Millions of people are now finding themselves under enforced lockdown as we wait out the current pandemic, and while many businesses have closed and shut down, there are still many more that are continuing daily operations as normal, but with one major difference: everyone is now working from home.
But staying productive at home isn’t as easy as you might think.
With so many distractions and so much anxiety from the global lockdown, productivity can often feel like the last thing you want to think about.
In this article, I’ll discuss what it means to be productive, why working from home is different, the best tips on staying productive at home, and why you might want to rethink what productivity means to you in a time of crisis.
Why Working from Home Isn’t What You Expect
After spending years working in an office and dealing with all the travails that come with that — waking up early, commuting to and from your place of work, tiresome office meetings and officepolitics — it might feel like a godsend to finally start working from home.
For many people, the idea of working from home feels like a dream come true; earning your living and building your career from the comfort of your own living room, without even putting on a pair of pants.
But it doesn’t take long before working from home starts to devolve into an endless turmoil of slept-in mornings and wasted afternoons, with your own personal productivity at just a small fraction of what it once was.
Sooner or later, life seems to come to a halt and pushing yourself forward to get even half of your daily tasks done can feel like pushing Sisyphus’ boulder up his hill.
So why is productivity so different when you’re in your home? Shouldn’t it be easier?
You save time and energy by waking up when you want, avoiding the traffic and the commute, and working in your own space.
Productivity, after all, is a simple combination of 7 characteristics:
- Motivation: The mental pull that keeps you going even when you are far from your goals
- Mindfulness: Awareness of your surroundings, your distractions, and your flaws and weaknesses to deal with them accordingly and keep yourself on pace
- Routine-Building: Discipline to build routines and follow them, so that every single day contributes toward reaching your goals
- Vision: The clarity of mind and consistency of vision to see the straight line between you and your goals, giving you the ability to get there
- Persistence: The strength to keep motivation going even when it all feels meaningless or small
- Single-Mindedness: Persistently aiming towards a single goal rather than jumping from one thing to the next
- Positivity: Maintaining a positive attitude and hardened optimism to keep your mind going through even the toughest obstacles
But it’s a different story when we’re talking about being productive from home.
Working from home presents its own unique challenges that you never have to deal with when working in an office or anywhere else.
When you suddenly switch from working at an office to working from home, the dramatic change of behavior and routine can be traumatic for the mind, and not something we can immediately adopt.
Here are four main reasons why productivity is naturally difficult when at home:
1) The Day Isn’t Broken Up
We all know Garfield’s famous line: “I hate Mondays.” And many of us do hate Mondays: it’s the start of another week of work and responsibilities, it’s the end of the weekend, and it means we have at least five or six more days of work ahead of us before we can think about taking another break.
The problem with working from home is that everyday can start to feel the same if you’re not careful.
Why should Garfield hate Mondays if everyday feels like it has the same theme, the same color, the same responsibilities?
One of the most common complaints of people who first work from home is that the hours and the days bleed into each other; there is nothing breaking them up, and every day just feels like the same old thing, over and over again.
2) There Is No Inherent Schedule
When days start to bleed into each other, we stop forgetting why we need schedules and appointments.
Many people think that the best part of working from home is that you can finish your daily school or work tasks whenever you want.
Not in the mood to work right now? Finish another episode of your favorite show; you can work later.
But the problem with no schedule is that it puts you in a state where every minute is a possible work minute, even if you’re not doing the work.
With no strict discipline to adhering to your own personal schedule, the entire day starts to feel like an endless slog of work time, even when no work is getting done.
3) Home Space Isn’t Work Space
There is the popular motivational saying, “Wear the clothes of the job you want.”
Personal psychology and mentality is crucial when it comes to how you feel and getting your mind ready for things.
And that can be problematic when you suddenly need to start working from your place of rest.
If you’ve never worked from home before, working from home can feel impossible to your mind.
This is because you have conditioned your mind for years to think of your office space as your work area, and your home as your rest area.
When you open your emails and start trying to do real work from home, your mind will be resisting it at every push, because it just doesn’t feel like you’re in the right place.
4) You Lose All Face-Time
As troublesome as office politics can be, the social relationships we build in our workplaces still contribute positively to our productivity and the general feeling of working together towards a shared goal.
