When you are working from home, your boss is no longer your workplace antagonist. Now, it’s your own mind. To stay ahead of your brain’s own impulse to gradually melt into the couch cushions, you need to take some serious action before things get out of control. If you aren’t getting things done, you need to change how you’re getting things done. Follow these seven tricks to stay on track and stay productive while working from home–whether it’s for a week or a year.
Make a Schedule and Respect It
Our brains and bodies work best when we keep a consistent schedule. It’s essential to maintain a healthy plan while working from home. Rising at noon might sound lovely, but it won’t lead to long-term success. Not because the early bird gets the worm, but because those that listen to their body’s natural circadian rhythms do.
Stay active during the day and inactive at night, starting and stopping work at the same time every day. Eat meals at regular times, and stick to a sustainable, regular sleep schedule. Keeping a consistent schedule is an essential step on the road to developing a better work-from-home ethic, and it’s the foundation of the productivity tools you need going forward.
Lastly, consider a bit of psychological claptrap. When you disrespect the schedule you made, you’re telling yourself that your edicts are not worth respecting. “Oh, I know the guy who set this deadline,” you think, “and he’s a total pushover.” If you don’t respect yourself, why should anyone else?
Establish an “Office” & Dress Code
The human mind uses physical locations as an important trigger for different activities. For example, if you work in the same place every day, you will gradually find it is easier to work in that space. Like a regular at a coffee shop whose latte is already on the counter as she walks in, your brain automatically readies your “work” skills as you enter your office.
Working from home, you may not have the luxury of a spare room for an office. Few of us do! But you can establish a specific corner of your home as your office zone. Respect its borders. Just like your bed should only be used for sleep, this office space should only be used for work. If you’re not working, you’re not sitting there.
Space is not the only brain hack to help us stay motivated. Rituals and routines are critical as well. The custom of dressing a certain way is fundamental to establishing patterns and developing healthy work habits. Don’t stop dressing for work just because you can, or you’ll backslide corn chips and daytime TV.
Recalibrate Your Motivation
Without the fear of punishment for slacking, you might find that you no longer have the motivation to keep yourself on task. If fear of trouble was your primary motivator in the past, you’ll need to adjust. Which is a good idea, because fear is a pretty crappy motivator in general. The pursuit of positive goals will be a more consistent motivator than the escape from negative fears.
Reflect on what motivates you to the actions you want to take. What is it about those activities that attract you? What motivates you to take part in them? If you’re not sure, you can consider some worthy motivations:
- Providing a useful service to your customers
- Maintaining social connections with colleagues
- Solving interesting problems
- Engaging with intellectually-stimulating tasks
- Adding to your team’s continued success
- Supporting colleagues that rely on your guidance
- Contributing to a sense of normalcy in a trying time
Implement Better Task Management
Task management systems like Getting Things Done are critical for folks with lots of tasks and little time. You may find yourself in a curiously inverted position or discover that your once-consistent assignments now leap up at unfamiliar intervals. This is all part of the rhythm of an office adapting to a new working style.
No matter how many tasks you have or how much time you have to complete them, a task management system is a critical part of a serious productivity routine. Keeping things in your head is the way of the amateur. If you want to be professionally productive, you need a system.
However, even the best system won’t make you immune to sloth. To keep yourself motivated, make sure to “chunk” complicated tasks down into reasonable, achievable goals. Ideally, you should be checking items off your to-do list around once an hour on average. If you’re not breaking your tasks down to that resolution, you may want to consider it. Set goals, and focus on your progress to achieving them: it’s a productivity tip as old as time.
Find Useful Software
Free and paid software for productivity management is plentiful and necessary for any work-from-home professional. You need to find a system of applications that work best for you. The benefits of computerized task management are too great to stick with a pen-and-paper process or memory-based method.
- Time Tracking: Toggl, Rescue Time, HubStaff
- Project & Task Management: Zoho Projects, Todoist, Trello
- Video Conferencing: Zoho Meetings, Zoom, Doxy, Microsoft Teams, Skype
- Remote Access: Zoho Assist, TeamViewer, LogMeIn, Chrome Remote Desktop
- Team Collaboration: Zoho Projects, Microsoft Teams, Confluence
Be Patient With Yourself
Working from home can be a frustrating process, especially if you’re prone to distraction or get the blues from time to time. Try to remember that the first step to being really good at something is being really bad at it. We often say it takes approximately 21 days of consistent performance to form new habits. Don’t expect yourself to be an expert on day one, and give yourself the time and resources you need to make this transition effective. Bodies take time to heal, and brains take time to adapt. It’s a natural part of the human condition.