With so many of us working from home, explore some of our favourite techniques to help you concentrate, give you a routine, and stay productive.
So, you’re working from home? Great, right? No more commuting, no more awkward conversations in the staff kitchen. But with all those benefits, there inevitably come challenges. How do I stay focused? How can I manage my schedule? How do I stop my back hurting?
We’ve put together a summary of well-known methods on how to be more productive, plus some general working from home tips to get you going.
Productivity may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Pomodoro, and for that you can be forgiven. But over the last 30 years, the much-loved tomato has become just as famous for its eponymous productivity technique as for its delicious flavour, and it’s a valuable tool if you’re looking to work from home.
Named after the tomato-shaped timer that inventor Francesco Cirillo liked to use, the Pomodoro Technique breaks down large or difficult tasks into short 25-minute bursts of work, broken up by five-minute breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods, helping you stay on top of your workload. After four of these 25-minute ‘Pomodoros’ you’re advised to take a longer break to give yourself time to recharge.
All you really need to give the Pomodoro Technique a go is a timer. If you prefer a manual timer, like Cirillo himself, you might enjoy a Pomodoro Timer in the ‘official’ shape, or there are several free digital programmes including Tomighty (Windows/Mac) and Marinara Timer (Web) to help you stay productive.
‘Don’t take your work home with you’ – is something most of us will have heard that at some point. But now you’re working from home, just go ahead and disregard that immediately. Your work has now officially moved in with you, and you’re going to need to spend some time working on how to live together. Your home office is going to be key to that.
Think about what type of office environment normally helps you to work at your best, and set about recreating that at home. Remove non-essential household items that can serve as distractions – dirty washing, televisions, family members – and instead surround yourself with work-enhancers like plants and space for your files and folders.
If you’re working from home you’re also likely to spend a lot of time sitting down, and without your usual office chair, this could lead to bad posture and, in many cases, back pain. Take some time out to make your set up as ergonomic as possible. The Guardian have a helpful guide to setting up a comfortable home office. And Money Saving Expert is a great place to go for deals on home and office items.
This doesn’t necessarily mean breaking the bank on a high-end desk and fancy chair. Work with what you’ve got – raise yourself up with cushions on your seat, use large books to make a stand for your laptop (eyeline should roughly be level with, or just below, the top of your screen) – and be creative.
The Eisenhower Matrix is a simple tool to help you understand how to be more productive with your time. Rather than aiding concentration, the focus falls more heavily on prioritisation, which is perfect for navigating your way through a build-up of work.
Named after, although not invented by, the former President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, this productivity method helps you decide which tasks are urgent, important or neither.
All the tasks on your to-do list, big or small, will fall into one of the four quadrants. Urgent matters require immediate attention and come with consequences if you don’t complete them. Important tasks have long term value but can be planned ahead. Those that are one or the other can either be scheduled for a later date or perhaps delegated to another team member if that’s an option. If an item is neither urgent nor important, it should be removed.
The Eisenhower Matrix asks you to really think about whether the work you’re doing is actually important, or just urgent. The good news is you don’t need anything more than a pen and paper (possibly a ruler) to get started with the Eisenhower Matrix. Here’s a helpful video from Eisenhower.me to get you started.
Now you’re working from home, technology is very much your friend. Firstly, look to utilise it as frequently as possible to stay in contact with your colleagues. Of course, a video call isn’t quite the same as a face-to-face chat, but apps like Zoom are crucial to feeling like you’re still part of a team.
If you’re struggling with the ever-present distractions that technology also brings, then consider investing in apps that fight the battle on your behalf.
A good start is Forest, an app that helps you ignore the distractions on your phone, whilst at the same time earning credits that can be used to plant real trees! Lifehack has a thorough summary of the best productivity apps for phones or here are some ideas from GetCloudApp for turning your computer into that productivity machine you always knew it could be.
Getting Things Done is another well-established time management tool which you can use to be more productive when working from home. The principle is to take all those nagging tasks, to-do lists and schedules from your head and write them out in front of you, in order to make them more manageable.
To begin, take all of those things – everything from the mundane household chore right through to the most high-pressure work projects – and record them in one place. Then break each task into the actions you need to take in order to complete it.
Next, group the task into categories (e.g. Work, House, Studying) and prioritise each one. Set realistic due dates and reminders in your calendar to keep you on track.
Then it’s time to put the kettle on and reflect on the work of art you’ve just created. If anything in there doesn’t have a clear action to get you started, then you need to go back and re-simplify it. The Getting Things Done method is designed to be constantly updated so best to write your tasks down digitally so you can easily edit.
FutureLearn has an array of courses to keep you learning during lockdown.
If you’d like to learn more about how to be more productive working from home, check out Coventry University’s course on ‘Work-Life Balance and the Impact of Remote Working’
If you’d like to know more about COVID-19 itself, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s ‘COVID-19: Tackling the Novel Coronavirus’ course explores coronavirus from its inception to the search for a vaccine.