The Ultimate Guide to Being Productive at Home
Since writing my last post, a lot of people have been adjusting to new normals at home.
By the time the world came to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’d already been working from home for about 9 months. My productivity evolved from fallible to methodical during that time, learning many lessons along the way.
These 6 guidelines will help you if you want to be more productive at home, whether it be with work, school, chores, or hobbies:
- Have a Morining Routine
- Give Yourself a Break
- Have a Plan
- Control Distractions
- Check In With Yourself
- Be High Maintenance
I'm sure by now you're thinking, "that sounds fine, Leo. But how do I actually use this advice??" Let's take a closer look at them all!
If you only learn one thing from this article, let it be this:
You need a morning routine. Seriously.
The worst thing you can do to yourself in the morning is roll out of bed, only to be on your laptop within 15 minutes. You might say something like, “I can sleep in so much more now that I don’t have to do anything in the morning.” This is incorrect.
You don’t have to *commute*, but you still have to get ready for work.
Maintaining your morning routine will help you feel more positive and productive as you go about your day.
And don't worry, you can still sleep in a little; if your commute was 30 minutes, wake up 30 minutes later than you would have if you were still going to work. Your workday will start at the moment you would have otherwise started your commute.
Some people can't seem to put down their work while others struggle to go back to work after a break. My advice is the same to both: set reminders, timers or alarms. Work and break time are equally important, and sticking to a schedule for both is key to success.
Working on a problem for too long without a break or outside perspective is counterproductive. But if you take your break for too long, it can be difficult to get your brain back into "the zone."
At the end of the day, it feels good to complete something, and falling behind schedule is an easy way to lose that feeling. Schedule breaks before you start working, fully disengage from your work during your break time(s), and return to work promptly when the break is finished. If you’re having trouble keeping to your schedule, consider getting an accountability partner.
A good example of something I'd say to myself in the past is, “Tomorrow, I’m going to complete my rough draft in 2 hours instead of 3.”
This is setting me up to fail; it sounds more like a dream than it does an actionable goal.
I eventually realized that to make it actionable, I needed to specify exactly how I was going to meet my goal: “Tomorrow, I’m going to complete my rough draft in 2 hours instead of 3 by pushing my writing time to the end of the day when I am the most creative and least distracted by other work.”
I was immediately held accountable for something tangible. Even if it still took me 3 hours to complete my rough draft the next day, as long as I'd followed through with pushing my writing time to the end of the day, I made positive progress towards writing more efficiently, and I can keep experimenting with different actionable goals until I find something that works.
If I had simply left it at "I'm going to write quicker" without any further plans, I would have frantically rushed through my writing, and one of two things would have happened:
- I complete the work (yay!), but it is likely to be subpar to accommodate the rushing (booo)
- It still takes me 3 hours to complete the work; I'm left frustrated and without any additional clues as to what is (or isn't) going wrong
The more you multiply this effort of being actionable over different tasks, the easier it'll be to discover a pattern that helps your workflow. It helps to document everything.
Break down problems
In some cases, it may even be helpful to break a bigger task into smaller ones.
When I built a betting price comparison tool for NBC Sports, I sometimes had tasks that were so complicated that they resulted in carefully planned to-do lists with an upwards of 10 items for as short as a 30 minute time period. It likely would have taken significantly longer to complete the same items had I not planned them out ahead of time.
The worst is when you have to circle back and address something that you *know* you would have foreseen, had you just done a little more planning.
Warning: Be careful of falling into the trap of analysis paralysis—spending too much time planning and not enough time taking action. My rule is that if you can’t definitively answer what the next immediate step is, it may be a good idea to start planning.
Some distractions will be unavoidable, but they’ll be easier to manage if we eliminate all of the unnecessary distractions.
For me—and most people, I’m sure—my phone was a huge distraction. That isn't surprising in 2020, but the pandemic has made it even worse. Verizon reported in late March that the number and duration of phone calls and texts had grown exponentially.
You don't need to have your notifications fully on "in case of emergencies" given that many devices and apps allow per-contact granularity with notification settings. My phone’s general notification settings are often set to “do not disturb,” but everyone marked as a "favorite" in my contacts will still be allowed through if they call me. This ensures that I am still reliable to anyone that relies on me.
Nothing is going to happen in the group chat or the news that can't wait an hour for you to respond to those emails that'll otherwise pile up and cause undue stress.
Are you actually bad at staying productive, or is it just that you’re worried about the pandemic and find it distracting? Perhaps you need to journal about that first, or skip work altogether if you have the privilege of being able to take mental health days.
Be retrospective. Be flexible and make adjustments to plans as needed. It’ll take some trial and error to find a workflow that works best for you.
Don't be shortsighted and disregard the new experiences you gained over the past few days; learn from those mistakes and apply them to the next day.
It’s important not to be too hard on yourself as you experiment. If you thought you could watch an episode of a Netflix show on your lunch break and ended up binging the entire season, it's fine; brush it off and know not to try watching TV on your lunch break tomorrow.
Prominent artists and athletes have a high set of standards under which they demand to work. Baseball players are particular about how they break in a new glove. The internet is full of examples of outlandish riders, a document that sets the terms that a venue must fulfill for an artist's performance.
These are generally accepted because we understand how taxing it is for a person to perform at such a high level on a daily basis. I'd argue that working through a pandemic in the age of the 24-hour news cycle also counts as a high-level performance. Knowing the conditions that allow you to work at your best may seem high maintenance, but you’re really just setting yourself up for success.
Work When You Want
Do you have a task, such as writing reports or producing content of some sort, that can be done at virtually any time of the day as long as it gets completed? Figure out the time to work that works best for you.
Not a morning person? Don't work in the morning! Aside from required meetings, wait to do your work in the afternoon or evening, when you know your focus will be best.
I’m a morning person. Knowing this about myself, I schedule the most important work for the beginning of the day, with my tasks descending in priority and/or level of effort as the day progresses. If you are not a morning person, you should be doing the opposite of me.
It’s okay to be high maintenance with yourself in order to get your work done. Take the time to figure out the most comfortable, ideal work environment for you. Whatever works, just do it! You’re working under unprecedented pressure. Take whatever liberty is afforded to you. The less you have to focus on inconveniences, the easier it is to focus on work.
No two people are alike, so I don't expect two work styles to be exactly the same either. My advice is a summary of both my own lived experience and the experience and wisdom of others I’ve read in books. If you’re struggling, follow in the footsteps of those who came before you.
Remember, you’re working under conditions that are extremely stressful and you are adjusting to a whole new workflow. This is no easy feat, and you should take pride in whatever you are able to accomplish.
Thanks for reading!
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About the Author: Leo Yockey
Techie, Writer, and Speaker from Los Angeles. Advocate for underrepresented technologists. Hobbies include reading, PS4, and spending time with my girlfriend and cat. If you like what you see here, you may want to join me on Twitter.