Saved by the Bell: How to Increase Productivity at Home

By: Nora Yagolnitser

Last week, I wrote about one major challenge of working from home: setting up your workspace. Let’s say you’ve implemented some of those tips for optimizing your space. Now what? Time to focus on your work time. Here are some tried-and-true strategies to boost your productivity throughout your remote work day.

 1. Draw a clear distinction between work hours and personal time.

This is easier said than done, but it’s crucial. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time management coach and author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, describes the importance of setting clear boundaries in her article on staying focused while working remotely. Instead of worrying about the laundry in the middle of a business meeting and then frantically typing out a work email on your cell phone at the doctor’s office, break your days into two distinct categories. Know your work hours, and stick to them. During work time, be in your work space and devote your attention and energy to that work. Then, tend to the rest of your personal obligations and social life with full attention, guilt-free.

2. Explain your boundaries to others.

When you’re home with other household members and working with an entirely remote team, you may find yourself constantly negotiating others’ demands on your availability. Let people know in advance that you’re setting healthy boundaries while working from home, and ask for their respect and support. Catherine Campbell, an entrepreneur working from home who was interviewed for this article on working remotely, makes several practical suggestions for clarifying your expectations to work contacts. For instance, she recommends including your work hours in your standard work email signature so that they’re public knowledge. She also discourages linking your work email to your cell phone to remove the temptation to work during time you’ve allocated for another purpose. When you demonstrate to those around you that you’re respecting your own time boundaries, they will follow suit.

3. Dress for success during work hours.

Speaking of suits, what you wear matters. This article from Scientific American cites several studies that demonstrate the impact of clothing on markers critical for productivity. Wearing “work clothes” as opposed to casual clothing (or even the pajamas you may still be in right now) correlates to increased abstract thinking, improved negotiation skills, and higher attention to the task in front of you. During your designated work hours, wear something you associate with productive work to get you in the right head space.

4. Identify peak hours and clear them for your best work.

Even within your work schedule, you can identify the time of day when you tend to get the most done and regularly set those hours aside for focused productivity. Saunders recommends keeping that time free of meetings and notifications to allow focus on creative tasks. Silence your phone, schedule meetings for other times of day, and find your flow. If you get interrupted, have an exit strategy handy so you can quickly return to your work. Say something like, “It was wonderful to talk with you, but I’ve got to head back to work now. Thanks for understanding.”

5. Take breaks frequently and fully.

Even when you are working distraction-free, remember to take breaks. Productive workers tend to stand out not only by the quality of their work but also by their break habits. This study found that the most productive workers consistently worked in 52-minute increments with 17-minute breaks. That 52/17 plan isn’t the only option out there, though. You might find that the Pomodoro Technique fits your work and attention patterns better, or perhaps even another pattern. When you do break, take the opportunity to disconnect entirely. Walk around, have a snack, step outside, or chat with a family member to re-energize and return refreshed for another sprint of productivity.

6. Stop in the middle!

At the end of a work day, you may feel pressured to finish off whatever task you’re currently focused on before leaving your work space. However, stopping in the middle of a task can actually help motivate you to jump back into the work when you return to it the next day. Steven Kramer, psychologist and author of The Progress Principle, cites Ernst Hemingway as a notable example of someone who employed this strategy to boost productivity. Hemingway was known for ending each work period in the middle of a paragraph so that he’d be able to pick up on that energy the next time he sat down to write.

7. Nourish yourself outside work hours.

Finally, when you’re not working, take care of your wellbeing. This might include any combination of exercising, making time for friends, investing in quality time with loved ones, tapping into your spirituality, and more! Whatever you do, give yourself permission to be fully present for that time so you can refuel and stay well. If you find yourself feeling guilty about stepping away from your work in these times, remind yourself that this is also important for keeping up your productivity long term. Investing in yourself personally will also show results professionally.

That’s all for now. I hope this motivates you to plan ahead, set clear boundaries, invest fully into your work and personal time, and feel confident that you’re taking care of yourself at work and at home, even when those happen to be the same place.