Over the past year and a half, I have talked to many people who transitioned from working from the office to working remotely. While they enjoy working from the comfort of their own home, I often hear that they struggle with their productivity in one way or another.
Here are four tips that I often give to people who want to up their productivity game while working from home:
Have a “get to work” routine
Look, I get it; since you no longer have to commute, you go to bed later, sleep in a little, take it slow in the morning and get surprised by how much time has passed while you still haven’t done any meaningful work other than check-in with the team on Slack or Teams.
Been there, done that. Especially on days where you don’t have any meetings or deadlines, it sometimes requires a lot of discipline to get to work.
Similar to how some people have a morning and evening routine, you can create a “get to work” routine. A system you compose to get into “work mode.”
For instance, my get to work routine is roughly* as follows:
- I make myself a cup of coffee.
- While my coffee is brewing, I open Spotify and start listening to the Pure Focus playlist.
- Before I get my coffee from the machine, I open up my to-do list and the task I will work on.
- I grab my coffee (very important)
- Some days I set a timer for 5 minutes, in which I don’t do anything other than work on the task I want to focus on. I especially use this method when I struggle to get to work, whether after a rough night or just because I am procrastinating.
*I am constantly tweaking my routine if I think of a better routine to get into deep work mode.
You can use my routine as a starting point, and I encourage you to sit down and grab some pen and paper (or open your notes app) and write down what you imagine your ideal “get to work” routine to look like.
As you can see in step five of my routine, I use the 5-minute method to switch from non-work to work mode. Instead of the 5-minute method you could also give the Pomodoro method a go, which alternates 25 minutes of work with 5-minute breaks.
Get to know your peak performance hours
I don't know anyone, besides maybe Elon Musk, who performs at their best for the entire day.
To make most of your workday, get to know your "peak performance hours," which are the hours that you are the most productive.
It's okay if you don't know what your peak performance hours are at the moment, but you can narrow it down by answering the following two questions:
At what hours of the day do you:
- Feel like you have the most energy?
- Feel like you can concentrate best? (maybe when the kids are at school or in bed?)
Answering these two questions will give you a rough time frame of when your peak performance hours most likely fall in. So what now? Schedule your most important tasks during these hours and try not to schedule any meetings for the next couple of days.
You want to look at these hours as the time block in which you do your best work. For most people, a time block of 3 to 4 hours seems to be the sweet spot for productivity and concentration, which leaves plenty of time for any meetings and other tasks that might require less brain space.
Take regular breaks, and do something with it.
Part of staying productive is taking regular breaks. Especially when you start working from home, it's difficult for some people to justify taking a break that's longer than 10 minutes.
Some people feel like they need to be (or appear) online. Often because they fear their manager would otherwise think that they are slacking. If this is you, you might want to read this article about feeling guilty while taking a break.
And then you have a group of people who say that working from home is already far more than enough "break time." I call this group of people "burnout promoters." for obvious reasons.
Well, let me tell you this: if you don't take any breaks, your productivity and creativity will suffer.
Just like your peak performance hours, plan in time to get away from your workspace. Take a walk, sit down with a cup of coffee, watch an episode of your favorite series, do something that takes your brain off your work. Also, don't forget to think outside of normalized work breaks; for example, if you are a gamer, why not play one or two games?
The most significant benefit of working from home is that you can set your hours. So why not take two hours after your peak hours to go to the gym?
If you communicate this well with your team, this shouldn't be any problem. After all, if there is an emergency, you can always hop in the car and drive home. But I can tell you that I have never been in a situation where my job was in jeopardy because I needed to get to my laptop to resolve an issue because I was taking a break.
Use a personal to-do list
Every team has some project management tool or shared to-do list. Everything you need to do is assigned to you and probably has a deadline and clear instructions on what needs to be done or delivered.
But, if you don't have this already, create your own system for managing these to-do's as well.
At first, it might feel like you are painstakingly duplicating the to-do's from your team's tools, but once you start incorporating your own tasks, notes, and schedule, including your peak performance hours, your to-do list will become your superpower.
When planning out your week (or day) inside of your to-do list or agenda, think about:
- What tasks fit best in my peak performance hours?
- Are there any similar to-dos so that I can batch them together?
- Besides work, what other things will I have to do this week? For instance, I schedule my gym hours and other activities like watching football with my father.
- (bonus) Are there any upcoming deadlines that aren't realistic, and should I discuss them sooner rather than later with my team?
To get you started, here are some great apps for managing your to-do's:
- TickTick, my weapon of choice because of the great UI, notes, and Agenda view.
- Todoist, still one of the most popular to-do apps.
- Things, however, there is no Windows or WebApp and is only available on IOS and macOS. But if you only use Apple devices, this app is killer!
- Microsoft To-Do, although they killed Wunderlist for this, it's still a pretty good app for Microsoft power users.
If you prefer pen and paper to stay on top of your to do's, here are some great products I've used before:
- Todo cards, enough room for multiple to-dos (and also work great as a grocery list).
- Analog, while I haven't used these cards before, I know many people and creators who swear by this tool.
- Sticky notes, which are great for creating your own real-life kanban system.
Keep experimenting! (bonus)
Hopefully, one of the above tips will help you improve your productivity while working from home and make you enjoy it more! With every tip I’ve shared in this post, the most important thing to remember is to keep experimenting!
Don’t get into the habit of doing things just because they work or because you are used to doing things a certain way. Working from home gives you the freedom to experiment with your environment and routines as much as you want to. Keep experimenting with new routines, habits, and other things that you think might improve your work-from-home lifestyle or your overall lifestyle.
Enjoy the freedom!