How to Work From Home and Stay Productive …
(Snippits from our oh so popular Digital Glue Podcast!)
Once upon a time, working from home was once considered a luxury and often frowned upon for fear that we, as the employees, would not be productive — or perform at our peak potential — if we didn’t have someone supervising us 8 hours a day. Now, thanks to COVID-19, working from home has become the mainstream way of doing our jobs and, for many companies, almost replaced going to the office altogether.
Companies and employees alike have scrambled to adjust to working from a home office. While we see a lot of advantages to this change, many professionals have cited that they miss seeing their colleagues and collaborating together face to face, which was their motivator for productivity.
However, since this is the NEW reality that we face for the foreseeable future, we must adapt and be creative in our approach to be productive while working from home, which can be incredible, but also incredibly distracting.
Here at VU, we pride ourselves on helping other companies tackle opportunities that may seem challenging at first and “untangle” the challenges with unique and creative suggestions. We polled our audience, clients and peers alike, asking for a list of the most prevalent issues now that many of us are not going to the office.
One of the challenges presented was how to work from home and remain focused and productive. So, we’re here to jump into the conversation and add our two cents worth!
While my team and I have always worked from home, we have still had to take steps to self-discipline and develop new ways to motivate ourselves.
#1. Understanding The Power of Productivity
My basic definition of workplace productivity is spending more time on the right work. Based on my experience and research, the “right work” seems to fall into 3 simple categories.
- “Core Work,” to me, is completing the mission laid out for you in your job description, whatever your area of specialty may be.
- We have another category, “Communication,” such as emails, chats, calls or those never-ending Zoom meetings.
- Then we have “Everything Else,” and while this category may make you smile, we are talking about things like file management, admin work and all those other little things that don’t seem to fit anywhere.
You may find it helpful to track the amount of time you’re spending on each of these 3 categories, and you may have some surprising results!
This could show you where there may be laps in your productivity or if you need to spend more time in a particular area.
Feel free to schedule yourself or create to-do lists, as those are definite ways to keep you on track.
#2. Personalizing Your Workspace
If you’re lucky enough to dedicate an entire room in your house to being your office, that is fantastic. However, only some have that option, So I recommend setting up a dedicated space, corner, desk or whatever option is available to you and making it your own personalized workspace. Put up inspirational and colourful pictures and put little treats for yourself on your desk just like you would do at the office.
Adding a few live plants or succulents is also a nice touch for customizing your space. Having some of your favourite things around you or putting up a note of a quote you love can help you to feel inspired throughout your day. Keep your favourite mug close by to keep yourself hydrated!
It’s incredible how much our senses can either have a negative or positive influence on the atmosphere around us and now that you’re at home, feel free to make your space exactly the way you always wanted.
I like turning on fun dance music in the background, adding my favourite oil to my lava bracelet, and lighting a fruity-scented candle.
Feel free to block out the neighbour’s barking dog, distracting noise from household members or loud vehicles driving by with noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds. Studies show that a delicate blend of music combined with soothing nature sounds activates the calming part of your brain, helps you concentrate and lowers heart rate and blood pressure. It’s worth a try!
Most of us are subscribed to a music streaming service anyway, so this could be something you find that you really come to enjoy and that contributes to your overall productivity.
And let’s not forget about our pets! If you’re an animal lover and have these wonderful furry friends, let them become a part of your daily inspiration.
#3. Learning to Stay Focused
The discipline of learning to be focused on your task and being able to see it through to completion will definitely serve you well. I recently read an article on the art of being focused on Inc.com*, and a few points stood out to me.
The writer noted, “There’s a difference between creating variety and inviting distraction. Master the balance between freedom and flexibility, discipline and focus, and your odds of success and happiness will rise exponentially. Create daily goals, turn off the Internet when you’re not working on it, schedule times to check email and close out of it in between times, screen your calls (friends and family will simply have to understand), and fight the urge to do household chores during work hours.”
