by Mandy Green, Busy Coach
The outbreak of the coronavirus has coaches working 100% from home (or at least you should be). If you’re new to working remotely, these various tips from home-office pro’s that I picked up can help you stay productive.
Everyone who works remotely has to figure out when to work, where to work, and how to create boundaries between work and personal life. Working remotely, especially when working from home most of the time, means figuring out these issues and others.
Here are 20 tips for leading a better and more productive remote-working life, based on my experience and what I’ve learned from others.
1. Get started early.
When working in an office, your morning commute can help you wake up and feel ready to work by the time you get to your desk. At home, however, the transition from your pillow to your computer can be much more jarring.
Believe it or not, one way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. Simply getting a project started first thing in the morning can be the key to making progress on it gradually throughout the day. Otherwise, you’ll prolong breakfast and let the morning sluggishness wear away your motivation.
2. Pretend like you are going into the office.
The mental association you make between work and an office can make you more productive, and there’s no reason that feeling should be lost when telecommuting.
When working from home, do all the things you’d do to prepare for an office role: Set your alarm, make (or go get) coffee, and wear your coaching clothes.
3. Structure your day like you would in the office.
When working from home, you’re your own personal manager. Without things like an in-person meeting schedule to break up your day, you can be quick to lose focus or burn out.
To stay on schedule, segment what you’ll do and when over the course of the day. If you have an online calendar, create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. Google Calendar makes this easy.
4. Choose a dedicated workspace.
Just because you’re not working at an office doesn’t mean you can’t, well, have an office. Rather than cooping yourself up in your room or on the couch — spaces that are associated with leisure time — dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to work.
5. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
I drink a lot of water during the day which forces me to get up to go to the bathroom. When working in an office, I would go to the furthest bathroom away so I had to walk. While not a strenuous workout by any means, those daily walks got my body moving a bit every day.
Unless you make a conscious decision to get your blood flowing when working from home, it’s easy to succumb to an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle, so…
Make sure to schedule a few breaks throughout the day to stretch and/or walk around the block to get some fresh air. And you don’t have to make a big deal out of it, 5 minutes at a time is more than enough.
Also, consider using a standing desk for a couple hours per day as it’s been shown to help reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Lastly, make sure to maintain a healthy diet and drink plenty of water throughout the day!
6. Make it harder for yourself to mess around on social media.
Social media is designed to make it easy for you to open and browse quickly. At work, though, this convenience can be the detriment of your productivity.
To counteract your social networks’ ease of use during work hours, remove them from your browser shortcuts and, according to Fast Company, log out of every account. You might even consider working primarily in a private or, if you’re using Chrome, an “Incognito” browser window. This ensures you stay signed out of all your accounts and each web search you conduct doesn’t autocomplete the word you’re typing. It’s a guarantee that you won’t be tempted into taking too many social breaks during the day.
7. Commit to doing more.
Projects always take longer than you initially think they will. For that reason, you’ll frequently get done less than you set out to do. So, just as you’re encouraged to overestimate how much time you’ll spent doing one thing, you should also overestimate how many things you’ll do during the day. Even if you come up short of your goal, you’ll still come out of that day with a solid list of tasks filed under ‘complete.’
8. Work when you’re at your most productive.
Nobody sprints through their work from morning to evening — your motivation will naturally ebb and flow throughout the day. When you’re working from home, however, it’s all the more important to know when those ebbs and flows will take place and plan your schedule around it.
To capitalize on your most productive periods, save your harder tasks for when you know you’ll be in the right headspace for them. Use slower points of the day to knock out the easier, logistical tasks that are also on your plate. Verily Magazine calls these tasks “small acts of success,” and they can help build your momentum for the heavier projects that are waiting for you later on.
9. Save calls for the afternoon.
Not a morning person? You shouldn’t have to give yourself too much time to become productive in the morning, but you can give yourself some extra time before working directly with others.
If you’re struggling to come up with a reasonable work schedule for yourself as a work at home coach right now, start with the solitary tasks in the morning. Save phone calls, meetings, and other collaborative work for when you’ve officially “woken up.”
10. Focus on one distraction … like a baby!
There’s an expression out there that says, “if you want something done, ask a busy person.”
The bizarre but true rule of productivity is that the busier you are, the more you’ll actually do. It’s like Newton’s law of inertia: If you’re in motion, you’ll stay in motion. If you’re at rest, you’ll stay at rest. And busy people are in fast-enough motion that they have the momentum to complete anything that comes across their desk.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find things to help you reach that level of busyness when you’re at home — your motivation can just swing so easily. HubSpot’s principal marketing manager, Pam Vaughan, suggests focusing in on something that maintains your rhythm (in her case, it’s her daughter).
