Flextime and flexplace. Man! Have we ever heard these concepts as much as we have in the past year or so?
Since working from home has become the norm instead of the exception, companies have realized this may not be a temporary band-aid solution but something they have to consider for the long haul. And so with this comes the realization that this work setup needs serious consideration in a company's general processes.
And as for many of us worker bees, we're grateful we're able to keep our jobs. Still, at the same time, we're in uncharted territories full of familiar yet unfamiliar work distractions (family, housemates, neighbors, pets, and other people outside the office) to deal with. So how do you maneuver through the day with these "new normal" distractions and stay productive? Here are a few pointers that may help.
1. Set up a proper home office.
It’s the same concept as having a workstation at the office. Only this time, it will be at home. Don’t make the mistake of having it in your bedroom, though... or worse, on your bed. And don’t choose a central location like the living room either. Instead, choose a nook in your home with the least foot traffic. Perhaps a few meters away from your room, so you’d be forced to walk there. If you have an extra room (with a door you can actually lock) you can use for this purpose—however small it may be, all the better.
Not only will this trigger “work mode” in your head, but it will also help your family recognize, acknowledge, and respect your work hours. Personally, the short walk and change of scenery help my mind to shift from “I’m still sleepy.” to “I need to finish that task I left yesterday.”
Also, get proper home office furniture so you’re comfortable and don’t have to worry about hurting your back or other body parts since you’ll probably be spending hours sitting there. More importantly, ensure you have the utilities to make everything run smoothly, such as a stable power supply and a fast enough internet connection.
2. Invest in the right equipment.
Now that you have the apt space and furniture, the next thing on your agenda should be the proper hardware and software. But beware, you don’t need to buy all the latest gadgets and hi-tech thingamabobs out there. You simply get what you need to be able to accomplish your job efficiently.
For instance, if you’re someone who needs to communicate with co-workers and clients regularly, then invest in noise-canceling headsets and software such as Zoom and Krisp. If your client or superior wants to have some face time now and again, then secure a web camera that can get the job done. Or suppose you work with hi-res multimedia files. In that case, you’d need a powerful graphics card as well as a high-definition monitor capable of rendering hi-res images and graphics… not to mention enough RAM capacity for the incredible but quite heavy Adobe Creative Cloud.
Lucky for us here at Arcanys, the company shoulders the hassle of hunting and equipping its employees with the right tools. We just send a request to our IT team, et voila, we get what we need to do our jobs effectively. But of course, every request is subject to review and must be deemed necessary and reasonable first.
3. Set up a monthly planner.
Be organized. Make a list and set reminders of all the essential things you need to accomplish for each month, not only for big projects at work but also to-dos at home. This way, you can aptly stay on top of personal errands as well as project deadlines. But avoid micromanaging your schedule to the point of being Sheldon-like that you fill all hours of every day with activities or tasks. Be flexible. So leave some time for family bonding, that impromptu relaxation session, or perhaps those emergency errands you may need to attend to in a jiffy.
You see, just because you’re working doesn’t mean you can forget about your home or personal life. All of these are just part of being an adult. After all, there are still bills to pay, friends and family to keep in touch with, and an endless list of hobbies for destressing to try. Trust me, you don’t want to be blindsided with overdue bills and upset loved ones. A productive and zen WFH setup that will not make.
4. Establish a morning routine.
Implement a structure to your day by establishing a routine, especially on how you start it. For instance, wake up early, dress up, and prepare for work as if you’re actually going to the office. Feed the cats, and don’t forget your morning coffee and toast. According to health experts, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Much like having a designated workspace, this will also help you physically and mentally get ready for your workday ahead.
5. Create a Daily To-do List.
Aside from a monthly schedule, set a time every morning to quickly craft a priority list for the day before you start work. This way, you’ll be able to focus your attention and energy on the tasks you need to accomplish first. This will help you meet deadlines and efficiently tick off things on your to-do list faster, but it will also allow you to recall the ones that may have lately slipped your mind.
Also, accomplish similar tasks in batches so you can focus on one skill but be able to tick off several things on your list. It will be like maximizing the specific parts of your brain that are already turned on by that first task. For instance, if you’re editing photos for a blog article, then you might as well edit those photos for your social media while you’re at it before proceeding to a writing task.
Switching from one task to another requiring a completely different set of skills will decrease your efficiency and focus. And you need focus to trigger analytical skills and creativity. The belief that multitasking can improve productivity is a myth. Aside from diminishing brain efficiency, it also increases the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
So do similar tasks by batches and you can focus on one thing at a time. You will not only be more efficient but also feel less stress.
6. Turn off unnecessary notifications.
Have you ever experienced losing your train of thought because you suddenly heard a buzz or a melody? Well, imagine that happening every few minutes or so. How would you ever efficiently finish a task or project on time?
So yes, turn off those notifications on your laptop and especially your phone. Better yet, tuck away your mobile devices in a drawer during work hours so your tasks at hand will have your undivided attention. I’m sure your friend can share a laugh with her other friends as they’re looking at cat memes, or your mom can survive not knowing what you’re doing every hour of every day. Besides, you can always fish out those devices and catch up on social updates during your coffee or lunch breaks. As the saying goes, “There’s a time and place for everything.”
7. Don’t forget to get some sun.
Do you know that Vitamin D is good not only for the body but also for your mood? Yep, no joke. Vitamin D can boost the immune system and help regulate the release of happy hormones such as endorphins and serotonin in your brain. What’s more, it can also increase the production of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps you get better sleep.
So have a walk outside and get some sun for at least 15 minutes every day. You can even take it as an opportunity to snap some shots for your Instagram feed or just to get some bit of exercise daily. An important reminder, though, don’t forget to bring water for hydration and wear sunscreen.
