Whether you are using your time during this quarantine period to participate in a remote internship or completing your University classes online, working from home can be hard. It can leave you feeling unsure how best to approach your day or even how to have a productive day at all. We’ve gathered some top tips on working from home to help you create a productive and comfortable environment to enable you to achieve your work and study goals.
Tip #1: Getting dressed
It can be very tempting to wake up and work from your bed in your pyjamas. After all, you are home and therefore do not need to “dress for success”. However, there is something to be said about getting dressed. Changing out of your pyjamas can help you set the tone for the day and give you the motivation to start your day off on the right foot.
In addition to this, getting dressed has a psychological effect on our productivity as well. Joshua Duvall, an author at Research Papers UK and Last Minute Writing, states “Our bodies appreciate the comfiness of our bed wear, and consciously or unconsciously, our minds react to this comfortability by shutting down the practical parts of our brains.” By getting up and dressed, even if it’s just as simple as changing into a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and working at the kitchen table, we help give our brain visual cues of our intention to get our work done for the day.
Tip #2: Create a Routine
These unprecedented times and the sudden change of having to work from home can make you feel anxious and unsure of how to approach your day. To help you combat these feelings, try sitting down and creating a routine for you to follow for the workweek. You can list all the tasks you wish to accomplish that day or go hour-by-hour if you want to have a more detailed breakdown of your day. Establishing a routine can help you figure out the best ways to go through your day. Therefore eliminating the feeling of unproductiveness, you get at the end of the day when you realised you might have spent too much time on one project and neglected others or walked around your house aimlessly unsure of what to do.
More importantly, set an attainable schedule for yourself. This means do not try and schedule copious amounts of work for yourself that you know realistically, you would be unable to finish. The overachiever in all of us would ideally love to finish everything as quickly as possible, but by listing too many tasks to complete in one day and being unable to finish them, we may add to our sense of unproductivity and anxiety and lead us to feel unsatisfied and behind with our work schedule. Instead, take a look at all your deadlines for the next couple of weeks and begin scheduling a set number of times for each deadline over the week. By tackling a little bit of each project, it will free up more of your schedule for you to complete other tasks, have time for yourself and give you a sense of achievement.
Tip #3: Take Breaks
If you are anything like me, getting into a productive mindset can be hard but once you’re there and typing away at your keyboard, getting out of the “zone” can be even harder as you typically want to keep going until it’s done. However, this can be a detriment to your work. Kimberly Elsbach, a management professor at UC-Davis, told time magazine that “Never taking a break from very careful thought work actually reduces your ability to be creative, ” and that it “exhausts your cognitive capacity and you’re not able to make the creative connections you can if your brain is more rested.”
Staying in one place and continually working can actually cause a drop in productivity and motivation. So take a break, step away from your computer or rather any electronic device. Going from a computer to a phone will not help you truly take a break. Consider going for a walk around your house or neighbourhood or having a “water cooler” break at your home. Afterwards, you’ll find that once you’re back, you will feel more rested and ready to tackle the rest of your day. Be sure to set a timer for your breakthrough, otherwise, a 5-minute relaxation will suddenly turn into 2 hours!
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Tip #4: Establish Boundaries
If you weren’t working from home often before COVID-19, it might come as a surprise how hard it can be to work effectively with your flatmates, parents or siblings around you. It can be easy to get distracted talking to your flatmates about your latest Netflix binge or celebrity twitter drama and then realising later that you wasted valuable time when you could have been getting your work done. This is something I have struggled with regularly when working from home! Therefore, try establishing boundaries and complete your work in a separate area from those around you to minimise distractions when you are supposed to be completing an assignment for work or school.
Who should I establish boundaries with?
Establishing clear boundaries doesn’t just apply to those you live with, but also to your company and even your phone. Just because you are working from home does not necessarily mean you are now required to work at 11 o’clock at night. Aim to start your workday around the same time as you usually do and finish around the same time as well. Working at any point of the day and regularly leaving work until late at night will create an unhealthy work balance and leave you feeling drained and unable to create time for yourself. Additionally, maintaining this schedule may be impossible to obtain once you’ve returned to your normal routine.
