“The home office is the worst of both worlds,” says productivity and organization expert Lisa Zaslow, CEO and founder of Gotham Organizers.
“You’re not at home just watching TV, and you don’t have the excellent office resources and environment of being in the office.”
Still, it’s a reality for 3.9 million U.S. employees or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce. And, because there’s been a 115 percent increase since 2005, working remotely is nothing to scoff at.
But, how can you overcome the worst of both worlds and work at peak productivity?
1. Get dressed.
Your pajamas, while comfortable, aren’t precisely professional attire. I know. You’re at home. So why’s that matter? According to a study from Northwestern University found that professionals perform specific tasks better when wearing clothes that have “symbolic meaning.”
“Wearing a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat increased sustained attention compared to wearing a lab coat described as a painter’s coat. Compared to simply seeing or even identifying with a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat,” wrote researchers Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky. “The influence of clothes thus depends on wearing them and their symbolic meaning.”
Workplace expert Mason Donovan, author of “The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce,” agrees. He adds that wearing work clothes at home can boost productivity. “We feel more present, and we have a higher level of commitment and engagement,” says Donovan.
2. Work somewhere else besides your home.
As Choncé Maddox explains in an article for Calendar, working from home can get boring. Sometimes working from home can create more stress, and it much easier to lose momentum and slack off when you don’t feel motivated to work.” That’s not to say that you have to leave your home for eight hours a day Monday through Friday.
It does mean that you have to take the time to get out of the house occasionally. Coffee shops and even hotel lobbies have long been a popular alternative to working from home. However, co-working spaces come equipped with the perks of a traditional office, such as conference rooms and equipment like copy machines. Co-working spaces also offer additional services like headshots and networking events, where you can meet like-minded people.
3. Set a schedule and stick to it.
A schedule keeps you in-check and helps you develop healthy work habits. More importantly, it allows you to work during your “golden hours” and when you have the house to yourself.
For example, if you have children, you don’t want to schedule your most important work or virtual meetings right when they come home from school. You should plan those activities when the house is quiet and free of distractions.
4. Motivate yourself with rewards.
“As silly as this sounds, I have always been motivated by rewards,” says Leah Shoup, a location independent freelance translator. Leah sets mini-goals throughout the day. “For example, if you get 1,000 words translated by noon, you can go have a pumpkin spice latte.
“If you pick up an extra translation, you can buy those shoes you really want. The rewards can be from anything as small as buying a cupcake to something big like booking a cheap flight you came across,” adds Leah.
5. Create a dedicated workspace.
Warning: a dedicated workspace does not mean your couch or bedroom.
Make your dedicated spot a quiet space where you’re not only comfortable but also feel you’re a professional heading to work. If you have space, then this would be converting a spare bedroom into a home office where you have a desk and all the equipment and resources to do your job.
If you don’t have a spare room, the kitchen table will suffice. Just make sure it’s free of clutter like your plate from lunch.
For more tips, check out 5 Ways to Improve Your Workspace.
6. Set boundaries.
Just because you work from home and set your own hours doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set boundaries. Setting appropriate boundaries for yours means not responding to a text, email, or Facebook notification the instant you receive it. It also means not wasting time with your best friend cause they played hooky from work when you’re swamped.
When you’re in the zone, eliminate distractions by turning off your phone — or least putting it on airplane mode. If a friend wants to grab lunch, only have one day a week that you schedule these types of activities for. When you are on a roll — always plan another day or ask them if they can schedule dinner with you, instead.
Remember, work comes first. Then you can play.
Bonus Tip: If you have family, then make it known what you’re “working hours” are so that they won’t disrupt you during this time. If you have your own home office, don’t be afraid to use a “Do Not Disturb” sign when you’re busy.
7. Find a technique that works best for you.
There is no shortage of productivity techniques out there for you to try, like the aforementioned Pomodoro Technique or the similar Rule of 52 and 17. If that’s not to your liking, here’s a couple of other techniques you can try out:
- The Kanban System. If you’re extremely detail-oriented, this is a technique where split your to-do-lists into things you need to do, things you’re working on, and what you’ve finished. As items go through each category, you review your workflow and processes to identify any problems.
- Don’t break the chain. Created by Jerry Seinfeld, this is where you “spend some amount of time doing a desired activity every day and, when you do, cross off that day on a calendar. Having the X’s to cross off, creates a chain of Xs showing your progress. If you don’t do your specified task on one day, you don’t get an X, and that chain is broken.”
