Need some working from home advice? These are my out-of-the-box work from home tips after doing it for almost 10 years!
Back in 2011, when I quit my full-time job as a social media strategist in Singapore, I had no idea how to work from home. I struggled with my newfound freedom and lack of accountability. It was a challenge to be disciplined, meet deadlines and maintain a work-life balance in the face of myriad distractions.
And yet, as a newbie freelancer with little to fall back on, I knew I had to make it work. I’ve worn many hats since – travel writer, digital marketer, social entrepreneur, travel blogger, sustainable tourism consultant and author. As a digital nomad, I’ve worked on the go from a wide range of places: Guatemala, Georgia, Germany and Goa, among others.
Ever since the on-going crisis put us in a lockdown, I’ve seen plenty of work from home tips floating around. Get out of your PJs, draw up a regimented schedule, wear shoes (really?!), leave the TV on in the background (REALLY?!) and use fancy workflow tools.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the best part about working from home is being able to do it in my PJs 😉 No shoes, no bra, no complicated apps, no regimented schedules. Some discipline certainly helps. But so does the flexibility, and the creativity that stems from it.
You could be looking for working from home advice to continue your full-time job, or simply to make this lockdown period more productive. A bit different from the work from home tips out there, here are mine to boost your productivity during these difficult times:
Tackle the biggest work from home challenge – social media
I guess it’s pretty obvious that in order to work from home (or anywhere else), you need to get your scrolling butt off Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Youtube, Whatsapp, Quora and whatever else you’re addicted to.
As someone who relies on social media for work, I could fool myself in my early work from home days that I was being productive. But over the years, I’ve mastered several tricks to ensure I don’t squander away all my time on social media:
- Set time limits for apps: Discovering this iPhone feature has been a life-changer (Android has it too) and it’s perhaps my most essential working from home advice. When I’m not creating content on the go, I set it to one hour daily. I don’t always end up sticking to the limit, but once my cumulative hour is up, I constantly need to hit ‘ignore time limit’ to use any social networking app. This constant reminder keeps me productive.
- Mute whatsapp group notifications so your phone isn’t constantly buzzing: Someone recently tweeted that teaching our parents how to use whatsapp is probably the biggest mistake of our generation! It’s seriously mindboggling how much time people tend to spend on whatsapp, reading and sharing mostly pointless forwards. As you work from home, especially during this lockdown time, make sure your whatsapp group notifications are muted (for a week, month or year), or the constant (and often fake) corona news won’t let you work at all!
- Move your most-used social media apps away from the main screen: Doesn’t sound like much, but the simple act of moving my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter apps away from my main screen has decreased the time I spend on them. Every time I unlock my phone, my eyes instinctively look for Instagram, even if I intend to do something else. Not having the app in its place is a quick but effective reminder that I didn’t actually need it.
- Use an app to block social media on your desktop / phone while you work: If none of the above tricks work for you, opt to use an app that simply doesn’t let you access social media for a certain amount of time. Offtime lets you block social apps and games. Freedom is a desktop tool to stop yourself from constantly refreshing your emails or whiling away time on distracting websites.
- Monitor your screen time: You can read all the work from home tips out there, but monitoring what’s working is equally essential. Every few days, I check Screen Time on my phone to see the time I’ve spent on various apps and the result is usually shocking. Last week, thanks to the pandemic, my screen time averaged a whopping 4.5 hours a day. I’m determined to bring it down this week.
Also read: Life Lessons From 2 Years of Travelling
Keep old-fashioned notes, a long list of tasks and a short list of priorities
I’ve tried a whole bunch of note-keeping, productivity-boosting and to-do list keeping apps often found among work from home tips. But I always revert back to good old-fashioned notes (on my phone or in a physical notebook). Constantly distracted by technology, I always feel like I can do with one less app. Plus the joy of physically crossing something off your to-do list never diminishes!
Whatever your preference, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by everything you need / want to accomplish in a day or week. Some working from home advice that works for me is constantly jotting down all my pending tasks – even the ones that pop into my head just before sleeping. Every day or two, I realistically pick a few that are priority and dedicate my time to them.
Figure out a couple of music playlists that help you focus – and stick to them
You could be sharing your work from home space with a family that’s constantly buzzing around you. Or roommates with high decibel levels. Or with yourself, trying to keep the loneliness at bay. In every case, music helps.
I’ve found a fair few instrumental music playlists over the years that help me focus. Every time I listen to them, my mind automatically goes into work mode. Take some time to figure out what kind of music inspires you and lets you concentrate – and use it over and over again.
Some of my favorite ‘work from home’ playlists:
- Piano music by Yiruma: So beautiful, sometimes I think I’d cry. But it puts me in a calm, melancholic mood which helps me write on good days.
- Spanish guitar: Perfect for days I’m feeling low but need to work.
- Marjan Farsad – Blue Flowers: Music that fills me with a strange nostalgia for Iran, but somehow puts my mind at ease.
Work out little rewards for yourself
When you work for yourself, or when your boss isn’t breathing down your neck, it can be hard to stay disciplined. I learnt early on in my work from home life that if I wanted to get some instant gratification for any work I managed to accomplish, I’d have to give it to myself. So I started setting little incentives for myself. I swear among all work from home tips, this one really works!
If I work without distractions for half an hour, or finish writing part of a story, or manage to cross off a time-consuming task on my to-do list, I reward myself. My rewards range from a snack, a quick call with a friend, a quick video on youtube or a few minutes of social media. I’ve even watched entire movies with 15 minute bites as rewards!
Flexibility, exercise and recreation time helps
I’m not a big fan of having a fixed routine. I find that it stifles creativity. Instead of a fixed work schedule, I find short bursts of high productivity far more effective than dragging work all day. Depending on the kind of work you do, maybe you feel differently. But atleast it’s worth experimenting with the flexibility that working from home affords.
I must confess that in my early work from home years, I let this flexibility consume me. Being self-employed, I felt there was always more I could squeeze into my time. But sacrificing that work-life balance can only burn us out.
These days, I try to workout in the morning (usually functional training or yoga), take out time to read and spend atleast an hour on something recreational. During the lockdown, that could mean practicing a language, watching a movie or bird watching. On days when I get lazy and don’t exercise physically or mentally, I can see a huge drop in my productivity.
If you live with someone, figure out your “corner” or clarify you’re working
Yes, I’m totally thinking of the Michael Scott Paper Company from The Office (if you haven’t seen the show, go binge watch!). Anyway, the best working from home advice while you’re living with someone is to create some space where people know not to disturb you. Ideally, this would be somewhere no one can even find you.
But failing that, it could be as simple as letting your partner, family or roommates know that you’re going into that mental space where you’d rather not be disturbed. Cutting out even 50% of the distraction can do wonders for our productivity.
Practice ‘news distancing’ (essential addition to work from home tips in 2020)
We’re already practicing social distancing. But I’m finding that for my own sanity, some amount of news distancing is important too! In the past few days, I’ve ignored my own work from home tips and found myself scrolling endlessly on news websites, while also consuming news from social media, whatsapp and offline conversations. It’s been mentally overwhelming, and terrible for my productivity.
I’m now determined to catch up on the news only once a day, and focus the rest of my time on staying productive and positive. I recommend you do the same.
Don’t be hard on yourself
This global travel lockdown is unprecedented. No one in our generation, or the one before us, has seen anything like it. We’re all dealing with the information overload, panic and social isolation in our own ways. So when it comes to implementing working from home advice, don’t be hard on yourself.
Even when I chose this life all those years ago and felt determined to make it work, it took me a long time to figure out how to stay disciplined and create a work-life balance. Whether you’re choosing it or have no choice, take a step back and think of all the things we take for granted. An income, access to technology, health. Go with the flow and stay positive. You’ve got this.