I love a productive day. The beauty of working from home is that I can sometimes check off my to-do lists for personal and professional with less effort. However, there are those weeks where it feels like no one in the house eats a vegetable, the laundry is still dirty, and my deadlines keep sliding. After those weeks, it helps to look at my productivity practices to see what can be tweaked.

7 Tips to Increase your Productivity While Working Remotely

Some people are born to be productive, and the rest of us just have to work at it. Here are seven tips to consider that can increase your productivity while you are working from home.

1. Schedule/Routine

Perhaps your pre-COVID-19 life was quite regimented. Mine was like that. Although it was a challenging personality fit for me, the schedule and pace of my life were consistently demanding but always predictable. Post COVID-19, not only did I have to rethink my personal schedule and routine, but I also had to rethink it for my family. It has taken a lot of time, and with the start of school, routines are changing once again. Look at your tasking and batch your work. Instead of floating from one task to the next, work on similar or complimentary items. If you have multiple meetings, you might want to put them all back to back.

While specific items on your calendar are helpful, it’s also good to set up some normal rhythms or routines. Children and pets also benefit from a normal daily flow of life. We all appreciate knowing what to expect, and we have a plan in place, it is easier to flex and adjust as needed.

2. Space Setup

While focusing on your work is a choice you have to make, setting up your work environment can lead to a more productive day. Consider function first. Make sure your layout does not slow you down every time you go to complete a task. For me, that meant, I had to have a keyboard and a mouse. I also tend to need my clutter to disappear. I don’t care where it goes, but before I write, I often have to clean my desk. For those that operate more on the creative side, office space ambience may rank higher than function. Determine what’s most important to you, and then start to make little changes so that your space equips your productivity.

3. Deadlines and Timers Are Your Friend

Not everyone needs a self imposed deadline or an actual timer, but for the majority of us, they are very helpful. Setting up a deadline, even if it’s self imposed can drive your focus. Open ended projects are great because they don’t force more stress. However, over time, an incomplete project can begin to add a background stressor. Find ways to cross projects and tasks off your list by giving yourself a deadline. Using a timer on your phone can make sure your mind is dedicated to focusing on one task for a designated period of time.

4. Track Your Tasks

You may be surprised how much you overestimate or underestimate how long a task will take. Documenting what you work on and how long it takes for each task also helps when your boss suggests a new task. Without accurate information on how long a task takes, you may be left just saying yes to all the work that comes your way. While you may still need to do the work, you can also communicate that other items need to shift instead of working long hours into the night. Task tracking will also help you plan your days and weeks that seem to slide right into the next during this pandemic. Contracts still have deadlines with or without a pandemic. Your productivity levels may have adjusted since switching to remote work, so factor that in and adjust your to-do list accordingly.

5. Learn to Say No

Admittedly, this is a tough one for me. When requests seem to be reasonable, we need to have a vetting process for what to turn down. Meetings may seem like they should be an automatic yes; however, it is okay to question whether or not you need to attend. Sometimes, you can’t skip out even if it is a waste of time.

One other firm no needs to be given to multitasking. I am a major offender with this, but I routinely notice how this “skill” detracts from my mental capacity and productivity levels. Don’t ask me how many tabs I have open in my browser right now. I’m working on this habit. But the more tactics we can take to reduce the distraction from multi-tasking, the more productive and effective we will be.

6. Manage Interruptions

When offices were open regularly, managing interruptions used to be just focused on annoying habits of coworkers. But now, many of us are at home, and our officemates are family who may actually need our help. When it comes to your home life and helping your kids or your pets, your routines, schedules, and timers can go a long way for everyone. Instead of being able to work in 60-90 minute increments, you may need to switch gears to 20-30 minute increments. Or keep your meeting times during the day around your kids’ school schedules, and then catch up on actual work later in the evening while they watch TV or go to bed. It’s also important to communicate the schedule to everyone.

It’s important to establish routines for everyone. It takes time to get a handle on all the different needs, but set up the routine. Then, be willing to adjust and be flexible whenever needed.

Be careful to manage your notifications. Sometimes, those around us are not the ones being distracting. Rather, constant notifications can take our focus off of what we’re working on in the moment. Even email notifications can pull your attention away. This may be the season to schedule email sessions so that you are not managing your time based on the next shiny object.

7. Take Breaks

Brain fog is real. So many factors impact the brain’s ability to function. Stress, sleep, diet, and exercise all factor into our ability to function at peak capacity. Don’t ignore the need for breaks in your schedule. As distractions keep popping up, you might find that it is time for a break. Sometimes simply shifting your work to a more productive time can increase your productivity. Other times, you will need to plan your breaks into your schedule. While it may seem counterproductive, scheduled breaks can actually increase your concentration and productivity.

To Increase productivity, You Have to Work Smarter Not Harder

The key to productivity is not longer hours and less breaks. Sometimes, you just need to find ways to improve your focus, given the strange times that we are living. Give your current methods an honest assessment so you’re getting more done in the time you’re given.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.