by Joanna Ellis-Escobar
I’ve been managing my time remotely, first as a freelancer and now as a employee, for more than 14 years. There are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
So nay-sayers who think productivity suffers when you’re not in a typical office environment? Step aside…
Because there are several tips the pros can teach you to ensure you’re just as (dare I say even more?) results-driven and productivity-focused, even in a home office.
But first – here are a few stats for you…
Pre-pandemic: Just 7% of U.S. employees worked remotely
Today: The Brookings Institution Center on Children and Families currently estimates the teleworking segment to be almost 50% of all workers.
Tomorrow: That same report also finds that nearly 20% of CFOs plan to conserve future costs by keeping a significant portion of their workforce remote long-term.
All indications point to the fact that, for many of us, teleworking may be here to stay.
DISCLOSURE: Admittedly, I did have one significant advantage when I made the switch from corporate clock-punching to rolling up to my at-home desk in yoga pants and a messy bun every morning.
In my former work-life, I was a teacher – so my days were already driven by the proverbial bell, and schedules were my jam.
Even a decade and a half later, I still thrive on deadlines and schedules, to-do lists and organization. In some ways, I was made to work from home. But I get that not everyone is built that way…and countless times over the last several months, I’ve had conversations that remind me, many of my former-office-going friends are struggling to manage their new (lack-of) structure.
I promise you though, even if you have no idea how to transition to this new environment, even if you’re finding it incredibly difficult to manage your time without (cough…the fear of) your boss looking over your shoulder as motivation…
These six habits can help you maximize focus and productivity in your home office:
#1 Get dressed
Yes, I joked about my yoga pants and messy bun, but seriously…even if you don’t put on makeup or get your hair looking salon-worthy for the day, the simple act of actually getting dressed can shift your mindset for the day.
Our brains rely heavily on cues, and getting dressed is a strong signal that it’s time to move into “work mode.” Looking the part can enhance motivation, so it’s easier for you to treat your tasks with appropriate urgency.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but for all you psychology nerds out there (hand raised) a Columbia University article looks at five studies that all defend and support the same hypothesis surrounding the psychological consequences of clothing. Each study irrefutably shows that overwhelmingly, people “who wear formal clothes describe themselves as more competent and rational.”
THE BOTTOM LINE: You don’t have to don a business wardrobe, but you should make it a point to get properly dressed each morning. Everything from self confidence to motivation will change in a positive way.
#2 Take breaks
Not only do breaks help you maintain focus and energy throughout the day, but you’re also entitled to them by law. Study after study has shown that when we don’t honor our days with time to allow for mental decompression, we create an environment that’s prone to burnout, stress-related illness and other issues that result in less productivity and significantly decreased job satisfaction.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Schedule breaks and take them! Stand up, stretch, go for a walk, do a 10 minute meditation, jump on the Peloton or treadmill for a 20-minute workout…whatever you need to do to reset and recharge…those minutes you give yourself throughout the day will result in a drastically amplified overall production.
#3 Set hours (and stick to them)
If you don’t take steps to protect your at-home time as “time to work,” it’s likely that no one else will either. Take the initiative and inform your family and friends of your working hours. Let them know you won’t be available to take non-emergency visits, calls or texts during your work day. Resist the urge to let social media, TV or other distractions like household chores interfere with your working hours. Treat whatever sacred space you set up as your work station just like you would if you were in a physical office.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Setting the precedent early on is important. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you suddenly have time to watch The View at 10 am every morning. Whatever hours you plan to work, work them!
#4 Create a functional office space
Be it a separate room or office, or a corner desk you put in your bedroom, having a dedicated work space can help your brain differentiate between “being at work” and “being at home.” This can be tricky for those new to managing their time at home. Just like getting dressed signals your brain it’s time to switch into work mode, having a space to sit down at lets your brain know it’s time to work, too.
Take some time to organize your workspace. Stock it with essential tools, put up motivational decor, if that inspires you. And my pro tip for the day – dedicate the last five minutes of your day to cleaning up your desk and making a To-Do list for tomorrow. I committed to doing this every afternoon not long ago, and the difference has been incredible. Not only do I somehow feel more accomplished as I leave the office, but I also come back in the next day feeling energized and ready to work.
THE BOTTOM LINE: You don’t need a ton of space or a separate room or office to set up a functional environment that will help you get your work done. Don’t have a ton of space? Go vertical – hanging files on the wall and using cork boards and white boards can help you utilize the space you do have.
#5 Spend time working outside your office or away from your desk
Yes, current realities have thrown a kink in the “writer at a coffee shop” M.O. many of us work-from-homers love, but really, you don’t need a Central Perk to hang out at. Any change of scenery can make a big difference in your day.
Grab your laptop and sit on your patio for an hour a couple times a week. Productivity greatly increases when you remove yourself from your work-situation, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
I’ve been known to sit up in our loft where the kids’ homework stations are, or at our dining room table when I start to feel stagnant and burned out. And when things were really crazy a couple months ago, and all four of us were suddenly home with umpteen zoom calls going every day as we tried to wind down the school year? I even went into the guest room a few times – sometimes a different view is all it takes.
If you really can’t move around with your work because you live in a small place or don’t have a laptop, at the very least, try to go for a walk on your break.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Because you live and work under the same roof, the chance for environment-burnout increases exponentially. Separating yourself, physically, from your work space is key to staying sane and being able to stay under one roof 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
#6 Put your work away at the end of the day
As a freelance writer and editor who’s worked from home for nearly fifteen years, I understand the blessing and the curse that comes with not having a physical, dedicated location to arrive at and (more importantly) LEAVE FROM each day.
When you reach the end of your work hours every day, set your tasks aside until the next morning. Especially in the absence of physical distance between work and home, it’s really important you make a conscious effort to decide to honor and protect your “clocking out” time every day.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Your family and friends will thank you if you’re able to restore some balance to your life. One of the best parts of working from home? The ability to manage your time and work when you want to. One of the worst parts of working from home? The ability to manage your time and work when you want to. Don’t fall victim to working drastically longer than eight-hour days! Do yourself a favor and shut off when you need to.
Times are uncertain. It really does feel like we’re all just trying to figure out this new normal together. That’s why it’s so important we help each other out. Using one another’s expertise where we can will be a critical part of “making it through.”
If you’re finding it challenging to get organized and motivated when you’re working from home, try these six tips. Give it a week…I bet you’ll see (and feel) the difference!
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