Many Americans are now working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re used to working in an office, the shift to remote work can be jarring, and it can be difficult to stay focused when there are plenty of distractions all around you at all times.
GOBankingRates asked executives at a number of companies — some of which are always remote — how they stay efficient while working from home. Use these tips to stay on track in your new work environment.
Create a Designated Work Space
Adem Selita, CEO at The Debt Relief Company, said that the first step is to create an at-home office space.
“You really need to make a space for the sole purpose of working at home and make that space your own,” he said. “It can be extremely difficult to separate your personal and work life when working from home, so setting up that boundary for work is absolutely necessary.”
But Don't Feel Tied Down to That Specific Space If It Doesn't Work for You
“Work where it makes sense to you,” said Sarah Henry, president and founder of Henry Consulting, LLC, who has been working from home since November 2019. “Advice columns about working from home always seem to suggest designating a specific spot as an at-home working space. While I understand the value of that and have a work desk at home, sometimes I’m more efficient sitting on my patio and listening to the birds. Sometimes I’d rather stand at my kitchen counter for half an hour and tick off email responses that need to go out. The desk isn’t always the most efficient space for a given task, and finding the right spot always helps me get the work done.”
Have the Right Tools
Invest in a desk chair, keyboard, monitor and mouse so that you can work as comfortably and efficiently at home as you would in your office.
“If it’s going to be for a prolonged length, then the right tools are vital,” said Chris Thomas, director of Litenet Ltd.
Alex Azoury, founder and CEO at Home Grounds, highly recommends buying ergonomic furniture and equipment.
“Proper office-like accessories play a massive role in inspiring productivity,” he said. “Working from home from your bed, couch or sofa will not help you to work efficiently, and might encourage you to procrastinate. Additionally, working in a reclining position will make you fall asleep rather than work.”
Start Your Day With Movement
Lori Cheek, CEO of Cheekd, has a morning ritual that sets her up for a productive day.
“As soon as I wake up, I start the coffee maker, then I roll out my yoga mat and do 30 push-ups, 100 sit-ups and three rounds of one-minute planks followed by a quick stretch,” she said. “It takes less than 20 minutes, and not only does it get my heart pumping and immediately wake me up, it gives me a calm start to the day.”
You might also go for a walk around the block with your coffee, do some gentle stretching or go for a jog.
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“It might seem unimportant, but dress like you are going to work, simply for the psychological impact it has on retaining your work routine,” Selita said.
Take Advantage of Your 'Commute' Time
Instead of waking up right before you have to sign on for the day, use what would have been your commute time wisely.
“I’m not spending the extra time commuting, so I can designate a little extra time catching up on the markets and enjoying my coffee,” Selita said. “This extra time shouldn’t be treated as insignificant since it can really help establish a positive mood for your entire day.”
Organize Your Work Space Before Starting Your Day
“When I get to my desk, I organize my workspace,” Cheek said. “Having a clean workspace helps me focus and feel structured. After I organize everything, I settle in with a cup of coffee and try to relax for 15 minutes before diving into the hustle. Then, I prioritize my day’s to-do list and map out the rest of my day.”
Have a Set Schedule
Selita recommends sticking to a schedule while working from home.
“It is very important to plan and map out your day accordingly,” he said. “Creating a work flow and designating breaks during the day can help you maintain sanity. Moreover, it’s of vital importance to maintain the same work hours you did before the coronavirus pandemic. I maintain the same routine I did previously.”
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Set Alarms for Your Designated Break Times
“It’s very easy to forget to stop working while you’re at home, so make a note of your break times and set an alarm,” said Morgan Taylor, CMO at LetMeBank. “Taking breaks keeps you fresh, so skipping them is a false economy.”
Take Breaks Away From Your Computer
Monica Eaton-Cardone, COO of Chargebacks911, said to get away from your screens during your designated break times.
“I suggest stepping fully away from your computer instead of taking a break at your desk or workspace,” she said. “Rather than checking social media or browsing the internet, it’s important that you give yourself a rest from being in ‘work’ mode. I enjoy going for a short walk, but for you it might be doing yoga for 10 minutes or throwing a ball for your dog in the backyard. I’ve found that a change of scenery clears my head and enables me to return to work refreshed.”
Stay Off Social Media in General
It’s easy to get caught up going down a social media rabbit hole, wasting minutes — or hours — of your workday. It might be even more tempting to do so when you don’t have your boss or co-workers looking over your shoulder.
“One of my favorite productivity hacks comes with the help of an app called StayFocusd,” Cheek said. “When working from home, Facebook and Twitter can be a major distraction. StayFocusd helps avoid these distractions by restricting the amount of time you can spend on them. The Google Chrome extension lets you set specific time restrictions on certain websites, with a 10-minute default option. Once your time has been used up, the sites you have selected to block can’t be accessed for the remainder of the day.”
Don't Work Near a TV
You might be tempted to keep your TV on as “background noise” during the day, but this could be distracting you more than you realize.
“Television is the biggest distraction there is when it comes to remote working,” said Scot J. Chrisman, founder and CEO at The Media House. “To effectively avoid being sidetracked by your TV, work in an area where you cannot hear or see the TV. It worked for me.”
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Work Like You're at Your Office
Social media, TV and other distractions you have at home would not be a part of your workday in your office, so make sure any other distractions you don’t normally have in an office setting don’t creep into your work time.
