Whether you like it or not, current events have forced many of us to figure out how to work exclusively from home. While there are many benefits that come with working from home, there are also several drawbacks.
For one, there are typically an infinite number of distractions. From the looming presence of the television 5 feet away to the pantry that you’ve checked a dozen times, hoping that there will magically be new snacks, staying focused is a challenge. Not to mention the space restrictions if you live in a small apartment or if you have to share dining table real estate with a significant other or family.
We don’t know what to do with the hours that we’ve reclaimed by eliminating the dreaded commute. We feel less energetic throughout the day because we tend to stay up later. Sometimes we even forget to feed ourselves because the line between kitchen and office has been blurred.
We’ve all had to adjust, employees and employers alike. But there are ways to create a sustainable work-from-home (WFH) system that will help you stay productive and focused. Here are a few tips that have helped me adjust to this “new normal.”
Create a daily schedule and stick to it
This is probably the most important part of WFH. Since there’s no longer a physical office to go to, it’s important that you take ownership of your own schedule and structure your day around it.
A structured day will result in higher productivity, deeper focus, and greater work-life balance.
Of course, not every day will follow your schedule perfectly, but having it as your foundation will at least give you a guide to follow. Here are some ideas to fill your daily work schedule:
- Spiritual growth – meditate, pray, etc.
- Personal/professional development – reading, writing, talking with friends/family, news
- Exercise – run, train, yoga, etc.
- Deep work – reserve this time for your most important projects and tasks
- Emails – emails are one of the greatest distractors, try scheduling time to check email and stick to it – most people can wait for your reply
- Food – make sure you eat! Your mind and body will thank you for it and help you be more productive throughout the day
- Light work – use this time to do low-impact tasks that don’t have to be finished by the end of the day and don’t require too much brain power
- Hard stop – this is when you stop all work. Go make dinner, spend time with family, go out, sleep, whatever. Give yourself permission to stop and get back at it tomorrow.
You can choose to have all, more, or none of these items in your day. The point is that you’re the architect of your day, it’s up to you to build it according to your needs.
Create a dedicated office space
I know it’s easy to just set up your laptop on the kitchen table and close it up at the end of the day. But being able to mentally separate your work space from your living space will help you change gears when it’s time to work and when it’s time to stop.
If you’ve got a corner of a room that could be repurposed to a small, dedicated workspace, do it. If you want to convert your kitchen table into your office temporarily, do it. If you want to reserve one spot on the couch for your workspace, do it.
Whatever your situation is, just make sure that it is consistent and exclusive to work only and is a space that will help you focus.
Turn off all notifications
We all have different things competing for our attention throughout the day. When you’re working, of course you should be attentive to your employer and colleagues, but when you’re off the clock, it’s important to dedicate your time to the other areas of your life. At the end of your work day, try turning off all work-related notifications on your phone and laptop that have the potential to suck you back into work.
If you decide that your work day isn’t going to start until 8am, don’t be checking an email from your coworker at 6:30am while you’re eating breakfast. At the end of the day when it’s time to eat dinner with your family, be present with your family.
Again, this is all about pursuing a healthy work-life balance, so learning how to be present and in the moment to the most important things in your day will contribute to that.
Make sure you eat
This is a given. But when you’re not at the office and Joe Shmoe isn’t pulling you out to go get something to eat at lunch, it can be easy to work straight through the day without feeding your body. Especially if your days are filled with meetings, you’ll be at your best if you have the fuel that will help you contribute your ideas and energy.
Look for foods that can be prepared quickly such as frozen pizzas, leftovers from dinner the night before, prepped salads, etc. so that you can maximize your time to take a break and conquer the rest of your day.
Prioritize your workload
Let’s face it, it’s too easy to pile up the tasks in our to-do list.
Don’t let your day be hijacked by doing work that really could wait. A simple way that has been effective for me in organizing tasks is what I call a priority quadrant checklist.
I’m guilty of spending time on tasks that aren’t that important. This quadrant should give you a quick snapshot of the tasks that should take priority in your day. If you don’t get to finish everything that you list in the quadrant, then they would be added to the next day and so on.
I’ve illustrated a quick (sorry for the smudge) example below.
Now, more than ever, I believe it’s critical to maintain a balanced approach to work. When we can learn to adjust to being at home 24/7 and merge home and work life, I believe everyone wins.
If you have the luxury of being able to work from home, count your blessings. But if you’re not careful, it can quickly become something that we resent. Hopefully we can all learn from one another, be gracious to all who are adjusting to this new way of life, and ultimately grow so that we all can come out stronger.
Let’s get to work.