#4. Dressing for Success
Many of you may remember the well-known radio personality Paul Harvey. He was an American broadcaster for ABC News Radio, hosting hundreds of international sessions called “The Rest of the Story.” As we were planning the content for this podcast, a story that he told many years ago came to mind …
Paul made quite a name for himself and built a great career in broadcasting. As he advanced in his professional life, he made no plans to slow down or retire from his career and instead chose to have a studio built into his personal residence to record sessions in the comfort of his home. He would have been well prepared and adjusted for the time we are all working to adjust now!
It’s ironic when you think about it.
Paul anticipated immensely enjoying working from home but noticed a troubling trend a few weeks into his new venture. He found himself lacking a “spark,” if you will, he felt unmotivated and less productive as time went on.
Every morning, he would get out of bed, take his cup of coffee, head to the studio in slippers and pyjamas and record his sessions, all the while struggling to figure out why he was feeling less than his usual, professional self. One day, Paul sat thinking and observing his own behaviour in an attempt to find that “missing link” and realized that the brain will often work best in situations in which it has been trained to perform the best in. Therefore, he decided to simulate the routine he was used to — when getting ready to go to the office.
The following day, Paul got up, took a shower, combed his hair into place and put on a shirt and tie. He walked into the studio feeling confident with his armour on. Sure enough, it was enough to help him slip back into the groove, and he tackled his projects with more enthusiasm and better results.
This is not to say that everyone should necessarily put on a collared shirt and tie when they go to their home office. The point is your brain is hard-wired to be most productive in the space it has been trained to be the most effective in, so putting on your good jeans and work shoes will help you dress for success.
#5. Nutrition and Its Affects on Productivity
EAT and STAY HYDRATED. I cannot stress enough how vital it is to feed your brain and body. Your brain needs food and hydration to function well, and if you forget to do that or don’t consciously make time for it in your day, you will end up doing a disservice to yourself … and become quite hangry, which may come out in work and communications.
If you think you’re gaining time by working through your lunch hour, you will have a much higher chance of feeling chronic fatigue, mental fogginess, and more stress leading to quicker potential burnout.
In business, many of us are familiar with the term “burn rate.” This term is often used when discussing current corporate funds and how much of those funds are consumed monthly for operating costs. A percentage-based “burn rate” is established and allows finance experts to project whether or not the company is pulling in sufficient profits to cover and exceed expenses and for how long.
We, as humans, also have a burn rate.
If you transition to working from home with the mentality that you will now get much more work done because you don’t have to spend that dreaded time in rush hour traffic, a word of caution …
Set working hours and adhere to them. This is especially important if you’re like my team and me and struggle with workaholic tendencies.
You need a personal life outside of your work, so do what you need to do to establish a “full-stop” time of day. Whether it’s asking a friend to call you each day at 4:00 PM or you set an alarm for yourself, this is a necessary step to maintain balance in your life.
#6. Life Balance to Boost Your Productivity
CTV’s news writer, Meredith Macleod* wrote an article in June 2020 that spoke to the struggle that some have reported since the beginning of our COVID-19-induced venture of working from home. The notion of feeling that they are always “on.” Meredith interviewed Paula Allen, VP at an HR provider company; Morneau Shepell and Paula had some thoughts on work/life balance …
“A big hurdle in working from home is a work-life balance which may seem counterintuitive, but some people find it hard to turn to “off” when there is no leaving the office at the end of the day.”
For these people, working from home has been exhausting. Paula says some employers with staff working at home have shifted from worrying about employee productivity to worrying about burnout.
“Lots of people are working longer hours. They take an extra meeting or just want to finish up one more thing before racing for the ride home.” “It really takes discipline to turn off … It’s so easy to keep working, especially when you’re at home, but burnout comes from that.”
As it is, we generally struggle to walk the fine line of a work/life balance. Learn it, stick to it, and don’t work on the weekends if you have already worked your committed number of hours during the week.
#7. Dealing with Isolation
I touched on a point earlier that I’d like to expand on a little bit … and that is the reality that some of us may feel more isolated working from a home office, hampering our efforts to be productive.
