By Rob Jago
As a senior consultant with Rulesware, my job is to work with team members, clients, account executives and Lead System Architects to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients. In a typical week, people in my role with several clients will often travel to those various client sites on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and spend at least one day working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, shifted our work to a continual working-from-home arrangement—which I know is challenging for many.
As I have had years of tuning this capability, I’m pleased to say that it’s been an extremely productive time for me—and I’d love to share some of my most valuable tips on increasing your productivity while working from home.
TIP #1: You are the expert
First things first: there is no one tip I can offer that will instantly improve your productivity. But I can say that recognizing your own unique strengths is the first step I’d recommend to anyone new to working from home. Doing so will help you locate your productivity zone, and to establish a productive work environment.
Take a moment now to answer these questions:
- What time range of the day are you most productive for the following: reading work documents, producing work documents (If you are a developer, writing code)?
- What are you working on when you get in the zone? (that high productive effort where things are just clicking?)
- Where are you most productive?
- Are you more productive on a desktop or a laptop?
- Are you more productive at home, the kitchen table, the backyard or the local coffee shop?
- How best do you track and manage priorities?
- How best do you track your to-do list?
Personally, for example, I am most productive at my office desk, in the morning before everyone shows up online or wakes up in the household. Knowing this, I’ve made it a habit—first thing in the morning—to browse any emails and outstanding tasks and establish a target of what needs to be done by the end of the day.
TIP #2: Establish habits
The human brain works best with routine. For proof, just observe the way any daycare organizes a troop of three-year-olds: they rely on routines all day, every day. And yes, establishing routines and muscle memory does take time, but it will quickly assist you in productivity because you won’t have to think or dwell on the decisions you need to make.
How much time do you spend wondering what to wear to work, for example? We make too many choices in a day to worry about which clothes to wear–make it easy on yourself and go full Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg! It’s a small thing but it saves you time, thinking about it.
Another way to extend/assist with habit forming is by associating one habit with another: take one habit that you’ve already formed and add or associate another one with it. Eventually, instead of doing the one habit, you will eventually always do the two habits without thinking; it will be instinct.
Some ways I do this are: checking emails, checking tasks and checking internal Rulesware forums, together. Associating these tasks allows me to check on priority changes while also contributing to Ruleware culture by helping others that may need help. It also prompts me to check email only at set times, rather than continually throughout the day. Another example: every time I get more coffee, I get more water. Drinking lots of water is always good but without a habit that forces you to get it, you won’t do it. For me, it’s now a habit; but it took time.
TIP #3: Control Distractions
Just as there are disruptions at the office, there are distractions at home—just different ones. Here are a few things I’ve grown to consider distractions at home. Note that they’re not necessarily negative things, but distracting all the same.
- Online chat products such as Slack, Google Chat or Discord
- Mobile phone
- News sites
- Sports sites
- Streaming content
- Family members
- <insert your favorite applications/sites here>
Again, none of these things are bad as long as you maintain boundaries, limits and self-control. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with a 5 minute escape but anything longer could quickly lead to a longer distraction, and hence a productivity loss.
What some people don’t realize is that working from home is a team sport. Family members are often the toughest to train when it comes to this. Because they can see you, it’s hard for them, at first, to understand that you are working. The best approach is to have an open discussion about your work needs and set simple boundary rules such as: when I’m in my office, I’m working but when I’m out, I’m open for discussions.
Coming to a working agreement with your family might be tricky, but the tougher challenge is to ensure that you yourself don’t get distracted by any of the technology items listed above. It’s too easy to get on any of the sites or applications and lose 30 minutes, an hour or even two hours of productivity time.
My family knows that when I am in the office, I am working. My self-control/most productive time occurs when I do the following: close all email applications, close all web pages and applications not associated with the task at hand, turn off all notifications or turn off volume on mobile phone, have phone face down out of way of easy grabbing and have noise cancelling headphones (perhaps with background noise playing) so that I can’t hear noises from around the home/apartment.
