With the world in a state of flux and many schools and organizations requiring workers to stay home, it can be difficult to get much done. I’ve been a self-employed writer and journalist for going on two years and there is definitely a learning curve when it comes to treating the home like the office. Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve developed over my career to ensure maximum productivity, even if your desk is an ironing board.
Protect Your Time
If you have kids at home or you’re calling family members every day or your partner needs help in the kitchen, it can be extremely difficult to get a day’s worth of work complete. Whether you have eight hours or two, you have to be very protective of your time.
Speak with your partner or family members and explain that when the door is closed/your headphones are in/you’re sitting at your desk, that’s the time you have to work. It’s not easy, but it’s fundamental to define your work time from your family time.
Get the Most Important Things Done First
Since our time is limited and fiercely protected, it’s important to use it as efficiently as possible. While it’s tempting to clear your email inbox or start a new project before completing the old one, now really isn’t the time to do it. You have to decide what your most important projects or assignments are and tackle them before doing anything else. That way, if you do get interrupted, you’ve still completed what needs to get done.
There are a lot of distractions at home, especially if you’re inside with family right now. That’s why organization is key to getting your work accomplished and accomplished right. I’m a huge to-do lister, but find the kind of organizational structure that works for you. The most structured and work-like your home office experience is, the most you’re likely to get done.
Cut Out Distractions
Yeah, this is a hard one, especially with kids in the house. But for those hours you’ve declared your work time, you need to close the door, put on the headphones, and shut out the world for a little while. I often put on a Spotify playlist of action movies or video game music that doesn’t have any words. It serves the dual purpose of both quieting the distractions, since I can’t hear them, and also inspiring me to keep moving forward.
Don’t Work in Bed
Yes, it’s tempting as hell and I’ll admit that I do it sometimes. We don’t have a table and my desk isn’t big enough for some of the largest projects I’m working on, but I’m still telling you not to do it. I’ve been at this for two years and when I work in bed, I inevitably end up mucking about for two hours when I should be working.
The couch is bad enough, but at least you’re sitting up. If you’re too comfortable or at ease, you won’t get anything done. It’s also important to separate your work and your home, even if they’re in the same place. Bed is for home. Desk/counter/floor/ironing board is for work.
Resist the Urge to Snack/Wander Aimlessly Around the House
The urge usually hits mid-afternoon, often after you’ve accomplished a large project or marked something off your to-do list and you’re feeling restless. That’s totally understandable and you deserve a snack and a break. The trick is to be intentional with the time you take away from work. Read a chapter in a book. Do 30 minutes of yoga. Set a timer for yourself to play a game. If you just kind of get up and wander around, it’s much harder to get back to work after, so have a plan.
Try to Make a Routine For Yourself
My partner is home from work and we’ve been staying in bed a lot longer than usual, which sets my normal day back. That’s the nature of what we’re going through right now and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Still, I start my day with a workout, read a chapter over a cup of coffee and then head straight to work. I start a little later than normal, but I’m still following my routine and sticking to it. Your routine probably won’t be perfect—things get in the way, especially when everyone else is home and also a little restless, but the closer you can stick to your routine, the more effectively you’ll work.
Be Kind to Yourself
You may find yourself comparing how much you do at the office to how much you’re able to accomplish at home and it’s not a true comparison. For one, the world isn’t working the way it normally does and lines of communication, speed of transportation, and information sharing are all a little disrupted right now.
Furthermore, your colleagues aren’t at their full either. When you’re in an office environment and all you have to worry about is the work for the day, it’s a lot easier to complete a project or give your work the attention it deserves than when you’re trying to patch into a conference call from the kitchen table while worrying about homeschool syllabuses and a global pandemic. Strive for normal production, but don’t expect it. This situation is unprecedented and we all have to do our best.
There are plenty more tips and tricks to working efficiently from home and I welcome your input on what has or hasn’t worked for you, as well as any questions you might have. In the meantime, I send you only my best thoughts and wishes during these difficult days. We will get through them together.