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While COVID-19 is having a blast, throwing party after party in different parts of the world, it’s left most of us paralyzed with fear. Unfortunately for many of us, work must go on so.
But the question remains, how to be productive when you’re working from your home?
That’s the tricky bit. With rampant distractions (don’t you feel the dirty dishes in the sink are calling you?) and anxiety from COVID-19 on the run, it can be tough to function.
Nothing to worry about though. We’ve put together a guide on how to be productive when working remotely.
It includes creating a routine, setting realistic goals, working with to do lists, and blocking out distractions.
But it’s not all work and no play. Because that makes things super boring, super fast, which is why we’ve emphasized on the need for downtime too. And, for good measure, we’ve also thrown in some tips to relax during your breaks.
Working from home isn’t rocket science. It takes some time getting used to, but once you’re there, you might actually start liking it. But, remote work takes discipline. A lot of discipline. And some more.
Ready to learn how to be productive from home? Let’s roll.
Although a routine sounds dull (just look at how it sounds!), it’s the one thing that can keep you and your work life afloat in the prevailing circumstances.
Besides, your brain works at its best in a routine since it doesn’t need to take petty daily decisions like, “Should I start working now or two hours later?” or, “Should I put the kettle to boil or get back to my emails first?”
A routine conserves brain power so you’re left with the mental energy to do what you have to. Now you know why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same t-shirt every day.
But here’s the thing: you need to train your brain to stick with a routine (old or new). Just as you need to train a kid to eat with his mouth closed. So routine building takes work and patience. Lots of it.
The following are some ways you can ease your way into a well-defined routine.
It’s best you start with first understanding what you need before outlining a routine. For instance, the Editor at Doist, Becky Kane, who has been working remotely for 5.5 years wakes up early.
Her priority is to respond to all her team’s messages so she doesn’t, “get sucked into responding to messages all day long and not get any actual work done.”
Once she’s done, Becky goes about her, “regular morning routine - eat breakfast, drink coffee, cuddle with my pup while listening to the news and/or getting a few minutes of reading time in.”
After this, she zones into focused work around 9 am. This way, she both responds to her team in time and gets her day’s top priority task done.
But here’s a reality check: keep your routine realistic. No one knows you better than yourself so plan accordingly. Perhaps even give a routine plan a shot and see how it goes before you finally settle in it.
Both these ways help tell your brain: “Ok, it’s time to work,” as Nick Martin, the Social Engagement Specialist at Hootsuite puts it.
Getting dressed might not be the comfiest productivity tip but it works wonders for several people. The Inbound Marketing Lead at CoSchedule, Ben Sailer, is of the same opinion.
Besides, he upvotes having a designed work space that could be, “a home office, your dining table, computer desk, or anywhere else that you can make a temporary ‘work-only zone.’” You could even create an ergonomic workstation to optimize comfort.
The idea is simple – shift your brain into work mode.
And, for the record, both Ben and Nick are as new to remote working as you might be. But they’re calling this their top productivity tip. So that’s something.
P.S. Just make sure you don’t work from your bed. Not only is that bad news for your sleep schedule, but your bed might tease you into catching some zzz too.
Now that you’ve a work spot (find an unconventional workspace below for fun), make sure you keep it clean and organized.
Clutter can sip on your productivity faster than you can guess. In fact, all the things on your desk secretly compete for your attention, leaving little room for focused work.
Besides, keeping things organized can help you save about 60 minutes (!) a day. Makes sense though as you don’t waste time looking for a pen.
This will help you set boundaries. For one, you won’t end up working overtime – a leading curse of remote work. Secondly, you’ll enjoy better work-life balance. Even grab a good book or watch Money Heist during the time you’d otherwise be commuting.
This one’s relatively easy. Except you need to stick with the key part of this step to make it work: set realistic goals.
This means you sit with each goal and estimate how much time it would take you to complete it. Then note it down with some extra time – trust me, you’ll need it because we suck at making correct estimates.
If you already know what’s required of you in a month, then starting by writing your monthly goals is a good idea – one that’ll be best complemented with a custom calendar.
This gives you the bird’s eye view on how your month will look. Don’t worry if pink isn't your color. Pick your favorite as you edit this template in Visme. Or, add your brand’s colors. Using your company’s branding is a good way to feel ‘at office,’ isn’t it?
If the calendar view gets a little confusing, you might want to check out this planner that lets you plan your month with a to do list and appointments/meetings log:
However, since uncertainty is common these days, you might want to stick to a goal plan for each project that’s on your plate.
In which case, this template can help you set your goal for your project, divide it into weekly work and even log in action steps:
Alternatively, if don’t plan on dividing the work in weeks or your project is a smaller one, then this project planner will serve you best:
There’s a third option here as well: plan things weekly. Monthly can feel overwhelming at a time like this. And it’s possible you don’t have all the project details yet.
