How to increase productivity at home (both while working and in your free time)
After the pandemic of 2020, my guess is that just about anyone you talk with will have very strong opinions about working remotely. Pre-pandemic, working from home full time was fairly unique to freelancers. Yes, many other people worked from home occasionally, but 40+ hours a week? That wasn’t normal. Skepticism from a manager was the most common perspective.
We’re now learning what the new normal is. Freelance workers and full-time employees are sharing the joys and/or pains of what it means to spend an entire day of work moving between our bedrooms, kitchens, and living rooms—all while muting and unmuting to speak to our colleagues or clients who are doing the exact same thing.
Remote work from home can be tough. Dealing with family members, work and life blending into one, Zoom fatigue, and having no home office are factors that can contribute toward a lack of productivity. However, while working from home has its challenges, taking proactive steps towards balancing your personal and work life can make the difference between sinking and thriving. Check out these tips for working from home productively.
Be your own manager with a daily schedule
Write down your daily tasks. When we go somewhere to work, our brains know that we’re about to go into work mode because we make a physical journey to our job. When you work remotely, that journey’s not there.
Instead, every morning, start your day by making a list of each of the things you need to accomplish throughout the day. A comprehensive list (weekly, and/or monthly) might sit within your computer or a calendar. But I recommend writing out your daily tasks to begin the day on the right foot. It’s a game-changer, I promise. Psychologically, crossing things out on your to-do list has been proven to be a remarkably effective productivity tool.
Here are some tips to make your to-do list work for you:
- Make a short list of only 4-7 items so you don't feel overwhelmed by your work.
- Organize your list from most important to least important so you get the right stuff done.
- Plan your remote work time so you can complete your list in a day.
With a list in hand, you can sort out a work schedule that will allow you to get through your list. Be sure to give yourself time for breaks, like lunch, a cup of coffee, and engaging with people throughout the day.
Avoid the home office trap: Separate work space and leisure space
Regardless of your home situation, it’s important to give yourself some ground rules. Protecting your well-being is a key part of being successful while working remotely.
To begin, try to separate your office space somehow. Personally, I’ve found that working from home while sitting in my bed with my laptop results in me losing focus. But I’m much more productive at my desk or my kitchen table.
We've got some more tips for boosting your productivity while working from home:
- Coordinate your video calls, phone calls, and video conferencing with your colleagues. Try to keep your time free in chunks so you can really focus on a task and get it done.
- Try not to make your living room your office. Key family spaces will be full of distractions and make working from home more difficult. Instead, design a workspace that is out of the family's main living space.
- If you have a separate space, put a do not disturb sign on the door. When you're working, your sign will remind people not to distract you. When you're not working, your sign will remind you not to go do a little work when you should stay connected to your family.
Our tips also apply for your time. Plan for remote work hours and for personal hours. If the former is always bleeding into the latter, you’ll have difficulty in being productive on projects and you’ll be distracted with work when you’re meant to be enjoying other things.
Take breaks and step out of the office
The Draugiem Group conducted a study that showed that the “ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work followed by 17 minutes of rest.” Humans aren’t wired to spend an 8-hour workday of uninterrupted focus.
We need intermissions. Moments of mindlessness. Walks. Snacks. People. Colleagues.
Short breaks are a brilliant way of getting out of the office chair and into more meaningful interaction with people, like your colleagues, co-workers, and others. A 10-minute walk will get you away from your desk, clear your mind, and allow you to return to your tasks with a refreshed perspective.
Put these things into your remote work schedule just as you do the work tasks. Working from home full-time requires that you not only take care of your work but also yourself.
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Avoid procrastination, especially social media
Being in an office with colleagues can help keep you accountable. Freelancers, on the other hand, must figure out how to do this on their own. Our workdays may include calls and meetings, but working from home ultimately means a work environment of just you.
When you're working from home, try to avoid unnecessary social media. We all know how easy it is to lose an hour on sites like Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. These are major time drains and rarely lead to productivity.
If you’re a big fan of the task lists like I am, I recommend not settling with getting “most” of the work done. Thoughts like, “Ah, 90% is done; I’ll just add the other stuff to tomorrow’s list” will only set you up for the risk of missing a deadline or project failure. Be proactive in limiting procrastination.
Here are some more tips for avoiding procrastination:
- Break big tasks down into smaller tasks so you can build momentum faster.
- Change your environment. Instead of working from home, do some remote work at a specific place. For example, tell yourself, "I'm going to have a coffee and do this task while I'm drinking." Head out to Starbucks or your local cafe and get it done.
- Remember you have a team. You can let everyone help you, if it's acceptable. Even telling someone, "I'm struggling to get started with this" can help you get moving. Lean on your team to give you extra mojo when you need it.
- Avoid unnecessary interruptions. Conference calls are pretty notorious for being destructive to deadlines. Try not to join a conference call unless it's required or you'll get a specific benefit. Use the time to finish a task instead.
Some people are natural procrastinators. If that's you, try out these coping strategies and find one that works for you.
Track your time while working remotely
When you know you’re wasting your time, you’ll be a lot more eager to get back on top of things. I recommend that all freelancers use time tracking software to gauge how quickly or slowly they’re completing their client work. It not only will increase your level of productivity, but it can help you create more accurate invoices, identify your limits, and even increase your profits.
If you're content with your time management, pat yourself on the back. If not, then tracking your time is a good change.
Ways to be productive in your free time
We’ve all had those days off work when we sat around and did nothing, expecting it to be a restorative day of rest but discovering that the day merely rushed by so quickly that it felt like we’d had no day off at all. As important as it is to truly relax, your time at home can also feel more fulfilling if you accomplish a thing or two.
