How to Be Productive When Working From Home

How to Be Productive When Working From Home
Masooma Memon

Written by:
Masooma Memon

Apr 20, 2020

how to be productive - header

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.

Let’s go.


How to Be Productive When Working From Home

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.


1. Start with sticking to your routine (or creating a new one).

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.

Jot down what your ideal routine looks like, then execute it.

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.

Dress up and work in a specified work space.

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. 

Keep your workspace clean.

Now that you’ve a work spot (find an unconventional workspace below for fun), make sure you keep it clean and organized.

how to be productive - work from home setup

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.

Pencil in a start and end time for your routine.

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.


2. Set realistic goals.

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.

how to be productive - monthly calendar template
Customize this calendar template and make it your own!Edit and Download

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:

how to be productive - overview calendar
Customize this calendar template and make it your own!Edit and Download

10to8 is also great for scheduling meetings both with team members and clients and these scheduled meetings can streamline productivity, as you can reduce the interruptions caused by ad-hoc meetings.

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:

how to be productive - project planner template
Customize this project planner template and make it your own!Edit and Download

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:

how to be productive - project planner template
Customize this project planner template and make it your own!Edit and Download

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:

Customize this weekly planner template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Two, use a Monday-Friday schedule with meetings log:

how to be productive - weekly planner template
Customize this weekly planner template and make it your own!Edit and Download

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.

how to be productive - chore/repetitive task planner
Customize this weekly planner template and make it your own!Edit and Download

3. Prepare your daily to do lists.

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. 

Switching between tasks can slow you down by up to 40% by the way. Because you take twice as long to do things that you’d otherwise get down quickly if you were only focusing on them.

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:

how to be productive - daily planner template
Customize this daily planner template and make it your own!Edit and Download

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.

So what now, you ask? Get to grips with the 1-3-5 method of making to do lists. According to this, add one big task, 3 medium-sized tasks, and 5 small activities to your list.

Here’s how your list will look:

how to be productive - 1-3-5 to do list
Create your own planner!Edit and Download

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.


4. Don’t forget to add deadlines to your goals.

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: 

  • Task priority. What do you need to get done first? What has your manager demanded the earliest from you?
  • The time it takes to complete something. Decide whether you want to do a time-consuming task first, second, or third? Perhaps you’re the most productive in the morning, so it’s best you do it then.
  • The complexity of the task. Ideally, it’s best if you deal with an attention-sucking task at your earliest. This way the task wouldn’t contaminate other items on your list with its bad, ugh-I-have-to-do-this-task vibes.

In the end, your schedule would best fit in a template such as this one:

how to be productive - daily planner template
Customize this daily planner template and make it your own!Edit and Download

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.


5. Take out time for breaks.

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. 

how to be productive - infographic

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.


6. Block out 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:

  • Use noise cancelling headphones if you prefer working in silence. Or, play some productivity-boosting music (yep, that’s a thing!).
  • Close open tabs. Or, at least, cross out unnecessary ones. Extra tabs are digital clutter and you already know how clutter clings to your mind for attention.
  • Mute the news. If you’re anything like me, the news might be giving you apocalyptic vibes these days. Turn it off. Or mute it on your social channels. Follow it only once or twice a day.
  • Work in focused bursts. Set a timer for 25 minutes and get to work. This means no checking social or jumping on a video call. Once the timer goes off, rest for 5 minutes (this is known as the pomodoro technique for focused work).


7. Use productivity tools.

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.

Google Docs

Share notes, tasks, updates in a Google sheet where everyone can add their feedback. 

Slack (or any communication tool for that matter)

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:


Ready to Be Productive as You Work from Home?

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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    About the Author

    Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance writer by day and a novel nerd by night. She crafts research-backed, actionable blog posts for SaaS and marketing brands who aim to employ quality content to educate and engage with their audience.

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