How to be more productive, when working from home?

March 18

13 min. to read

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While Covid-19 is throwing off work routines, it's a great time to build your work-from-home plan. As someone who has worked from a home office for years, I’ve got some strategies and tools not just for surviving, but for thriving in this new virtual work world.

Get Set Up Right

Set up your workspace as a distraction-free zone. Create a space that feels welcoming and productive. Ideally, a separate room or area that allows you to focus. As the weather warms, the back yard or patio is fine as long as it doesn't tempt you to do yard work. If you have young children whose schools are now doing remote learning, or if you are sharing space with a partner or spouse also teleworking, you may need to negotiate for both space and time in order to get your respective assignments done. Consider implementing a non-linear schedule that allows you gaps for kids’ "classroom" time and chores, with work time blocks when you won’t be interrupted. Print out and post the schedule, so everyone is on the same page.

How to be more productive, when working from home? Image1Photo by Jacky Chiu

Make sure your workspace fits you ergonomically. Now that you’ll be spending longer periods of time in this space, it needs to fit your body. If you have a laptop, consider buying a separate keyboard--laptop keyboards are notoriously poor ergonomically. Check your monitor height to ensure you aren't slouching. Take a look at your mouse. I’ve had good success with the Anker ergonomic mouse, which keeps your hand in a neutral position (recommended by my chiropractor.) A standing desk is a great idea. But you can also adapt a high kitchen counter to keep yourself from sitting all day.

Have office supplies on hand. With the whole family working from home, be sure you have a good supply of more than just toilet paper. That means paper and printer ink, too. Most of the retailers can ship these right to your house so you don’t need to head out.

How to be more productive, when working from home? Image2Photo by Green Chameleon

Get connected. Set up your virtual tools. Do a test with your Skype account or Google hangouts. Lots of teams are now using Zoom for virtual meetings, and the pricing plans for teams of 100 or fewer is very reasonable. (My church now holds streaming worship services in this way, with the chat feature enabled for prayers—surprisingly successful.) Another great tool is Slack, which allows you to set up “channels” for good project management, as well as instant messaging across teams.

How to be more productive, when working from home? Image3Photo by Austin Distel

Be present. With so much virtual meeting time, it will be tempting to turn off the camera and arrive for every meeting in your bunny slippers. However, it’s vital to keep face to face contact with team members for more effective meetings. Having the camera on forces you to fully engage and not try to check email during the meeting. As an added bonus, seeing your usual coworker or client faces will help keep many team members from feeling isolated.

Now might be a good time to upgrade your internet speed. If multiple people are working from home, and all the kids and college students on your block are also remote schooling, your network may get crowded. If you have robust file transfer needs for work, you may want to look into getting a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which routes around your existing internet connections and can provide faster speeds. Most offer monthly plans, so it’s not a lifetime commitment.

How to be more productive, when working from home? Image4Get Things Done

Create and stick with a routine. Get up at the same time as you usually do, and try to go to bed at the same time, too. (I know, those Netflix binge-fests will be tempting!) Get showered and dressed. Every day.

Define Goals. At the start of each week, define your strategic goals vs tactical goals. The strategic goals are those big-picture goals that affect the long-term success of your projects and team.  It’s easy to let the tactical issues overwhelm the strategic vision. Deliver on at least one big-picture goal each week. One way to keep your goals on track is to use organizing tools. Evernote is an effective note-taking tool to keep you focused on the next steps coming out of virtual meetings. I’ve found Trello to be a good brainstorming tool that uses a sticky-note style approach to making lists and keeping track of project workflow. Kids might like it, too, for organizing their homework assignments. And don’t forget to make use of the lowly but useful white board.

How to be more productive, when working from home? Image5Photo by Toa Heftiba

Limit social media time. According to a Digital Information World survey, internet users around the world spend an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes per day on social networking and messaging platforms. That’s almost double what it was in 2012. For 16-24 year olds, the number is 3 hours per day. Social networks are invaluable now, during this time of “social distancing”. Just be sure they are not hampering your work productivity or your ability to spend time doing real world activities with family.

Take frequent breaks. With many of your meetings now taking place online, you might find you forget to move around. Be sure to get up, walk, and stretch at least once every hour. Set your Fitbit, Apple Watch or other wearable with regular reminders. Consider other activities that you can do when you are on your mental breaks from work. Try the New York Times crossword app, which includes mini-puzzles where you compete against the clock. Try a new podcast. My favorite app for listening to podcasts is PocketCast, a free and incredibly easy to use app which delivers to all platforms, from your car to your Alexa to your Mac or Windows desktop.

Try Something New

One great thing about not commuting is you aren't wasting the 52 minutes a day the average US worker spends getting to and from work. Use this gift of almost 5 extra hours per week to try something new, or brush up on a rusty skill.

Exercise! There are lots of online videos to help you get started or up your game, for example Fitness Blender. But you don’t need to launch a difficult workout regime. Try taking a walk several times a day. When working from home, I aim for at least 25 miles per week, urged on by our intrepid cockapoo, April.

And don’t worry if at first your steps go down from your usual target. That’s to be expected since your routine doesn’t include walking to the office from your bus stop or stopping by the corner deli for lunch.  Gradually raise your goal. Challenge a friend or your entire team to reach a weekly step number. With a fun reward for the winners when you all get back to the office. 

How to be more productive, when working from home? Image6

Practice an instrument. Perhaps you used to play that guitar gathering dust under your bed. Now’s a great time to pull it out and try some tunes. And you can learn from one of the best in this wonderful free series put together by legend James Taylor.

Play family games. Now’s the perfect time to pull out Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride. Or remember how to play RISK. Go old school with Sorry! or a game of Charades. With everyone increasing their screen time exponentially for school work and office meetings, staying in the offline world might be just what’s needed.

Read a new book. Of course there’s Oprah’s Book Club. But there are other lists of wonderful books. Every fall, the Man Booker Prize for fiction releases their short list. If you have a particular genre you like, there’s an award for that, too. For example, the Hugo Award for science fiction. Another great resource created by readers, for readers is goodreads.com.

Call an old friend. Texting is great, but talking is better. And laughing together is the best. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain." And we can all use that right now.

Get organized. Use this time at home to organize a physical space that's been driving you crazy. I recently took a break from a big work project to organize what's known as "the drawer of doom" in my master bathroom. (You probably have a similar drawer or two somewhere in your life.) Now it makes me happy every time I open it. 

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Written by

Amy DeLouise

Visual storyteller

Amy DeLouise is a freelance writer and video producer, attempting to share her home office with a husband, two young adults and a dog.

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