Are you new to working from home? Do you feel like you’re not getting anything done? You’re not alone. Really, you’re seriously not alone, now that CoVID-19 has forced most of us to “shelter in place” and work from home.
Working from home is tough. Trust me. I’ve been working from home for twenty years. And while I still get distracted and don’t always accomplish everything on my daily checklist, I have learned a tip or two on how to find a work / home balance & stay productive.
1. Develop a new routine
If you’re used to a 9:00 – 5:00 routine of going to work and then coming home, working remotely from home is probably jarring. It’s difficult to establish & keep a routine consistently every day when there are so many wanted & unwanted distractions.
To set-up a daily schedule that’s going to be effective, take into consideration everything that needs to happen during the day. And when I say everything, I mean everything, even the non-work related stuff – homeschooling the kiddos, laundry, making meals, etc. I find that creating “work blocks” throughout the day works better than trying to work for a traditional eight hours. Blocking allows me to focus on work while taking care of my family too.
Blocking also helps my schedule to be flexible. When our children were younger, I blocked work time during their afternoon naps and in the evenings after they went to bed. Or block work time for earlier in the morning before the rest of the house awakens. I like the flexibility that blocking provides. It allows me to work around my family’s schedules like homeschooling while still being productive at work.
2. Eliminate distractions.
I know this is easier said than done. Truly, I can find distractions in almost anything especially when I’m trying to avoid a specific work-related project. And the distractions are everywhere! They’re not just work-related texts and emails, but now it’s the availability of Netflix, social media, children & pets. This is part of the reason why “Blocking” (see my first suggestion) works better than attempting to work a typical 8 hour work day.
So, how to eliminate the distractions. I personally build in the distractions as part of my non-work blocks. Watch a TV show during lunch. Schedule “game time” with your children. Work when they are “at school” in the next room (of course, this one really only works if your children don’t need any help with their school work.)
If possible establish an area or room in your home as your personal office. Preferably this should be an area/room without a TV. If there is a TV in the room, keep it turned off. Multi-tasking is a fallacy – it’s more like multi-distracting – nothing will get done well. So, if the kiddos are watching “Daniel the Tiger”, work in another room or area. At the very least, put on some noise-canceling earphones.
Electronics aren’t the only distractions. Keep your work space organized. I admit, I struggle with this. But organization is a key to efficient time management. The same applies to a clean and organized home. Again, easier said than done, especially with schools closed and children cooped-up at home. This is where “Blocking” comes in handy as you can block times throughout the day to devote to housework.
Turn off app notifications or put them on silent, especially when you really need to focus. I wear a smartwatch and the only notifications I receive are phone calls & texts. Nothing else. I have to check my emails, social media & other apps rather than being “notified”. This allows me to keep my phone on silent, so I can better concentrate on the task at hand.
I also only look at social media (personal use, not for my clients) after I’ve gone through my emails and then only for 10-15 minutes. I only check my emails 2-3 times a day (morning, mid-day and late afternoon), so that helps eliminate the black hole of social media.
3. Embrace Technology
Yes, we’ve all discovered Zoom and other conferencing platforms. There are also quite a few productivity apps that will help you. If you’re not using a project/task management system like Slack or Trello, maybe now’s the time to try them out. Some apps allow for team collaboration & communication, others track time spent on specific projects. All help improve your efficiency.
I personally use Trello to keep track of individual projects and their individual tasks. I can share when and what I’m doing with clients. When needed, I also assign/share tasks with clients, especially when I need content & images for a web development project. This way everyone knows what needs to be done and who is responsible for each task.
Another app I like to use that dovetails with Trello is the app Pomello. Pomello tracks the actual time spent on a project or task. The app uses a ratio of 20 minutes of work to 5 minutes of break-time. Or you can set your own ratios – another great way to “Block” work time from home/family time.
Technology doesn’t just have to be for the business aspect of working from home. There are many apps like Pomello that will remind you to take a break. My smartwatch reminds me to relax and takes me through breathing exercises. Working from home can mean sitting for long stretches, since we’re not getting up as often to take “water cooler” breaks, meet with colleagues, etc. Fitness apps can help remind you to stand up and stretch. Doing so helps boost stamina and use your time more effectively.
4. Set goals.
Setting goals gives you a target to work towards. Goals can be small daily tasks or larger ideas with several steps. Whatever your goal is, working towards completion requires time management.
I find setting 2-3 daily goals helps me focus better and keeps me from being overwhelmed by a huge “to-do-list”. Also having smaller daily goals allows me to pivot when necessary. And you’ll need to pivot probably every day when you work from home. I know I do. No matter how well you plan the day and develop a routine something will knock your plan sideways. Whether it’s sibling drama, an unexpected project, or a phone call from your parents, you’ll need to be willing and able to pivot. And having only a couple small goals each day will help you do so and feel successful too.
Working from home can be challenging. But, it can also be very rewarding. I love the flexibility of working from home. It allowed me to be involved in my children’s’ lives at school, in sports and after school activities. When they were sick, I could be home to take care of them and still do a little work. Working from home allows me to set my own schedule including taking vacations when I want to. I hope that you’ll find you’re work / home / family balance and will enjoy your time working from home. Once you find you’re groove, you may never want to go back to the traditional 9 – 5 grind!