Although I have worked from home off and on for the last few
years, I wasn’t the expert that I thought I was. Turns out that working
from home for an extended period of time is a lot harder than I thought.
That first day, interruptions included barking dogs, sirens, mowers, and a neighbor
knocking on the door asking for assistance. It made me realize very
quickly - managing your own time and choosing your hours can be incredibly hard
if you don’t deliberately plan your day ahead of time.
Successfully working from home is a skill. When working
remotely, you are more likely to spend half your time battling procrastination,
distractions, or periods of low energy. If you give in to your
distractions, you could wind up devoting productive time to fighting off the
guilt that comes from giving in to those distractions.
these unprecedented times of COVID-19 and stay at home mandates in many areas,
your employees are suddenly finding themselves working remotely, and often
alongside young children, spouses, and the family pet. So how can you keep your
focus in such a challenging environment? I did some research and found
that highly productive remote workers have the following habits in common.
Start Work as Early as Possible
Rising before the sun is a habit shared by most successful people.
In a poll of 20 executives cited by Vanderkam, 90% said they wake up before 6
am on weekdays. This makes sense from a productivity standpoint — you will have
fewer distractions and a close to a peaceful environment to focus on.
If you procrastinate and use the extra time that you would
be usually commuting to get some extra sleep, you’re going to find yourself
being less productive than your co-workers who hit the ground running earlier
in the day.
Plus, according to one study, waking up early can also make
you happier. Some evidence suggests that morning light exposure, which results
in a phase advance of the sleep/wake cycle, improves depressive symptoms in
seasonal affective disorder.
Dedicate Mornings to High-Value Work
Work on your high-value tasks first thing in the morning —
cut the planning and start doing real work when you are most active.
Don’t waste all that mental clarity and energy on planning
what to do for the next eight hours. If you are a morning person, you can get
more done in the early morning hours. It pays to focus on essential tasks for
the day during your morning.
A plan from yesterday makes it easier to get started right
away when you get up. Kenneth Chenault, the former CEO and Chairman of American
Express, once said in an interview that the last thing he does before leaving
the office is to write down the top three things he needs to accomplish
tomorrow. Then he uses that list to start his day the following morning.
If You’re Not a Morning Person, Work When You’re Most Productive
When you’re working from home, it’s important to recognize when you are most focused and energetic and to plan your schedule around that. Energy is the critical component we all need to consistently produce our best work, no matter where we are.
For example, if you’re a morning person and are most
clearheaded, creative, and productive from 9 am to 12 pm, use that burst of
energy to get things done at that time.
The point is that you can increase your energy by working
with your body rather than fighting against it and forcing it to fit into
anybody’s clock other than your own internal one. It’s better to concentrate
your energy into a specific period than randomly insert it across chunks of
To capitalize on your most productive periods, save your
harder tasks for when you know you’ll be in the right headspace for them.
Prepare For a Successful Morning in Advance
Planning your day the night before will give you back a lot
of wasted hours in the morning and lower your stress levels. The first quiet
hour of the morning can be an ideal time to focus on meaningful work without
Try this tonight. If you’re happy with the results, then
commit to trying it for a week. After a week, you’ll be able to decide whether
you want to add “night-before planning” to your life.
Structure Your Day As You Would Normally
When working from home, you manage practically everything —
calendar, projects, tasks, and breaks. Without a proper structure, you can
quickly lose focus or burn out.
To stay on schedule, segment what you’ll do and when over
the course of the day. Use your Outlook calendar to create personal events and
reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. If your
mornings are for writing while in the office, use the same schedule at home.
You could even dress the part and remind yourself you are in
work-mode. That means comfortable work clothes — not pajamas. You could even
consider it the demarcation between work and personal time.
And remember to take breaks, refresh and recover. When you
live in your office, it’s easy to overwork. Log off when you’re supposed to.
And resist the urge to come back to your computer after dinner.
Separate Work Zones From Relaxing Zones
When you work from home, it’s easy to curl up in bed with a
laptop and pretend that you’re “working”.
To improve your efficiency, build a separate home
office/desk just for work. This sets your brain up for enhanced productivity —
your brain gets spatially wired to think of the office as the place where work
Cancel Noise For Focus
The closest thing to magic for your money when working
remotely is noise-canceling technology. I bought my first pair of noise-canceling
headphones years ago. And I’ve never regretted the decision.
Working from home may expose you to sounds that become
irritating or unbearable over time: traffic and street noise that penetrate
through windows, the tick of a clock somewhere, etc. If you have kids, they
probably would be playing close to your workspace.
Noise-canceling headphones or earbuds are great at removing
those sorts of sounds almost entirely. They can also dull the sound of talking
if you’re in a place in which other people (like your family or roommates) have
to also function.
Combined with music, they work even better. The absence of
background noise effectively enhances the music, and you can work without the
distraction during your “focused” period.
Connecting with other people is needed more than ever to
stay healthy, productive, happy and sane. You can hold virtual meetings, jump
on a phone call, or send a friend a text. Reach out and support one another —
Modern technology has made it insanely easy to stay
connected. Use tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack, and
other tools to stay connected with friends and colleagues at work. Positive
social support can help you cope with stress. Check-in with your friends,
family, and neighbors regularly.
Working from home can be challenging for many people. Use the top habits to become a highly productive remote worker, and keep some work/life balance.