7 Steps to Maximize Productivity while Working from Home
I’ve spent a lot of time obsessing over productivity. As an entrepreneur with a psychology background, I find the topic fascinating! One year I even kept a log of how I spent each day, breaking the 24 hours down into 30-minute slots to see where I was wasting time and where I could improve.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to apply this obsession, because most days I work from home, where distractions run amok and I’m the only one responsible for my work. Below are the tips and tricks I’ve found to be most helpful for my productivity, and I hope they’ll be just as helpful for you!
1. Prioritize rest
I won’t tell you to only work 4 or 6 hours a day, and spend the rest of your time relaxing by the pool. It’s true that working fewer hours helps you do better work during that time. But even if you’re twice as productive in those 4 hours, it doesn’t make up for the 10-hour days that are so typical for people who work from home.
There’s a lot to be done, and we can only condense so much. However, it’s well documented that defined times of rest and recuperation help us work smarter and harder. (I’d recommend the book Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.)
To maximize productivity while working from home, get your full 8-10 hours of work in, but be intentional to about creating time for walks, reading, meditation, sleep, eating, and other rejuvenating activities before, during, and after your work day.
2. Keep an updated list
The best “trick” I have to getting more done at home is constantly updating my to-do list. Almost daily, I write out all the things I need to get done, which fall into 1 of 2 categories:
- To Do → Today!
- To Do → Later
This process does 2 great things for me.
It gets rid of the Zeigarnik Effect
The Zeigarnik Effect is that feeling of stress we get when there are 101 things to do running through our minds. We can’t shut off this stream of thoughts, because our brains are trying to complete all the tasks.
It turns out the simple solution to the Zeigarnik Effect is writing down your thoughts – in this case, the things you need to do.
So writing down my to-do list helps me remove stress and clear my mind. This allows to better focus on one task at a time, which boosts my productivity (and my quality of work).
It prioritizes my tasks
Writing down what I need to do today helps me wade through my tasks to determine what’s most urgent and is the best use of my time. And since I refresh the list every day, I’m constantly refreshing my priorities, too. This goes a long way towards more productivity.
3. Play the right music
Music has profound effects on cognitive performance, and I’m fortunate to have studied these effects for several years. In short, every sound has a different effect on the brain, as does its tempo. And the more instruments or sounds there are in a song, the more it will impact your performance.
More beats in a minute through more instruments means your brain has more to process, which takes cognitive resources away from the task at hand. This is important, because listening to some music (e.g. Top 40) can negatively impact your work, while other music (mostly instrumental) can stimulate your brain just enough to improve your performance.
I could go into more detail, but it’s probably better if you do 2 simple things:
- Avoid music with lyrics. Language hijacks your performance, even if you think you can “tune the words out.”
- Check out Spotify’s playlists under Genres & Moods → Focus. They’ve done a great job of pulling together music designed to help stimulate your brain appropriately for different tasks.
4. Forget your phone
I’m a huge advocate of how helpful smartphones can be for both work and leisure, but all those apps and emails are really good at stealing our attention.
You might feel productive checking your email for the 30th time today, but you’re not. Every time you check your phone – or browse the same sites on your computer – you’re allowing yourself to be distracted.
Did you know it can take 25 minutes or more to regain focus after a distraction? So if you check your phone after every notification, how productive can you really be?
I’ve found best results from leaving my phone in the other room on silent. I check it periodically throughout the day, and that’s pretty much it. This lets me stay fully invested in the task at hand, which inevitably boosts my productivity.
5. Set goals and deadlines
When there’s no one around you telling you what to do and when, as is often the case when working from home, it can be very easy to procrastinate. We have a tendency to say, “Well, I’ll get to it later,” or “But I’d rather do this first,” and then we get behind. At the very least, we don’t reach our potential.
I spend a lot of time creating content, and I learned that others’ publishing deadlines helps me get things done sooner without adding much stress. So I’ve begun setting my own goals and deadlines for projects and tasks, and it’s done wonders for my pace.
Also, telling someone when I’ll have it finished, and creating that accountability, motivates me to reach or excel the goals I create for myself. So it becomes a virtuous circle.
6. Create a separate office space
You need to be aware of contextual cues and triggers. For instance, if you normally sit on the couch with a blanket when you watch TV, it can be difficult to then sit on the couch with a blanket and focus on your work.
The brain and body are great at recognizing context. So when you put yourself in a typically relaxed context and try to do something not relaxing, everything gets confused and suffers.
But, if you can create a separate portion of your home that’s only for work, like a spare bedroom or office nook, then you can use this work context to enhance your productivity.
When you step into that office, your brain and body recognize the context and prepare you to start working, which helps you be more productive.
7. Minimize communications
I’ve seen too many freelancers, remote workers, and other work-from-home types put a lot of effort into communicating with team members and employers. It’s like a process of validation.
If I’m communicating with you about work, you know I’m working, even though we’re not in the same office together. The problem is most of these communications – Slack messages, emails, texts, etc. – offer little value while creating constant distractions.
This was a big issue I dealt with early on, because I wanted to make sure the people I worked with could trust me to produce even though I wasn’t physically with them. Over time, I learned the best way to build this trust is by bringing them a great finished product quickly.
If I finish a project 2 days early, and that’s the first time anyone’s heard from me in a while, they’re all still happy. This has actually built more trust in the process while removing distractions, which lets everyone be more productive.
There are so many things we can do to maximize productivity while working from home, from drinking coffee at a certain time to choosing the right wattage for our home office light bulbs.
But these 7 steps are what I’ve found have the most positive impact on my day. They help me do more and better work each day, and I’m sure they can help you do the same!