- The Get Things Done method. Popularized by David Allen, this is where you simply set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals by organizing all of your to-dos, priorities, and schedule in a way that is manageable.
- The Eisenhower Box. This strategy was created by President Dwight Eisenhower, where you separate your actions based on four possibilities. Urgent and vital, important, but not critical, Urgent, but not essential, and Neither urgent nor important.
- Do it first. In Zen To Done Leo Babauta suggests that you select your 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs) and get them done first thing in the morning.
8. Block off time to evaluate your progress.
As Christy Schultz perfectly explains, “Improving your productivity and effectiveness is not a ‘one and done’ prospect.”
As such, Christy suggests that once a month you block out some time in your calendar “to evaluate any changes you’ve made, if those changes are garnering the impact you were hoping for or if you should test a different method.”
Working the 9-to-5 Grind? Here’s 6 Ways to Maintain Productivity in the Workplace.
What if you work in an environment like Dunder Mifflin?
You can use some of the numerous hacks listed above, like the Pomodoro Technique, turning off notifications, and creating a schedule based around your personal life and when you’re most productive.
You can also add these productivity hacks for students to your toolkit.
1. Embrace technology.
While you should avoid getting sucked into email and social media notifications, you shouldn’t resist all technology.
There also tools like Hootsuite, MailChimp, IFTTT, Zapier, and Salesforce can automate your social media campaigns, email communications, marketing, and sales. In other words, these tools eliminate those tedious and repetitive tasks that chip away at your day.
2. Invest in a pair of headphones.
There’s a lot of background noise in an office — which is extremely distracting. One of the best ways to drown out this noise out is by listening to music suggested by Focus@Will or a little white noise through an app like Noisil. Besides blocking out distracting background noise, headphones are a decent deterrent.
Typically when someone sees you at your workstation with a pair of headphones on, they’ll leave you alone. Design the office for maximum productivity.
If you’re not in a Michael Scott position and don’t have this authority, then make the following suggestions to a higher-up:
- Use the right colors in the office. Blue can increase productivity if you do mind-work all day, while yellow is perfect for designers since it stimulates creativity. Find the right color for your industry and incorporate through your office.
- Purchase standing desks. Sitting all day isn’t good for your health. Standing desks won’t wholly reverse this, but it’s better than nothing. Standing desks can also break-up the monotony and help maintain focus.
- Have a quiet place. In The Best Place to Work, psychologist Ron Friedman states that 20-30 minute naps improve productivity, increase alertness, stimulate creativity, raise accuracy, bolster memory, and boost decision-making. No wonder Ben & Jerry’s, Nike, and Zappos have quiet rooms where employees can nap or meditate.
- Keep the office clean and orderly. “Cleanliness and order are essential factors for an office that feels good to work in,” notes Richard Andrews, Managing Director of Inspiration Office. “A disorganized office deprives workers of the enthusiasm and sends a message that sloppiness is OK.” Additionally, make sure that all office materials and equipment have designated spots so that they can be accessed quickly when needed.
3. Bring your pet to work.
Google, Amazon, Ben & Jerry’s, and Etsy allow employees to bring their pets to work. The reason? It relieves stress, promotes positive interactions, and employees tend to stay longer at work, and have fewer absences.
4. Rethink meetings.
With technology, like Slack and Trello, you may be able to reduce the number of meetings you have in your organization. You may even be able to get rid of them completely.
If you must have a meeting, keep it as short as possible and only invite key members — follow Jeff Bezos ‘2 pizza rule.’
Additionally, research from WhenIsGood.net has found that the most productive time to have meetings is at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays. Knowing the same time will be scheduled gives teams enough time to meet deadlines after the workweek. The team will also avoid conflicting deadlines from the previous week that they might have missed.
5. Use gamification.
If you’ve ever played video games, then the concept of gamification shouldn’t be foreign to you. For those who aren’t into video games, the idea is this; the harder you work, the more you’ll be rewarded. So whenever you complete a task, you may earn points to be placed in the top spot of the leaderboard to receive incentives like a vacation.
6. Provide a sense of belonging.
Finally, employees don’t want raises or incentives. They want to have a sense of belonging.
Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, and Wharton professor has found that when “employees feel and know that they are making a difference in the world through the work they do — whether they’re designing apps or laying down asphalt — it increases their motivation to perform.”
If you’re a leader, then tap into your team’s intrinsic motivation by sharing information, discussing strategy, and tying daily activities to the future.