Whenever I tell people I work from home, they think not having to go to the office means not having to work.
On the contrary, when your home becomes your office, it can feel like you’re always at work, 24 hours a day. I open my eyes in the morning and immediately I see my computer, staring accusingly at me. At midnight, if I receive an email from a client, I feel like I’m betraying myself when I open my laptop and type out a reply. Well, that’s the price you pay for not having to be at the mercy of the MRT or getting robbed by the ERP system each morning.
But it gets worse. One of the worst things is most certainly the fact that working inefficiently means your hourly earnings take a hit. Got a hangover today? Suddenly, the thought of having an office to go to so you can just “show face” till the end of the day doesn’t look so bad. If your brain isn’t working that day and you can’t produce your usual volume of work, you’re losing money.
After a lot of trial and error, here are the three hacks that have worked best for me to in ratcheting up productivity.
1. Download a work playlist
Skip this if you’re kind of person who needs to work in total silence, or who’s able to block out all distractions with the power of your mind. For the rest of us, sustaining concentration is often an issue, especially after a few hours of work.
If you find yourself constantly getting distracted by the internet, try working with music. It really helps to keep you in the flow state if you choose the right music. Match different types of music with the type of work you’re doing—upbeat tunes for mundane, brainless tasks, and non-vocal, mid-tempo music for detailed work.
Here’s a tip that can save you from hundreds of wasted hours—download the MP3 files and then compile your own playlists in iTunes or, uh, Windows Media Player if you’re the last person left on the planet who still uses that. Create different playlists for different types of work or situations so you can just pull them out whenever you need them.
That is a lot better than listening to the music on YouTube or browsing for it on Deezer. You want to minimise all time you spend browsing, or else the next thing you know, you’ve followed the trail of links and are now watching cat videos.
2. Set a start and end time
Time management is one of the biggest issues you face when you work from home. Sure, you can start whenever you want so your morning is freed up for P90x workouts, Pokémon Go hunts or flaming people on internet forums. But this flexibility also means you could be hunched over your laptop at 4am cursing yourself for not managing your time better.
There will always be some days when things don’t go according to plan and you end up starting and finishing your work a lot later than expected, or when you just don’t have enough time to finish everything you wanted to. And that’s okay, no need to whip yourself over it.
But it’s a good idea to try to institute a start and end time anyway. When you force yourself to get things done by a certain time, you tend to work faster and more efficiently in order to meet that deadline. When you allow yourself to work without a time limit, the time you spend on a task can end up stretching out to eternity.
If you’re ultra-disciplined, you’ll find yourself working according to schedule like a well-oiled robot. Congratulations, you’ll have solved at least 50% of your productivity problems. But even for those of us who aren’t that great at following schedules, putting one in place still helps to ensure you don’t get completely derailed. If you say you are going to finish your work by 5pm, it’s better to be late by an hour or two, than to completely disregard your timetable and end up still slaving away till midnight.
3. Enhance your home office
At first, it can be tempting to do all your work in bed, but you’ll soon learn that it is not only terrible for your spine and neck, but could also seriously put a dent in your productivity. While changing your environment often can be useful in giving you fresh waves of concentration, most people can’t really be bothered to leave the house every single day.
For those days when you do decide to stay home, make sure you’ve got a conducive working environment. At the very least, you should have a desk with a good chair at the correct height.
There are other things that you can place in your work area to make it more comfortable and boost productivity—a whiteboard or noticeboard, plants to make the space look less austere, a cushion for your butt, document folders if you’re drowning in paperwork, and so on.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that even with the perfect environment, you’ll be able to concentrate. But just sitting at a desk instead of trying to work sprawled in front of the TV in bed or on the toilet will definitely improve things.
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