Working from home productivity tips related to preventing working 24/7 will be the subject of an upcoming article in Bloomberg Businessweek. The following are the two productivity questions a journalist posed, as well as my responses.
1. What is your best productivity strategy for keeping days short-ish?
When you internalize the following concepts, you’ll build up the mental muscle you need to keep the workdays short-ish:
An abundance of short- and long-term tasks can be a good thing. If you’re working as efficiently as possible, yet your task list stays the same length, that is a sign that your position is needed. Now more than ever, rejoice that higher probability of job security.
A zeroed-out long-term to-do list is not a good thing. The day you have zero tasks in your pipeline is the day you’ve become obsolete.
Slow down. When we attempt to operate at lightning speed or we cruise on autopilot, we tend to process the questions, requests and communications we receive in the order that we received them instead of by priority level. We end up attacking all of the low-hanging fruit. When the end of the day rolls around and we feel like we haven’t accomplished the important items, we tend to work a little longer to feel better about ourselves. Pause for five seconds to triage each request you receive.
Long workdays can kill you. Literally. Karoshi is Japanese for “death by overwork.” In China, the term is guolaosi. There are countless studies which link long work hours to deteriorating health and increased maladies, which can cause an early death.
Longer work hours lead to lower productivity. Neuroscience tells us that the longer we work, the less effective and efficient we become. Why not be highly productive for eight hours instead of less productive for 12?
There’s more to life than work. Cultivate relationships and interests outside of your job. When you develop these, you’ll be more likely to transition your perspective from, “I need more time to work,” to “I need to spend more time truly living.”
2. What’s your strategy for learning to turn on and turn off work at reasonable hours?
Schedule your personal life first. When you make appointments with yourself to make time for your personal priorities – self-care, time with loved ones (even if it’s through Zoom!), home maintenance, fun – you’ll be more likely to keep that commitment and clock out of work.
Create a realistic daily to-do list. Sometimes you work “just a little longer” so you can finish those last two items on your list. Most daily task lists are created from stream of conscious and never take into account how long those tasks actually take and how much time you have to complete them. Instead, develop your list for the day using the two most important variables: 1) How much time do I have to complete my tasks after I factor in my already-scheduled appointments, buffers before and after meetings, and a little cushion for those fires that crop up? 2) What are my top priorities for today that I can finish during that time?
Decide ahead of time how many hours you’ll work that day. Because many people blend personal matters with work matters, and because we use devices for so many parts of our lives, we don’t realize how long we’re actually working. Whether you work nine hours straight or divide it up into chunks throughout the day and evening, being clear about your “work hours” will help you realize when it’s time to knock off and enjoy life.
Establish a designated workspace. When you have an “official space,” this will help you to officially leave work. A home office door can be closed. Your laptop at the end of the kitchen counter can be shutdown. Even if your only piece of furniture is a couch, you can office at one end and stream movies at the other. If you create this delineation, your brain will understand when it’s time to leave work mode.
Implementing these time management strategies will help you improve productivity whether you’re working from home, on the road, or onsite at the office.