Before the last two weeks of my life, I never wondered “how can I be more productive working from home?”
In my entire professional career, I have never worked from home. I love to tout the benefits of going into an office, being part of a team, and getting shit done at my workplace.
I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to get work done if I wasn’t in the office. Thanks to COVID-19 and being 7 1/2 months pregnant, I am learning quickly that is not the case.
Here’s the deal. I run the E-commerce for Anthony’s Ladies Apparel, and while we closed 13 retail store locations, we can run our online sales. This means I can continue to work.
Like most of of the U.S. workforce in the digital world, I am choosing to work remotely at this time. Between the responsible mom vibes careening through me (a.k.a. hormones) and a little urging from my doctor, my husband, Jeremy, and I decided this was the safer option.
While a few things are a tiny bit challenging, it is truly amazing what technology has allowed us to do from afar.
My VOIP phone attaches to our corporate system with a simple ethernet cable. With one tap, I can be in touch with anyone on my team, and to make my head spin my phone rings every time a customer calls our 800 number. I can log into my work desktop using ShareConnect on my laptop, and I can access our backend system on the tablet I took home. Most of our cloud-based E-commerce and digital marketing programs make it simple for me to access from any computer.
What I have been so interested in during this work from home time is finding the best ways to maintain my productivity and output. While most of our business shut down, E-Commerce is bulldozing forward. This means I am trying to find a way to support my team that is working tirelessly to keep it up. I am trying to help all of the customers that are confused shopping online because they usually go to the store and get my top priority work done.
Here are some of the things I have found that are helping me maintain productivity even while working from home:
MAINTAIN A MORNING ROUTINE AND SCHEDULE
Just because I am working from home does not mean I have given myself the liberties of sleeping until whenever I feel like it in the morning. It doesn’t mean I sit down to work in the PJs with my cup of coffee – distracted by emails for the first 2 hours of the morning.
I keep my alarm set for 6:30 am, and I maintain my usual morning routine. During my morning routine, I walk the dog, have a cup of tea while doing my morning pages, shower, get dressed, and make breakfast. All of this gets done before sitting down to start my workday around 8:00am or 8:15 am when the phones go live.
Maintaining my morning routine and completing it before starting work is imperative to separating home and work even though they are in the same place. The main thing that has changed is that I have time to eat my breakfast at the dining room table as opposed to packing it and eating it at my desk.
Now the key is not following my schedule 100% (it is just what works for me), but it is making sure that you have time to prepare yourself for work. One of the benefits of working from home is wearing t-shirts and yoga pants while we work, so keep that up! Just try using the morning routine to set some structure around your day.
SET YOUR PRIORITIES AND GOALS FOR THE DAY
While I should do this no matter what (i.e., at work or home), it is even more important I take the time to map out my priorities and goals first thing in the morning when I am working from home. If you don’t have a plan for the day, you won’t have anywhere to go, so zoning off into blog land or Instagram will be much easier.
When you have a plan for the day, you have something that you are working towards, and that gives your day meaning and purpose. It seems pretty important, right? Especially when so much is in flux and out of our control during this challenging time.
Are you experiencing some depression and anxiety right now? Are you bored? You can combat this by adding scheduling and goal-setting into your work-from-home day. Having goals will lead to a potential flow state and, ultimately, more enjoyment and fulfillment in your day.
This concept works at helping you through your quarantine time, even if it isn’t work-related. Set a plan to write 3 morning pages, go for two walks or a run, try that cookie recipe, get in a Zoom or Youtube yoga class and read 4 chapters of the book you have been dying to read and then check each item off the list.
Now you aren’t just wasting this newly found downtime.
FOCUS ON YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS FIRST
While I am a big believer in the Ivy Lee Method of productivity, it doesn’t matter what you adhere to at this point. The goal is simply to focus on the most critical tasks of the day first.
That means you do these tasks or reports or activities before you open Slack, email and all of the other distracting team communication platforms. Don’t let others put their agenda on you or distract you from what is most important.
When working from home, you can work with minimal distractions and interruptions (mostly because you can just close out of the email window or Slack), so make the most of that time.
Even when I am in the office, most mornings tend to be quieter and calmer than the afternoons. Try during this hiatus at home, putting those critical, thought-provoking, business-moving tasks first in the morning. It will be amazing what happens.
If you find yourself at your desk all day and at 5 o’clock, you are wondering what you got done today, then you probably allowed for your email and other communication channels to dictate how your day went. Reset and fix this for tomorrow.
News flash! You do not need to be focused for eight straight hours when working at home. It’s not humanly possible. Give yourself some breaks to look forward to through the day. The mind needs a break every 45 to 60 minutes.
While you don’t need to take a full lunch break every hour, give yourself 2-5 minutes every hour. Then layer in some with longer breaks to truly reset.
My days usually consist of lots of water and tea breaks. I believe in staying hydrated. I also always take a mid-morning break for what I always call my second breakfast. Second breakfast isn’t something I do just because I’m pregnant. I always eat two breakfasts—one before I start work or arrive at the office and one around 10:30 am. Lunch can be anywhere between noon and 2 pm. My afternoon will consist of another water break and then an afternoon walk or chat with a colleague.
Breaks not only help with productivity but can improve happiness, which is something we definitely all need right now.
If you need help taking breaks and building this routine into a healthy one, use a timer to help. You can use a phone timer or a Cubetimer to help you focus for a specific amount of time. When the time is up, it’s time for you to get up!
It might sound counterintuitive, but I promise this will help your productivity in the long run.
KEEP YOUR DISTRACTIONS TO A MINIMUM
There are a ton of things that can equal distraction at home—pets, kids, TVs, iPhones, etc. But, I would bet even in addition to those there is one that is the master productivity killer.
This essential yet unproductive tool might not just be a distraction only at home, but let’s address it now. Email can quickly take over your life if you allow it. For example, my husband has an Apple Watch. All day long, I watch him peer at his wrist as emails pour in. Almost every time it is interrupting something he was focusing on, many times, our lunch dates or couch conversations.
In the office, I schedule my email checking time, but this will undoubtedly help when working from home. I do this so that I don’t spend my entire day responding to the ding or pop-ups.
If you are coordinating with a team, let them know that you only read email at 10am, 2pm and 4:30pm. Pick whatever times work best for you. That way, they understand why you don’t immediately respond when they send you an email.
As far as the technology distractions at home, you just have to put them away. Don’t have the TV playing in the background if you might get mentally sucked into the COVID19 news. Keep your phone off your desk if you have a habit of grabbing it and scrolling Instagram. Don’t put the temptations near you, and you won’t have to fight those distractions.
With pets and kids, things get a little more complicated. For pets, getting them on a walk and play-schedule will help keep them from bringing you toys all day. Our dog Miller gets a walk and some playtime during my morning routine. This way, I ensure he will rest through the mid-morning. A nice break at the hour mark can be a quick snuggle with our furry man.
Kids are a whole different story. I can’t speak to this a ton as I only have one that kicks me from inside my belly. Perhaps if both you and your spouse are home, you could have designated times to play with/entertain the kiddos. I realize this is probably the biggest challenge facing newly work-from-home parents. Feel free to share any tips on this topic in the comments below.
So that’s it! Another key to enjoying this work-from-home time right now is making sure that you sign off at a specific time. I often use a dog walk or a short yoga class to take me into my evening. It has helped to maintain the boundaries of the workday.