5 Ways to Stay Productive While Working from Home

Working from home isn’t a new concept. Before COVID, around 16% of the total workforce , or 26 million Americans, were already working from home at least part of the time. And now? It’s likely millions more.

A CNBC/Change Research survey found that 42% of respondents across the nation reported working from home, with 19% of those for the first time. Tech giants Google and Facebook both just extended their work-from-home policies to 2021.

And perhaps even more enlightening, more than half of U.S. employees say they like remote work and would like to keep it, even after the outbreak is contained.

As much as taking conference calls in your jammies might seem like perfection, working from home erodes those mental and physical barriers that used to separate work and after-work life.

But when that pile of clothes is right there—beckoning you, like a washroom siren—you succumb. One thing leads to another, and before you know it that deadline you had hours to meet is now just minutes away.

Still, work is work, no matter where you’re doing it. And it’s important to remain focused, productive and professional as much as possible. Here are some tips on ways to make it happen as well as some suggestions submitted by our Twitter followers participating in SoFi’s #MoneyMonday sweepstakes.

Get Rid of Distractions

Productivity requires focus, and focus requires an environment that’s free from distractions. At the office, those can be email notifications, a buzzing phone, coworkers who come by to chat, or last-minute meetings. Those still apply when you work from home, but can also include ringing doorbells, loud TVs, kids and dogs (instead of colleagues), and possibly a more powerful urge to check social-media channels.

All that distraction can cut productivity by up to 96% . And even the anticipation of a distraction—waiting for someone to return a text, knowing that a delivery is coming, worrying whether the kids will disrupt a conference call—can cause anxiety.

You can take physical steps to reduce distractions, like activating your phone’s Do Not Disturb function, closing out your email or turning off your group chat to the extent your work culture will allow it. But eliminating distractions is mental, too.

Here’s how some of the folks on Twitter suggested curbing distractions while working from home.

“I set an alarm. During that time I can only focus on one task and no checking my phone!” – Jennifer W.

“I get up earlier and start before my family gets out of bed and I have a place that is quiet, comfortable and I rarely have interruptions. I have to be able to concentrate in order to work.” – Robert M.

In his book Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life , Nir Eyal says you can master distractions by understanding that most of them happen because of internal triggers, not external forces. If you’re tempted to do something other than the task at hand, he says, ask yourself what emotion you’re trying to avoid.

Do you turn to social media if you’re feeling lonely, for example? Do you decide to go clean the bathroom instead of finishing your assignment because you feel pressured to meet high standards?

Once you understand what’s driving you to distraction, Eyal says you can channel those emotions into productivity instead. Here’s an example: If you realize that you head to social media when you’re feeling disconnected from your network, it’s fine to check in. The key, however, is to schedule time for it—actually mark it on your calendar—so that now it’s an appointment, something planned and guilt-free.

Schedule Everything (Even Email)

If you’ve ever ended a work day feeling as if you’ve done nothing but answer emails, you’re not alone. The workplace digital inbox is always one of the top offenders when it comes to office distractions, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

The previous notion that scheduling your social-media time turns it from distraction to appointment applies here, too. If you schedule your email time in batches, say 30 minutes two or three times a day or whatever works for you, it will relieve you from the pressure of always having one eye tuned to that notification panel. Especially if your team uses other, immediate communication channels like group chat, email should be able to take second priority.

Here’s how some of our Twitter followers are using scheduling to stay on task.

“I have been setting a routine each day & sticking to it…including “to do” lists, goals and eyeballing different projects that can & will be accomplished.” – Gene Y.

“I set daily goals for things I want to get completed that day. It does get hard though with 2 cats walking on everything!” – Holly P.

The scheduling rule can apply to more than just email. Anything you need to do throughout the day can be added to your calendar, including time to think, return phone calls, take care of paperwork or finish a presentation that’s due in a few days.

If your kids are home, you might even schedule 15 minutes to step away from the computer and give your full attention to them.

