Work from home

5 Ways to Stay Productive While Working from Home 

Even before the Pandemic started 7% of Canadians were working from home. However, according to Survey data from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the number of Canadians working from home has grown seven-fold. Half of Canadians (52 per cent) currently employed say they are now working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite a gradual re-opening of the economy, working from home continues to be a necessity for many workers for the foreseeable future. While working from home may offer certain advantages and conveniences, it does tend to blur the physical and mental barriers that separate home life from work life.

This new way of working is not without pitfalls and can easily lead to low productivity and low efficiency. It is therefore important to be mindful of this and to adopt certain good practices to ensure you continue to work as productively as possible. Here are some tried and proven methods that can help:


1. Remove Distractions

Most people agree that in order to remain productive, we need to be focused and this can be difficult to achieve in a home environment that has potentially dozens of distractions. Even at the office we often face certain distractions like various notifications, unplanned meetings, or colleagues stopping for a chat. But working from home will usually add to these distractions. Examples most people can relate to include dealing with kids, pets, doorbells, loud music, etc.

While each one of these distractions on its own may not seem much, they can quickly add up and significantly reduce your productivity. Fortunately, there are things we can do to proactively stop some of these distractions in their track. Examples include making use of the Do Not Disturb function available on many phones these days, or removing various notifications, such as new e-mail notification.

You can also proactively plan your days to minimize potential distractions. Strategies could include starting the workday earlier before other family members wake up, in order to benefit from that quiet time. Or dedicating certain blocks of time to specific work tasks, and informing others you are not available in those time blocks so that you can remain focused on the tasks at hand.


2. Create a Schedule and Stick to it

This one is a good productivity habit in any environment, but when working from home, it becomes even more important. Planning your workday, and indeed your workweek in advance can pay big dividends. You can start by creating a high-level overview of the amount of time you spend on various recurring work tasks.

The next step is to create daily or weekly time blocks in your calendar dedicated to each of these tasks, in proportion to the amount of time you expect them to take. The key here is to only work on those tasks during the time blocks dedicated to them and not let yourself be sidetracked to deal with other things.

A good practice is to include two, or three time blocks during the day for attending to e-mails. It is widely accepted that the endless flow of e-mails into our inboxes and the time needed to deal with them, is one of the biggest sources of productivity loss. By concentrating e-mail handling to specific time blocks you can significantly improve your productivity. Keep in mind that like any new habit, this is going to be hard to implement for the first few days. But if you stick with it you will soon see the benefits.


3. Take Regular Breaks

This may seem like an obvious one but in reality, often when working from home, this can be neglected. When you are away from the office environment and from the regular established routines, it is very easy to lose track of time and before you know it, you realize you have been working for hours without taking a break.

When working from home you may not feel the need for breaks because after all you are not “at the office”. The reality is, you will need just as many, if not more breaks. This can be for example because your physical work environment, like your desk and computer set up at home, may not be optimal and may result in more fatigue compared to working in the office, and in the long run even cause injury.

A good practice is to schedule breaks into your calendar – see the previous point about creating schedules. If you make it a habit to stick to your schedule, then taking breaks will take care of itself because it is in your schedule.

Try this and you will soon see how much more refreshed you feel after taking your scheduled breaks and what a positive impact that can make on your productivity overall.


4. List Your Priorities

Being clear about your priorities and using a well thought-out to do list, based on those priorities is going to make it easier to direct your efforts towards achieving them. It also gives you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction to see check marks next to those items as you progress.

This becomes even more important when working from home because of the extra burdens and demands home and family related tasks put on your time.

A good tip, in assigning priorities is to think in terms of both urgency and priority and not let yourself be guided only by urgent tasks. In his famous book, Seven habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey suggests using a matrix to help determine what is Urgent as opposed to Important. The power of using this approach is that it can help you realize that a particular task is actually not that important, even though from a timing perspective it may be urgent. The table below illustrates this idea in more detail:

IMPORTANTQuadrant I: Quadrant II: 
Urgent & ImportantNot Urgent & Important
NOT IMPORTANTQuadrant III: Quadrant IV: 
Urgent & Not ImportantNot Urgent & Not Important

Source: Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

The idea here is to consider the importance of the tasks when assigning priorities, as opposed to being focused on urgency alone. Otherwise, tasks in Quadrant II, which are the ones that are important but not necessarily urgent, could be sacrificed in favour of tasks in Quadrant III which may be urgent but rank lower in terms of priority.


5. Dress for the Office

This one may not seem obvious but the way you dress has an impact on your mindset. If you put on your office clothes, or something resembling them, then you are signaling to your brain that it is time to “go to work” and your mindset will be adjusted accordingly.

On the other hand, if you choose to remain in your pyjamas the whole day, which may seem perfectly reasonable since you’re not leaving home after all, you could be sending the wrong signals to your brain.

Adopting a professional attitude and state of mind is going to determine how we approach our work. The way we dress is one of the biggest factors influencing our attitude and dressing professionally allows us to control this attitude.

Dressing professionally can have other benefits other than putting you in the right mindset for work. For example, if you are asked to participate in a last-minute video call you will be all set. It also signals to others, be it family or friends, that we are at work, which can reduce the potential for unnecessary distractions.

We hope you find these tips helpful and if so, we encourage you to continue to use some of them even in the Post-Pandemic world whether or not you work from home. Regardless of how long it takes to resolve the COVID-19 Pandemic, working from home is likely to become more prevalent in the coming months and years, which means we all will need to get used to working in this way.