As the Covid-19 pandemic forces millions of people around the world to work from home, one central concern for companies is whether people can maintain their productivity while working in isolation. For those who have never worked outside of the office, remote working can be incredibly challenging, not just for their productivity but also their physical and mental health. How, then, can we maintain our value at work while keeping our sanity? Below are Working Den’s tips for creating a healthy and productive working from home routine.
How to separate “work” and “home”
The phrase “working from home” generates a mental image of waking up at noon, sitting all day in your bed, wearing only pyjamas and eating only junk food. While this scenario is certainly untrue for most remote workers, many people do have troubles separating “work” from “home” while working only a few feet from their bed and their TVs.
The lack of physical boundaries also means that it is more difficult to compartmentalise – you will be more easily distracted by personal issues during working hours and find lingering work problems in your brain well after working hours. When you are distracted, your productivity inevitably suffers.
The good news is, you can trick your brain into thinking that you are going to work by installing structures in your day and set clear physical and mental boundaries between work and relaxation. Below are some tips for doing just that.
- Start the day as if you are going to work, which means get up at the same time every weekday, eat a healthy breakfast and a coffee before work, and get dressed before “going to work.” Getting changed may seem unnecessary since you are working from home, but the act of getting out of your pyjamas and getting into your “work clothes” can be a ritual that helps you set healthy boundaries between the two.
- Set a physical space designated to work and keep your workspace tidy. It is crucial that you do not work in your bed or your lounge area. Your bed or your couch may be tempting, but letting your work bleed into spaces usually associated with relaxation will only hurt your ability to wind down after work completely. Instead, set up a workstation in your living room or dining room, completed with a proper desk and back-supporting chair, where you can “go to work” each day. This space should be kept tidy and distractions – free so that your mind will not be cluttered while you work. When you take a break or end a workday, leaving this physical space will allow your brain to “disconnect” and wind down properly.
- Set clear working hours and keep to that schedule. Remote working means that you are more virtually connected with your coworkers, but people often mistake that connectivity to mean 24/7 availability. This expectation to reply to emails well after working hours often leads to stress and anxiety, since people cannot completely rest and recharge. Instead, you should start clear working hours each day and communicate those working hours clearly with your coworkers so that they do not expect immediate responses. Having this boundary allows you to stay online during your working hours and completely disconnect outside of those hours.
How to maintain productivity while working from home
Remaining productive while working from home is a challenge for many people. After all, our homes are full of distractions – our bed, our favourite snacks, our TV, our beloved pets – pulling you away from work. It takes discipline to follow a schedule and stay productive, but luckily, here are some simple tips to make it easier for you to stay on track.
- Set goals for things you want to accomplish each day. If you are easily distracted and find yourself at the end of the day having not finished any significant task, setting a reasonable “quota” for three to five tasks you want to complete each day can help. These goals should be achievable within the day, which means that you will help to break down big tasks. However, daily incremental achievements do add up in a week or a month, and you will be on track with your projects.
- Install periods of “deep work” and take breaks in between. “Deep work” is a practice introduced by productivity guru Cal Newport. In his bestselling book Deep Work, he advises us to break our workday into small intervals where we focus 100 per cent on work and take regular breaks in between. For example, you can use Working Den’s pomodoro timer to work without any distractions for 45 minutes, and take a 15-minute break to get a coffee or take a short walk outside. This practice allows you to create a digital boundary between work and relaxation, which leads to greater productivity and less burnout.
- Arrange your schedule to fit your productive hours. Not all of us are morning people. Everyone’s productive hours are different – some people like waking up early and getting the most difficult tasks done right away, others prefer late at night when there are fewer emails and messages. If you understand your most productive hours, schedule your “deep work” period during those hours and schedule meetings around that – you will find that you get more done.
- Block out distractions. Without workplace etiquette preventing you from watching Netflix or checking social media all day, many of us have problems concentrating fully on work. If you do not trust your willpower to stay focused, implement measures to make it more challenging to access these distractions. If your TV is too tempting, unplug it until work is over. Social media too distracting? Turn off your notifications and install apps that temporarily block access to social media during working hours. If your home is too noisy, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones will do the job.
How to wind down completely when working hours are over
It may seem counter-intuitive, but knowing how to properly rest and recharge is a crucial step in maintaining your productivity. Your hours of relaxation, interacting with friends and family, and deep sleep will allow your brain to rest, which can then fuel your productivity during the workday and help you manage burnout. Here are some tips for winding down after a stressful day.
- Exercise. Working from home means you may go for days without leaving the house. The lack of physical activity may take a toll on your body, resulting in fatigue and loss of focus. You should add some physical exercise to your day, like a daily walk or run, or some home workout exercises as recommended by Working Den, can help you sleep better and feel more energised at work.
- Practice mindfulness. A distracted mind is often the result of too many stimuli pulling you in every direction. Practising mindfulness and being more intentional with the use of technology and your time can help you minimise unnecessary distractions and add value to your life. Being mindful with your time is useful not just in your downtime, but also helps you focus better at work, which results in increased productivity.
- Make up for lost human interactions. Remote working is often profoundly lonely. Humans are social animals, and interacting with other humans is a necessary “fuel” to keep us energised. If you don’t get to have “watercooler conversations” with your co-workers, make up for this lack of human interactions by scheduling time to catch up with your friends and family outside of work and be present for them. You will find deeper connections with your loved ones and more energised at work.