You’re at home, on an important conference call. Just as it’s your turn to speak, the doorbell rings, sending your dog into a barking fit. As you fumble with your presentation and pray for the unwelcome visitor to go away, your phone chooses that exact moment to ring noisily, perfectly complementing the riotous orchestra surrounding you. Sounds familiar?
Mandatory work-from-home rules have introduced us to all kinds of distractions and concentration-sappers. From sore backs caused by uncomfortable chairs to the constant seduction of Netflix, we’re surrounded by numerous obstacles to focused, productive output. The fact is, our homes are not naturally optimised for office work. Space constraints, chores, visitors and WiFi glitches come in the way of single-minded focus. And since your colleagues also face similar issues, you may find work slowing to a sluggish pace. To counter these irritants, you work harder and longer, erasing the boundaries between your professional and personal life. But looming in the back of your mind is the stress of the economic slowdown and a pandemic with no clear end in sight. No wonder home-bound workers are spending more time working while feeling less satisfied and productive overall!
Fortunately, experienced work-from-homers have found ways to circumvent many of these obstacles and get things done without feeling anxious or frustrated. If you work from home, the following efficiency hacks could really help you.
Create a sacred work bubble: Having a dedicated workstation at home puts you in the mental frame to accomplish serious work. An ideal work bubble needs to be comfortable for long sprints of work. Hence, couches are not preferred! It should also be well-lit and located in a quiet environment with good connectivity. It doesn’t have to be large or fancy, but it does need to be sacred. To make it work for you and your family/roommates must respect its boundaries during office hours. Avoid using it for other purposes, such as eating or watching TV.
Want to go one step further? Change into work clothes before settling into your bubble every morning--even if your colleagues or clients won’t see you. Dressing up will help the entire setting feel more professional in your mind.
Get a head-start: Most office-goers reach their workplaces around 10 am. Another hour usually passes before the ‘real work begins.' However, when working remotely, you can start much earlier (say 8 am). Not only are you likely to be mentally fresh and energised, but starting early also gives you a couple of hours to tackle important tasks before calls and emails start clamouring for your attention.
Alternatively, those who feel more productive in the night hours can stay up late to give themselves a head start the next day. This system could make mornings far less stressful and prevent the inevitable daytime chaos from throwing your schedule off track.
Prioritise better: Most work generally falls into three buckets: core tasks (what you do for a living), coordination (e.g. calls, emails), and other work (e.g. maintaining records, administrative tasks). Prioritising the first bucket requires you to stop spending too much time on the other two. (Let’s face it: we all procrastinate or indulge in busy work sometimes.)
A good way to do this is to schedule limited time for less pressing tasks and devote the bulk of time and energy to the things that matter—writing code, conducting research, pitching to clients, etc. Being organised and setting time-sensitive goals helps here. Needless to say, anything outside of these three buckets, such as entertainment or household chores, should be tackled outside working hours.
Strike a deal with your family: If you have a bustling household with young children, you should explore ways to equitably share childcare or housework with your partner or family members. Let your schedule be known in advance so they can work around it. If you stay with your parents, help them get comfortable with online shopping and payments so that they are not wholly dependent on you for minor tasks. Even then, the best-laid schedules and plans could go awry at times. If this happens, let your colleagues know you need some time to tackle these issues and come back to finish the work later.
Most importantly, don’t blame yourself if you fail now and then. Everyone has their own working styles, and no one can be productive every second of the day, whether they are in an office or at home. But being organised, setting boundaries, and being kind to others and yourself will gradually help you replace that stress and anxiety with energy and positivity.