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5 Tips for Maximizing Work from Home Productivity
More of us work from home now than ever. And while studies show working-from-home productivity is high, the efficiency boost doesn't happen without effort. We've put together these 5 quick, powerful working from home vs office tips. They're based on deep research and long-term testing to streamline your telecommuting workflow.
But first, here's a rundown of a few working-from-home productivity statistics:
Work from home statistics
- 47% of Canadian employees worked remotely in 2016.
- Almost 5 million additional Canadians worked from home in mid-2020.
- The Canadian economy added 290,000 jobs in May of 2020, and many are remote.
- 60% of those who started working from home in 2020 say they won't go back to brick-and-mortar jobs.
So how can you maximize your work-from-home potential?
1. Work in short bursts to maximize working-from-home productivity
Studies show that short bursts of effort raise productivity. There's no perfect length of time, but most people do their best work in chunks of 2 hours or less, with breaks between. You can also do an hour at a time or use the Pomodoro method and work 25 minutes at a stretch.
One study found people who worked 52 minutes straight were most productive. Research by the U.S. Army on something called “ultradian rhythms” discovered 90-minute blocks are best, with 20-minute breaks in between those blocks. Not sure which is right for you? Experiment to find your groove. Here are a few different strategies:
- The Pomodoro technique: Work for 25 minutes with no distractions, then take a 5-minute break. Every 4 cycles, take a longer break. Proponents say this time-management trick is life-changing . Apps like Pomodoro Timer Lite for Chrome and Android can help.
- 2-hour blocks: Work for 3 or 4 two-hour blocks per day, with 30-minute breaks to go for a run, walk the dogs, accomplish simple household tasks, or meditate. You'll be more productive with those breaks between.
- 1-hour blocks: Work for 50 minutes or an hour followed by a 15-minute break. Similar to the Pomodoro method, these sprints keep you intensely focused.
- 90-minute chunks: Several work-from-home studies show our minds fall into cycles of 90 minutes of productive work and 20 minutes of downtime.
Don't be too rigid
Short bursts are a great remote work productivity hack, but don't be rigid. If you get grooving on a project and you're loving it, that's a clue you're still being productive. There's no need to enforce a 30-minute run or yoga session to break up your workflow artificially. Do what feels right.
As long as you get your work done with balance, it's fine to go off schedule. Plus, a cadence that fits your work - instead of the other way around - creates the variety. This will keep you feeling fresh.
2. Start with the goal in mind
This sounds simple, but it's magical. You'll get so much more done each day if you sketch out what you want to accomplish in the morning. It's even better to break your daily goal into smaller chunks to track your progress.
“Whatever you don't put in your schedule won't get done,” says Kevin Kruse, New York Times best-selling author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. Kruse interviewed hundreds of billionaires and sports stars and learned that none of them use to-do lists.
Even better? Loosely plan a goal for your month and your week. Keep it fluid to allow for life to come in and mix things up. Just list the number of work days in the month and the things you want to do. Then do the same flexible plan for the week. You'll crush your productivity.
When you know exactly where you ought to be at each point during the day or week, you're less likely to wander off into procrastination. Why? Passion.
“If you're passionate,” says Kruse, “you've got a furnace inside.” So instead of spending 15 minutes on Instagram, you'll spend that time trying to beat the clock.
3. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones
“I can't get anything done with these kids around!” Or the dog, the neighbours, or the work crew hammering outside. Until you try it, it's hard to grasp the damage of noise on productivity. Yet it's easy to eliminate.
Noise-cancelling headphones aren't just earmuffs with speakers. They sample the sounds around you, then generate an equal but opposite sound that wipes out the external noise. They won't beat every sound, but they greatly reduce them, and there are hacks to increase the effect.
White noise to the rescue
When the kids are slamming doors or playing “the floor is lava,” noise-cancelling may need some help from your phone. If you're an iPhone user, buy a short white noise track on Apple Music. Put in on repeat in your headphones, and you'll work through an alien invasion.
This same trick works with Android phones and Google Play. Don't like the roar of white noise? You can get cafe sounds, summer meadows, gentle rain, or dozens of other options. You'll be stunned how much this trick increases productivity.
Pro tip: Set boundaries. Teaching the kids “mommy's working” can work wonders, as can a sitter, helpful spouse, or a tablet with Khan Academy or other online education tools installed.
4. Choose the right (few) productivity apps
Ever waste time trying to find the right productivity apps? So have we. Too many are gimmicky and waste more time than they save. Yet having a few of the right apps can boost your get-stuff-done powers to the moon.
- Slack: Can we admit that email is a time-waster? When used right, Slack is transformational. Pull together all your different work groups in work spaces and channels, and you'll slice hours of email hassle from your week. Check out the video below for more.
- Microsoft Teams:MS Teams is the next best thing to being in the brick and mortar. Pop in for fast video chats and collaborate on documents like you're in the office. It sets up automatically and integrates with the full Office 365 suite of apps.
- Google Drive: Google Calendar, Docs, Sheets, Drive, and Tasks are a productivity ramjet. Use the apps to collaborate on documents, assign tasks in margin comments, and even work on files offline.
- Trello:Trello can help a small team work through repetitive projects. Create a card for each job, then move it through the stages of completion. Also works for tracking lots of your own solo projects.
One more tip about apps and productivity while working from home vs office work is to know which apps to drop. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, and news are fun, but they can eat up a shocking amount of your day. If you skimmed past the Pomodoro technique above, consider trying it as an antidote to both media and social media.
5. Ramp up your work-from-home setup
“Ow, my back!” Workplace ergonomics and convenience are keys to productivity. Organizations have spent decades getting offices to fit our bodies and our workflows. Spending time to get your workspace in top form can improve your level of productivity.
- Ergonomics: The right keyboard, mouse, and chair can help you avoid chronic issues. Source a flat, comfortable keyboard, ergonomic mouse, and a chair that adjusts in all the ways you do.
- Dual monitors: Use a dual monitor setup to cut down on mousing by keeping often-used windows and apps in view. Alternately, consider a large monitor to save desktop space.
- A laptop for mobility: Are the kids watching Disney+ so loud the windows rattle? Does your spouse need the home office for a Zoom call? The best laptops for working from home let you quickly turn the car or the back porch into your office.
- WiFi printer: You'd be surprised how handy a WiFi printer can be. You can print from a phone or tablet, or centrally locate the printer so housemates don't disturb your work when they need to make copies of something fast.
...and stay sane
Isolation is no fun. According to a 2017 study, 64% of remote workers report high stress levels. The link between stress and depression is well-documented, but a new Harvard study of 100,000 people shows social time can zap the blues.
Too much alone time is one of the biggest challenges of working from home. Use quick Slack chats or MS Teams chats to get in a little person-to-person time. Even swapping a few voicemails with friends you can't sync up with can keep your sanity from skimming the treetops.
Is working from home more productive?
Remote work productivity beats its brick-and-mortar counterpart by 13%. That's according to a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Researchers tracked 1,000 Chinese workers and found the work-from-home employees got almost an extra day of work done every week. Turnover fell by 50%.
When you're working from home, productivity can be a hurdle. Set a goal for what you want to accomplish each day, then use some of the time management techniques above to make it happen.
Noise-cancelling headphones, the right few productivity apps, and the best remote work accessories can help. With a targeted approach, you can realize the productivity boost seen in work-from-home statistics and research.
About the Author:Tom Gerencer is a contributing writer forHP® Tech Takes.Tom is an ASJA journalist, career expert at Zety.com, and a regular contributor to Boys' Life and Scouting magazines. His work is featured in Costco Connection, FastCompany, and many more.