8. Schedule breaks into your workdays.
Don’t forget to take regular breaks to give your back and backside some time off your chair and your brain time to unwind and reboot. Get a cup of refreshing coffee or tea, or perhaps that much-needed bathroom break you put on hold a while ago because you had to finish writing something before you forget it. Or maybe it’s time for a short meditation session. Whichever it is, as long as it takes you away from your keyboard and monitor for a while, that would work wonders. And to make sure you don’t overdo it, set your alarm to remind you to get back to work after a decent break period. Perhaps half an hour or so?
But hey, why are breaks important anyway? Well, working for hours on end will dwindle your energy, focus, and cognitive function. At the same time, it will continually increase your stress levels since your growing inefficiency may cause you even more anxiety. And you will find yourself in a loop of bad juju that will only intensify over time... unless you do something to cut the cycle. So stop the loop and take that break, eh?
9. Don't forget to fuel up.
When thinking about factors that affect productivity and work performance, we don’t automatically think about food. But it’s not exactly a secret either that what you eat affects your energy and cognitive function. Studies show that your diet affects your productivity.
Eating right is crucial for maximum brainpower. One study found that when teenagers consumed more fruits and vegetables, they were more creative and productive than when they ate fewer fruits and vegetables. Another study showed that eating nuts enhances brainwave function.
So fill up your pantry with healthy food instead of processed meat, junk food, and sugary drinks. That way, you sate your hunger and enhance your brainpower at the same time.
10. Utilize apps/tools for focus.
With so many devices and apps people use today, it’s very easy for us to get sidetracked. Aside from that, you may have kids fighting in the next room, your partner yelling for you to take out the trash, or your neighbor doing karaoke at all hours of the day and night. It’s certainly a feat to be able to avoid distractions for long. So if you’re nodding your head reading this, then you should check out the apps or tools below:
This is an app that helps you focus on a task by encouraging you to plant a virtual tree and letting it grow by staying off your phone. You set the timer and the longer you stay away from your phone, the more time the virtual tree grows.
It’s like that once-popular Tamagochi but instead of needing to constantly play with it, you take care of the tree by not touching your phone. Even better is that you can actually help the nonprofit organization Trees for the Future plant actual trees in the real world. So you’re not only getting work done but you’re also helping Mother Earth and future generations. Now if that’s not delightful, I don’t know what is!
While Forest compels you not to use your mobile, this app is actually for your desktop. More like a “tough love” approach to getting rid of distractions, StayFocusd is basically a Chrome extension that blocks websites deemed to be “time wasters”. Yep, we’re talking about you, Social Media giants!
So the thing is you set a collective limited time on these time-wasting sites and when the time is up, you get redirected to the StayFocusd website with the message “Shouldn’t you be working?” And you won’t be able to access those sites again for the rest of the day. The default time the app sets is 10 minutes but you can shorten or extend that in the settings. Talk about being cruel to be kind, right?
Some people need music or ambient noise to be able to focus. If you’re that type of person, then this website will definitely be a lifesaver. The brainchild of Belgian electrical engineer Dr. Stéphane Pigeon since 2013, this site has a wide range of sounds that have been collected and catalogued for years according to the listener’s need or purpose. The selections in each category is carefully set to help people find which sounds work best for them. It even has controls with different sound effects/elements you can adjust according to your preference and a feature to calibrate the audio frequencies to your hearing and headphones.
Of course, there’s Spotify for people who like to listen to music. But if you’re like me, sometimes you have to stay away from songs you can sing along to. You may end up typing the lyrics instead of that report you’re trying to finish. 😅
As it happens, MyNoise also has a mobile app for Android and iOS. And it works best with headphones on so you can effectively tune out external noises that may be distracting you.
A habit tracker and routine planner, this app can help you develop good self-care habits—from eating and sleeping to focusing on work and taking breaks on time. Not only can you keep a record of your habits but you can also set gentle reminders for them. What’s fun about it though is that you get to see the progress of your habits with a virtual plant you get to grow. Kind of like Forest but instead of “focus” as the factor that makes your virtual plant/tree grow, it’s accomplishing a daily habit you wanna develop.
One of the products of Austrian startup company Mindvoll, Avocation is a pretty basic app with a cute UI that’s easy on the eyes. It has a limited free version but they’re currently offering the premium for a one-time fee. It’s a fun and nifty app, if you ask me.
11. Set aside time for exercise.
Much like breaks and getting some sun, there are tons of benefits to exercising daily. First off, it enhances your physical strength and stamina. It also promotes the release of endorphins in the body, which means it helps brighten your mood. More importantly, according to The Mayo Clinic, it…
- Helps you maintain a healthy weight
- Reduces the risk of serious diseases
- Boosts your energy levels
- Promotes better sleep
So it’s no wonder why Arcanytes are all encouraged to have good work-life balance by having healthy holistic routines. In fact, we enjoy free gym memberships, incentive-based Arcanys Daily Fit challenges, and other wellness activities to promote a healthy and active lifestyle.
12. Establish ground rules for family or housemates.
If you managed to find a room with a door, you could put a sign outside that you’re at work during specific hours and should not be disturbed. And you could even lock it and put your headphones on, just to be sure no distractions get through.
However, if your work nook is in a more open space, you should try to create a barrier between the common areas and your home office. You can effectively do this with panel dividers or screens, or maybe even a curtain. Or you can rearrange your furniture to imply the partition. Another thing is you have to be straightforward and firm about setting boundaries. Be clear from the get-go about the “Do Not Disturb” hours you set, and don’t entertain anyone when they try to test that rule.
There may have been some big changes to our regular workdays, especially in the last couple of years. As important cogs in the machine, however, the mission remains the same: to maximize productivity without sacrificing work quality and our personal lives. So onward through the everyday obstacle course. Just be smart and efficient about it.