How to Be More Efficient at Work When Work Is at Home

By: on April 22, 2020

Working from home can be full of distractions. But with the right approach, you can be even more efficient than you were before.

If you’re the kind of person who can sit down in your home office at 9 a.m. and work efficiently without distractions for the next eight hours with minimal breaks for lunch and restroom visits, congratulations—but this article isn’t for you.

Now, for the rest of you real people who actually exist: I know the struggle.

6 ways to improve efficiency at work when you’re WFH

Dishes in the sink, dirty laundry on the floor, pets and kids being cute (or needy), viral videos to watch without managerial oversight… Working from home can feel full of stumbling blocks to your focus and productivity.

But by following a few basic guidelines, you can experience the comfort of working in your pajamas while also reaching the same level of efficiency—or more—that you have at the main office.

Here’s how to be more efficient at work when work is at home:

1. Start your day on an efficient note

Knocking out a high-effort task (such as completing a report or running a meeting) during your first hour of work is a great way to build momentum that you can carry throughout the day. On the other hand, if you start your day by reading the news, checking your email, doing a load of laundry, and scanning the #pets channel on your collaboration tool, you may suddenly find that it’s lunchtime and productivity has completely flatlined.

The key is mentally moving past the negative feelings we have before a difficult task (i.e., anxiousness, self-doubt) to the positive feelings (i.e., boosted confidence, optimism) we earn by completing tasks.

Bonus tip: To really kickstart your day, do a light workout and shower before sitting down to tackle your to-do list.

2. Take breaks strategically

It may sound counterintuitive to be more efficient at work by taking more breaks, but it makes sense when you think about it. Which approach do you think would be better for traveling a mile?

  1. Crawling on your hands and knees for an hour straight
  2. Running as fast as you can for two minutes at a time with 30-second breathers after each sprint

Work is the same way. If you try to stuff your head into your computer for hours on end, you’ll lose focus and get diminishing returns on your efficiency.

According to Psychology Today, taking periodic breaks can help you retain information, replenish motivation, improve emotional and physical health, improve decision making, and increase creativity and productivity.

So when you feel your focus waning, take a short break—go for a walk outside, chat with a friend or loved one, or have a snack—so that you can return to your to-do list with more focus.

Bonus tip: If you’re the kind of person who does well with structure, try the Pomodoro Technique or 90-minute timeboxing to schedule your breaks.

3. Get off your couch/bed/recliner

One of the great perks of working from home is getting to sit in your most comfortable clothes in the most comfortable chair in your house. But you can have too much of a good thing.

What’s the harm in sitting in your favorite recliner for 20 minutes after lunch while responding to emails? Very little—until you turn on the TV to check the news, or end up taking a power nap, and before you know it you’ve been in your favorite recliner for two hours doing nothing productive.

It’s important to have a separate, quiet space in your home that is designated for work, whether that’s a home office or just one side of your dining room table. Just think of how much more comfortable your favorite recliner will be at the end of a productive day!

Bonus tip: Keeping a designated space for work and a separate space for rest will also help you turn off your “work brain” after hours, and resist the temptation to dash off a few emails at 11 p.m., interrupting your team’s rest in addition to your own. If something is really stuck in your head after hours, just quickly add it to your to-do list for tomorrow then give yourself permission to let it go.

4. Make sure you have sufficient tech

If you’re having trouble being efficient while working from home, and you’re using your 60-pound desktop computer which hasn’t had an operating system update since you were in college, I think I can help you diagnose your productivity gap.

According to a recent Gartner snap poll (full report available to clients), “54% of HR leaders indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working is the biggest barrier to effective remote working in their organization.”

Just as you wouldn’t be expected to try to do your job with insufficient equipment at the office, you shouldn’t be expected to do so at your home office. If your setup isn’t working, contact your IT department immediately to get it resolved.

While they might not be able to outfit every employee with a $3,000 standing desk for their homes, they should be able to help with things like wireless mice, external monitors, and ergonomic keyboards.

Bonus tip: Improvise where possible. If you’re used to a standing desk at work, try setting your computer on a laundry basket on top of your table, or experiment with an ironing board or countertop. Or, if the kitchen at your office has become a crucial energy and focus booster, try to recreate it at home with bowls of snacks and a coffee machine.

5. Meet with your team (virtually)

Studies show that we’re more productive when we’re working with our friends—but that can be hard to do when you’re isolated at home. Instead, do the next best thing by scheduling regular video meetings with your team.

It doesn’t even have to be specifically work-related. My team has been virtually meeting once a week for an informal coffee chat, and I always feel more productive and focused after those visits because of the camaraderie and morale boost. My wife’s team even sets up extended video calls while they’re working quietly to simulate being in the same room together.

Bonus tip: Be careful not to overdo it, though. If you’re meeting with your team six times per day to “stay connected” you won’t have much time left to be efficient yourself. Here is a guide on keeping an effective meeting schedule.

6. End the day by doing something productive

Even the most efficient, productive workers hit lulls during the day when they hit a caffeine dip or there is a particularly engaging conversation among coworkers in your collaboration tool. But if you focus on hitting a productivity high note at the end of the day, you can get more work done and end the day with a sense of accomplishment, helping you rest better and start the next morning reinvigorated. It’s a positive cycle.

“How you end the day is critical, as it has much to do with how you start the next day,” says workplace expert Lynn Taylor. “They’re like first and last impressions that hold a tremendous impact on your view of your work, attitude, and productivity level. The end of your day sets the stage for tomorrow, and the start of your day sets the stage for today.”

Bonus tip: Before shutting down for the day, compile a short to-do list of tasks you want to accomplish the following day. Getting those tasks out of your head and down in writing will help you rest better and give you a starting point when you sit down to work the following day.

The takeaway

Give yourself the space and tools to succeed, allow yourself to take breaks and stay connected with your team, and focus on starting and finishing your day strong. If you follow these tips, you may find that you’re even more productive working from home than you were at the “real” office.

For more remote work tips, visit our Remote Work Resource Center.

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