Over the past few months, the business world has been turned upside by the risks and effects of the “global pandemic”, including lockdowns and restrictions on normal business operations. As a result, more and more employers are encouraging their teams to work from home. Although working from home has many benefits, it also has its disadvantages. For one thing, being surrounded by your usual home comforts and possible distractions can sometimes stop you from creating your best work!
It has been a learning curve for us all – and although it might not be business as usual, we need to learn to adapt to this new situation so that it works to our advantage and drives us towards success. So, I am sharing some productivity hacks that will help you to maximise your time and efforts, enabling you to become more effective when working from home. You will learn to prioritise your tasks to spend more time and energy on the things that will take you forward towards your bigger goals, rather than on tasks that just keep you busy.
Work shouldn’t be stressful – and yet, for many people, it is. It has almost become an expectation – we’re acclimatised to the stress – and have accepted it as the norm! Working in such a way has brought us into a state of stress, and for most people, it has become their default setting. We now have the opportunity to create a much better work-life balance. However, that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice the quality of our output.
The strategies I’m going to share aren’t rocket science and can be easily incorporated into your working day. They will teach you to work smarter, not harder – creating ways of working that will decrease stress and increase your output, whilst maintaining your sense of wellbeing. By implementing these productivity hacks, you will be able to get more done in less time, allowing you to use the remainder of the day in ways that bring you joy, fun and happiness.
So, let’s start with my productivity hack number 1.
1. Develop a winning morning routine
Whether or not you’re aware of the fact, you have created a consistent routine that you’re likely to replicate from the moment you wake up, day after day. Make your bed, put the news on, grab a coffee, etc. – each of us has our own series of actions, in order, that we do, almost automatically.
However, I want to bring your attention to the quality of your usual morning routine. You probably do the essentials – washing, cleaning teeth, dressing, eating, drinking – but what do you do beyond that? What actions can be added that will positively contribute to your morning?
Is it enhancing how you think, how you feel and how you behave?
Or is it hindering you, or at least, not priming you for success?
When you think about your routine, does it work for you? Or does it work against you?
More specifically, when you’re working from home, how does your routine differ?
What you may not realise is that your morning routine primes you to face the day. Your morning ritual of having one slice of toast, a cup of coffee and a 5-minute shower, is a psychological process that creates the necessary energetic state for you to tackle the day.
But when working from home, the weeds can creep in if you allow them to do so – some of your pre-work rituals are skipped, or they change, resulting in you beginning the day only 60% charged. This is reflected in the quality of your performance and the work you produce.
So, first, bring awareness to your current morning routine.
Are there things you should remove from it that don’t really serve your higher self? E.g. smoking, eating unhealthily, reading/watching bad news?
And are there things you can add to your morning routine that will enhance it, your work – or your life? E.g. exercise, healthy eating, meditation, visualisation, personal development, or learning? This forms your winning routine.
Never sacrifice a winning morning routine. Your castle must be built on solid foundations, and your day is built upon an efficient, effective routine that sets you up positively for the day. Great mornings normally result in great days, so by paying close attention to your morning routines, you move towards achieving greatness.
2. Define your workspace
Your working environment has a huge impact on your levels of productivity. My advice is to create a defined space for you to work, where you are free from distraction and noise. A discrete study or home office is great; but if you don’t have a spare room – a dedicated area of another room is fine. Working from different rooms is too inconsistent and just doesn’t work.
Create an area that you can make your own: a space that is comfortable, with natural light from a window, and select plants, pictures, and motivational materials to surround yourself with. If working from home is going to be a long-term arrangement, do it right! Make that investment in yourself.
Your home requires a workspace that enables you to concentrate without being disturbed by the rest of the family or your housemates. When you enter the home office, workspace, or zone you have created, you should get a sense that it’s time to get down to business. You know your bedroom is where you sleep; you know the bathroom is where you bathe. Establish a defined work area, so that it triggers a similar message to your brain: when you step into that vicinity, it’s time to work.
