Working from home lets you create your own work schedule, and with that, can enable you to be your most productive self. But when you’re fully responsible for your own time, it can be overwhelming at first to manage that time efficiently. That’s where time management advice can help you tremendously.
Here are eight specific time management and productivity tips to help you maximize your time, reduce distractions, and turn on work mode whenever you need to. Follow this advice to get more done in your work from home day and meet your productivity goals faster than ever.
1. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier
For some, waking up is the hardest part of the day. The idea of waking up even earlier than necessary can seem undesirable on the surface, but it’s true: by setting your alarm 10 to 15 minutes before you actually need to wake up, you’ll be able to wake more gradually and be better mentally prepared for the day.
Spend that extra time reading, checking your personal phone, meditating, or any other non-work-related activity that you find relaxing. By the time you actually need to get out of bed, your mind will feel more rejuvenated and ready to start the day, and your body will have begun producing the adrenaline you need to feel energized in the morning.
That’s right: you’ll likely feel less tired than if you slept in those extra few minutes. Commit to trying this method out for at least a couple weeks and see how different you feel.
2. Start your work day with a signal
The start of your work day doesn’t have to begin with pressing the Power button on your laptop. It’s important to develop habits that signal to your body that it’s time to work before you ever approach a computer. Research shows that by completing the same activity at the start of each work day, your mind and body will learn to recognize that that activity means it’s time to enter work mode. Here are a few examples of signals that have proven successful:
- Making your bed
- Getting dressed (this could range from changing into a full outfit to just putting on your “work hat” or business pin)
- Finishing your cup of coffee, tea or morning smoothie
- Listening to a pump-up song
- Taking the dog for a walk
Pick a simple activity that you enjoy and that works for your morning routine, and stick to it. Remember that in order for the activity to become an effective signal, you must do it at the start of each work day and begin working immediately after completion.
3. Treat your home as an office, not a home
Even when you’re working from home, maintaining a healthy work-life balance is critical.
What does it mean to treat your home as an office? Consider these tried-and-true pieces of advice:
- Create a workspace separate from where you sleep and relax. This provides a mental signal to your brain that you’re in work mode and not “relax mode” or “sleep mode.” If you don’t have room for an office space or desk, still make sure that you have a distinct area where you work that isn’t your bed.
- Only use rooms that have a work purpose and that you could find in an actual corporate office, such as your personal office, bathroom, and kitchen. Avoid any bedrooms as much as possible, as these can tempt you into taking naps or unnecessary breaks.
You’ll see your productivity increase during your work day by eliminating spaces in your home where you typically relax, as this will keep your brain focused and in work mode. If you can’t see yourself fully avoiding these spaces, consider only using them during set break times, such as lunch.
4. Remove common distractions
While you won’t be distracted by coworkers or office treats while working from home, your home has its own set of diversions that can reduce your productivity. Here are recommendations on how to handle a few of the most common:
- Family: Set clear boundaries with your family members about how they should interact with you while you’re working from home. For example, you can set a rule that if your office door is shut, you shouldn’t be disturbed except in an urgent situation.
- Pets: While you can’t communicate explicit boundaries to your pets, you can set them for yourself. Have designated times where you give your full attention to your pets – for example, set aside a 20-minute period at the same time each work day where you take your dog on a walk. Or, have set play times each work day.
- Personal phone: While you’re likely tempted to check your personal phone often, you’re probably also aware that it can greatly interfere with your work time. Set your phone to airplane mode during the work day. If needed, you can check your phone during timed breaks, such as lunch time. If you have kids at school or need to be available for urgent calls, some phones have a “Do Not Disturb” mode that lets important messages come through in an emergency.
- Noise. If you live in a loud area, or next to a construction site, it’s understandable if you get distracted by the noise. Consider investing in noise-cancelling headphones, or listening to your own music to drown out the unwanted sounds. A good tip when listening to music is to try is to choose upbeat, energetic songs in a foreign language that get you in the mood to be productive but won’t tempt you to sing along. Music without lyrics is another excellent option. There are several apps available that play white noise, nature sounds, and other calming background music that you can try.
5. Create priority lists every day – not to-do lists
While you should have a system of keeping track of all of the tasks you need to do, don’t pressure yourself to complete everything on that list in one day. That’s a quick way to become overwhelmed.
Instead, create a list containing the three to five highest priority items to finish that day, and most importantly, are reasonable to finish that day. Create this list at the beginning of your day, before you do any other work, so you know what to focus on. This should only take you about five minutes – any more than that, and your time is probably better spent elsewhere.
Throughout the day, when you complete a task, celebrate! You can take a short break or have a snack to reward yourself for achieving a win – regular positive reinforcement will keep up your momentum.
6. Time block your day
If you like structure, time blocking is a great way to schedule out your work day to ensure you’re being productive but also getting the breaks you need. Time blocking essentially means breaking your day into productive segments followed by short break segments. A popular method is to work for 25 minutes then take a five-minute break. Once you’ve completed four rounds of this, you then take a longer break. For tracking, either set your phone alarm at these intervals, or use a time blocking app.
Try the 25 on, 5 off method to see if it works for you. You can always adjust these time segments to better fit your energy cycles, or do further research on the right time blocking method for your work style.
7. Take longer breaks strategically
Make time for longer breaks at lunch time and in the afternoon so you can stay mentally engaged throughout your body’s natural cycles, and also support your body’s health needs. While you may be tempted to eat lunch at your desk, or even continue working through lunch, research shows this isn’t the best for you or your productivity. Lunch is around the time when your brain needs a break; it needs time to reset and recover from the morning work time. Your body also needs to refuel to give you enough energy for the remainder of the afternoon.
When you do take your lunch break, eat away from your desk to signal to your mind to turn off work mode. Experts suggest setting aside one hour for lunch, but if that seems too long for you, even thirty minutes will go a long way.
Another time of day that you should take a longer break is around 2pm. This is known as the afternoon lull period, or when it’s common for people to hit a mental wall regardless of their profession. To refresh your mind and body in the afternoon, experts recommend taking a 20-minute break, ideally by taking a walk outside (this is a great time to walk your pets if you have them!).
8. Still distracted? Knock off those five-minute tasks
Even if you follow all of this advice, there will inevitably be a time when you’ll get distracted – by your phone, by your TV, by your family, or something else. Getting back to work during these moments is often a challenge.
One way to combat this is by thinking of a quick work task you could accomplish that would take no more than five minutes. It could be something simple like responding to an email, or even spending five minutes on a larger task. Commit yourself to completing just that one, small task, and then see how you feel.
Often, spending just five minutes on work is enough to get you back into work mode, and you’ll be able to continue on to your other projects. If, however, you’re still distracted, keep returning to this method of completing small tasks until you’re able to fully focus.
At the end of the day, time management is a skill, and it takes practice. Finding the right structure and tactics that work for you will be a great benefit as you see your productivity increase and your time better utilized.
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