There are good and bad points to working from home. You don’t face constant interruptions from colleagues and managers, but when you’re working on something less exciting than some of your work, endless cups of tea or chores suddenly become an appealing distraction, which can really impact productivity.
When I’m working on a piece of writing for someone, I tend to do it in intensive bursts, particularly if it’s a short text. However, I’m as guilty as the next person of wasting time, especially as most of my work is done on my laptop, and the internet icon is just too tempting.
So what can you do to improve productivity? There are all sorts of ways you can streamline your work, so here are just a few ideas:
Avoid Phone Calls
If possible, have a room with a door you can close, so that you know you have a defined work space. If you work outside of traditional office hours, make sure people know that a closed door means you’re not to be disturbed. Whenever possible, don’t answer the phone, particularly the landline. In my experience, the only people who call these now are telemarketers.
If there are calls you can’t avoid, use this tip from the world-famous book “The Four Hour Work Week” (4HH) by Tim Ferriss – when someone calls you and you know it could take a while, answer the phone with something along the lines of: “Hi X, I’m just about to go into a meeting. What can I do for you?” This helps them get to the point and you can get back to work quicker.
Make Time to Increase Productivity
Also in the book, Ferriss refers to Parkinson’s Law, which was the first time I’d heard of it. Parkinson’s Law is as follows: “A task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion.” What this means is the longer you have to complete a piece of work, the more of a problem it becomes. Even if a client has been vague, try to give yourself a short but realistic time frame to get it done, and stick to it. If you’ve got a couple of months, you’ll just keep putting it off.
One of the best tips I got from 4HH was using a timer. I use an online one from a website called e.ggtimer, but there are plenty more. You can also use your phone or an alarm clock. This helps me focus for a short period and then take a break, and the knowledge I’m doing work in blocks is great, and I feel I’ve achieved something at the end of each. This links into the Pomodoro Technique, of working for 25 minutes and resting for 5, although you may have other timescales you prefer.
I’m a big fan of making lists, and have them stuck all over my walls as well as saved on my phone, so I can update them as I go. However, being faced with a long to-do list can be daunting and unrealistic, so try to have just a few tasks on it per day. My marketing pals, who are super-efficient, recommend working out how long each task will take you, and how many hours you have available. If you don’t have enough time to do everything, move the less urgent jobs to tomorrow’s list.
Boost Productivity – Eat that Frog!
A lot of experts refer to “eating the frog”, which is a phrase initially coined by Mark Twain (“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day”). Basically, do the task you dread the most first thing, and then it’s over and done with.
If you lose hours of the day surfing the internet, try using a browser extension to block your access to social media for a set amount of time. These are available for Mac and PC, and you can use them to restrict access to any site you waste time on (including news sites).
Another useful tool is “Inbox Pause”. This is specifically for Gmail, but I’m sure there are versions for other mail servers. Switch it on, and no emails come through until you turn it back on again. There is an option to set a customised auto-response to tell people you’re only available at certain times.
Also, turn off notifications on your mobile phone, so you’re not distracted by the beeps. I’ve started to turn off the sound on mine too, so I’m alerted only to calls when the phone vibrates. A number of studies have looked into how long it takes to get back on track after an interruption, with research suggesting it can take up to 25 minutes to refocus.
Accountability Improves Productivity
Finally, it can be good have accountability to someone else (not your clients!). Don’t pick your family or close friends, because although they have the best intentions, they will probably not be as tough on you for missing deadlines. Instead, look for a mentor, or someone in a similar or related field who you have a bit of healthy competition with (maybe they don’t even know you’re using them as motivation!) or someone who’s at the same stage of their business as you. You could also join or start a mastermind group; it just needs to be somewhere you can set yourself goals and talk about your successes and failures.
Please let me know if you’ve got any tips yourself. I’d love to hear them!