10 tips to stay productive while self-isolating (or just avoiding the office!)
Currently, many of us are working from home for the first time and experiencing both the pros and cons of this unexpected change. Add into that, some of us have children or parents to worry about – so it can all be extremely overwhelming.
But if we have a job to do, we still need to achieve our goals.
On the plus side, who wouldn’t want greater flexibility, increased autonomy and no commute? But when this is at the expense of productivity the joys begin to wear thin.
Most of my clients work from home and over the years I have seen the tricks they use to maximise success, stay motivated and achieve an amazing work life balance. By following these tips, you too can make working from home productive and fulfilling!
1. Get going early. (Newtons Law)
Create motivation in yourself by starting your work early. Remember Newtons Law of Inertia which states that an object at rest remains at rest, whereas an object in motion continues in motion. That works with people too! So, the less time you spend over breakfast the easier it will be to ramp up the action. (If you have children at home, just do one small task before they wake up)
2. Behave as though you are still going into the office.
One advantage of the daily commute is the boundary it places between work and home, both physically and psychologically.
You can create boundaries in other ways though. The biggest tip my clients share with me is to avoid the pyjama temptation and to wear shoes instead of slippers during working hours! A dedicated workspace is also important … but more of that later!
3. Structure your day the day before.
The main trick here is to create a weekly and daily schedule of what you will do and when you’ll do it and the best time to do this is the evening before. This means you can hit the ground running and prevent procrastination. For the same reason, your weekly schedule is best created on a Friday evening.
(Oh yes, don’t forget to build time in for breaks!)
4. Work when you are most productive.
Are you a night owl or a morning lark? Do you know when you are most productive? Try to understand your ebbs and flows and use your peak times for complicated tasks. Your slower times can then be used to knock a few easy wins off your list and maintain the feeling of motion and motivation. (Remember Newton!)
5. Have a dedicated workspace.
Resist the temptation to work from the couch or bed. It may seem like a great idea at first, but by losing the boundaries between work and home you won’t focus fully on the job in hand. Even worse, you won’t have a place to switch off at the end of the day!
Instead, get in the right state of mind by designating a specific room or surface as your workspace.
If you need to work from the kitchen table or bedroom, it’s worth decluttering it before you start work so that you can fully focus. Make sure you have a comfortable chair with back support and find a box or some other solution to store files and stationery overnight. That way you don’t need to see your work during your personal time and can set up your ‘office’ quickly each day.
6. Tell your family and friends when you are working.
If you don’t observe work/life boundaries yourself, you can’t expect others to. A trick here is to wear headphones when you can’t be disturbed. Or if you are lucky enough to work in a separate room, close the door.
Of course, this can be especially hard if you have children at home. One solution to this is to block your work and family time into manageable chunks. Children can be adaptable to new routines – let them prove it!.
7.Switch off unnecessary technology
Technology is there for you to use, not for it to use you! So, unless your job is actually ‘in’ social media it needs to be switched off. The same goes for the newsfeed on your browser and personal notifications such as email and WhatsApp. They are designed to appeal to your preferences so when you are having a dip in focus you will get sucked in.
So even if you don’t think that they’ll distract you, believe me – they will!
8. Play background music
Working in silence can be distracting, especially if you are used to a busy work environment. Most people find that playing music at a low volume fills the silence without providing a distraction. Music without lyrics is often best but some people like to match the type of music with the task in hand. One of my clients has revolutionised her productivity by creating playlists of power ballads for boring tasks and video game music for complicated activities.
9. Use household distractions as rewards
We are all human, so motivation will peak and flow throughout the day. If you find yourself being distracted by non-work chores such as housework or personal phone-calls, then build them in as rewards for completing a task. I have one client who uses the washing machine as a timer. For him the washing cycle is a deadline to finish a specific task. He races though his work so that he can stand up, move around and transfer the laundry to the dryer!
10. Mind yourself
It’s easy to become focused on practicalities but it’s so important to mind yourself both physically and mentally. Make sure you get outdoors at least twice a day to get fresh air and clear your head. (Even if it’s just sticking your head out of the window!)
Fit in some exercise to improve your general health and motivation, (Jumping jacks at least!) and if possible change your environment every now and again. If you can’t get out, then make sure you have regular human contact through video conferencing such as Skype, ZOOM or Facetime. We are genetically designed to be social animals, so even if you enjoy solitude, a coffee and biscuit in the virtual world can do wonders.
And lastly, buy a plant to share your office space. The greenery is soothing and helps with the quality of air in the room. You can even talk to it if you feel the need!
Although these tips might seem obvious, it’s easy to fall into bad habits. As soon as you do you will notice the drop in motivation, confidence and productivity.