By Adrian Shepherd
Several short months ago, millions of people all over the world woke up each morning, hopped in the shower, grabbed a bite to eat and jumped in their car to head off to work. Then came along COVID-19, and everything changed.
Places like Italy, Spain and India implemented hard lockdowns with very little movement outside except to get groceries. In Japan, a soft lockdown was rolled out, though most people stayed at home — my wife being one of them. She’s been at home for five months and has barely left the house even though the lockdown was lifted two months ago.
She’s one of the many who are stuck working from home for the foreseeable future. It’s been interesting to talk to her and other clients about their experiences and listen to their frustrations. If you’re reading this, chances are you clicked through because you are in a similar situation and are wondering how you can maximize your time.
Here are seven ways to be more productive when working from home.
1. Clean your workspace
Working in an office forces you to work within limitations. You’ve got a desk, a computer and a few knick-knacks. At home, that’s not the case. It’s distraction heaven. You’ve got kids running around the house, your cat scratching the sofa wanting to go out, the postman arriving to deliver your latest Amazon order and social media notifications on your personal phone going off every few minutes. For all these reasons, and probably a few more, you need to create a clean workspace.
Focus is the key to maximum efficiency, meaning you need to limit distractions. As Francine Jay, author of The Joy of Less, says, “Surfaces are not for storage. Rather, surfaces are for activity, and should be kept clear at all other times.” Limit what you have on your desk to just the bare essentials. Always keep in mind the saying “Clean desk, clean mind.”
2. Get the gear
Once you have your workspace set, you need to have the right gear. Three things will get you started.
• A large monitor. The first thing my wife purchased when she was told she would have to work from home was a stunning 24-inch monitor to connect to her high-end laptop. It’s been worth every penny. When you’re going to be glued to a screen for more than eight hours a day, you want to limit the strain on your eyes. At your office, there may be limitations as to what you can use, but at home, you’re in control.
• Rocketbook. Working from paper is one of the little-known secrets of successful people. Too often today, by default, people turn to their smartphones. But as bestselling author Alex Banayan learned in his mission to interview the most successful people in America, pros use paper. I adore paper, but recently a client turned my attention to something that takes things to the next level — Rocketbook. You use a Frixion pen to write on special paper, then use their app to scan in the pages. It’s analog meets digital. And it’s awesome.
• A good light. The strain on our eyes is intense today, whether we’re staring at a screen or going over documents. This is why light is so important. Two desk lamps that made nearly every recommended list of 2020 are the TaoTronics Stylish Metal and the BenQ Eyecare (what a great name).
3. Implement single focus time (SFT)
Darren Hardy, as the former publisher of Success Magazine, had a chance to talk to the most successful people on the planet. Hardy talks in-depth about the importance of focus and what he calls a 90-minute jam session. Not everyone might be in a position to do that, but the goal is to carve out at least two times each day for uninterrupted work. No calls, no emails, no nothing — just single-minded focus even if for just 30 minutes, or as I like to call it, SFT. It’s amazing how simply doing this will transform your productivity.
4. Use a timer
Don’t get caught up doing more and more. In this crazy, unpredictable global environment, there’s always more to be done. Fall into that trap and you might not be able to get out. Set small periods of time to work on a task, and once that timer hits zero, times up. It’s amazing how fast we move when we’re under the gun.
5. Take mini-breaks
One of the best, and worst, things about working from home is not having people watching us every waking moment. Gone are your managers and coworkers. It’s all in your hands. That means if you want to take a break, you can take a break. And guess what? If you’re serious about boosting your productivity, you should do just that.
After focus sessions, my best advice would be to simply go for a walk. Get some fresh air and a change of scenery. We all live a very sedentary lifestyle today, which is a productivity killer. For our sanity and our productivity, we need to get outside. What about those rainy days? Some light stretches will suffice. It’s critical that we find a way to get our minds off work, even if for just a short time.
6. Use lists
I’ve always loved lists. They help me organize ideas, projects, articles and problems into manageable pieces, making the task at hand much more doable. A to-do list is something everyone swears by, but the real key lies in prioritization. That’s where Ivy Lee’s method comes in. For the digitally minded people out there, I recently came across the app Rocket 135, which forces us to create just nine tasks each day. You break tasks into one big, three medium and five small. I love the limitation as it focuses us to be cutthroat with our tasks.
7. Enjoy yourself
This sounds a little silly to say, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Happiness improves productivity. Being stuck at home for long periods of time for most people is a big pull in the opposite direction. Ever see someone working the day before a long vacation? They are powering through the day. Some will get more done in a day than they have all week. It’s what I like to call the day-before-vacation phenomenon. That’s why it’s imperative to schedule in some fun each week.