The home office is a blessing and a curse.
I love working from home as much as the next person — free snacks, zero commute, awesome lunch options in the area. Sometimes I stroll through the park on the way back from lunch, just because I can.
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Good luck staying productive at home, though. Every remote worker learns sooner or later that home office productivity is an elusive goal. When no one’s watching over you and you have access to infinite distractions (some more productive than others), it’s easy to get carried away.
If you want to get work done at home, these hacks are absolutely essential.
1. Don’t multitask
People have been saying this for years, but multitasking really is the bane of productivity. Multitasking can drop productivity as much as 40 percent, and it takes a toll on you by increasing stress and decreasing the enjoyment of free time. Conversely, if you teach yourself to resist unnecessary diversions, you’ll enjoy increased focus and motivation for the tasks you really care about.
One easy way to avoid multitasking is to mute your phone and flip it upside down so you don’t see the notification light. It’s still within arm’s reach if you need to make a call, but you’ll spare yourself from the social media notifications and the non-urgent texts from friends.
Email is another big source of distraction, and it’s a difficult problem to solve.
If staying on top of email is part of the job, get in the habit of making quick decisions on every message you open. Either reply right away and do what needs to be done, or tag it as important and return to it when you have time. The middle ground of peeking at unimportant emails without acting on them is where most of the inefficiency comes from.
2. Invest in equipment
If you’re a technical person, you might already have this step covered. For the rest, read closely, because it’s all too easy to underestimate the importance of equipment.
Firstly, you want your work desk to be as comfortable and spacious as possible. This applies to both physical space (buy a big desk) and screen real estate (don’t design or code on a laptop display). Two standard desktop monitors should offer enough screen space for whatever you want to do. As for desk space, do whatever you can to reduce clutter. Going paperless is a good first step.
Aside from your desk, it’s worth investing in peripherals that make life easier.
If you use the phone a lot, it might be worth buying headphones or a headset. Internet speed is also important, and it’s something you might notice more at work than at home. While download speed is all that matters for most home users, it’s best to have a decent upload speed for work, because you’re constantly syncing files to the cloud and dropping attachments into emails.
3. Set the mood
You know how company culture impacts productivity, and how office design helps build culture? At home, you’re in charge of both your office design and your office culture. Do what it takes to set the right mood and get yourself into the zone.
Music is a great motivator, and if you’re home alone, there’s nothing stopping you from using the speakers.
While music with vocals could be distracting if you’re writing, a bit of music to start the day or to kick of the afternoon is worth the small dip in productivity. Even when you’re deep in a work session, ambient music is effective at blocking outside noise. It’s like white noise, but more pleasant.
4. Fidget if you have to
Multitasking is bad, but don’t feel as if you’re breaking the law just because you’re not at your desk eight hours a day. Getting up and walking around is a good way to refresh your mind and regain lost focus.
Likewise, fidgeting isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re tired or unfocused. In fact, fidgeting can actually help people focus.
The idea is that it’s hard for us to focus 100 percent on any task; there’s always a part of our minds that’s alert and in its own world. Instead of trying to suppress this urge, you can keep it occupied by giving it something mindless to do, like twirling a pen. By embracing fidgeting, you’re freeing up the remaining 99 percent of your brain for the task at hand.
These suggestions are enough to set the groundwork for a proper home office. As with any list of hacks, the specifics won’t always apply, and you’ll have to adapt the suggestions to your own situation.
In many ways, optimizing your home office overlaps with optimizing your own work habits. It’s the one opportunity you have to make sure your work environment aligns 100 percent with your work habits.
If you get them in sync, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor in no time.