How to Maintain (And Maximize) Productivity While Working From Home

How to Maximize Productivity During Quarantine-sm

Many offices remain closed. In many places, co-working spaces and coffee shops are not available as makeshift offices. Working from home has become the new norm for employees, freelancers, and business owners alike. 

With so much upheaval happening, figuring out how to stay productive in these times can be a challenge. Here are a few tips from me (I’ve worked from home as a freelancer on and off for the last decade) that may be helpful during these difficult times: 

Your day begins last night

As cliche as it may sound, it’s easier to feel productive when laying the right foundation the night before. And while this means getting a good night of rest, it’s also about taking action-oriented steps.

Before going to bed, I review what I need to accomplish the next day and set the intention of getting it done. On days when I don’t want to think about work before sleep, I follow this step earlier. I set aside time at the end of my work day to prepare myself for the next day. 

Start the day with movement

If you were used to going into the office, you may have started your day with some sort of activity. Maybe you walked to your office or you took time to greet your co-workers around your office. 

These days, it might be more about eating breakfast in front of your computer. But I find it really helps to set a morning routine. Before the pandemic changed everything, I would escape to coffee shops or co-working spaces, changing scenery any time I needed. Nowadays, I try to take walks around my neighborhood in the mornings. I find that it’s a good way to wake myself up. It makes me feel energized before I have to sit down at my computer. On really good days, I’ll even do a short morning workout or stretch routine. 

Create space to work

Having a dedicated workspace is one of the most important aspects of working at home. 

Whether you have devoted office space in your home, will be borrowing a section of your kitchen or living room, or setting up in your bedroom, having a space to consistently work is key. Of course you can move around throughout the day to change the scenery, but having a space that you know you can count on for conference calls or high-focus work is crucial.

Now that I fully work from home, I generally split my time between the kitchen table and the desk in my bedroom. I hate bringing my work into the same space that I sleep, but my bedroom is the only space I can guarantee privacy while interviewing subjects or speaking with clients.

If you don’t currently have a devoted workspace in your home, you should consider creating one. It can be as simple as buying a fancy office chair or rigging up a curtained-off office section in your living room. 

Schedule blocks of time

As an entrepreneur, you may be used to having mini-deadlines throughout the day. However, while you’re working from home, your routine is going to be, understandably, different. With limited ability to break up the monotony of your day via in person-meetings, you may want to schedule your time to help you achieve your goals.

For me, scheduling blocks of time lets me know what I will be working on at any given time. It’s easy to feel distracted when in the comfort of your own home, so it gives me a clearer idea of when I should work and when I can take a few minutes for myself. I try not to be too high-intensity or rigid about it, and so far this has worked for me.  

Take breaks

Speaking of scheduled blocks of time, taking plenty of breaks throughout the day is imperative. Breaks can help you maintain body awareness and keep energy moving so you can keep being productive. During my breaks, I take short walks around the block, a quick refreshing nap, or I catch-up on the phone with friends and family. 

Replace distractions

I’m not going to lie: I have a horrible social media addiction that can get me off track if I don’t keep it in check. Not only does it distract me from actual work, I can get into incredibly negative moods when I read a lot of content that upsets me.

Aside from the endorphin high I get when I see people engage with my posts, I’ve realized that when I randomly open a new tab and check a social media account, I am actually looking for something stimulating. 

I have filled this need with audio books, podcasts, and even education and personal development-focused YouTube videos. This fulfills my need for stimulation in a more positive way, whereas Facebook and Twitter often make me feel depleted. 

If you find yourself prone to digital distraction and are unable to quit cold turkey, at least lose focus with beneficial and uplifting content. 

Stay connected

If you work in an office, your colleagues are whom you’ll, statistically, spend most of your time with. If you’re now working from home, this will have a major impact on how much you’re socializing. And even if you’ve been working from home already, the balance you’ve established with lunch and dinner meetups and other forms of gatherings to stay in touch with friends, family, and colleagues, could now be severely upset with the closure of venues and CDC recommendations not to interact with anyone outside of your immediate home.

While I don’t have co-workers, I try to stay connected to other freelancers via Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other channels. It helps with my moods to remain in contact with others, who understand what I am going through. 

Meditate (or do something mindfully)

Meditation is a great way to increase productivity. By learning to control and suspend thoughts, you develop abilities to recharge your mental and emotional batteries, increasing energy and mental bandwidth available to focus.

With the pandemic bringing constant bad news, you may feel burnt out, distracted, or scattered. Meditation can help you tune out the constant noise coming at you. 

Since quarantine began, I’ve discovered the benefit of the Wim Hof Breathing Method, a form of mindful breathing followed by timed breath retention. There’s a lot of really compelling scientific research about what the breathing technique does to your hormones and physiology and I recommend diving into if you’re interested in learning about it. But at the most basic level, I find that it almost completely de-stresses me (as long as I genuinely relax during the breath retention portion of the practice) and puts me in a better frame of mind. There’s even an 11-minute guided video that walks you through three rounds of the technique. 

Who knows, maybe even after the pandemic this will develop as a keystone habit to continue through your life.

Learn new things

In some ways, working from home may have created more free time for you. With more limited ability to socialize and travel, people have to stay in place and find things to do wherever they are.

Quarantine is the perfect time to do things you’ve been putting off for a long time, especially when it comes to education and personal development. 

Learn that language you’ve been wanting to learn. Take an online workshop or seminar. Begin a digital course. Explore subjects that you’ve always been interested in but never had the time to focus on—this is your chance if you’re willing to take it.

Refine the way you work

The quarantine has caused a massive breakdown in systems and structures that are likely to change the entire rest of our lives. If you’re used to working in an office, you’ve had to endure daily commutes and maybe even play politics. 

Over time, this has all altered the natural rhythms of your work and productivity. (Maybe escaping this kind of dynamic was what inspired you to become an entrepreneur or freelancer!)

To whatever degree you are free of old systems that enforced specific behavior patterns, you now have the opportunity to explore how to work in a way that’s best for you.

Are you more of a night owl? Do you do best when you work in short spurts of intense focus? What if your mind is sharpest at 5 a.m. and working diligently first thing in the morning allows you to be done with a full day of work by noon?

Now is the time to explore and answer these questions. 

Forgive yourself

With all this focus on productivity during quarantine, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re in a global pandemic. This is a challenging time emotionally, mentally, and physically. The grief, frustration, and uncertainty hangs in the air we breathe and casts a shadow over everyone’s daily lives. 

If you’re finding yourself unmotivated in spite of having more free time than you’ve had in your entire adult life, please forgive yourself. We are all undergoing a sort of collective trauma right now, and we can be excused if we are not functioning at our absolute best. Take the burden off your shoulder and treat yourself with some kindness and compassion instead of beating yourself up for not bringing your A game right now.

Dustin Clendenen
Dustin Clendenen is a Los Angeles-based writer focused on personal finance, social impact and technology. His work has appeared in Yahoo! Finance, Business Insider, and Upworthy. Learn more at www.DustinClendenen.com.

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