Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar. You’ve started your “work from home” plan. You’ve set yourself up in a corner of your home, home-brewed coffee in hand, with emails to write, projects to complete, and meetings to attend.
Then, you reach for your phone, and hit “refresh” one last time…
And two hours, a conversation with your spouse, and approximately 45 refreshes of the news cycle later, you’re still in the same place where you started.
Does this sound familiar?
Here’s the challenge with working from home – while some of the typical office distractions are gone, others have taken their place. From home school to dog walking, the makeshift home office environment brings all kinds of new distractions to the mix. And while we can’t provide childcare or dog walking services, we can give you some tried-and-true recommendations on some time management best practices that we’ve been using for years.
I swear, I use them myself. Most of the time. 🙂
Turn off Notifications
Whether your vice is your inbox or your news alerts, there are approximately a million ways to be distracted while conducting your day-to-day work. I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust myself to ignore notifications. Instead, I just shut them off. There are a couple of ways to do this:
- On Microsoft Outlook, you can go to File -> Options -> Mail -> Message Arrival to turn off email notifications, and File -> Options -> Calendar -> Calendar Options to turn off (or modify) calendar alerts.
- On your iPhone, you can go to Settings -> Notifications to manage notifications to manage all of your different app settings.
While it may hurt initially, we’ve found that few people miss their email notifications for long. Really, the idea here is to manage your notifications and carve out specific times of day to check your email, so that your notifications don’t manage you.
Speaking of carving out time…
Schedule time for specific tasks
Whether you are accountable to someone else or trying to manage your own time, the best thing to do is to be intentional with your calendar. I personally don’t trust myself to commit do doing a project simply because “I said I would.” By scheduling bite-sized calendar blocks for specific tasks, I know that I’m a lot more likely to actually follow through.
As an added bonus (or caveat!), if your organization has shared calendars, you will show up as “busy” during these times. So this will make you appear unavailable for meetings (for better or for worse).
Know your rhythms
I’ll be honest, I used to scoff at this one. It’s great to know what times of day you are at your most productive, in theory – but rarely does that coincide with a “typical” office environment.
Well, one of the benefits to working at home is that for a lot of us, we are given more flexibility than ever before on this front. Even if your days are filled with meetings, you still gain additional time from not having to commute.
What does this mean, in practice? For me, I know that I’m at my most productive and creative in the afternoon, or after a workout. So my day look something like this:
- Wake up, work on some tactical tasks (invoicing, catching up on emails, etc.)
- Eat breakfast
- Have some calls/Zoom meetings
- Go for a run
- Blogging/writing/other creative tasks
- End of day wrap-up
Of course your mileage (both literal and figurative) will vary, but even having an acute awareness of when you are most productive will make a difference.
Identify your “elephant” task
You know the old adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” While that applies to gargantuan projects, we can probablyallidentify that one task that we is driving us crazy.
But here’s the thing – if we can get moving on that task, first thing in the morning, it will make the rest of the day feel that much more productive.
If you’re still not sure, set a timer for yourself, and cut yourself off after fifteen minutes. Having the time limit makes it that much easier to get started in the first place, and makes it feel a lot more palatable.
We know that’s not always possible – sometimes your elephant is the 4 PM phone call or the post-lunch weekly meeting – but even if you can carve the time to do prepfor that task early on, you’re likely to feel much better the rest of the day. And we will take any opportunity for stress relief that we can right now!
End the day on the right note
The last thing you want is to walk away from your computer at the end of the day with fifteen browser tabs and four Word documents running in the background, two half-written emails open, and a Skype chat that you never signed out of. Taking some time – even five minutes – at the end of your day can make all the difference in how things start the following day. Here are a couple of things that we recommend, and like to do ourselves:
- Do one last review of your inbox, and tie up loose ends on any unanswered emails (even if that means flagging them for follow up on a later date – at least they’re on your radar!)
- Do a daily check of tomorrow’s calendar – in “Day” view – to just have a look at what tomorrow’s appointments look like, and what must-do tasks you need to accomplish.
- Do a “brain dump” and jot down all of the ideas bouncing around in your head somewhere (a draft email, a OneNote page, and a Google Doc all work great). This way, you can trust that you won’t forget any of these random thoughts and brilliant ideas, and be more comfortable turning your attention away from work on the other side.
- Spend just a minute or two jotting down the day’s accomplishments. It might feel like you got caught up in the news cycle or your kids’ homework assignments, but having some tangible evidence of what you’ve done will make it feel like a much more productive day.
We know that these times present unprecedented challenges for all of us, but hopefully these tips can help you to stay organized not just in your home office environment, but long-term as well. And don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need some further help on workplace productivity tools!