While working from home makes many employees celebrate not having to deal with the morning commute, it leaves many others dreading the idea of trying to stay on task in their home environment. If you're an employee who would much prefer to work in an office but have been forced to work from home due to the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, it can feel especially difficult to be productive since you didn't choose to work from home. However, the list of suggestions below can help you set up a more efficient home office environment and find your productivity "groove" so you don't feel like you're slacking on your work tasks.
1) Claim a space as your "home office"
The most important step you can take to improve your productivity while working from home is to set up a space dedicated to your work. A separate room is great, but even a portion of your kitchen table or kitchen counter will do. If possible, try not to work from your bed or the space where you watch TV or stream your entertainment. The space you select will hopefully only be used for work activities and tasks during this time.
If space is limited and you must work from a chair where you usually watch tv or even from your bed, see if you can make minor changes to that space to create boundaries between work and leisure time. For example, if you have to work from your favorite reading chair, make sure to remove whatever books you're currently reading from that space. Working from your bed? Fully make the bed and open any curtains you can to bring in more light before starting your work tasks.
2) Organize your "home office" space
Once you select a space to work in, spend a few minutes organizating the space (This is best done before your work day starts, but if you must organize the space during your work hours, give yourself only 5-10 minutes for this task. Otherwise it is all too easy to let organizing spin out of control and become a full day of cleaning your house.) Make sure you have all the supplies you need, space for any paperwork, and are able to plug in any electronics while working.
Treat going to this home office space as if you were going to your regular office. If you usually bring a coffee, water bottle, or snack to your office, then do the same while working from home and take those things to your home office space. Even if you're working from your kitchen counter, set up your workspace with whatever snacks or beverages you usually take to the office. Doing this will keep you from taking unnecessary breaks in the middle of your work to graze the fridge or snack drawers.
3) Maintain your previous morning routine
The human brain and body tend to like consistency. It might be tempting to sleep in an extra half-an-hour since you don't need to commute to work, but this can seriously throw off your brain and make you feel like it's a weekend rather than a work day. Instead, stick with your regular morning routine and find something productive to do with that extra time like reading a book or taking a short walk (assuming you're not quarantined).
Stick with your morning routine as much as possible which includes dressing appropriately for work. Okay, you can leave off the heals, tie, and suit jacket, but try to stick with the rest of the work assemble. This will help your brain stick to "work mode" much better than sitting around in your pajamas will.
4) Schedule your day with blocks of productivity
Take a few minutes each morning and block out your tasks for the day using a day planner (I love the Outlook calendar for this). If your position involves appointments or virtual meetings, then scheduling your day will be that much easier since those tasks will already be blocked off. If your position involves tasks that can be performed at any time of the day, make the decision in the morning of when you'll perform each of those tasks and block out time for each one on your day planner or calendar.
Make sure to also block out your lunch hour.
Once you've blocked out your day, make a pledge to yourself that you'll stick to this schedule. Yes, the occasional task will pop up and throw things off, but if you try to return to your carefully created schedule afterwards, it will help to keep you on tack and maintain your productivity.
5) Try some background white noise or barely audible instrumental music
Before I spent several years working from home, I worked in a cubicle-filled office. One day the power went out at the office leaving the room eerily silent. It took me some time to realize that the reason the silent office was getting under my skin was because there were white noise speakers built into the ceiling. Once we lost power, this steady background noise was suddenly cut off. It turns out that a noise I never even knew was there (until it wasn't), had helped me stay focused while working in the office!
If you find yourself struggling to stay focused while working in your home office space, try downloading a white noise app or playing instrumental music in the background. I tend to keep these sounds as very a low-level background noise that's barely audible. Try this to see if it helps with your focus (just don't get wrapped up in spending hours finding the "right" app or the "right" background music!)
6) Stay connected to co-workers
A major complaint for employees suddenly required to work from home is a lack of camaraderie among their co-workers. If you're used to chatting it up with your co-workers before starting work or occasionally stopping by your friend's cubicle on a water run or bathroom break, then the shift to working by yourself from a home office space can feel lonely.
There are a few ways to combat this. One method is to schedule a work call during the day with one of your co-workers. Try to stick to talking about work or the same topics you would have spoken about in your employer's office. Set a time limit for this call and work it into your schedule.
Another option is to schedule a virtual meeting once a week with several co-workers using conference software like Zoom or WebEx. This is nice because you'll be able to see your co-workers while discussing work-related subjects with them. Make sure to add this into your schedule and set a time limit for the meeting.
7) Step away from your "home office" for lunch
As mentioned in Step 4, make sure to block out time for lunch in your schedule. During your lunch timeframe, step away from your home office space in order to mentally "unplug" from work tasks. If possible (and weather permitting), go outside to enjoy your lunch. The change in environment (even if it's just to sit in another room or at another seat at the dining room table separate from your home office space) will help you detach from whatever task you're tackling in your work and will give your brain a brief break. This will ensure that when you return from your lunch break, you'll be refreshed and mentally ready to tackle the next task on your schedule.
By implementing the above steps, you'll be more likely to become more productive in your home office space and might even grow to love working from home!