Working from home can be a blessing or a curse. As a freelancer, I spend a a lot of time working from home and, although it took me a while to get used to it, I’m now proud to say I love working from home!
But it did take a few weeks (read: a month) of less-than-stellar productivity for me to figure out how to do it properly. And now that I know how to work my working-from-home groove, I can hustle hard.
I’ve been successfully freelancing and running my own business since October 2019, and now that COVID-19 has a heck of a lot more people working from home (and probably going through similar issues as I did in the beginning) I thought I’d share some of my best hacks to make sure we all get through this difficult coronavirus quarantine period with our jobs intact!
1. set your alarm
I know, I know. You’re finally in a situation where you don’t have to get out of bed at 6.00am when your iPhone blasts out that ghastly harp noise. (It’s not better than the klaxon sound, iPhone sound developers… It’s just not, soz.)
But, take note: some of history’s greatest thinkers (including Plato) and some of this century’s greatest entrepreneurs (including Richard Branson) woke up/wake up to alarms of some sort. And aside from the obvious (ummmm, you’re awake for more of the day so you have more time, duh), setting an alarm is a good way to set your intention to be productive for the following day, it gives you time to prepare properly for the day by having a quiet coffee and taking a shower.
It also means you can be a little more leisurely with your morning routine: check your social media, emails and catch up on the news –– which gives you that ideal “focused but relaxed” attitude for the rest of the day –– rather than feeling like you have to throw yourself straight into the most challenging bits of your job because you slept until 8.59am.
2. take a shower & get dressed
Having a morning routine that prepares you for the day is one recurring theme among successful women. And look, if I’m completely honest, this was one of the things that I least wanted to do when I first started working from home. But keeping a regular routine that prepares you for the day is one of my biggest productivity hacks, and research agrees.
A recent study suggested that while people spend a lot of time trying to “disconnect” from work after leaving, many people do not however, try to reconnect when they re-enter the building or begin work again. And the study in question found that this type of “reconnecting” behaviour is critical to productivity and success.
The study in question calls it “reattachment” but it’s basically the same thing as having a routine which gradually eases you into your working day. Something that prepares you to work. Something as simple as a text message to workers, during this study, showed increased productivity and reductions in feeling exhausted at the end of the day.
To take advantage of this productivity hack, all you need to do is think about what you want to achieve today while you’re in the shower or getting dressed.
3. write a list
This is another way that you can consciously decide to be productive. I honestly thought that everybody made lists like I do, but apparently a lot of people simply decide what to do when they get to the office, or generate their to-do list based on their emails. Which can, quite naturally, lead to either missing things or not achieving what you really want to achieve.
Making a to-do list allows you to reward yourself, in a neuro-chemical sense, every time you achieve something. Your brain loves a list because every time you fulfil a task and tick it off, you get a little burst of a neuro-transmitter known as dopamine, which is responsible for motivation and determination.
Not only does making a list help to minimise distractions (which I’ll talk about next) by providing a plan of attack for background thoughts and tasks, but it can also help to quell anxieties about relying on your memory or forgetting things, as well as reinforce what you’ve achieved during the day.
Researchers at the University of Toronto have associated list-making with what they call a “growth mindset” – which essentially means that people who make lists are more motivated, more likely to be successful and more likely to achieve their goals. In a recent Forbes story, a lot of the world’s leading CEO’s cited list-making as critical to their success. Basically, making a to-do list will help you achieve what you want to achieve each day.
4. minimise distractions
A bit of a no-brainer but strangely enough this one didn’t occur to me until fairly recently – mainly because I’m relatively good at ignoring distractions for the most part. Here are a few things I’ve found make a big difference to how much I can tick off my to-do list each day:
- put your iPhone/iPad/TV/personal laptop in another room, or, if that’s not possible, at least put it on do not disturb
- if possible, make your ‘office’ a separate room to the rest of the house
- limit physical intrusions too by asking room-mates or family members to steer clear
- turn off the TV, spotify, log out of Facebook, close any windows or tabs that don’t have to do with what you’re currently working on
- don’t listen to podcasts or music while you’re trying to work (unless for some reason it helps you – I’ve always found everything aside from classical or non-vocal music super-distracting)
- if necessary, use noise cancelling headphone to limit outdoor noise and noise from neighbours
5. take regular breaks
The human brain is only designed to focus for short periods of time. Don’t try to force yourself to work all day non-stop. It’ll only mean you crash and burn or spend large portions of time being un-productive or un-focused.
Essentially, research suggests that people who take regular breaks from work are more engaged with their tasks when they return. This is for a few reasons:
- regular breaks help to limit something known as “decision fatigue”
- regular breaks mean you’ll stay focused on the task at hand (basically, if you try to pay attention to something for too long, you lose the motivation to continue with it
- research shows that people who take regular breaks are more likely to come up with creative solutions and have those ‘ah-hah’ moments
- what researchers call ‘waking rest’ aka taking a break helps to consolidate memories and improve cognition (or thinking)
6. get some exercise
Research has confirmed, over and over again, that people who exercise are not only more successful, smarter, more productive and more relaxed, but they’re also, quite naturally, healthier too.
A study by the University of Bristol found that people who exercise during the workday have more energy and a more positive outlook, both of which are critical factors to productivity.
And it doesn’t have to be hard-core gym junkie stuff, or even take too long. Basically, moving your body for as little as 10 minutes releases GABA, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel soothed, makes your thoughts more ordered and organised, and keeps you in control of your impulses throughout the day.
I, personally, save my exercise until towards the end of the day, because I like having it to look forward to. But a lot of friends like to exercise first thing in the morning, as part of their wake-up routine, or in the middle of the day, because it gives them a good break.
Blazer: Boohoo.com (currently on sale, so get a move on)
Tee: sass & bide – this one is sold out but similar here, and there are loads of other similar tees in their current collection.
Shorts: jay jays
What are your best working-from-home productivity hacks? How do you stay focused? Do any of the above work for you? Let me know in the comments.