TIP #4: Don’t feel guilty
Now that you have established some habits and your best working location and minimized all of your distractions, you are ready. You have all that you need. But sometimes you forget and spend an hour on YouTube. It’s ok. Don’t feel guilty about it. Realize that you fell off the wagon and carry on.
Habits take time to formulate. Catch yourself and limit the times. Before you realize it, they won’t happen anymore.
It’s taken me a few years to establish this so I know it’s not easy. It’s such an instinctive habit for me now that I will often be in the “zone” for so long that I forget to eat. Granted, not eating properly is definitely not good for you, but during that time, I am extremely productive and my teams and projects benefit the most from my productivity zone time.
TIP #5: Maintain work/life balance
Working from home can negatively impact your work/life balance.
How so? Without having to worry about any commute concerns, you can start work earlier and work even later than normal without any effort. You may appear to be getting much more done—but you may be doing at a cost of something that can’t be measured by any dollar amount, such as time with family, and giving yourself a mental break from work. These are important balances you must maintain in order to continually being productive when working from home.
Yes, the odd long day may be needed to meet deadlines but continually doing so, because you can, is, in the long run, detrimental to your overall productivity.
Luckily, the culture at Rulesware allows everyone to enjoy a great work/life balance and still maintain strong teams, relationships and great solutions.
I maintain a continually productive mantra by doing the following:
- Walk away from the work area when the tasks for the day are complete. Having all planned tasks completed in a day is something to celebrate. If you are done earlier than your typical day, finish the day by preparing for the next day; don’t start anything that might be left unfinished.
- On evenings and weekends, shutdown/power off the desire to work. Giving yourself that break allows your energy to rejuvenate for the next work day. Don’t read or action any work emails after hours—not because you aren’t committed, but because your brain won’t stop thinking about them and will eventually become a drain on your energy or family time. If you have free time, focus that time on a hobby or a technology that is not associated with your current work/assignments.
- Start and end every day (workday or weekend) at about the same time to allow your body to be accustomed to the times. I’ve made this a habit, so that I don’t get over tired and impact productivity.
TIP #6: Know your zone
Having self-awareness can be a very powerful skill. With self-awareness, you know your strengths and weaknesses and when you are improving upon or digressing on them. Recognizing when you aren’t at your highest productivity level is a start to continually improving it. The better and faster you are at catching yourself, the higher your productive output will become. And this will improve your overall satisfaction with yourself and your accomplishments. This state of mind can also help your mindset when you actually have to go to the office to get some work done.
This said, don’t feel guilty when you go off-track; instead,identify, address, resolve and get back to being productive. Even with a few years of doing this, I still catch myself slipping, from time to time. I correct it by laughing, closing a few browser tabs, reviewing the to-do list and rolling up the “virtual” sleeves and getting back at it.
TIP #7: Stay connected
When you’re working from home, you will sometimes feel like you are alone or isolated. This can affect your mindset and thus, your productivity. When this happens, go ahead and use a few of the tools—previously identified as potential distractions—in short spurts to make sure you are connected with other colleagues. This gives you a quick break from what you are doing, allows you to see what others are doing as well as understanding how they are feeling/doing. Mental health stigma is a reality and an illness, and an awareness of yourself and in others cannot be overlooked.
I personally use LinkedIn and Twitter as my “take a break” moments to see what’s going on in the industry or in the world. If any post/article looks interesting, I bookmark the link to be able to read it at another time. Regardless of whether or not I get to the link later, it doesn’t affect my current productivity time. This allows me to achieve deliverables in a timely manner.
It’s taken me a few years to identify and follow these productivity tips that I’ve outlined here, and I hope that you will find exploring and following them useful in your own work-from-home journey.
Now that I have accomplished this capable level of productivity, I have been able to achieve a strong work/life balance and enjoy it that much more, while contributing to the Rulesware culture and team.
I wish you nothing but success in your journey for higher productivity while working from home.