t procrastinate
- Take frequent breaks
- Set boundaries
- Have a technology backup plan
- Use tools
1. Make your workspace work for you
There is no law against working in bed in your pajamas, but science says doing so will eventually train your mind to associate your bed with work instead of sleep and relaxation.
We all know that quality sleep is vital to good health, which is why you need your own workspace when working from home.
How to create your workspace
- Designate a dedicated work area: Does clutter distract you? If so, a workspace near the kitchen or living area is probably not good for you. If street noise messes with your sense of focus, stay away from windows facing a busy street. Do some self-introspection to determine the best work environment for you. The key here is to create a work zone that brings out the best in you.
- Keep your workspace suited to your profession: The type of work you do will determine what goes into your workspace. If you need to print documents, get a printer. If you make and receive lots of calls, a phone system that includes a subscription to a reliable VoIP service provider may be in order. If you’re a graphic designer, tools of the trade include a drawing tablet, a desktop monitor, and a camera.
- Work with what’s available: If you don’t have a spare room or extra space for a work table because your living space is tiny, work with what you already have. Since you can’t pick a space, pick a work chair instead — or work clothes or work shoes or work whatever. The idea is to find something that will flip a switch inside your brain and trigger your work mode no matter which part of the house you choose to get things done in. (True story — I know someone who places an unlit cigar in his mouth when he’s ready to start working. A word of caution from , though: Keeping a cigar, although unlit, in your mouth for extended periods is harmful to your health.)
2. Stick to a routine
Working from home unshackles you from the typical 9-to-5 workday many are desperate to leave behind. But that’s no reason to go without a daily routine. Maintaining a work-from-home routine has benefits; it can:
- Structure your life
- Save time and money
- Break bad habits and reinforce good ones
- Increase proficiency
- Alleviate stress and facilitate relaxation
How to stick to a schedule
- Set your work hours: One thing to love about working from home is you can set your own schedule. If you have kids, you can build your day around their schedules. For example, start working once you’ve dropped them off to school or as soon as they retire for the night. But no matter how your work schedule looks like, wake up at the same time during workdays. Go through your morning routine as usual, and make it a habit to start and end work at the same time every day.
- Plan your day: Maximizing productivity requires a plan. There’s only so much you can do in a day, and time wasted is time you can never get back. Stop squandering precious time by being intentional with it. Map out what your day should look like the night before. Create a to-do list that schedules everything, including exercise and trips to the grocery store.
- Block off time in your calendar: If a to-do list isn’t cutting it for you, make use of time management hacks such as time blocking to improve work performance and focus. With time blocking, you proactively allocate specific time blocks in your calendar for specific activities or tasks.
3. Don’t procrastinate
Instead, it’s "an emotion regulation problem." People procrastinate depending on how they feel about a task or situation. Perhaps it’s unpleasant (cleaning the toilet, for example) or there are deep-seated emotions attached to it (i.e., self-doubt, anxiety, or low self-esteem).
Procrastination is a plague, and it afflicts many people. The good news is that fending it off is doable, although not an easy feat.
Tips to avoid procrastination
- Break work down into bite-size chunks: The subconscious will avoid anything that’s overwhelming, so divide big projects into deliverables, which you then further divide into manageable tasks. Deep cleaning an entire house can be scary, but if you break it down into small parts, such as the kids’ bedroom first, then the guest bedroom, and so on, suddenly, the project doesn’t feel so overwhelming anymore.
- Eliminate distractions: Distractions are everywhere — from your phone’s incessant beeping to family members’ frequent shoulder tapping. To avoid distractions, first, know what they are. Maybe you can’t get work done if the house is messy, so get your chores done before you begin working. If you have the habit of responding to text messages as soon as you receive them, turn off your phone or keep it out of reach. And to make sure family members know not to disturb you during work hours, keep the door to your home office closed.
- Just do it: All the effort you put into project planning and strategizing is useless without action. When you and I procrastinate, not only do we stay stuck where we are, but we also add more stress to an already stressful situation. Taking action, even when you don’t feel like it, is the only way to get past procrastination.
4. Take frequent breaks
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, says the old adage.
Whether you work from home or outside, sticking to a project schedule is essential to keeping clients or your boss happy. But that’s no reason to push yourself to the limit.
