An increasing number of people are discovering the advantages of working from home. Many businesses are doing the same and providing the option for employees to work remotely at least part of the time. Businesses save money on overhead and operating costs, as well as lost productivity due to workers calling in sick. People who work from home can benefit from more free time, if they don’t fall into some of the common pitfalls.
The reduction in sick time, however, can be seen as a detriment for remote employees who are more likely to work even when they are sick. Another enormous trap for those who do their jobs from the comfort of their homes is that it is easy to lose the free time they could gain by feeling the need to work longer hours, be available at all times or spin their wheels making more work for themselves than they need to. I’m going to set you up with some one hour hacks that will help you work smarter, not harder, so you can take advantage of one of the best benefits of remote work: free time.
1. Get Up Early
As tempting as it might be to roll out of bed and into your office chair, drinking your coffee and eating your breakfast as you get started, this does nothing to improve your efficiency at work. Not only do tasks take longer as you pause between bites of food to respond to the emails that came in overnight or begin the first item on your to-do list, but it can also take time for the brain to get up to speed. By not giving yourself enough time for yourself before you begin the workday, you end up losing valuable time in the first hour of the day.
Do yourself a favor and get up at least an hour before your day starts. If you have children and have to get them ready for their days, give yourself that hour before they awake to take care of your own needs. In the time you have before you sit down at your desk, eat a nourishing and healthy breakfast, have your coffee or tea and use the rest of the time to meditate, go for a short walk or do some yoga or other form of exercise. This allows you time to get your brain and body up to speed for the tasks ahead.
2. Find Your Rhythm
When you are just getting started with your day, you might be tempted to plow straight through that mountain of work facing you. This may sound like a great plan initially, but it is a sure way to wear yourself out before you make much of a dent. What’s more, if you continue to work this way, you risk burning out on your job entirely. What’s the point of working from home if you end up too exhausted mentally or physically to enjoy your time off?
Our bodies work in cycles, whether it’s for eating, sleeping or being productive. When we force ourselves to function out of rhythm, we end up less productive, more stressed or anxious and at an increased risk for illnesses and burnout. Find your rhythm for productivity and operate accordingly. Most people find that they can maintain the zone or the “flow” for about 60-90 minutes. Break your day up into increments that match your optimal productivity level and set your schedule and task allocations accordingly.
3. Focus on One Task
For years, many people have been operating under the misperception that the way to accomplish more in a day is to multitask. This “ability” is often identified as a strength on resumes and in interviews. To be fair, employers frequently indicate that the ability to multitask is desirable and even required. The idea stems from a belief that if you can focus on more than one thing at a time, you get more done in a shorter period of time. This approach, however, does not work.
Skip the attempt to multitask. Instead, focus on just one task at a time. Prioritize the items on your list of what you must accomplish in a day. When you schedule out your day, assign each job to a specific hour of your day. Even if you think it might take you more than an hour to complete it, give it an hour. You may be surprised at how quickly you can get it done when you are focusing just on that single task. If you have a bunch of small items to tick off your list, lump all of them together in a one-hour increment. During that time, take care of one thing at a time as you make your way through the tasks.
4. Move a Little Every Hour
With the advent of fitness trackers, it’s become something of a fad to “get in your steps” every hour to make the 10,000-steps-per-day goal. While the recommended number of steps per day is really an arbitrary number that dates back to a 1964 Olympics marketing gimmick, the idea of moving every hour is sound advice. Sitting for long stretches of time is detrimental to your health and to your productivity.
At the end of each hour you work, take the last five minutes to move a little. Run up and down the stairs in your house a couple of times. Take a couple of laps around the house or do some jumping jacks. Do some yoga stretches. These brief pauses keep your blood flowing. This helps circulate oxygen and blood to your organs and your brain. It’ll revitalize you, giving you a boost in energy and brain power for the next hour, which means you won’t feel yourself start to drag. A good time to do this is at the end of your natural productivity cycle, even if yours is closer to 90 minutes, so you don’t interrupt your flow.
5. Take a Full Lunch Break
Many people are motivated to work through their lunches. The idea of finishing an hour early can be very appealing. The problem with this approach is that it is much harder to remain productive for the afternoon when you don’t give yourself a true break for lunch. It isn’t just about the food either, as the decrease in function occurs even if you eat at your desk. It has to do with maintaining an intense level of focus for hours on end. Even with five-minute breaks every hour, your brain needs a more substantial break.
Take a full hour for your lunch. This time allows you not only to eat, but to also get outside and enjoy some fresh air and exercise. Even if it’s cold, it is worth it to take a walk around the block. When the weather doesn’t permit outdoor activity, you can still exercise inside. Tune in to your favorite exercise teacher on YouTube or put on some lively music and dance around your living room. Whatever it is, get your blood pumping for at least 15-20 minutes. Once you’ve finished exercising, eat a nutritional lunch to replenish your energy.
6. Incorporate Silence
Working from home can be very productive without the distractions of office chatter around the coffee pot, water cooler or in the background. If you simply replace those voices with the television or even music, you might find yourself just as distracted at home. Some types of music can be motivating and inspire your creative side. Listen to too much of it or to the wrong kinds of music, however, and you end up losing productivity. You may even find that you start to feel agitated.
Play the music that charges you up for work or moves your creative mind to genius, but then give yourself a break from it. Make sure you schedule an hour at a time at least a couple of times a day where you turn off the tunes and listen to the sounds of silence. In this silence, your brain is allowed time to reorganize and rejuvenate. You will also likely feel less stress when you give yourself this quiet work time.
7. Stay Organized
Staying organized is one of the key one hour hacks for work-from-home success. All of the above tips are part of the organization of your time and your mental and physical energies. When you organize yourself and your tasks, you end up working smarter, not harder. There is a balance in how you structure your time that keeps you at peak performance, while lowering stress levels and improving mood and work satisfaction.
To that end, during the last work hour of your day, set up your schedule for the following day. Get your tasks prioritized and allocated and determine when your breaks will occur. This not only puts an end to your workday, giving you a sense of closure that allows you to walk away from your desk and get on with your free time, it also sets up the next day so that you know exactly what to expect the moment you sit down for work.