Working from home, especially during these challenging times, requires that we become intentional about how we spend our time. Remaining productive while managing work, family, and life, in general, requires that we master our time by setting clear boundaries. Only by paying attention to the way that we work, and by being protective of our time can we set ourselves up for success.
How do those general guidelines play out in real life? Here are time management guru Laura Vanderkam’s top tips for successfully working from home:
- Plan your week on Friday afternoon. Understand that you control your time and be mindful of how you spend it personally and professionally. Friday afternoons at the end of the workweek are a great time to reflect on what you’d like to accomplish in the next week. Meal plan, schedule family time, and consider what you’d like to achieve over the next week. Although many people do their weekly planning on Sunday, Vanderkam suggests Friday because it’s a good, low-opportunity-cost time to prepare. Besides, if you tackle this on Friday, you may actually get to enjoy your weekend.
- Set your office hours. One of the hardest things about working from home is the feeling that you can never escape work. One solution to this is setting your office hours. Clarify what’s expected of you, set office hours according to that, and adhere to those boundaries. If notifications come in after hours, address them first thing in the morning. This is vital to avoiding burnout. Keep a little flexibility in your schedule to handle the unexpected, though.
- Take a moment before you respond to that email or Slack notification. Consider setting a couple specific times to check your email, rather than letting your attention wander to incoming email notifications every time they come in. Moving from task to task reduces your productivity and costs valuable time transitioning into and out of your work every time you abandon what you are working on to address an incoming email. If it’s urgent, let people know that they can call you. Besides, this gives you a chance to mull things over and provide a correct response instead of an instant one.
- Focus your attention. The Pomodoro technique is an excellent idea. Designate times to focus on your most difficult tasks, then take a break either at the end of a timed period or upon reaching a natural stopping point.
- Be aware of your own energy cycle and factor that into the way that you work. For many, mornings are when you’re freshest and ready to tackle the most challenging things on your agenda. Perhaps consider scheduling meetings in the afternoon when you’re still functioning, but at a more routine level.
- Make a later list. Maintain your focus as you tackle your most difficult work by keeping a “later list” of ideas that come to mind. It’s like a running list of miscellaneous tasks that you plan to address outside of your focused work time.
- Create a ritual to end the day. Since working from home may not give you the physical option of clocking out, develop a ritual that signals your workday is over. Maybe it’s jotting down a line or two about what was successful about your day, or heading off to an activity that you enjoy. Looking forward to something at the end of the day will also make you more productive.
- Practice saying no so that you can say yes to big things. Boundaries are critical. It’s important to avoid saddling yourself with small, non-mission-critical tasks so you can save your creativity for bigger, speculative projects. Feel free to delegate or suggest alternatives.
- Give yourself time and space for critical, big-picture thinking. Schedule time for creative, bigger-picture planning when you’re fresh and alert before getting bogged down in the routine. Our brains are great at putting things together, but they need time to do that, so plan to mull things over during a walk to collect your thoughts.
- Find joy in the mundane. Plan small adventures that you look forward to, whether it’s making a new mac-n-cheese recipe or visiting a nearby park. These experiences keep things fresh and, ultimately, make life rich. If you enjoy your life outside of work, you’ll be more inclined to be effective in your work as well.
Successfully working from home is all about being very intentional with and protective of your time and space. Hopefully, Laura Vanderkam’s tips will give you plenty to consider as you move forward productively.