A good dose of story-sharing and laughter is good for you.
A few years back, the Bank of America did a study that showed the most productive workers belonged to close-knit teams and spoke frequently with colleagues. So, take a few minutes to PM your friends, connect on social media, or call your bestie. Better yet, schedule a luncheon if you can or meet your team or friends for a virtual coffee at least once a week.
In addition to plain ‘ol loneliness, there’s a professional aspect to consider here … Working from home can increase your productivity, but you may find that your professional advancement has slowed down anyway. Unfortunately, some business owners fall victim to an “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking about their remote team. If you’re physically present at the office, grabbing new opportunities is easier, and networking becomes more complicated too. The good news is that this can be avoided if you are committed to combating isolation in every part of your personal and professional life. We need more time to form or maintain close relationships. If we never make time for the people we care about, they will eventually stop having time for us. When this happens, we may take on even more work to fill the void of loneliness.
This vicious cycle is difficult to leave. It’s difficult to admit that our dedication to work could be a coping strategy, and it is easier to see ourselves as dedicated and career driven.
Anyone can become isolated in this way, but the danger is heightened for those doing remote work. It can start as a need to prove yourself, to show everyone that you’re just as dedicated to the job as any on-site employee. It can grow out of a selfless need to take on a more significant share of the work now that you’re not wasting time commuting.
If you’ve fallen down one of these rabbit holes, the first step is to think carefully about your daily routine.
How often do you meet people and interact with them meaningfully?
How often do you call your loved ones?
The question is whether your workday is spent productively and look into how much time you spend on procrastination.
There is an excellent quote by Anne Lamott on this topic that says …
Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you!
#8. Living in a Land of Technology
Outside of work, technology can be a double-edged sword. Psychologists warn that social media may make us more isolated — it all depends on how we use it. The main danger comes from feeling left out when we scroll past photos of people having fun without us. But if you use social in the right way, they can help you find like-minded people.
Writer Jonny Sun gave an inspiring talk on this topic, and in his student days, Sun started using the Internet as an outlet for his creativity. His confessional comics resonated with many people, giving him a sense of belonging and micro-community that helped him grow. It’s essential to mind your online interactions with intent and mindfulness.
Another exciting part of Sun’s talk is that his comics spoke openly about his feelings of isolation and the feedback he got made him feel less alone. It can be hard to admit we are isolated. And quite frankly, most of us are tired of it … but being honest lets us reach out to our loved ones or strangers in a similar situation. Shining a bright light on loneliness brings it out of the shadows and becomes a thing we no longer need to be afraid of. Feeling isolated doesn’t have to be a part of our daily lives.
As a virtual worker, you have more power than most people to determine your schedule and priorities. As you give that some thought, you may realize that you already possess the tools to build a more community-minded space for yourself. Data shows that people who work from home are more productive and less likely to spend all day on email and chat. But that’s only the case if they have the tools and systems to efficiently manage their time.
I encourage you not to hesitate to speak up if you feel you do not have the tools to work productively from home. And it may be helpful for you to have a solid understanding of what you need so that when you’re talking with your team — or a virtual team you’re on — you are prepared to offer possible solutions. Discuss your expectations, stick to your schedule, and go easy on each other.
It can take time to feel comfortable working from home. But the data doesn’t lie … it shows that once you do, you’ll be more in control of your time MORE than ever.
I recently read a fantastic article on Forbes.com* on the topic of working from home, and a great point was raised that I think we can all work a bit more on …
Keep your attitude in check. Above all, be creative and don't let your confined circumstances dwarf your tranquillity, happiness or productivity. Your greatest power is your perspective. It can victimize you or empower you. When you look for the upside in a downside situation and figure out what you can control and can't, it's easier to accept whatever is beyond your control. Your best ally is to find the opportunity in the difficulty during an uncontrollable situation instead of the difficulty in the opportunity.
So, take advantage of this restrictive time to clear the clutter and get caught up on those fun hobbies you’ve neglected.
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