How to Boost Productivity While Working From Home
Before COVID-19, only about 7% of U.S. workers had the option to work regularly from home — now, at least half of the employees in the U.S. are working from home full time. There are, of course, some benefits: shorter commute, fewer office mates, the possibility of experiencing “technical issues” during that weekly meeting you hate (for legal reasons, we’re joking about the last one).
But working from home has presented some serious issues too. Those who stay up to date with academic economics (and let’s face it, who doesn’t) may be familiar with the concept of “The Productivity J-Curve.” According to MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson, the productivity J-curve suggests that according to available data, productivity actually dips when a powerful new technology is first introduced. This explains why companies didn’t opt to prioritize work from home before the pandemic, even though we had the technology — the truth is, it takes time to figure out the finer details. For better or for worse, COVID-19 has certainly given us that time.
All of which is to say, if you’re feeling a little unproductive at home, don’t sweat it — as the data suggests, you’re not alone. That being said, here are a few really simple things you can do to increase productivity while we’re riding out the J-curve:
Dress for Success
We talked about this a bit in our article on work from home essentials — and we know, it’s advice you’ve heard before. But be honest with yourself: when you wake up and have a fast-approaching deadline, are you really changing out of your pajamas? From personal experience, I know how easy it is to wake up and get so engrossed in emails that you forget to get ready for the day till it’s already afternoon.
The fact of the matter is, getting ready for the day signals to your brain that you’re getting ready to work. And although it’s totally possible to get that work done in pajamas, it’ll be better for your productivity (and your overall mental health) to draw a line between what you wear when you’re working, and what you wear when you’re relaxing.
Create a Schedule
For me, this was a game changer. I don’t just mean jotting down your upcoming deadlines — though those are important too. In the office, there are so many different routines we create: when we eat lunch, when we take a coffee break, when we sneak into the kitchen to gossip with our favorite coworker.
Creating a schedule while working from home helps you recreate that sense of routine. It will also help you prioritize what needs your attention — it’s easy to get bogged down in small, immediate issues, but at home you won’t have supervisors and coworkers looking over your shoulder to ensure you get the big projects done. During quarantine, a lot of us have also taken up new hobbies, which is amazing! A detailed schedule will also help ensure that as time goes on, you’re dedicating as much time to your long-term goals as you are to your bread baking.
Set Boundaries With Others
There are two groups of people you need to set clear boundaries with: your coworkers and your friends/family. That being said, the boundaries you need to set are essentially the same: it’s all about time.
When it comes to family, it’s important to set clear boundaries around when you’re “home,” and when you’re “at work.” Of course, for some people, that’s a little more complicated — parents of young children, we’re looking at you. But even if you don’t have complete control over what your day might look like, having the conversation (and realistically having it often) gives you some semblance of balance between work time and home time.
In the case of coworkers, it’s important to communicate two things: the hours you’ll be at work, and the hours you’ll be available to talk. After all, there are only so many Zoom meetings you can have in a day before you can’t look at your laptop anymore. So communicate clearly, and stick to those boundaries.
Set Boundaries With Yourself
So you’ve set boundaries with others — great! Now, you have to enforce them. Setting boundaries with yourself is by far the most important thing on this list, and is without a doubt the one that people struggle with the most.
If you tell your coworkers you’re only available till 5, that means 5 is the end of your work day, so pencils down. It’s easy to procrastinate on projects if you don’t set time limits for yourself, and it’s easy for a 8 hour workday to transform into a 12+ hour workday, if you don’t set clear boundaries on when you’ll work, and when you won’t.
Create clear rules around when you’ll work, where you’ll work, and how much you can realistically do in a day. It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re not working hard enough when you’re working from home — so do yourself a favor, and create definitive space between work time and personal time.
Any questions about how better benefits can help your employees through this difficult transition? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.