Added Benefits of Scheduling

Blocking out your calendar can have other benefits, too. If you don’t show as available to other members of your team, it could help limit the times that meetings can creep into your day.

Another big benefit of scheduling is that it can keep you from falling into the trap of trying to do too many things at once. Multitasking is such a perceived strength that people even bring it up in interviews as a reason they’re perfect for a high-stress job. But in reality, focusing on more than one thing at a time can actually lead to a 40% decrease in productivity.

Those are side effects that none of us want to experience, but the good news is that the fix is simple—focus on one thing at a time. In opposition to all those negative findings about multitasking, research also finds that 98% of
work better when they focus on one task at a time.

Make Lists

Not only does prioritizing help you focus on what needs to be done first—it feels pretty good to put those check marks next to items that are completed. Start your day (or even end your previous day) by making a list of everything you either need to turn in or work on that day.

And when you’re working from home, that list doesn’t need to focus solely on work tasks for the day.

Here’s some of the list techniques our Twitter followers are using.

“I keep a journal to keep track of what I did and what I need to do. Also use an app reminder to get things done.”
– Chance U.

“I make a to-do list each day. It keeps me on task to cross through my accomplishments!” – Alito D.

If there’s a home-based task that can’t be done at any other time than between 9 and 5—calling to set up a doctor’s appointment, for example—adding it to your daily list can ensure that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

A to-do list (especially a long one) can also be handy to take to your supervisor and say “Here are the items on my list for today. Which do you need first?” This can help you not only put the onus on them to decide which deadline is most important, it can also transition you from reaction mode to action mode.

Conquer the Overwhelm

We’ve all been overwhelmed at one point or another in life, and people react to it a variety of ways. Some can’t figure out which thing to do first, so they just stop doing everything. Others have a brief emotional freak-out before getting focused. And still others—because it’s one of those internal triggers—choose a distraction like social media to avoid the feeling altogether.

If you want to stay truly productive, however, the best way to tackle overwhelm is to defeat it once and for all. And it can be as simple as not using the word. Your thoughts can be very powerful, especially if you speak them aloud, so the simple statement “I am overwhelmed” can, over time, cause you to start believing yourself.

It’s no secret that athletes use positive affirmations and visualization to help them achieve greatness at their sport, and the same principle can apply here. The problem is it can work the other way too: negative visualizations can become your physical reality, too. “That which you fear, you create.”

If you’re starting to feel like there’s too much on your plate, go through all of the steps above to schedule and prioritize as much as possible. If it’s just one of those days, however, you may want to give yourself a little pep talk. Just like you would pump up a friend, something as simple as “, you got this.”

Another way to get out from under the overwhelm is to look for patterns that trigger this feeling. Take note of your internal mechanisms as well as what’s happening around you—does a certain person on your team have bad habits that cause you to feel overwhelmed? Is there a particular part of your job description that’s not your strong suit?

You might find that feeling overwhelmed is actually a form of time traveling: worry about what might happen in the future. If you realize this, shift your focus to the present. Figure out what you can do right now that can help you take some of that pressure away.

Dress for the Office

How you show up makes a difference, to your supervisor and to yourself. And while some people can work perfectly well in their jammies on the couch, others have to walk the walk, whether they’re in the office or not.

Some people find sticking to their same “workday” routine to be helpful.

“I stick with my same routine – get up early, take a shower, fix my lunch. I’m very blessed that I can work remotely.”
– Jan D.

If you’re feeling unproductive in your loungewear, change up your morning routine to mimic going into the office. Wake up by alarm, take a shower, go through all the same motions that you would otherwise if you were heading in—including professional workwear. If you have a home office, tell your family you’re “going to work” and close the door to your “office.”

Besides putting you into the right headspace to work, a professional appearance is also a plus in case you get invited to a last-minute video call.
Want even more work-life advice? SoFi members can access one-on-one career coaching with one of our qualified advisors at no charge.

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Ashley Stahl ABOUT Ashley Stahl Ashley Stahl is a career coach, keynote speaker, podcast host (You Turn Podcast), and author.

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