For weekly planning, Visme has three main options for you.
One, use a simple Monday-Friday weekly schedule:
Two, use a Monday-Friday schedule with meetings log:
And, three, use a sheet like this customizable template below that lets you record repeat tasks so you can mark them off daily. You can also use this planner with one of Visme’s weekly schedule templates that we shared above.
With your routine in place and goals set, you’ll need a daily to do list to get things smoothly rolling. At this point, you might be thinking: that’s too many lists.
But hear me out: lists keep you accountable and noting your tasks means you’re less likely to forget working on them throughout the month. On the other hand, a daily to-list takes your productivity north by guiding you throughout the day.
With a list by your side, you won’t find yourself wondering what to do next. What’s more, you wouldn’t feel the need to multitask.
To begin with, print out one of Visme’s daily to do planner and start filling it in. Let’s suppose, you think this template is best for you:
Print it out and work on it. Having it on paper means you get the chance to check off every task as you complete it and feel that tiny hit of happy hormone, dopamine.
If you prefer to keep things digital though, download the daily planner and keep it open during your work hours.
Pro tip: Prioritize items on your to do list.
Many times, we end up with a list that seems to be impossible to complete. The reason behind this is simple: you’re adding more to your list than you can reasonably, realistically and humanly achieve.
Here’s how your list will look:
If you feel that urgent work pouring in can threaten your to do list, you can always leave some room for urgent tasks. Let’s say, dedicate one medium-sized project slot to any urgent work that pops up.
This helps you chalk out a proper schedule – one that’s timed so you don’t give any assignment a lot more time or not enough time. Task management is key.
On to arranging your timed tasks now. Arrange them according to:
In the end, your schedule would best fit in a template such as this one:
Want another tip on how to be productive when working from home? Punch in buffer time in your schedule. Like we’ve already talked about, we are bad at making exact estimates of how long it takes to complete a task. Even if the work is as simple as drafting an email.
By adding extra time to your schedule, you’ll see that you’re better able to complete your to do list than without it.
One more thing that you need to factor in – downtime. Let’s talk about it next.
Many of us have a hard time breaking free from the task at hand. Others eat lunch with an Excel sheet. Not only can this be boring, but it is also draining.
A lot of mental fatigue and chronic body aches show up if you’re not careful about taking breaks, particularly, as you’re holed in your home office.
So how should you schedule breaks in your schedule? Perhaps take 15 minutes off after every hour of focused work? Or give yourself a 5-min break every 30 minutes.
It’s best you put your break time to good use though. Get up and stretch a little. Mediate for a few. Or go around the block for a walk to keep cabin fever from sinking in.
Alternately, Nick has an excellent suggestion – soak in some sunlight. He explains, “Sitting by the window, getting some sun help me keep energized.”
Ben, on the other hand, prefers supporting local business while keeping the coffee going.
He opines, “If you're a coffee drinker, find a local coffee shop that's doing mail order or curbside pickup for bags of beans or grounds. Keeping yourself well-caffeinated while safely supporting local business is a win-win.”
Besides, you need to make sure you eat lunch away from your desk.
If you live alone, have a virtual lunch break with your teammates. But make sure you use a portable device to connect with them so you’re away from your desktop.
If you live with your family, leave your workstation and eat with them.
With that done, you’re well on your road to getting things done from home. Just one thing that’s remaining now – distractions.
Although working from home means there are no shoulder-tap checks-ins from your colleagues to poke your focus bubble, your neighbor’s barking mutt or the lure of social media can be focus-shattering.
In fact, you can lose approximately 2 hours to constant interruptions and getting your focus back to the task at hand. That’s 2 hours!
Ready to salvage this lost time? Try any or all of these tips:
Automation can help you save a lot of time and brain power.
Deborah Tennen, the Senior Editor at Zapier, a fully remote team, thinks, “When you're working from home, it's easy for important signals to get buried under lots of digital noise. If you use automation to funnel everything into one place (e.g., Slack), it makes it much less likely things will slip through the cracks.”
So which productivity tools should you use? While we’ve a complete list here, here are a few important tools you don’t want to miss.
Share notes, tasks, updates in a Google sheet where everyone can add their feedback.
Instead of going back and forth between emails, start communicating with a tool. Our team at Visme uses Slack, Nick mentions Google Chat and Hangouts for communicating with his team while Becky’s team’s preferred channel is Twist.
Use Visme to quickly design weekly reports with incredible report cover designs, charts and presentations. While we’re at it, here’s a short video walkthrough how you can create presentations for work:
And, that’s a wrap! Hopefully, this post answers all your queries on how to be productive when working remotely. Armed with a schedule, a to do list, and a counter plan to deal with distractions, you’re all set to work from home.
Don’t forget to sign up for Visme so you can print your favorite planners and checklists.
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