How to be productive if you’re struggling with working remotely

4 tips to help make work easier

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Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

Right now, we’re about a month into the largest work from home experiment ever, with nearly 2/3rds of the white-collar population being able to work from home.

While this happened out of necessity instead of choice, 44% of a sampled population have found themselves being more productive at home, with 24% of people not sure as of yet.

That seems pretty great, but what if you’re finding that you’re one of those that are not naturally productive at home?

Well, here are a few tips that you can use to be more productive.

This is something that many of you might be aware of if you have ever headed to work early, but there tend to be core business hours (such as 8 am — 5 pm).

If you ever headed to work before then or sent an e-mail, it might be a few hours before you get a response.

The first thing you should realize is that with this work from home experiment has shifted core hours a little. For many businesses, that “8 AM response” has shifted later towards 8:30 or 9 AM, and perhaps fewer people are responding at 4:45 PM.

So how does your “new” natural sleep and work schedule align with your work’s core hours?

Aim to find 5 hours where you’re at work that are also within the core business hours. By telling yourself that you should be working during that time, you’re less likely to goof off as you only have a limited amount of time to work each day.

This is also very helpful if you have young kids at home. By devoting a certain amount of time where you are focused on work only (and perhaps have someone else caring for the children), you can get some work done before you’re inevitably dragged away.

You can even separate your core hours into smaller chunks, such as having 5 50 minute chunks of work with 10 minutes with the kids, if necessary.

But you may be saying to yourself, am I advocating for only working 5 hours instead of an 8-hour day? No.

The other 3 hours can be spent on low-effort tasks, such as checking e-mails, writing responses, and other things of that nature. But when you only give yourself a limited amount of time to work each day, far less than a normal 8 hour day, you’ll find yourself being more productive.

The other thing that you should do is separate your work from leisure. I know that you’ve probably heard this many ways before, such as never working in bed or on the couch, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about.

When you went to work before, you had a specific space where you were working: a cubicle, a desk in an open office, or a workstation. This was the dedicated place where you did work, day in and day out.

Setting up a similar space where you’re living is crucial: you need to be at the same place and space day in and day out to maintain the idea that this is the place where you’re doing work.

If you switch from couch to kitchen table to bed to try and do work, then you don’t have a workspace. And that space is crucial.

Let me phrase it in another way: employers spend millions of dollars to design offices in a certain way.

Every choice, from open workspaces to standing desks, are things they consider carefully, as the workforce is willing to accept lower salaries if the work-life balance and environment are well-adjusted.

There are tons of articles written about great office design, and even jobs that plan out these environments (Facilities managers).

As such, having a dedicated workspace at home can be just as important in terms of productivity. But it doesn’t have to be very big.

As of right now, my workspace is a mock standing desk: essentially, my work laptop is sitting on top of a chest-high shelf, with papers and other things on top. It’s a pretty tiny workspace, but I know that if I’m standing and at that shelf, that means it’s time for work.

One of the largest deterrents towards Working from Home, before all this happened, was that being remote led to feelings of loneliness.

Without your work colleagues to chat with about work and non-work related things, you start to feel isolated from the rest of your team.

Besides, when you don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of, you may start to worry that your ideas are dumb or that you shouldn’t speak up. Or, if you’re stuck, maybe you keep it secret because you’re not sure who to talk to.

That concept, called psychological safety, is what Google found to be the key in creating strong cohesive teams, even more than whether someone is remote or not.

So what’s the best way to deal with these feelings, which definitely may arise when working from home?

Have a dedicated place for you and your colleagues/team members to chat. Whether it’s Slack, Skype, Google, or whatever other tools, by having that place where you can have the types of conversations you normally would at work, you can alleviate some of these feelings, which may disrupt your productivity when you’re working remotely.

Lastly, you should try and replicate what you normally did when the workday is finished: have a way to separate your workday from the rest of your day.

When you were working in-person, the ritual that you always undertook was commuting back to your home. You physically left the office, separated from the work environment, and then spent time transitioning back to “home mode” on the drive back.

If you’re working remotely, it can be easy to blend everything: with no commute, you could easily bleed your workday into the rest of your evening, as there’s no deliberate action to move away from work as well as separate your mindset.

To create a ritual for ending your day. It could be something like taking a walk around your neighborhood (if possible). It could be wearing a dress shirt during work hours and then taking it off when done. It could even be as simple as saying “I am done working” out loud.

By creating a physical end to your day, much like you would when working in-person, you can have dedicated time to yourself and relax without feeling like work is hanging over your head.

While working from home has its challenges, especially if you’re not naturally productive at home, some things are in your power to make your days more productive and less stressful.

I write about productivity, UX Design, Healthcare regularly. You can check out my course on Design Communication here.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning:

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