When a team transitions from an office work culture to a remote work culture, the loss of this in-person face-time can be more damaging to the team’s shared productivity than one might think.
The loss of all social contact can also make it more difficult to stay in the loop; while online meetings and emails can help spread information, there is so much collaboration that goes on in the little office interactions that a team suddenly loses once they go remote.
Common Distractions At Home
In a professional setting, recognizing interruptions is almost too easy. But at home, every distraction just feels like a normal part of life, which is why it’s so easy to get carried away doing stuff that has nothing to do with work.
If you’re new to working from home, there’s a chance you’re not aware of what the common distractions are. Knowing these will help you protect your work bubble, so you can run on your productive juices longer:
- Chores: Doing chores is just procrastinating in disguise. If you really want to clean your home or do some laundry, set a different time for that instead of using your work-time to fulfill these tasks.
- Family Members: We tend to be lenient towards interruptions from family members because at the end of the day they’re just being themselves. But if you want to be productive and stay productive, follow your own working hours and hold your family to the same standards.
Being Productive While Working From Home: Best Tips and Reminders
1) Accept The Situation
Even the most introverted people step outside and socialize at least once a week. So it’s only normal if you don’t adjust to the situation immediately.
Take as much time as you want to settle indoors, but at the same time don’t spend every waking moment dreading self-isolation.
You’ll be spending a lot of time with your thoughts for two weeks or more. The last thing you should be doing is turning your thoughts against you.
If you want to start feeling “normal” right now, the best way for you to move forward is to accept the situation.
Accepting that this is going to be your reality for a while can be mind-numbing, but you can also find solace knowing that there are millions of people in the world doing the same thing.
Don’t scare yourself with “this is the new normal” thoughts; live day-by-day and accept the situation as it is.
2) Be Your Own Boss
When you’re working from home, you don’t really have a schedule. Because you don’t have a boss telling you what to do or co-workers reminding you of what time it is, everything is entirely up to you.
This is both a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, you’re free to work at your own pace and finish as many projects as you want; on the other, the burden of choice can sometimes be too overwhelming, and in the end, you might end up doing nothing at all.
Now is the time to rise to the challenge and prove to yourself that you don’t need supervision to stay productive.
It’s easy to spend your time however you want and ignore your responsibilities, but now is the time to hold yourself accountable for how you spend your time.
3) Step Out Of The Pajamas
Now that you don’t have to go to an office and commute, it makes sense to start working in your most comfortable clothes, right? Wrong.
Just because you don’t have to go to an office doesn’t mean you have to give up your morning routine.
The morning routine we do when we prepare for school or work is more than just about getting dressed and preparing coffee.
Ultimately, it’s a signal to our brains that we’re ready to start the day. The brain is used to these cues and commands.
Without the morning prep, jumping straight from waking up to working will eventually feel like a mindless act.
So take the time to shower in the morning and do your morning routine.
Slip into more casual workday clothes before anything else, and you’re bound to feel a lot more productive than if you were just working in a giant hoodie.
4) Create A New Routine
After you start working from home, you’ll notice that things don’t really have structure. At work, you would actually savor your one-hour lunch break to eat or take a break.
But at home, it’s much easier to take your time for granted. Suddenly lunch breaks can happen every five minutes; if you’re not careful, they could easily take up the entire day.
This is why a routine is necessary. Humans are habitual beings, and without routine telling us what to do next, you’re bound to start wandering around with no real goal in mind.
Routines help us function in a time of crisis by putting our brains on autopilot. With a routine, you’ll find it easier to live life as you normally would.
5) Commit To Your Working Time
If it hasn’t been mentioned enough: setting up a proper schedule can mean the difference between a productive day and one gone to waste.
But creating a schedule isn’t enough – you actually have to respect the time you’ve given yourself and commit to your working time.
This means compartmentalizing your time properly so you’re working when you have to and resting when you’re not.
If you’re only halfheartedly working during your “active” hours, you won’t be as efficient with your work, which can drag on an otherwise short project.
Doing this repeatedly will only lead to burnout. Even when you’re at home, treat your working hours the same way you would in an office.
