From authoritarian workplaces where managers (hilariously parodied by Scott Adams’ Dilbert) stalked people’s cubicles to ‘check up’ on them , to flexiwork arrangements where remotely-located employees are more or less on their own, we’ve come a long way. The main argument in favour of a conventional office was (and still is, in many quarters) that people are just not efficient when given total freedom in deciding how they should complete tasks. However, so far there’s no evidence that the theory holds any water, which is why the debate still rages on. For now, at least working from home is a trend that looks set to stay—not least because the COVID-19 epidemic has already reached Indian shores, compelling many people to stop commuting and work from their respective locations. If you’re someone who works from home, here are some steps to improve your productivity and make sure that you avoid some of the common pitfalls associated with remote work.
Make self-motivation a habit. Take out time every day—preferably in the mornings—to remind yourself why your work excites and challenges you. Read books or play videos or podcasts that fill you with inspiration or help you hone your knowledge and skills. This will help you overcome boredom and start each day with purpose and determination.
Create a daily productivity ritual. Our brains love rituals and predictability. Working at home can make it tempting to ‘play it by ear’, but that comes with risks. For example, if you feel freshest and most energetic in the mornings, your morning ritual should include tackling the most challenging tasks on your list first, rather than answering unimportant emails or phone calls. Otherwise you might be setting yourself up for exhaustion or frustration later on, when the actual challenging work starts to pile up.
A high-productivity work ritual in the form of a sustainable, comprehensive to-do list should make time for all aspects of your day: from catching up on news, to planning your day, creative ideation, responding to calls or emails, and even time to sit quietly and do nothing. It essentially maps out your day for you, enabling you to save time on redrawing your plans every few hours, discouraging procrastination and leaving you feeling more satisfied at the end of the day.
Look and feel the part. Your environment moulds your attitude towards your work. Try setting up your desk at home so it resembles an office work-station. To start with, wear nice clothes (definitely not your PJs!) during work hours. Get rid of distractions, put important documents and tools within arm’s reach, and ensure your surroundings are quiet and otherwise conducive to productive work. Also, resist the temptation to snack in your seat: it is ideal to have your meals in a separate part of the house, ideally the dining table.
Consciously eliminate interruptions. If you live with family or flat-mates, let them know that your work needs your full attention. You could share your schedule with them in advance so that they know you’re not to be disturbed at certain times. The same goes for social media. Frame your own rules for optimal usage of social media, and resist the temptation to keep checking your phone for updates in the middle of serious work.
Get real social interaction. If working at home feels lonely and you need a little hustle-and-bustle to feel motivated, consider working out of your employer’s office a few times a week, if possible. Alternatively, you can go to a coffee shop or any place with comfortable, quiet interiors and good WiFi and see if that boosts your attention and productivity levels.
Incorporate healthy micro-habits into your day. People who work at home sometimes find it hard to be disciplined about waking and sleeping times, food habits and activity levels. Over time, problems arising from these unhealthy habits can affect your work performance by causing fatigue, distraction, lassitude or physical aches and pains. To prevent that, add these healthy micro-habits to your day:
- Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up. Your body is probably dehydrated and needs it.
- Find time for a brisk 30-minute walk or some brisk activity you enjoy, for e.g. swimming, football or badminton.
- If your work keeps you desk-bound for long periods, stretch your muscles at regular intervals to avoid stiffness and joint pain.
- Consume fresh and healthy natural foods and drinks every day. Avoid processed foods and meat, sugary, oily or sweet foods and unhealthy carbohydrates.
- Get 6-8 hours of sleep every night.
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