How to be productive working from home
“I think I’d go crazy from all the distractions.” That’s what many people say when they hear that the IWT staff works full time from home.
Many people just don’t understand how you can focus on work, stay productive, and get work done in a house full of kids and other distractions.
Truth is: They’re right. Time management working from home is definitely tough sometimes.
How to be productive working from home
We are going to talk about schedules and how to be productive while working from home. Our founder, Ramit Sethi, has been working from home for about 20 years, and has systems and tips to share.
But in the last year, there are many people who are working from home for the first time and countless people whose schedules have been completely disrupted.
Here are our best tips on staying productive at home, whether you’ve been WFH forever or are new to the challenge.
1. Inventory your tasks
Before you can begin to manage your time, you have to first know exactly what you need to accomplish most days.
Just like when you’re setting a budget for the first time, you have to start with your fixed costs. In the case of time management, that means your non-negotiable tasks. Start by making a list of tasks that simply have to get done each day (along with the time they take to accomplish).
These could include:
- Shower and get ready (0h40m)
- Drive kids to school (0h25m)
- Exercise (0h45m)
- Zoom Meeting with Boss (1h00m)
- Eat lunch (0h30m)
2. Add non-negotiable tasks to your calendar
At this point, add any non-negotiable tasks to your calendar starting with the least flexible. For example, if you have a meeting with your boss, that’s non-negotiable.
Exercising, on the other hand, can be done at whatever time fits your schedule.
Taking kids to school: non-negotiable. Finishing a project at work: time-flexible.
3. Add remaining critical tasks to your calendar
Finally, you should add any remaining tasks to your calendar that simply have to get done one way or another. These tasks may be flexible in terms of when they get done, but they are still not an option — you have to complete them.
After adding all tasks, you should have a fairly full calendar, depending on your work and life situation.
If you’ve got a large family, you may have more obligations to fill up your day. If you work part-time, you may have fewer work obligations. And so forth.
4. Remove distracting notifications
Now that you’ve got your schedule set up (keep in mind, you may need to repeat the first three steps on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis), it’s time to make sure you stick to your schedule.
For that, we’re going to harness the power of technology and reduce distractions from that same tech.
Turn on calendar notifications
First, you’ll want to make sure you use a calendaring app on your phone that also lets you see your calendar on your desktop.
Then, make sure your calendar notifications are turned on. You want to see when it’s time to focus on a particular work task, pick up your daughter from karate, or hop on a Zoom call with your boss. These notifications help you get work done.
Turn off basically everything else
To seriously focus, turn off all the other notifications you get by default on your phone or computer — family chat groups, social media notifications, game notifications, and maybe even email notifications — this will help you focus on work.
5. Dedicate certain spaces to certain tasks
While not everyone has the luxury of a dedicated home office, you should still create division between your workspaces, play spaces, family spaces, hobby spaces, etc.
If you’ve literally only got one place to do all of it, then use other cues to get your mind in the right place.
For example, maybe you listen to classical music only when you’re working. Or maybe you use a laptop for official work, but a tablet or phone for leisure internet time.
6. Get everyone on-board with your schedule
One of the most difficult aspects of a WFH schedule is keeping the people in your life from distracting you from what needs to get done.
This will require over-communication on your part. Explain to your kids, partner, friends, or roommates when you plan to work, what your visual or environmental cues are (“If I’m listening to music, I need to get some work done”) and what you’ll need from them to be successful.
You may also need to ask for help and support from your coworkers, teammates, and boss to ensure when you’re “at work” you’re all-in, but when you’re not “at work” you’re in a ‘life meeting.’
7. Automate as much as possible
Naturally, all of this advice sounds good, but if you’re spending an extra hour or two every week just to manage your time, then what really is the point of “being more productive”?
Sure, you might be managing your time better on paper, but at the end of each day or week, or month, you don’t actually have any more time (or peace-of-mind) than you did before.
That means it might be worth hiring someone to manage your calendar for you. Or, at a minimum, you should automate your calendar to repeat the critical tasks mentioned earlier in this article. Set it once and forget it. Then just obey what your calendar tells you to do each day.
Honoring what you’ve put on your own calendar is about self-respect. If you decided to put something on your own calendar, have enough respect for yourself to stick to the plan when the time comes.
If you find yourself constantly not completing tasks you set on your own calendar, revisit steps 1 and 2 of this list and ask yourself: “Is what I’m putting on my calendar what I actually want or need to be doing?”
The truth is: if you don’t automate and manage your own calendar, the world will fill it up for you and you’ll never get to the important tasks you care most about.
8. Take pride in little victories
There is beauty in simplicity, and it can be so helpful in maintaining productive, long-lasting routines. Try these different routines that celebrate the simple:
- Brewing fresh coffee
- Making your bed
- Performing hygienic rituals at times you normally would during the workweek
- Actually get dressed, don’t wear pajamas every day
- Planning and cooking meals
- Finding ways to get exercise inside the house or in low-populated outdoor areas
- If you want to become a morning person, now’s the perfect time
Think about one routine just for you. Overall, the key is to accept what’s going on outside and remember that we can only focus on what we can control.
9. Find ways to be of service
Lastly, our founder Ramit Sethi recommends finding ways to be of service in your WFH routine. He says, “I believe that every single person has something we can do to help someone else, and I’m willing to bet each and every one of us can help someone. When I was a kid, my mom used to take us to retirement homes and we would play piano for them.
What if you called up an elderly care or nursing home in your neighborhood and said, “Can I talk to someone there for 15 minutes?” Do you think someone would be there and be welcoming to a call? Yes.
There are so many ways that we can help people. And, right now, there’s a lot of elderly people who can’t even get groceries. So I would say every one of us has something that we can do right now to help other people. Community service would be something that I would build into our schedule.“
Working From Home Versus Self-Care
What percentage of the day do you devote to work and what percentage to self-care?
Self-care, for me, is a leisurely morning, right? I don’t want to be rushed in the morning. Self-care for me is working out, being able to text friends whenever I have the chance, and enjoying the little things.
People traditionally think about massages and things when they hear “self-care.” That’s why I think whether it’s serving someone or building a routine just for you, you’ve got to find something that’s going to give you energy during these times. A percentage is a weird way to think about working from home versus self-care, so I’d say that make sure you’re doing enough things that give you energy or sustain you and you’ll find that happy balance between work and life.
Another step you can take to promote work-life balance at home is to carve out your own workspace. Find a spot in your home, apartment, or wherever you live and dedicate a certain portion of it to your work. Our homes can be super cozy, and Netflix is right there. But, if you dedicate yourself to a workspace, you can get more stuff done and turn your brain off of work mode easier.
Live a Productive Life at Home
Scheduling life around your work can be a real challenge, but once you figure it out it can be incredibly rewarding.
Be patient with yourself. Be forgiving of your partner, kids, or roommates — they’re learning just like you are.
And above all else, remember: Work is not the most important thing in your life. Your passions, hobbies, and personal connections shouldn’t suffer just because you’re working from home.
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