6) Schedule Social Situations
To some people, weekend hangouts with friends and co-workers help them transition to another week.
Even when staying at home, it’s possible to keep up these weekly traditions over video call.
Schedule calls when you can and share a meal over video. This way, you won’t feel like you’re in total isolation.
7) Avoiding Work From Home Burnout
Even workers from home are susceptible to burnout, if not more so since you’re essentially doing the same thing every day.
The sudden transition from going to an office and interacting with co-workers can be a shocker to some people, leaving them unsatisfied and unproductive.
Here are some ways you can avoid burning out from working from home:
8) Mix Hard Projects With Easy Projects
If working from home is particularly favorable for you, you might be tempted to burn through multiple projects in just one sitting.
Unfortunately, this newfound productivity isn’t bound to last. Our brains get used to the level of intensity we’re doing and eventually get bored of doing the same thing every day.
Make things interesting by mixing compelling, demanding projects with easy ones. Don’t try to finish major projects right after the other.
Give yourself time to recharge by fulfilling small projects in the interim.
For instance, if you’re trying to finish a website from scratch, consider doing two major sections and two smaller sections every day.
By the time you’re closer to finishing the project, you won’t be too tired or too bored to complete either of the sections you need to fill out.
9) Set Temporal Boundaries
Not everyone has the luxury of having a home office, and if you’re like most people, there’s only so much space where you can actually work in an apartment or a house.
One of the most important things to prevent home burnout is to designate specific work areas.
Naturally, this means your bed is off-limits during your active hours.
Choose areas like the dining room and living room where you have functional furniture that you can turn into a makeshift office.
Avoid areas with high foot traffic to minimize distractions. If you can’t avoid having someone else in the room, use noise-canceling headphones or face the other direction to limit the stimuli in your work environment.
10) Create Transitions
Cooking while writing an article or cleaning while doing research might seem like admirable multitasking feats, but failing to separate “working” and “living” will only harm your productivity.
The human brain craves structure and failing to create a transition from your home self to your working self likely won’t get the creative juices flowing.
As mentioned earlier, the brain needs signals that it’s time to work. As soon as you roll out of bed, remember that taking the time to actually prepare for your work at home is just as important as making breakfast and getting your morning coffee.
Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself: These Aren’t Normal Times
Productivity is more than just completing one task after another. It’s a mindset we must adopt, a lifestyle that needs to be embedded in the way you live your life.
And the worst thing that can happen to productivity is disruption — disruption to your everyday routines, disruption to your emotional levels, and disruption to your entire life.
While working from home is normally a viable alternative to working at an office, the current circumstances have forced millions around the world to stay in their home and immediately switch to a work from home mindset.
Many people have reported that they had several plans to redesign their home office space and become more productive than ever before, but more and more are realizing that staying productive right now is much harder than it seems.
In the midst of a global pandemic, getting things done is becoming more and more difficult. According to Chris Bailey, professional productivity consultant,
“It’s tough enough to be productive in the best of times let alone when we’re in a global crisis. The idea that we have so much time available during the day now is fantastic, but these days it’s the opposite of a luxury. We’re home because we have to be home, and we have much less attention because we’re living through so much.”
Forcing yourself to work right now might be leading yourself to greater burnout than ever before. Millennials are already classified by psychologists as the burnout generation, with millennials naturally relating most with lines like:
- “I don’t want my boss to think they can replace me.”
- “I start to feel guilty if I don’t use my paid time off.”
- “I need to be dedicated to my job and company.”
- “No one else should be able to do the work that I do for the company.”
It’s a common impulse in millennials to spend every minute of your life being productive, and thus feeling bad if you fail to do so.
We put tons of pressure on ourselves to stay focused and committed even when it seems like the world is falling apart around us, and we blame ourselves for not being able to keep up the goals and expectations we made prior to the global pandemic.
While staying productive is important, it’s also important to remember that we aren’t living through normal times right now.
Psychologists are reminding people that we are going through a shared traumatic experience, which naturally makes productivity more difficult.
Following all the tips and guides to maximize productivity but failing to do so doesn’t make you a failure; it just means you are living consciously of the current circumstances, and you shouldn’t stress yourself too much about it or your productivity will come to a complete stop.
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