Additionally, be sure to establish boundaries with your phone. Now, it may sound odd having to develop boundaries with an inanimate object but hear me out. Phones can be addicting, especially when we are out of our typical work or school environment. It is easy to waste several hours on your phone on social media. Doing so will create an unhealthy relationship with your phone and take away time dedicated to your studies or work. It can lead to strained eyesight, bad posture, and even increasing your feeling of anxiety, loneliness and depression. Try setting a timer for yourself. Work or study for 25 minutes then give yourself a five-minute break or enable screen time limits on your phone. If you have an iPhone, you can set a screen time limit along with a password that will kick-in once you’ve reached your max amount of time.
Lastly, establishing boundaries also means having honest conversations with your supervisor about your workload. In an office setting, there are measures to help with being overworked such as lunch and water cooler breaks and commuting time. By working remotely, these measures are no longer there so it can be easy to continually take on more projects and responsibilities leading to you becoming overworked. Naturally, we all aim to do well at our job especially when we are beginning our careers, but overworking yourself as an attempt to do well can lead to a drop in your quality of work and increased anxiety. Ask for a one-on-one with your supervisor and have an honest conversation about your workload. They will appreciate your honesty, and that you are trying to manage your work better and may even offer some solutions.
Responsibly setting boundaries with your work does not mean you do not care about your job, but instead, you care more about ensuring quality work for the company and your future career. By establishing boundaries with those around you, your company, and your phone will lead you to have a more productive workday, but it will also increase mindfulness and time for yourself.
Tip #5: Communication is key
Working from home can be stressful, but it can also be lonely. You may feel disconnected from your work without having others contribute physically to your project, and you can often feel like you have to start, finish and edit your work without any additional help. If you didn’t work like this before then there is no need to feel like you have to do this now.
One of the most effective ways to work and collaborate remotely is to ensure excellent communication. It is easy to misinterpret someone’s tone and thought process when you are unable to see their visual cues. Misunderstandings may cause you to overthink and respond rashly, therefore potentially escalating situations and hindering your productivity.
So how do you better communicate while working remotely?
In an article by Harvard Business Review, experts stress the importance of clear communication rather than being brief to be efficient. When explaining things over video calls to your colleagues do not assume everyone may understand your comments. If you are discussing a particular task, then be sure to ask if anyone has any questions before finishing, this will help avoid misinterpretations and ensure everyone understands the project. One of the ways in which I try and ensure clear communication is by asking my partner if a particular response makes sense or if what I am writing is clear to other people. Though it may make sense in our heads, having someone, who isn’t in our brain, double-check it can help show us what isn’t clear to others.
Communication is important for students too. If you found you were more productive in group environments while you were at University, try and mimic the same type of setup. So if you live with flatmates, see if you would be able to work together, but ensure you are actually able to do work as it can lead to distractions. If you don’t live with your friends, schedule a time where you can all meet on a video call and virtually work together. This can help you feel more connected to others, keep the feeling of a University environment and help you work on your communication skills.
What about informal communication?
One of the most important ways to combat loneliness in remote work is to try and maintain some contact with others. Ask if someone has a quick 15-minutes to help you edit your work or to bounce ideas off for your project. Talking through your thoughts can help you obtain that human interaction that you may need and help improve your quality of work. Try scheduling or attending events outside of your work as well, invite others to do a virtual wine tasting or happy hour. On a daily basis, you can try communicating with others informally on Whatsapp or your company group chat. Maintaining that human interaction will help you feel less alone and isolated from the world around you.
Working from home can be hard to get used to, especially if you are struggling with your productivity levels, but it doesn’t have to be. One of the things that COVID-19 has revealed is that remote working is 100% possible and therefore, we may see more of it in the future. For those still in school or who have just recently graduated University, acquiring the skills, tips, and routines needed to be productive may help you in the long run, both professionally and personally. It can help you lower your anxiety of feeling as if you aren’t accomplishing as much as you should be, while also teaching you the importance of boundaries.
If remote working is to be the future of working, setting a clear boundary between work and personal life will need to be established. So, use some of these tips to help you study or work more effectively. Ultimately, these are our top tips for a better work-life balance and improving your productivity. Use the comment section below to let us know some of the ways that you have found to help you work from home effectively.
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