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How to keep your productivity high while working from home

While remote work can have numerous advantages for many of us, there is still something that we struggle to achieve: being active and productive when we are not required to travel to work early in the morning, while avoiding the hundreds of distractions that attract our attention when we sit at our desk or at the kitchen table.

It's hard to resist the plentiful potential sources of distraction: from planning household duties you might carry out between a phone call and an email, to the leftover cake in the fridge that is calling on you for a mid-morning break, to the continuous requests of your children. It can become almost impossible to really focus on that presentation you have to give next week to a group of potential customers.

Some of us succeed in blending personal and professional tasks during the day. My friend Roberto lives in a beautiful Italian island, in a lovely villa by the sea. Last summer, he was highly productive, even while working under an umbrella on the beach.

A refreshing bath now and then helped him take a break; same as when we have a coffee with our colleagues in the office.

But he is probably one of a kind. Not everyone is as lucky as Roberto, able to remain focused and effective while everybody else (me, for example) would just give up and lay on the sand. Mere mortals like us have to arrange our own working space at home, ensuring that nobody will interfere with our productivity. And we have to do it purposely. Because being productive is not a personality trait: it is a choice.

So, here are some strategies I use when I work from home.

Separate work and personal space

1. The first, key thing to do is to separate your workspace from any other place where you carry out private activities. If you have a dedicated desk at home, use it only when you work and sit somewhere else (e.g. dining table, sofa) when browsing the internet to buy something online or when reading a book. Keeping work and personal space separated helps create a healthy space for your mind to avoid stress and burnout.

If you

Laptop with phone  and work tools
My laptop in work-mode

Laptop with diffuser and a cup of coffee
My laptop in relax-mode

2. Set boundaries with your partner, children or pets.

Be very clear with the members or your family or the people with whom you share your home. They have to respect your space when you are working.

Sharing a house with them does not mean that they can have access to you all the time. I use green, yellow and red signs to signal my availability to interactions. Even with children, it's important that you make clear that, when the red signal is displayed, they should not disturb you. But when you decide it's time for the green sign, make sure that the time you spend with them is quality time, even if you have only 15 minutes. When I say quality time, I mean devoting your full attention to them.

3. Keep your daily routine alive

Have breakfast, take a shower, put on nice but comfortable clothes (it's hard to feel and be productive in your pyjamas), take a short walk (even if it's just a 15-minute walk around the block) before and after your working hours. In a nutshell, try to re-create the routine you had when you were going to your office every day before the pandemic. That will help you neatly separate working time from home time and feel more focused, or relaxed, depending on the time of the day.

4. Identify your peak productivity times

If you do not have to stick to the traditional 9-5 office hours but are free to choose your own, try to identify your "peak productivity times": i.e. when your productivity is at its highest levels. Then, build your schedule around those times.

One last thing. For most of us who work from home, boundaries between work and personal life have become blurry. We tend to extend our work well beyond the time we are supposed to sit on a sofa and have some rest or take care of personal things. Such imbalance can be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Taking time off work is essential to avoid burnout, so, when the time comes, better disconnect from your computer.

Oops, it's 6.00 in the evening now, here in Rome: time to go for a run!

1 Comment

Excellent post... thanks!

There is a need for this type of suggestion.

Above all, it consoles the knowledge that one's problem is everyone's problem. In this period that we are isolated, sharing at least the feelings is heartening.

The suggestion to unplug at the end of the working day is invaluable. I will strive to follow it (and all the others) every day!

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