“When I work from home, my 20-month-old daughter is home with me, too. It seems counterintuitive, but because I have to manage taking care of her and keeping her happy and entertained while still getting my work done, the pressure helps to keep me focused. When she’s napping or entertaining herself, I go into super-productive work mode.
It’s the same idea for why some people work better when they have very busy schedules — you learn how to manage your time VERY efficiently. The ‘distraction’ of my daughter (I mean that in the most loving way possible) means I can’t possibly succumb to some of the other common distractions of home — putting in a load of laundry, turning on the TV, doing other household chores — or else I’d never get any actual work done.”
11. Plan out what you’ll be working on ahead of time.
Spending time figuring out what you’ll do today can take away from actually doing those things. And, you’ll have planned your task list so recently that you can be tempted to change your schedule on the fly.
It’s important to let your agenda change if you need it to, but it’s equally as important to commit to an agenda that outlines every assignment before you begin. Try solidifying your schedule the day before, making it feel more official when you wake up the next day to get started on it.
12. Use technology to stay connected.
Working from home can make you feel cut off from the usual office banter. Instant messaging and videoconferencing tools can make it easy to check in with coworkers and remind you how your work is contributing to the big picture.
There are an array of apps and tools designed to help remove distance as a barrier between team members. Finding the right tools to keep you and your team connected is important for staying productive at home.
You could use use Slack to keep conversations going remotely, Trello or Asana to keep you organized around priorities, and Google Hangouts plus Webex or zoom to make remote meetings more productive. Getting the right stack of support tools to fit your work style makes a big difference.
13. Match your music to the task at hand.
During the week, music is the soundtrack to your career (cheesy, but admit it, it’s true). And at work, the best playlists are diverse playlists — you can listen to music that matches the energy of the project you’re working on. Video game soundtracks are excellent at this. In the game itself, this lyric-free music is designed to help you focus; it only makes sense that it would help you focus on your work as well.
14. Use laundry as a work timer.
You might have heard listening to just two or three songs in the shower can help you save water. And it’s true; hearing a few of your favorite songs start and end, one after another, can remind you how long you’ve been in the bathroom and shorten your wash time.
Why bring this up? Because the same general principle can help you stay on task when working from home. But instead of three songs off your music playlist, run your laundry instead.
Doing your laundry is a built-in timer for your home. So, use the time to start and finish something from your to-do list before changing the load. Committing to one assignment during the wash cycle and another during the dry cycle can train you to work smarter on tasks that you might technically have all day to tinker with.
15. Communicate expectations with anyone who will be home with you.
Of course, you might be working from home but still have “company.” Make sure any roommates, siblings, parents, spouses, kids, and dogs (well, maybe not dogs) respect your space during work hours. Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re home.
16. Take clear breaks.
It can be so easy to get distracted working from home that you avoid breaks altogether. Don’t let the guilt of working in the building you sleep in prevent you from taking five to relax. Rather than just opening YouTube and watching some comfort clips, however, use your breaks to get away from your desk. Go for a walk outside or spend time with others who might also be in the house.
Breaks, like making and eating lunch, can recharge you to do better work. Don’t assume you need to be working 100% of the time while you’re home to be more productive.
17. Begin to develop your to-do list for the next day.
As the day begins to come to an end, and you identify tasks that are going to be on your calendar for the following day, develop your to-do list for the next day – and write it down. Use a Post-it note, calendar, or an app like ARI Recruiting that can track tasks and also your conversations with recruits.
18. Prepare your meals the night before.
When you’re in your own home, it can be tempting to spend time preparing a really nice breakfast and lunch for yourself, chopping and cooking included. Don’t use precious minutes making your food the day of work — cook it the night before.
Preparing food ahead of time ensures you can actually use your meal times to eat, and that you aren’t performing non-work tasks that spend energy better used at your desk.
19. Pick a definitive finishing time each day.
You might be under the impression that working from home establishes more work-life balance, but be careful with that assumption. Working from home can also feel like being at a casino — you can get so caught up in your activity, in a relaxing environment, that you lose complete track of time.
In lieu of coworkers, whose packing up and leaving the office reminds you to do the same, set an alarm at the end of the day to indicate your normal workday is coming to an end. You don’t have to stop at exactly that time, but knowing the workday is technically over can help you start the process of saving your work and calling it quits for the evening.
20. Make It Personal
Above all else, figure out what works best for you. Sometimes the answer is apparent, but other times you might need some inspiration from other people who are in the same boat. We are all in the same boat at the moment. Keep trying different things until you find what works best for you.
Mandy Green’s Busy Coach program has been a key way lots of coaches around the country have become more organized and efficient in all areas of their college career. To talk to Mandy about how that can work for you, email her at email@example.com.