“Outside of lunch, when I’m at the office, I don’t check my personal email, I don’t read up on sports and certainly don’t flip through videos on YouTube,” said Rob Stix, CEO of DirectNet. “Working from home can bring an ample amount of distractions, but I [work] as though I am at the office. My clients have expectations, and those shouldn’t decrease because of outside circumstances.”
Get a Head Start
If you manage other people and are able to choose your own hours, you might consider signing on early to get in some productive time without interruptions from other members of your team.
“I start work three hours before the majority of my team begins to complete deep work before distractions roll in,” said Simone Collins, CEO of Travelmax.
Make a To-Do List for Your Day the Night Before
Whether you use organization software or an old-fashioned pen and paper, making a to-do list for your day the night before can help you stay on track.
“I use Trello to keep myself organized, taking inventory of all my tasks the night before and getting my board ready for the morning,” said Dan Bailey, president at Bailey’s Lawn and Landscape, and WikiLawn. “It helps immensely to tick those boxes, and it keeps me focused on what needs to be done.”
Prioritize Your Tasks Wisely
“I separate what’s urgent from [what’s] important,” said Kevin Miller, founder and CEO of The Word Counter. “Tasks with upcoming deadlines should take priority.”
Tackle the Tough Tasks First
Ray Zinn, a former Silicon Valley CEO, said that to be most efficient, start with your hardest task.
“From going over financials — which may be disheartening in these uncertain times — to figuring out a new product launch strategy, always tackle the toughest tasks first,” he said. “This opens up your day in a positive way, builds discipline and even helps you learn to love the things you used to hate. I refer to this as moving the biggest boulders first and this skill has enabled me to successfully run Micrel for 37 years, 36 of which were profitable.”
Or Use the '2-Minute Rule'
As an alternative, Jayson DeMers, CEO at EmailAnalytics, recommends knocking out quick tasks right away.
“If a task takes less than two minutes to do, do it right now,” he said. “The ‘two-minute rule’ helps you churn out ‘wins’ throughout the day that make you feel good, further boosting your productivity and motivation, while preventing small numerous tasks from building up and causing existential overhead that can bog you down.”
Set Boundaries With Your Family and Roommates
“I’ve found that people take you less seriously if you’re not working the typical 9-to-5 in a physical office every day. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s important to set boundaries with [your family and roommates], and reduce interruption as much as possible,” said Kenny Trinh, CEO of Netbooknews, an online review publication with 100% remote workers.
In addition to having a frank conversation with other people in your household, you might also want to put a sign on your office door so they know that during specific times you are not to be disturbed.
“Use a handmade sign that says ‘F/T’ which stands for ‘Focus Time,'” Trinh said. “I’ve seen a few people do this, which naturally instills a sense of seriousness that you will not be interrupted while that sign is hanging on the door unless it’s a serious emergency.”
Tune Out Any Distractions
Although some interruptions are inevitable if you live with others, you can at least block out some of the background noise.
“My director of operations made me aware of Brain.fm, an app that plays music meant to stimulate the part of your brain responsible for focusing and flow state,” Bailey said. “On days when I’m having a lot of trouble [concentrating], putting on noise-canceling headphones and using Brain.fm has helped immensely.”
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Try Time Blocking
Time blocking is the idea of dedicating a specific block of time to a certain task, and entrepreneurs like Elon Musk swear by it. Miller also uses this method to ensure he stays focused while working at home.
“I work in big blocks of time,” he said. “That means silencing my phone, closing my email and focusing on the task at hand.”
Or Try the Pomodoro Technique
“What helps me the most to stay efficient and get work done is the Pomodoro technique,” said David De Haan, owner of Stand Up Paddle Boards Review.
This technique involves working on just one task for 25 or 30 minutes followed by a three-minute break. After the break, you work for another 30 minutes — either on the same task or on another one — and so on.
“I used to struggle with distractions all the time,” De Haan said. “The Pomodoro technique helps me work focused for short blocks of time while permitting myself to be ‘unproductive’ in the break time.”
Log Your Time
Even if you don’t use time blocking or the Pomodoro technique, you might still want to log how much time you spend doing each particular task.
“I keep a detailed time log, tracking where I’m investing my time throughout the day,” said Jordan Brannon, president at Coalition Technologies.
This can enable you to see if you’re spending too much time on one particular task or spending more time than you should be on tasks that are less important.
Check in with the rest of your team regularly to ensure you’re meeting expectations and prioritizing the right things. This can be done via a quick phone call, a Zoom meeting or a Slack message.
“We use Slack heavily to maintain transparency across the organization, and it gives me a pulse of how busy the various teams are, if there are any fires to put out, and overall makes me accessible and visible,” said Andrew Hoag, CEO and founder of Teampay.
However, don’t let messaging apps like Slack become a distraction — use them wisely.
“My user experience team has a Teams channel simply for logging what everyone is focused on for the day, similar to how we’d engage within the office environment,” said Dilip Bhatia, vice president, global marketing, user & customer experience, PC & smart devices, at Lenovo. “No other chatter occurs in the channel, and this focused sharing helps keep us as tight as possible, and encourages everyone to identify the top things to focus on.”
Have Shorter Meetings
“I’ve been trying to institute a 50-minute meeting as opposed to a 60-minute meeting,” said Andrew Meadows, senior vice president at Ubiquity Retirement + Savings. “Those extra 10 minutes allow for much-needed mental and physical breaks to stand, walk around and check in with my family. We naturally take these breaks in the office walking to the water cooler or coffee station, but it’s important to remind ourselves to do so when working from home.”
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About the Author
Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert.