For the past 14 years, I’ve been a telecommuter, and I’ve found it fascinating to observe the gradual replacement of traditional offices with home-based work environments as we approach the year 2020. A majority of companies (55%) believe that remote work will become the norm in the future, according to a PwC poll.
With my own long-term work-at-home situation, which includes three kids and a busy family, I’ve had plenty of time to develop a productive method that works for me. It is possible to have a successful career while working remotely provided you take the necessary steps to set up a professional and productive environment at your home.
Tips for Increasing Productivity While Working From Home
Keeping focused on work when there are kids around, easy access to social media, and an endless supply of other potential distractions is no easy feat. Here are some strategies for maximizing your efficiency and minimizing your downtime when working from home.
- Establish a Dedicated Workspace
It’s easy to let the kids pile their schoolwork on your desk and mess about on your computer when you’re trying to get things done around the house, but that’s hardly conducive to an efficient work environment.
You’re one of the lucky ones if you have enough space in your house to set off an entire room as your office. If you don’t have a designated space for these activities, create one where you may work, communicate, and file away relevant paperwork.
However you choose to do it, separating your professional and personal lives is essential. Keep your bedroom and office area apart so you aren’t tempted to spend time in either during the day or night. This is especially important if you work from home but have nowhere else to do so.
Having a separate room in your house designated as an office is advantageous even if you live alone. This is because it helps you concentrate and it reduces your taxable income. In order to qualify for the home office tax deduction, you must first determine the square footage of your house’s dedicated office area and then use that number as a percentage.
From there, you may deduct that proportion of your mortgage, property taxes, and home renovation expenses.
However, you must utilize the office entirely and consistently for business purposes in order to claim the home office deduction. The criteria are no longer met if it is used infrequently or if everyone in the household has access to it. Get in touch with a tax expert at a place like H&R Block who deals specifically with small company taxes if you need help.
- Invest in Office Supplies
It’s essential to equip your home office with all the essentials found in any conventional workplace. It’s obvious that one’s career and personal preferences shape one’s view of what’s essential. The following are a few things to think about:
- A trustworthy, committed computer
- A dependable Internet connection
- A corporate landline phone or a business-only mobile phone (look into Xfinity Mobile)
- A filing system
- Commonplace office supplies (buy them at back-to-school sales for the best deals)
- A capable printer
- Home office furniture that is comfortable, includes an office chair
Taking time away from work to fix a slow computer or go to the print shop are both examples of activities that reduce efficiency. When filing your taxes, self-employed people can deduct the cost of supplies for their home offices. Keep your receipts just in case.
Before beginning each day’s work, check your inventory to make sure you have everything you need. That way, you won’t have to stop what you’re doing to search for a charger for your laptop or paper for the printer.
- Organize Your Day
Prioritization is essential in the workplace, but it is much more crucial while working from home. If you don’t have a supervisor watching your every move or coworkers to bounce ideas off of, it’s up to you to prioritize your tasks. It can save you from becoming lost or frazzled.
Make a mental note of everything that has to be accomplished on a given workday and number the items in order of importance. If you want to be sure you don’t forget anything, at the end of the day, add it to tomorrow’s to-do list.
Apps and other tools can be used to help you stay on track. When making lists, prioritizing them, or just taking notes online, TeuxDeux is my go-to app. Remember the Milk is a great mobile app for managing your to-do list, plus it’s compatible with speech recognition services like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, so you can make lists without having to type them out.
Alternatively, you may use the app Do it Tomorrow, which is downloadable on both iOS and Android. If you know you won’t be able to get to everything on your list today, scheduling it for tomorrow can assist ensure nothing gets forgotten.
- Get Your Family Involved
Working from home requires everyone’s assistance, especially if you have children. Gather the kids around the table and explain to them why they can’t come to you for help while you’re at work. If you and your spouse both work from home, discuss your schedules and agree to take turns caring for the kids.
I have a friend whose family employs the “stoplight system.” The at-home parent who works there marks the office door with a red, yellow, or green circle depending on the day’s events.
There are three different signals: green for immediate entry, yellow for preliminary inquiry, and red for absolute silence. In a straightforward and visually appealing manner, it turns productivity into a game for youngsters.
If you want to work in peace and quiet, you may need to let your partner know about it even if you don’t have children. Your home office may be a source of distraction if your partner has a more conventional job and views working from home as unprofessional. To keep things running smoothly, establish certain rules for your office, such as knocking before entering and maintaining silence between set hours.
- Stay on Task
When working remotely, it is imperative that you check your email often, especially if that is the preferred way of contact among your coworkers. However, switching back and forth between your email and other tabs might slow down your work and cause distractions.
Instead, put your electronic devices away during work hours and only check them at predetermined intervals to avoid being distracted. You’ll still get in a good chunk of undisturbed work time even if you interrupt it every half an hour.
Having a dedicated business email address and making a concerted effort to read, categorize, and react to emails in this manner is another way to maintain a clutter-free inbox and avoid becoming sidetracked by irrelevant messages.
The browser add-on LeechBlock can help you avoid the temptation to browse your favorite sites while you should be working. Set “acceptable” check-in periods, such as five minutes of Facebook after 45 minutes of work.
- Make Use of a Dedicated Browser
One is dedicated to work-related browsing, while the other is for personal use. Open tabs, bookmarks, email notifications, and instant messaging all serve as potential interruptions for the casual web surfer. When I’m free, I like to utilize my web browser to quickly visit some of my favorite sites and make some online connections.
My personal browser at work, on the other hand, is nearly empty. Only bookmarks pertaining to work are kept, and it is geared up with useful apps and plugins. The end effect is the freedom to browse the web without being flooded with cat videos and status updates.
- Organize Yourself
Work-related stress might increase when you do business from the comfort of your own home. Forcing yourself to choose between personal and professional obligations can seriously hamper productivity. That’s why you need to make your home office as productive and comfortable as possible.
Taking a few minutes to prepare for work can pay off in the long run by reducing anxiety and maximizing efficiency. Evernote is one of my go-to applications for keeping myself organized. It’s convenient for those “eureka!” moments when you’re not at your desk since you can save ideas, notes, photographs, and reminders in one spot.
It’s easier to remain on top of things when the office is neat and tidy. The time spent looking for misplaced papers can be reduced by filing and arranging them. Even while it may seem like a lot to spend on a file cabinet, the time and effort you save will more than make up for the initial investment. It improves the overall quality of your workday.
- Set Office Hours
When your computer is only a few steps away from your couch, it might be difficult to draw a clean line between your personal life and your professional life. Establishing a regular work schedule is the most effective method for promoting work-life harmony.
If you’re a freelancer with tight deadlines, it may be tough to entirely disconnect from work when you get home, but you can always set your priorities. Establish a policy whereby, say, you only respond to emails after 5pm and only if they are really necessary.
Toggl is a useful tool if your employment demands you to keep track of your working hours. You may keep track of your time spent working and share that information with your managers via email or timesheets. Even if you don’t have to turn in your timesheets, knowing how long you spent on a certain task vs, say, surfing the Internet, might help you focus and get more done.
Just include in time for meals and breaks when you create your work schedule. You need them to save your sanity. To keep from being distracted and wasting time while you should be working, take a break in the morning, lunch, and again in the afternoon, even if it’s simply to relax and check out some of your favorite websites.
- Consume in the Kitchen
It may seem natural to eat at your desk while you work from home, but whenever I do, I end up losing focus on my job since I have to take breaks to eat. It’s very hard for me to focus on my job while simultaneously bringing food to my lips, so I generally use that as an excuse to stop what I’m doing and check my email or browse the web.
Your best bet is to ban all food from your home office. Keep a bottle of water or coffee nearby for short sips, but save your major eating for the kitchen or dining area. Thus, you may take a break and recharge your batteries, returning to your desk refreshed and ready to tackle your task. After you’ve finished eating, clean up the mess so that you aren’t distracted by dirty dishes.
- Purchase Headphones
If you have trouble focusing, noise-canceling headphones might be an excellent investment. Just think of all the potential distractions you face in the comfort of your own home.
Distractions such as a ringing phone, a loud TV, children playing, the doorbell, or even daily discussions might cause you to forget what you were thinking about or make you irritable. As it is unrealistic (and unfair) to expect complete silence while you work, noise-canceling headphones are a great alternative.
Noise-canceling headphones, when used with music, can effectively block out background disturbances by emitting a frequency at a similar level to that of the music being played. The White Noise Lite app, available on both iOS and Android, can be a similar savior. When you’re in the zone, pump up the ocean noises and you’ll find it much easier to concentrate.
The presence of headphones serves as a useful signal to those around you that you should be left alone while you focus on your task.
- Make use of cloud-based file sharing.
With a telecommuting job, you may need to send and receive files often between your home and the offices of your employer and clients. Despite the convenience of emailing back and forth, file attachments can easily be lost in the process, especially if they are being updated often.
A cloud-based file-sharing service like Dropbox, Google Drive, or Trello is a fantastic option. File sharing’s real-time updating features make dealing with out-of-date files nearly a thing of the past.
To further simplify things, you may even delete old files before sharing them with coworkers, the boss, or clients. It also prevents you from receiving impossibly large attachments in your mailbox.
- Maintain a Perfect Calendar
When you stay at home all day, you might have to do a lot of things at once, including taking the kids to their appointments and answering work calls over lunch. Maintaining an organized calendar reduces the likelihood of double-booking and other scheduling mishaps.
You may keep track of your schedule with the aid of a paper planner, the calendar on your phone, or an app.
When you’re not in the same room as your coworkers and clients, it can be difficult to stay on the same page. A Google calendar shared by all participants allows for easy scheduling of meetings at convenient times. Your calendar will update as necessary once you issue invites and get confirmations.
- Request Assistance
You may get help with this issue and complete it more easily. If you need some time to yourself, you may hire a babysitter through Care.com, look into getting a virtual assistant or maid, or even barter services with a neighbor or friend. Requesting assistance can alleviate stress associated with trying to strike a financial balance if it is feasible to do so. You’ll be more efficient if you don’t have to worry about the other things that need to get done.
Working from home, whether with a family or on your own, may be stressful because of the continual reminders of all the tasks that need to be completed. Ask your husband or older children to help out and take over the tasks that are causing you the greatest distraction if you feel like you’re lagging behind. If you ignore the dirty dishes in the sink and the errands that need to be run and give your undivided attention to your task, you will get more done.
- Get Out and Socialize
Having your desk and chair so close to your living quarters makes it simple to spend all your waking hours there; after all, other than those two necessities, what else do you need to go through the day? Though, if you do work from home, it’s crucial that you still find time to get out and interact on a regular basis. Feeling more connected to your coworkers might come from something as easy as a weekly Zoom call.
Instead of making excuses about not having enough time, treat time away from your desk as if it were an appointment so that you don’t forget it. Take a break, go outdoors, and interact with other people during the day, even if it’s as simple as walking to the park to get some air and wave to the neighbors.
- Utilize Your Ultradian Cycle
It’s likely that you’re familiar with the term “circadian cycle,” which refers to the rhythm that controls your body’s sleep and wake times. However, the less well-known ultradian cycle may control your rest and activity cycles, which may be the key to unlocking productivity.
Most individuals can work at their optimum efficiency for 90 minutes before they require a 20-minute break to do something less taxing on their minds. Your circadian rhythm follows this pattern.
Because humans aren’t designed to focus for extended periods of time, burning out occurs when you force yourself to be hyper-productive without taking breaks to rest your brain. The Pomodoro Technique, in which people work in 25-minute increments before taking 5-minute breaks, is based on the same principle.
Everyone is different, so if you want to know how long you can focus on an activity before getting tired, set a timer and observe how long it takes you. Then, you may maximize the effectiveness of such segments of time by interspersing “brain breaks” between more serious tasks. You can be more focused and productive after taking a little break, so go for a walk with your dog, check your social media, prepare a snack, or read the news.
While working from home offers numerous benefits, it may be challenging if you aren’t well-prepared. You can transform your at-home job into a sustainable career that provides the best of both the professional and personal worlds by trying out different approaches and figuring out what works best to keep you on track and on target.