Burnout can be a much bigger problem than reorganizing your schedule to meet deadlines, so the moment fatigue sets in, take a break. Your body will love you for it.
Why you need to take breaks
- Boost creativity and productivity: Long stretches of work sap creativity and take a toll on productivity. Restore your brain’s reserves by taking a break. Better yet, take a bath. Or watch an apple fall from a tree. Renowned scientists Archimedes and Newton had "lightbulb moments" that came to them while their minds were . Even the idea of Harry Potter came to J.K. Rowling while waiting for a delayed train.
- Improve your health and well-being: shows that sitting for more than eight hours a day escalates people’s risk of chronic diseases and premature death by up to 20%. Include an exercise or walking break in your work plan so you’re not glued to your chair for long periods. According to the , 30 minutes of moderate physical activity is the goal to aim for every day.
- Prevent decision fatigue: Decision making can be taxing, particularly on your willpower and ability to reason. One suggests that fatigue is an extraneous factor in judicial decisions, when it clearly should not be. When decision fatigue sets in, the rate of favorable rulings drops to nearly zero "within each decision session and returns abruptly to [approximately] 65% after a break."
5. Set boundaries
Delineating work life from home life gets tricky when your workplace is also your home. But setting boundaries is essential to keeping your sanity.
How to set boundaries when working from home
- Stop working when it’s time to stop: Getting started can be hard, but once you hit your stride, it can be even harder to stop working. Train yourself to stop once work time is over, like you would in a typical 9-to-5.
- Ask friends and family members to respect your hours of work: Work-from-home opportunities are a godsend — for parents with young children and people tired of braving a soul-sucking commute every day. But children may interpret your being home as being available for play, and friends may think they can come over any time to chat because you’re always home anyway. Make sure to communicate the hours of the day when you can’t be disturbed.
6. Have a technology backup plan
Much of working from home revolves around technology. You need the internet to remotely manage a team and access various tools online. If you have to stay productive while outside your home, you need a connected phone with you at all times.
But if there’s one thing about technology that’s not going away anytime soon, it’s the fact that downtime happens quite a lot.
Technology backup plan tips to try
- Plan ahead: Technology hiccups will happen — the question is when. To ensure workflow continuity, create a list of the interruptions you’re likely to experience, and then draft a plan of action addressing each one.
- Internet and power outages: Know the nearest coworking spaces for when your internet service goes out. Ask a friend, neighbor, or relative about using their internet for the time being. Get a broadband USB stick that you can plug into your computer, or subscribe to a mobile phone service that supports tethering. If you live in an area with frequent power outages, decide whether a backup generator is something to invest in.
- Get a backup computer: A backup computer can save you loads of trouble in case your main computer breaks. A tablet — or in some cases, your smartphone — may also see you through the day until your computer gets fixed.
- Use online storage services to back up or sync files: Check if your company has a premium subscription to a file storage service — you’re likely to get more storage space that way. If not, Google Drive provides up to 15 GB of free storage space, while Dropbox provides 2 GB for free, which you can easily upgrade to 3 TB with a premium plan.
7. Use tools
No matter where you work, workload management can be a pain in the proverbial backside if you go it alone. Productivity apps and project management tools, such as the prioritization matrix, enable you to more seamlessly organize your workday and stay productive.
Examples of work-from-home tools to look into
- Organization apps: Some productivity and organization apps that can come in handy include Wunderlist or Any.do for your to-do lists, Calendly or Google Calendar for organizing your schedule, Strict Workflow and Forest for blocking certain websites while you work, LastPass for keeping all your passwords in one place, Evernote for your notes, RescueTime for tracking the amount of time you spend on apps, Expensify for your expense reports, and so on.
- Communication services: Slack, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and Facebook Messenger are some of the most commonly used online communication apps for when you need to chat and exchange notes with colleagues or provide updates. Video conferencing services such as Zoom and Skype can be used to conduct training, interview applicants, etc.
- Task management systems: Project management software systems such as Trello, Podio, and Asana have built-in task management and tracking tools to keep your projects on task.
Stay efficient and productive when working home home
With the current health crisis still underway — plus the uncertainty that comes with it — many people may have to work from home longer than planned. But without a clear plan of action, working remotely may prove frustrating and unsustainable.
Hopefully, the productivity hacks we’ve outlined above can steer you in the right direction.