“The other day, I sat down to work in my home office, well-rested and enthusiastic about the workday ahead, a cup of coffee on my desk and rays of sunlight beaming through the window shades. The moment I laid my fingers on the keyboard, my phone beeped, and I rushed to check the message. I ended up spending 30 minutes corresponding with a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a long while. Back to the keyboard, and the doorbell rings – it’s my senior neighbor asking for a favor. Having that sorted out, I sat down again and realized I had spent an hour without making any progress on the task I was supposed to be working on. What started as a heavenly workday at home soon turned into a nightmare.”
Does this sound familiar? If you’ve made a career working from home, you must have had a similar episode. It begs the question – how do you avoid kicking off your workday in this way? How do you get to the point when your productivity doesn’t depend on outside factors which sway you off balance at the very instant you want to get the work done?
Your Workday Starts the Day Before
Your morning routine will depend on what you did the night before, and that includes making the list of priorities for the day ahead. A priority list has been shown to have a great impact on how we manage our time, and when you work remotely, it can be of tremendous help. If you don’t make a list of what needs to be done in the period ahead, you may face a dilemma about what to do first. Though it’s easy to think everything is equally important, there has to be something that requires your immediate attention. In that case, deal with such tasks first, even when they are tedious and monotonous.
The amount of sleep you get during the night will dictate how productive you are the next morning. Time and time again, experts and scientists remind us that quality sleep is one of the pivotal contributors to a healthy brain function. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society confirmed that “sleeping less than seven hours per night is […] associated with impaired immune function, increased pain, impaired performance, increased errors, and greater risk of accidents.” (Watson 2015) The beginning of your workday doesn’t only depend on that day – it also depends on what you did (or didn’t do) the day before.
Set the Exact Time You Start Working
No matter if you prefer to start your workday early in the morning, late in the afternoon, or even after the sun goes down, the time you set as the beginning of your workday should be the time you actually start working. Don’t procrastinate, because every act of procrastination leads to imbalance, and your work will only pile up, causing distress and perpetual agony.
Ideally, your workday should start around the same time every day. Although that’s not always possible, at least make an effort to be ready to work around the same time every day. Your “internal clock” (also called the circadian rhythm), dictates your physiological processes, including the time of day when you feel most energized or otherwise drowsy. When you have a routine, your internal clock ticks smoothly without disturbances. Conversely, when you have an erratic daily grind, the chances are your productivity will suffer along with your mood and dietary habits.
When working from home, you are your own manager, and that means you get to decide when to have breaks, too. Use this freedom to your advantage. At the start of each working day or the night before, set time for breaks, if not precisely, then at least approximately.
Have Some Routine Activities
If you’re an early bird or your job requires that you start working in the morning, there are pitfalls to avoid in order to reach full productivity right away when you get to work. First of all, don’t check your email while still in bed. Nothing that’s in your inbox is that urgent that it can’t wait until you begin working. Whenever possible, have a 30-minute workout before you start work. Not only will this set the tone for your productivity, but it will also prevent you from developing backache and other conditions connected to hours of sitting in front of the computer.
If you sit down to work the instant you open your eyes, it will take some time for your brain and your body to properly wake up, and you can’t expect any decent productivity. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, have breakfast, and go for a run or a walk. You should be well-energized at that point, which is a perfect time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Minimize the Distracting Factors
When working from home, the list of things that may divert your attention from work is rather long – the dishes, the unmade bed, your dog, your kids, your neighbors, house chores, whatnot. Even your phone is a potential distraction, so make sure you put it on silent mode; otherwise, you will be picking it up every now and then to check the notifications.
Unless you live alone, the chances are your roommates or your family will want to strike up a conversation at some point. Such instances can be highly interruptive and detrimental to your productivity. For this reason, you have to make an agreement with them, highlighting the importance of your time and space allocated for work. It is when you decide it’s time for a break that you can chit-chat with them. If they’re slow learners and have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that even the slightest disturbance can break your concentration, you may have to repeat it several times before they finally realize how paramount it is.
It’s easy to forget what a privilege it is to work from home. Perhaps the most important thing we need to do before we start working is to let that idea sink in for a few moments. After all, there is no reason to start your workday in distress and panic because you have a whole day ahead, no boss watching every move you make, or colleagues wanting to ask you questions. You are the king of your castle.