How to Stay Productive (and Sane) While Working from Home
If you recently had to transition to working remotely, you might be wondering:
“Is it usually this hard? Am I missing something?”
No. No, it isn’t.
And you’re not alone in feeling this way. Because of coronavirus, even people who have been working from home for years are struggling to stay productive.
Sadly, this isn’t something you can fix with a few “hacks” or simple tactics. You’ve probably seen tons of articles and guides on remote productivity by now. You’ve tried to apply their advice, but the results were… mixed, to put it mildly.
We’re not going to give you more of the same.
So for today’s article, we’ll share a different type of advice with you. It’s not going to focus on maximizing your work output, but rather on minimizing stress and staying consistent in this incredibly volatile time.
Yes, they might also help you get more done — but only as a side benefit.
You will learn:
- 2 daily practices that are essential for anyone working remotely (esp. entrepreneurs)
- The best thing you can do to improve your focus at work, even if it’s at an all-time low
- What nobody tells you about work/life balance — and how to maintain it during this crisis
And more. Let’s start with the #1 thing you need to do when trying to work during a major crisis…
Accept that you won’t be at peak productivity
At least not for a while.
There’s a massive difference between choosing to work from home and being forced to do so because there’s a pandemic on. On top of your regular workload, now you have to deal with more responsibilities at home (especially if you have kids) plus the anxiety and uncertainty we’re all facing due to COVID-19.
Under these circumstances, it’s unreasonable to expect outrageous productivity from yourself…
In fact, you should plan for the exact opposite. Assume that your work output is going to take a hit, and even the tasks that used to be quick and easy will take longer and feel more difficult. There’s nothing wrong with you — it’s completely normal. But you will have to work around it.
Below, we’ll share 3 strategies to help you do just that…
“Bookend” your work day with routines
Having a predictable morning/evening routine is one of the most underrated remote productivity tools ever. Keeping yourself grounded in something predictable, normal, and enjoyable helps a lot when you’re working from home — especially during this crisis.
The basic principle is very simple:
- Use the first 30-60 minutes after waking up to prime yourself for the day
- Use the last hour before going to bed to destress and ensure a good night’s sleep
The specifics are up to you. Pick 2-3 things you enjoy and cycle through them every morning, even if it’s something as simple as: “brew coffee, read for 10 minutes while drinking coffee, play with my dog.” Doing a quick workout, watering plants, journaling — anything you want. Your morning, your rules.
(The only thing that’s not allowed is lying in bed for an hour refreshing your socials over and over again. *wink* No, seriously, this is just gonna make you tired and anxious.)
Ditto for your evening routine. Choose a few activities that will help you “reset” mentally and go to bed calm and rested. Writing down your to-do list for the next day, taking a hot shower, talking to your spouse about your day, reading fiction… whatever you want.
An enjoyable evening routine isn’t just leisure time (although it is that, too) — it’s also a valuable restorative practice that enhances your future productivity.
Take single-tasking to a whole new level
Like we said at the beginning, your willpower and your energy levels aren’t going to be at 100% right now. As much as we’d all like to think that we’re taking this crisis on the chin and it’s not affecting us too much… it is.
That means, we need all the help we can get to focus on work and get stuff done. And one of the best ways to do that is…
…eliminate task switching as much as possible. Here’s why:
According to science, multi-tasking doesn’t exist. Every time you have to tear your attention away from the task at hand to deal with something else (reply to an email, send a Slack message, answer your phone etc.), you lose focus. And it takes you 15 minutes, on average, to get that bad boy back.
Here are a few actionable ways to promote single-tasking in your work:
- Schedule long, uninterrupted stretches of time for your highest-value tasks. We’re talking 2-3 hours. This is especially useful if your daily workload consists of what’s called “maker tasks” like content creation, strategy, problem solving, coding etc.
- Batch your “manager tasks” like emails, meetings, and other admin work into their own, totally separate blocks of time. Even if you’re an employee who doesn’t control when meetings happen, you can still do this with parts of your workload.
- If you’re an entrepreneur, set one “theme” for your entire workday, so you can concentrate on one type of task for as long as possible and not worry about anything else. E.g. you can have Sales Days, Content Days, Strategy Days, and so on. Try it once a week and see how much you can get done (you’ll be surprised!).
- If you’re struggling to maintain focus and getting distracted anyway, use a productivity system that allows for structured distractions. For example, Pomodoro technique will let you work in short, focused 25-minute bursts with 5-minute periods of downtime in between.
Enforce your work/life balance (in either direction)
When most people talk about work/life balance, they focus on maintaining a 50/50 split between the two.
But that’s actually not the important part.
Your personal balance might be tipped in favor of work, or life — whichever you prefer. And that’s fine, more power to you! The specific ratio doesn’t matter, as long as it aligns with what you want.
The really critical element of work/life balance is maintaining strong, healthy boundaries between the two. Honestly, it should have been called “work/life separation”!
Even in the Before Times, enforcing those boundaries was challenging. But during coronavirus, there are more opportunities than ever for work to creep into life, and for life to interfere with work. Your kids are at home, every trip to the grocery store is anxiety-inducing, you might need to take care of loved ones who are struggling…
How do you deal with all that?
Now, we’re going to assume that you’re already pretty good at not letting your personal life affect your work. So our advice is going to be focused on the reverse — safeguarding your personal life.
Full disclosure: this is going to sound a little extreme.
You know all those nift productivity programs that help you block distracting websites and apps? The thing most people don’t realize is…
…you can use them to block work-related websites and apps, too! And that comes in very handy if you find yourself working late (or even pulling all-nighters), answering emails after business hours, and otherwise compromising your free time on the regular.
We know you want to be productive. We know you enjoy what you do. We know it feels wrong, somehow, to enforce downtime just as strictly as work time.
But it just might be the best thing you’ll ever do for your productivity. For two reasons:
- When your downtime is undiluted and uninterrupted by work, you’ll start each day “at full battery,” so to speak — with way more energy to invest in whatever you’re doing.
- As a side benefit of enforcing these boundaries, you’ll be forced to maximize the time you have to get all your work done as efficiently, and effectively, as possible.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, try this setup for 2 weeks: during work hours, block all distractions; after work hours, block everything work-related.
If you find that it’s way more stressful for you that way, you can always end the experiment and revert to the way things were. But chances are your quality of life and your work output will improve substantially, in which case… you’re welcome!
Aaand that’s it for this week! We hope these remote productivity strategies make working from home easier and less stressful for you until things return to the “new normal” — whatever that might be.
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