How to be productive working from home – Part 2
This is part 2 of my working from home series of articles as a result of the impact of COVID-19. If you have not read my first article on this, you can read it here. In this article though, I want to write about ways to stay focused on the tasks you need to complete. Or another way of putting it might be: how to win the self-discipline battle.
Winning the self-discipline battle when working from home
One of the biggest challenges of working from home is maintaining focus without others around to keep you honest. It’s like when the boss is away, only ten-fold! You need to manage YOU! Unless you have an extraordinary amount of natural self-discipline, you will need to put in place some routines and systems or you’ll find it is very easy to fritter time away and not be productive. Here are a few tips I think can be useful.
Determine routine start and finish times
Use your calendar (I use Outlook) and schedule when you are going to start and finish your workday. There may be some challenges for you here, but unless you make a plan you will almost certainly not be as productive as you could be when working from home. The advantage you have at home is a bit more flexibility to schedule your day around your own needs and those of your family.
Having a routine start time is important, but a fixed finish time is just as much so. This will help you maintain separation between work and home life, and avoid the temptation to ‘make up’ time by working on things late at night, which is not a good habit to get into. You need to see this as a normal workday, albeit with a few differences.
Block out time for specific tasks you need to complete.
This is my all-time favourite strategy! Lately, I’ve been using the phrase: ‘Don’t just plan WHERE you need to be, but also, WHAT you need to do’. Use your calendar along with your to-do list to plan the important work you have to do today around any meetings and other non-negotiable commitments.
Once you start seeing your tasks as commitments in your calendar – like meetings with yourself – you may find, as I have, that it helps you stay focused to complete each task in the time you’ve allotted to it.
To give you an idea of what this looks like for me, I’ve supplied a screenshot from my Outlook calendar for Wednesday, March 11. I’ve chosen this day because up until I left my home office at 2.30 pm (in the good old days when we could still have face-to-face meetings!) it is a good example of how I believe you should try and plan your time when working from home.
You can see how in the morning, I basically had three tasks I wanted to complete before my online Microsoft Teams meeting at 12.30pm. Note that I didn’t plan every minute of the day – that would be unrealistic, even when working from home. There are bound to be distractions, even at home, or urgent emails you need to respond too. But some form of discipline like this can help keep you focused.
You might note that I even schedule in my lunch! Over the years I’ve found this helpful to force me to take a break and I’d encourage you to try it. It’s tempting to eat lunch at your desk, but that’s counter-productive in so many ways. Give your mind a break and a chance to refresh.
Another tip for working with your calendar like this is not to be too hard on yourself if things don’t work out as planned. Sometimes things get in the way. An unexpected phone call or email requiring an urgent response, for instance. One thing that can help is to reschedule the rest of your day after you’ve dealt with the interruption. This can help things stay ‘on a level’, rather than forcing you to cram an unrealistic amount of work into the rest of the day.
Finally, if you use this technique, try to plan tomorrow at the end of today. This is a good way to ensure you make a focused start when you sit down at your desk at the start of the new day.
I hope you found this little article useful.
Geoff Prior – Lingford Consulting. March 2020
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Here are a couple of related articles you may find useful: