How many times have you reached the end of your day saying, “I wish there was more time!” Too often it feels like 24 hours in a day is simply not enough to do everything you want to and still leave time to rest, relax, and have some fun.
However, many of us have come to realize it’s not the amount of time we have in the day preventing us from accomplishing what we want, but rather how we use that time. It’s easy to fall into unproductive habits, and sometimes distractions are out of our control. But this doesn’t mean we need to surrender ourselves to procrastination and the inevitable frustration that comes from it.
When working from home, the risks of getting sidetracked seem magnified. We don’t have anyone looking over our shoulder, and since we’re alone, there’s no group pressure to stay on task. This freedom is great, but if we don’t know how to manage it, it can push us off task quickly. Learning productivity tips from others is a great start. But if you’re still finding yourself getting sidetracked, it’s likely because there are some productivity roadblocks still lurking in your home.
These sneaky obstacles don’t always show up on lists of what’s keeping you from getting things done, but if you don’t take care of them, you’ll likely keep finishing your days pleading for more time.
To help you be at your best, consider these productivity roadblocks that might be hiding in your home office.
If you live in a part of the world with cold winters, you’re likely familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a fancy name for the “winter blues.” When it gets dark and cold, our mood changes, and some of us even become depressed. It’s a real thing that millions of people suffer from worldwide.
So, what does this have to do with your home office? Well, the amount of natural light you get in your workplace can actually have a tremendous impact on your productivity, in both direct and indirect ways. For example, a combination of studies from workplace think tanks have found natural light in the office boosts creativity, allows people to get more sleep and, ultimately, be more productive.
Often, when we are planning out our home offices, we choose parts of the house that are “out of the way.” This might make sense for planning out the space in your home, but for work, it’s pretty illogical. Would you consider your work a side project or afterthought? Absolutely not. Make sure your workspace has access to enough natural light so that you can get yourself in the right mood to get as much done as you can.
Food has a powerful effect on the way the body works, so it naturally affects your productivity. We no longer think of food as just an energy source. Instead, it’s a way for your body to get everything it needs to work at its best.
It’s important to establish healthy eating habits while working. Start your day off with a nutritious breakfast full of whole grains, fresh fruits and low-fat proteins such as yogurt or boiled eggs. Steer clear of greasy and fatty foods such as fried eggs and meats. If you drink coffee, make sure it’s of the highest quality. Coffee can provide a great boost to productivity and brain function, but only if it’s freshly roasted. Most grocery store coffee is not, meaning its little more than flavored caffeine water.
But just as important as what you eat is when you eat. Snacking is easy when working from home, but this can really derail your productivity. First, the minutes you spend rummaging through the pantry searching for snacks are valuable and could be spent elsewhere. But there’s also the effect your snacks have on your brain. If you’re eating candies or other foods with refined sugars (or refined grains, since metabolically they are the same), you’re diminishing your brain’s ability to function.
Sugar rushes, and crashes, are a real thing, and by eating even just a little throughout the day, you’re confusing your body. Is it time to eat? Or is it time to work. If you must snack, make sure you’re munching on healthy foods that promote, not inhibit, brain function.
One last thing about food (we could go on for hours, really). Plan out meal times and give yourself time to digest. Working lunches seem more productive, but they’re really not, as all they do is divide your body’s attention.
Pick a time to break, and then use the half hour after you eat for something else. Right after lunch, all the blood in your body rushes to your gut to facilitate digestion, leaving your brain deprived of what it needs to work. Don’t fight this. Simply use this time to do something else and then get back to work when your body has had the chance to soak up the nutrients and make use of them.
Your to-do list
“Go make a to-do list,” says anyone who has ever tried to help you be more productive.
It’s true this can be a powerful tool for helping you get more out of the day, but if you’re not doing it right, it can actually hinder productivity. Here are a few common mistakes people make with to-do lists that actually slow them down:
- Not prioritizing tasks. Some things are more important than others, and your to-do list needs to reflect this. Number the items on the list and put the most critical right at the top. This mental exercise will help you get your day off to a better start; you don’t need to spend time deciding what you need to do. Instead, you can just sit down and get right to work on the first thing on your list.
- Underestimating the time commitment. This is one of the hardest things to do. We can’t predict perfectly, but a good rule of thumb is to add 15 percent to the amount of time you think something will take. Knowing how long you have for each task is useful for productivity because it helps you shut out the other things on your list. Instead of working on something and thinking about what to do next, you can simply hone in on the task at hand and get it done.
- Putting too much on it. Frustration is the product of unrealistic expectations colliding with reality. And when you get frustrated, you get stressed, and stress makes us less productive. Be real about what you can and can’t get done in a day. This will calm you down and make it easier to pay attention to one thing at a time, allowing you to focus all your mental energy on doing one task as well and as efficiently as possible.
For some, the choice to move into a home office is because of family. Maybe you have young kids you’d like to be able to pick up from school, or maybe you’d just like the flexibility to be able to spend more time with them. No matter the reason, this is a great motivation for working from home.
But your family needs to learn that even though you are in the house, you are working. This might be hard at first because people, especially kids, do not associate the house with work. It’s up to you to stress this. You should only be disturbed in the event of real emergencies and consider even restricting access to your office.
Another smart thing to do is to put up a schedule outside your office. This way, if someone wants to come in and talk, they can look and see if it’s a good time. Block off hours where you need complete focus. This might seem a bit formal but drawing this boundary in the home is critical to you being as productive as possible.
No article about productivity in the home would be complete without talking about phones. It’s a bit of a tricky subject because many people need their phones to work. If this is the case, then take some steps to make sure you aren’t going to be bothered by non-work things during the hours you’re trying to really get things done.
The best thing is to have a separate line for work. This makes a clear distinction between being on or off the job. However, this isn’t always possible, so consider silencing social media apps, text messages and emails. Use the web versions of certain services such as email so that you have less incentive to check your phone.
Some of us, though, will just need to accept the phone and work simply do not mix. Leave it outside of the office and only tend to it when you’re on a break.
Let’s get to work!
If you’re finding it difficult to be at your productive best in your home office, there’s a chance one or more of these roadblocks are lurking near you. Take some time to snuff them out and eliminate them so that you can make the most of the time you spend working while in the house.
About the author: Caroline is a creative writer and marketing exec. She works from home which gives her the freedom and flexibility to live the life she’s always wanted however it comes with unique challenges. To help other people, she writes frequently about her experiences, focusing mostly on issues of productivity and wellness. You can find her on Twitter where you can read some more of her work.