Working from Home
Working from home eliminates your commute, liberates you from the confines of the office, and may even create room in your schedule to tackle household projects you have long put off. But if you don't establish constraints and practice self-discipline, your productivity can suffer. If you've traded your cube for a cozy corner of the home, try some of the following strategies to help you make use of your space and your time more efficiently.
Set Up a Home Office
If you’re struggling to focus while working from home, a lack of physical separation between your work and living quarters may be to blame. According to design blogger Sofia Sakare, “no matter how [well] you withstand distractions, a separate room is the best." Choose a room where you'll feel comfortable spending several hours a day—but not a room where you typically wind down—and then fill it with functional furniture: an ergonomic chair, adjustable lighting, inspiring accessories, and stylish tech. Because you’ll be glancing up from the monitor every now and then, give yourself a beautiful view to look at, either a lovely vista through a window or "a family portrait, an inspirational quote, or something that would give you positive vibes.”
Take the LEAP
Have you been eyeing that stack of papers on your desk for weeks, but haven’t yet taken action? According to The Law of Diminishing Intent, a term coined by motivational speaker Jim Rohn, the longer you delay a task, the less likely you are to do it. The only way to beat procrastination, according to productivity expert Michael Hyatt, is to adopt the LEAP principle: Lean into the problem when you recognize that change is needed, engage with it until you know how to resolve it, activate by taking an initial step, and pounce by taking the next step now, not later. This process will help you rouse the determination and urgency needed to finally make progress on your to-do's.
There are only so many hours in the day. If you try to jam everything on your to-do list into that limited time frame, you may become so overwhelmed that you complete nothing. To combat task overload, Leo Babauta, author and blogger at Zen Habits, a blog about finding simplicity and mindfulness in everyday life, recommends that your to-do list contain only three Most Important Things (MITs). “If you have less to do, and you focus on the MITs, you will actually accomplish more with less effort and time.” Make two of those MITs work-related and one of them a task that furthers a long-term personal goal, so you can make strides in both aspects of your life.
Map Out Your Year in One Hour
If you have big projects in mind for the year, whether they involve work, home improvements, or personal goals, schedule an hour to assign those projects to the appropriate months of the year. A map for your year "will help you realize projects that may have sat on the back burner—or were allocated to the wrong time of year—with more focus and attention,” says Mike Vardy of Productivityist. Vardy recommends using three sheets of paper for this exercise. Take 20 minutes and a single sheet of paper to write down three words representing what you want to achieve by the year’s end. Use the second 20-minute period to brainstorm ideas for major projects you want to work on during the next 12 months. On the last sheet of paper, write down the months of the year and use the final 20 minutes to assign each of the most compelling projects to an appropriate month. This road map will help keep you accountable for completing projects all year long.
Reattach to Work
Can’t muster up the motivation to work from home? Reattaching to work—that is, rebuilding a mental connection to work each day before you start—can help, according to a study from the University of Mannheim. German researchers found that when people better mentally reattach to work in the morning, “they anticipate a higher task focus, experience higher activated positive affect, receive more social support, and experience more job control due to early activation of work-related goals.” You can reattach every morning simply by visualizing the workday ahead and the specific tasks you plan to complete.
Use Gamification to Get into the Flow
Whether your task is to draft a sales proposal or wallpaper the kitchen, it’s easier to complete when you’re in a state of total involvement known as “flow.” But how do you achieve that mindset when you have a laundry list of mundane tasks ahead of you? In his best-selling book “Flow,” psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, who popularized the concept, argues that, “The more a job inherently resembles a game—with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback—the more enjoyable it will be.” So, turn your supply run into a scavenger hunt or set a timer to see how fast you can clear your inbox—the more fun the task, the more likely it is that you'll get into the flow and get it done.
Do No More Than 90
You might think it’s better for your productivity to power through that assignment even when you’re exhausted, but overexertion can backfire and decrease productivity, or even result in fatigue-related injuries. Instead, work in sprints. Based on findings from studies of professional musicians, MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer Bob Pozen recommends “taking a time-out every 75 to 90 minutes” to take advantage of "the brain's two modes: learning or focusing and consolidation. When people do a task and then take a break for 15 minutes, they help their brain consolidate information and retain it better.”
Create a Not-to-Do List
While many people measure productivity in terms of how many of their to-do’s they cross off in a day, “The 4-Hour Workweek” author and podcaster Tim Ferriss prefers to make “not-to-do lists” to boost productivity. “The reason is simple: What you don’t do determines what you can do.” Among the notorious time-wasters you should include on your list: answering phone calls from unknown numbers, constantly checking email (or your phone itself), and participating in conversations with no clear agenda.
Use Economies of Scale for Task Management
When you buy in bulk, each item is cheaper. Personal development bloggers Marc and Angel argue that “the same principle applies to time. When you batch together similar tasks, you save.” To apply this concept to work, try dividing tasks by type rather than project. Say you need to create reports to send to three different clients. If your reports are created using the same software, rather than creating each report separately and sending it to the client, create all three at the same time, then send them out one after the other. This method can also be applied to household chores. For example, if you need to clean your living room and bedroom, dust the furniture in both rooms, then move on to vacuuming, and do the organizing last. When you avoid switching back and forth between different tasks, you can maintain focus and save precious time.
Delegate and Appreciate
If you live with others and work from home, you know that order in the home is conducive to order in the home office. For this reason, some of your productivity will be dictated by how efficiently you delegate household tasks to others and incentivize them to get them done. Elizabeth Emens, author of “Life Admin: How I Learned to Do Less, Do Better, and Live More,” recommends that groups or couples set a timer at the start of a task and talk uninterrupted for two minutes about who’s doing what to avoid task overlap and get more done. This approach also helps establish a clear plan for completing tasks. Because good deeds promote gratitude and joy—and these emotions help the home run more smoothly—Emens also recommends granting others what she calls “admin vacations,” periods when you give them a break and handle tasks that they would normally do.
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