Not sure where to start? Try these productive ideas.
Be your own teacher: Learn something
This is the most obvious way to be productive at home. There are so many ways to learn skills online from the comfort of your own home. Take some time to learn where you want to dedicate your time and what skills will be most valuable to you.
Here are some tips:
- You can learn a new instrument through online programs or by hiring a teacher virtually.
- Online tutors or apps like DuoLingo offer easy ways to learn a new language.
- Masterclass is a great online learning center that leverages people at the top of their industry to share their teachings.
- MOOCs stands for massive open online courses. There are dozens of platforms from MIT to Harvard that offer these courses online for free.
- Photography is a superb skill to learn as a creative outlet or for business practices.
- Podcasts are a great mechanism for learning new skills.
- Watch a documentary about something you didn’t know before.
- Find a new game to play that will challenge your mind and help you learn more strategically.
Getting organized is a great productive hobby to stay on top of things and feel good. There’s a great satisfaction that comes from organizing. Just ask Marie Kondo.
- Deep cleaning! Clean out your junk drawers, do the dusting, clear out your closet. There are lots of ways to clear energy in your space.
- Declutter your inbox. Work to get your inbox to zero and clean out the thousands of emails you’ve left unread over the years.
- Create an organization system for your cabinets, drawers, and fridge. This will help you maintain all of your organization efforts.
- Organize your computer by cleaning up your desktop, adding things to the cloud, and making it easy to find different files.
There’s a surprising amount of networking you’re able to do from home! Making connections before you need something is a great way to prep for the future.
- Virtual coffees are a great way to connect with your existing connections or new connections through LinkedIn.
- Send letters! Snail mail isn’t dead. Send a letter to someone you’re thinking about.
- Ask for advice. Even if you're pretty good at your job, or maybe even an expert, asking for advice builds relationships and can give you a fresh perspective on something.
Creating something is a great productive hobby! Whether it’s embracing any type of artistic expression, making something to eat, or crafting, this helps you come out with something tangible for you to explore.
One of my recent hobbies has been candle making, which has contributed so much to the atmosphere of my home and helps me relax.
Here are a few fresh ideas to get you started.
- Bake something and deliver it to your friends’ doorsteps or share it with your housemates.
- Cook a meal, try out a new recipe, or try developing your own culinary creation.
- Sourdough bread making has been trending right now. Learn all about building a starter and making your own loaves.
- Embroidery is making a resurgence, especially among modern artists. Start with some embroidery hoops for decorating your space.
- Start drawing! Use inspiration in your home or look for daily drawing challenges online.
- Candle making is a great way to use your energy and have some affordable candles to put around your house. It’s a great way to recycle your used jars, too.
- Crochet or knit hats, blankets, or scarves.
- Paint something. Create, even if it’s just blending colors together.
- Arrange flowers by buying some and creating bouquets around your home.
- Sew yourself something to wear, whether something fun for a festival or a simple item.
Don't let the coronavirus outbreak keep you from learning. Take the first steps in a new hobby by watching a few videos. Get started!
Self-care starts with a lunch break
Self-care is one of the most underrated ways of being productive at home. Many people don’t think that taking care of themselves, like taking a bubble bath or stretching, is something that is just as productive as learning a new skill, but it is.
Focusing on self-care is an amazing way to support yourself in doing all the things you make happen every day.
- Going on a walk is a productive way to take care of yourself and reset.
- Physical therapy is actually something you can do at home to help strengthen and improve your body! I recommend MoveU’s program.
- Journaling is a productive way to help yourself process. Whether you’re fear-setting, working out a problem, or releasing stress, it’s helpful.
- Hop on an app for a workout to get in some cardio.
- Stretch at home to help keep your muscles limber and feeling good.
- Read a book, whether it’s one you’ve read a million times or one that has been on your list for ages.
Self-care means treating yourself like someone you are responsible for. If you were describing your life and stress due to working from home to someone else, what tips would they give you?
Focusing on working on yourself is something that will help you over your entire life. This isn’t a simple task, and it’s one that takes a ton of time but it is worthwhile.
- Meditation is a great way to get started with learning your mind and its patterns.
- Reading books about life and philosophy is a helpful way to live an intentional life.
- TED Talks are helpful in exploring your interests and getting inspired.
Everyone benefits from growth. Learning new skills, gaining new qualifications, and training are all things that add value to your life as a person and an employee.
The last area I’ll mention in this article is future planning. Many anxious people will spend so much of their time future planning, but planning in moderation can be a helpful tool to keep you looking ahead and preparing for your future.
- Update your resume periodically so that when you go for a job search, you don’t have to dig through all your accomplishments from years ago.
- Meal prep falls into the near future category but it can be a great way to feel productive and save money.
- Learn about investing and saving money if you haven’t already.
- Goal setting is a great way to revisit what you’re doing and how you’re spending your time. Whether it’s for your career or your personal life, it’s a valuable tool.
- Money management: take time to see where you’re spending your money and where your budget is going. Checking in with your expenditures will help you make more informed choices.
It's good to be your own life editor. Check out what you're recording and sharing. You make records in your journal, resume, and memories. You share through human interaction, online communications, and social media. If you find yourself recording and sharing too much negativity, start focusing on positive things instead.
Achieving work-life balance
The amount of time you want to work is up to you, and so is the way you spend your free time. But you want to find that sweet spot where you’re able to stay focused. As remote workers, we’re lucky to have the flexibility to make our own schedules. What’s key is putting the right strategies in place and achieving a healthy work-life balance.