3. Regulate your workspace and time
Once you’ve established where in your house you’ll be working, the next step is to regulate that space. What do I mean by ‘regulate’? Undoubtedly, we can all appreciate that working from home has many benefits – but some factors can hinder your productivity. I’m talking about disturbance and interruptions by kids, dogs, cats, wives, husbands; Royal Mail and Amazon deliveries; passing relatives, friends and neighbours popping in. This, on top of the distractions in front of you: phones, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, emails, Amazon, holiday websites, clothing websites – and any other website that doesn’t relate to your work-role.
So, you need to control the situation and put measures in place to manage these distractions.
Now, I’m not an advocate of locking yourself away, but if you are fortunate enough to have a spare room or study to work from, that’s ideal. Otherwise, decide on a space where you’re less likely to be distracted. My recommendation is to sit down with your other half (or housemates) and agree some boundaries. This goes for prospective visitors, too. Make them aware of your schedule: the time you start and finish work, and have that agreement in place. Mistakenly, just because you’re home, your spouse may interpret that as meaning that you’re available to put the bins out halfway through an important conference call; go out on a day-trip; or you can look after the kids while they run to the shops. Well, looking after the kids isn’t a negative and one of the biggest benefits of working from home (or for yourself) is having that flexibility – but remember that having structure to your day is essential for productivity; so, if you do need to incorporate such things, ensure that you plan your workload and allocate time for it. Develop a way of working that protects your focus and attention.
Certainly, for the first part of the day, limit your availability to others, because this is generally when we all have the greatest bandwidth. These are your power hours, so utilise them carefully.
4. Schedule your day!
Somehow, we were sold the idea that creating a ‘to-do’ list meant being productive and taking control of our day. But I can tell you now – we were sold a lie!
You might think you’re making progress by filling up an A4 sheet of paper with tasks and crossing them off as you go along, but how much progress are you actually making? How much impact are you really having? Your focus naturally falls on the easy wins, the low-hanging fruit that’s likely to make no real difference to your day. We’re not trying to be busy – we’re aiming to be productive. There’s a big difference.
The method I’m suggesting requires you to prioritise the ‘big ticket’ tasks. These are the ones that will project you further forward, once completed. And yet, they are usually the tasks you’ve been avoiding or left at the bottom of your list for weeks. They are the important ones that will make a real difference.
Once you have prioritised your tasks, schedule them into your daily planner. Set timeframes and deadlines for specific tasks in a strategic approach, rather than randomly jumping from task to task. Working in a methodical manner reduces stress. It puts you in control of your day, instead of your to-do list controlling you. It enables you to easily set aside time for breaks, lunch or looking after the kids – just in case your other half does have to pop to the shops!
5. Prepare your meals
In a city office, you’re spoilt for lunch choices from a variety of different shops and restaurants. You may even have the luxury of a staff canteen. But working from home, what do you do?
You don’t want to spend 20-30 minutes preparing food when you have a zoom call in 10 minutes’ time. You don’t want to be interrupted by smoke alarms when you’ve forgotten the jacket potato in the oven because your meeting’s overrun. Being fully prepared and organised can prevent these embarrassing real-life dramas.
So, a big recommendation and hack number 5 is to prepare your meals ahead of your working day – either the evening before, or cook a week’s meals for the freezer. Removing the stress and inconvenience of preparing lunch can make a big difference to your day.
It’s 20 or 30 minutes more worktime, or you can dedicate it to meditation, yoga or extra time with the kids. Over the course of the working week, it’s 2 or 3 hours utilised for a better purpose, making much more sense!
So, those are my top 5 simple hacks for working from home. Of course, there are other ways to improve your productivity, but these are easy hacks you can immediately implement and instantly ramp up your productivity.
Highly productive people are high performers; so, give up old habits and move into the realm of high performance.