How To Be Productive At Home

Macgill Davis

Staying productive when working from home presents an entirely new set of challenges from working in an office. While many of us will be returning to offices this spring and summer, remote work is here to stay. We compiled a list of productivity tips to help you stay productive at home.

The key to being productive at home is built around these three pillars:

1. Prioritize Focus

  • Remove all potential distractions
  • Prioritize your top tasks
  • Avoid multitasking at all costs
  • Timebox your tasks
  • Batch your time in messaging apps, email, and meetings
  • Track how you spend your time

2. Build Healthy Work Habits

  • Start with a morning walk
  • Take frequent breaks
  • Create a daily routine checklist
  • Schedule tomorrow’s tasks at the end of your day
  • Set specific work hours

3. Invest In Your Home Office

  • Get a standing desk
  • Set up office lighting
  • Turn Zoom calls into phone calls
  • Get dressed everyday
  • Don’t restrict yourself to the office

1. Prioritize Focus

Whether working at home or in the office, it has never been more challenging to get focus time at work. As Cal Newport wrote in his famous book Deep Work: “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

Here’s a list of a few steps you can take to ensure you prioritize focus and get more done in less time.

Remove all potential distractions

Studies that show phones and apps reduce your ability to focus even when they’re not actively distracting you. The best way to remove these distractions is to close out of all apps and websites like Slack, Gmail, Netflix, and social media sites when you’re sitting down to do focus work. If possible, move your phone into another room too. By removing these distractions, you remove their cognitive drain, reduce procrastinating, and enable you to focus on more productive things.

Prioritize your top tasks

Create a to-do list of the three important tasks you want to accomplish that day. By focusing on a select few tasks you’re much more likely to efficiently complete them. This type of goal-setting means you won’t have to juggle in your mind what you need to get done throughout the day. If you finish your tasks before the end of the day, take the rest of the day off or take care of shallow work like emails or messaging. 

Avoid multitasking at all costs

Multitasking is a myth and is highly destructive to your focus and productivity. Go through each to-do and focus on that one item at a time. Don’t try to write a Google Doc and respond to emails at the same time. Split up tasks and tackle each one individually with your full attention. You’ll be more efficient and produce better work.

Timebox your tasks

Timeboxing is a strategy where you schedule out a set period of time to complete a task. Did you ever notice how in college you finished writing your essay at 11:59pm when the due date was midnight? Humans work well with constraints, even if they’re artificial. Studies show that timeboxing quashes procrastination and can help you get all your work done in your workday. 

Batch your time in messaging apps, email, and meetings

Rather than have Slack and Gmail open constantly, schedule specific times of the day to respond to messages and emails. This will help you work more asynchronous and avoid being constantly interrupted when you try to get focus work done. Even if you only check these tools at the end of every hour for a few minutes, it’s rare that you’ll miss anything immediate.

Try to consolidate all your meetings onto one or two days and leave the rest of the week for focus time. By having dedicated meeting days and focus days, you’ll reduce context switching which is a major productivity killer. A study at University of California, Irvine found that it takes 23 minutes to refocus after being interrupted or context switching.

Track how you spend your time

Time management is key when working from home. But you can’t improve what you can’t measure. You can use a product like Rize to track where you’re spending your time and what apps or websites are distracting you the most. This will keep you accountable and make sure you avoid overworking and burnout. 

2. Build Healthy Work Habits

The biggest challenges of working from home are maintaining a healthy work-life balance, keeping your stress levels down, and avoiding burnout. Implementing healthy work habits will ensure your mental health remains in good shape. As James Clear wrote in Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

Start with a morning walk

Studies show that starting your day with a morning walk boosts your productivity by reducing morning brain fog. In addition to being good for your physical health, getting some fresh air on a morning walk creates the separation needed to shift your mindset from personal to work.

Take frequent breaks

Study after study shows that taking breaks improves your productivity and improves your well-being. While it may be difficult to step away from the task at hand, giving your mind a rest will allow you to return with more energy and help you end your day feeling refreshed. Make sure you mix short breaks with longer breaks to have lunch, walk around the block, or meditate. Don’t take your lunch break sitting at your desk.

There are a number of tools that can help you take more breaks. You can use a manual, online pomodoro timer or the stop watch app on your phone. Another option is Rize’s automatic break timer that will automatically notify when it’s time to take a break based on your work activity. 

Create a daily routine checklist

Build a morning routine and evening routine checklist. In the morning, this can include starting your day with coffee, meditating, or going on a morning walk. In the evening, this can include writing your tasks for the next day, exercising, meditating, or going for an evening walk.

By creating a daily checklist, you’ll be crafting your morning and evening routine. As Sean Covey writes in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “We become what we repeatedly do.”

Schedule tomorrow’s tasks at the end of your day

We highly recommend scheduling your next day’s tasks at the end of each day. This will reduce the cognitive load of trying to figure out where you left when you come back to work in the morning.

Set specific work hours

Set specific hours to start and stop work each day. This practice comes recommended from Cal Newport in his book Deep Work. By setting an hour to start working you hold yourself accountable to start work on time and also ensure you don’t start working right when you wake up. The temptation can be to jump out of bed and start responding to emails without creating space to start your morning properly.

Setting a specific hour to stop working at the end of the day helps you create separation between work and life. This helps create your space for relaxing and downtime and ensure work-life balance. Creating space for free time is crucial to avoid overworking and prevent burnout.

3. Invest In Your Home Office

While this is one of the most covered aspects of working remotely, it remains extremely important. Having a suitable workspace at home sets the stage for a productive day. These productivity tips will help you create a home office and working environment where you can be productive.

Get a standing desk

The first step to creating a productive workspace is buying a standing desk. Standing is hugely beneficial to health and productivity. You can’t focus on work if your back is in pain. If you can afford it, adding a monitor to your desk will further improve your posture.

There are a huge number of standing desk options available, at all price ranges. You can buy a dedicated desk like Fully or a table top standing desk on Amazon. You should talk to you employer about expensing these costs.

Set up office lighting

Position your desk by a window to get as much natural light as possible. You should also invest in a desk light that provides soft ambient lighting to get work done. Creating a calm and well-lit workspace is a productivity hack to getting things done.

Turn Zoom calls into phone calls

Do your best to turn Zoom, Google Meet, or other video conferencing calls into phone calls. Zoom fatigue comes from the fact that video calls are more cognitively taxing than in person meetings or phone calls. While you might need to Zoom with clients, generally you change check-ins with team members into phone calls. 

Taking a phone call over a video call rests your brain and leaves you with more energy to get focus work done. It also allows you to walk around your house or neighborhood and get out of the office. Your teammates will be just as relieved as you are to get rid of the video call.

Get dressed everyday

Make sure you change out of your pajamas into work clothes each day. This ties into creating that separation between work and life. These seemingly small and superficial acts impact your mindset. 

A productivity tip from Michael Davies from RedHat is to buy a few business casual clothes that you only were when working. Having dedicated clothes for work will help you create separation between work and personal life.

Don’t restrict yourself to the office

While it is best practice to spend most of your time working in your home office, feel free to work throughout the house. Take phone calls on a walk through your neighborhood or respond to emails in the living room with your family members around. Mixing up your work environment stimulates your brain and can break up the monotony of working from home.

Never stop learning and evolving

The coronavirus pandemic forced many of us into working from home and to pick up a number of new skills. Successful people are those who can continue to learn and adapt to new situations. 

Photo by Vadim Kaipov

Macgill Davis is the cofounder of Rize - a simple, intelligent time tracker that improves focus and helps build better work habits.