This post was originally published in 2017. We decided to give it an update and post it again since – well, it applies to far more of us these days. Enjoy!
According to Global Workplace Analytics, 5 million people work remotely at least half of the time today in the US. While this is good news for the planet, commuter time and introverts across America, working from home can be very challenging when it comes to productivity and organization. Distractions in the form of kids, pets, food, televisions, phones and basically anything that moves (squirrel!) are much more likely to hinder our workflow.
The recipe for success when working from home relates to habits. Habits require repeated and consistent effort to maintain, but when established, they allow us to take control of our working environment – critical for productivity.
In fact, there is a chemical reaction that occurs in the brain when we create habits: our dopamine receptors are engaged. Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical that gives us the motivation to continue a behavior. It makes us crave more of that feeling. Dopamine is released when we do things like cross items off a to-do list, receive a reward for a job well done, or experience a feeling of social connectedness.
Here are several key strategies that will help you create those habits to stay organized while working from home.
Give your Brain a ‘Work Time’ Signal
We’ve all fallen prey to the temptation of working from bed. The problem is that it sends a mixed signal to our bodies about what we are supposed to be doing in that space. Ideally, the bedroom is a place for rest, relaxation and intimacy. The virus has forced many of us to put a desk in the bedroom, something we usually advise against. However, we draw the line at cuddling up in bed with your laptop! Sitting upright at a desk will help you stay focused.
Another great tip is to make the effort to get dressed* and make yourself presentable, even if you don’t have any meetings. It helps us to psychologically prepare for the day and switch from “home mode” to “work mode”. Some people even take a walk around the block to signal a “commute” to the brain, so that you are officially in work mode when you sit down at your desk.
*Yoga pants count as clothing. It’s science.
I use an app called Hours Keeper to track all of my work. This is a very basic app, which suits my needs. However, there are others out there that allow you to track specific things that you are doing, such as Toggl and Timely. For my purposes, Hours Keeper works because it allows me to produce a report of my daily, weekly and monthly hours. I can quickly look back and see how much time I have spent doing what and for whom, and whether I am on target for my goals.
An accountability buddy is another great way to stay on task. Share your goals and check in on one another to affirm and support goals. Just having another person checking in with you can be a huge help.
Use an Analog Clock
Analog clocks allow you to visually see the passage of time, as opposed to digital clocks. Keep one near your desk or wherever you work, and refer to the clock rather than your phone, which can be very distracting. The Time Timer is another great tool for viewing time passing, and it helps motivate us to work for a set amount of time.
Organize your Work into Blocks
Similar to organizing your stuff into “like” categories, working on the same kinds of tasks within a given block of time will make it easier for your brain to stay focused. For example, set an hour aside to work on email and phone calls only, then an hour for a deeper dive into a project. Set a timer to hold yourself accountable. For more tips on time blocking, check out our blog post “8 Time Blocking Tips That Boost Productivity & Office Organization”.
Another great tip is to identify your top 3 to-dos when prioritizing your daily goals. We often set ourselves up to feel “not productive enough” or let down with how much we’ve accomplished in a day if our list is too long. By emphasizing three things that need to get done, you’re more likely to get at least those completed.
Visualize Time in Increments
I like to think of time by the hour and half hour. Keeping an eye on the clock and pushing myself to do another ten minutes until the hour helps me organize time in my head and create small incremental goals. A ten-minute break fits in nicely at the start of the hour, and then I set a new time goal. Remind yourself of these increments during moments of distraction – it will help you to stay focused.
Turn off Notifications
I know you’ve heard this before, so I won’t harp on about it but – TURN THEM OFF! It will make a huge difference in your productivity level. Our devices are designed to grab our attention, so we have to make a conscious choice to remove some of that noise. You can adjust your phone to send notifications only when the phone is open, rather than on the lock screen, or turn them off altogether! If you do one thing from this article to aid your productivity right now, let it be this one.