As certain workers are beginning to return to the office, some are thrilled to have regained an environment more conducive to their personal productivity. For some, the office has fewer distractions and just makes it easier to get work done, particularly if their projects are highly collaborative.
But for others, working from home has actually provided a large productivity boost. And working remotely could potentially provide even more effectiveness as they continue to work from home but have fewer restrictions and less uncertainty in their overall lives in coming months.
As a time management coach, I’ve been partnering with my clients in navigating the transition from working in the office to working at home and back again. And I have found those who use these five strategies have been able to increase their overall productivity when working from home.
1. They convert their commute
Among the individuals who have found working from home to be a welcome change, I’ve seen a fairly similar pattern of converting their commute time into exercise time. Typically in the morning, they’ll workout (or at minimum walk their dog). And in the evening, they’re often choosing to go on more leisurely walks either on their own, with their dog, or as a family.
This pattern of physical activity not only improves their physical health but also has positive benefits on their mental health and alertness throughout the day.
2. They block focused time
I’ve always recommended setting aside time for focused work. But one challenge in an office environment is that even if you’ve put the time as “busy” in your calendar, colleagues can still drop by. These drive-by meetings can be productive at times but can also lead to an inability to have unbroken work blocks. In these situations, I’ve often recommended creating some physical distance such as shutting your door, going to a work “telephone booth,” or working remotely.
But one good thing about being at home is that you have physical distance from your coworkers, so you can block focused time and stick with it. I recommend that you either have recurring focused time in your calendar, such as for an hour or two in the morning. Or that on a weekly basis you block in some chunks of time for the key activities you want to get done, such as putting together a report or writing an article.
3. They schedule meetings
To further increase your predictability and productivity, ask your colleagues to schedule a meeting with you to talk, especially if the meeting will require any forethought. It’s helpful to have meetings scheduled, so you can effectively plan your tasks around them and so that you’re in the right headspace to be present.
That being said, these meetings don’t have to be long. If you think something should only take 30 or even 15 minutes to discuss, ask for a meeting of that length to be scheduled on your calendar. There’s no need to stretch every conversation out to an hour.
A couple of my coaching clients also go so far as to completely block the next day’s calendar the night before in order to enhance their productivity. So for example at the end of their business day on Wednesday, they would block Thursday. This increases their ability to plan and get things done during the “in-between” times.
4. They update their status
In order to be fully mentally engaged in what you’re working on during your focused time, in can also be helpful to update your online status. That could mean designating yourself as “away” on Slack or otherwise unavailable on IM or other internal communication tools. This declaration of your intention to not be available at a certain time can insulate you from the thoughts in the back of your head that “someone might have messaged me about something important” or “I might miss something and annoy someone.”
5. They resist the urge to self-distract
With all external distractions eliminated, our mind can sometimes unhelpfully search for ways to distract itself. Especially for extroverts, when the environment is most calm, the drive to find more stimulation is most high.
If you find yourself in that kind of situation, look for ways that you can increase the stimulation in your environment without reducing your productivity. That might look like listening to music that helps you get in the flow, using a standing desk, or simply placing your laptop on top of a high counter or bureau, so you can shift your weight as you work. Or chewing gum and giving yourself planned breaks, such as the five-minute break after every 25-minute Pomodoro sprint.
All of these activities allow you to feel less bored in your environment without going down time-sucking news or social media rabbit holes.
You may find yourself returning to the office soon, or you may find that working from home has become your new lifestyle. Wherever you see yourself on the spectrum, these strategies can allow you to be most effective on the homefront.