While working from home (or other temporary living space while traveling) is a blessing, it can also be a curse. There’s plenty of things around to distract you—a TV to watch, chores to do, books to read, and the outdoors beckoning you to come play. Plus, in such a comfortable environment, it’s easy to lose your sense of urgency and focus. So how do you stay on track?
Here’s five productivity hacks that will help you churn out the same volume of quality work sitting at home as you would sitting in an office.
1. Don’t Wear Pajamas
….Or anything as equally casual as pajamas. Believe it or not, psychologists believe that what you wear actually influences your mindset. If you’re wearing your typical “I’m ready to relax” clothes, then your mind will be ready to relax, not work. But if you’re wearing “I’m about to go somewhere” clothes, your mind stays more active and sharp.
Dr. Karen Pine, psychology professor and fashion psychologist, told Forbes:
A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s “professional work attire” or “relaxing weekend wear,” so when we put it on, we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.
She goes on to explain that differentiating between work clothes and weekend clothes could be as simple as wearing a dressier shirt while working or accessorizing your outfit. In other words, while you may just be working from the couch in your living room, taking time to style your hair and or put on shoes may help you get more done.
On the flip side, differentiating between types of clothes could also help you put work away more easily. Businessman and author Mason Donovan explains:
When I change into casual clothes, it’s a physical and visual distinction, and it helps me set boundaries. Otherwise you could feel like work never ends. Your personal life could take over work time, or your work commitments can take over personal time. Clothing helps create a distinct separation.
Donovan also adds that your clothes can serve as a signal to those who are in the house with you while you’re working.
If you are in jeans and a T-shirt, it wouldn’t come to mind to someone else that you’re working. Wearing work clothes can send a signal that you’re working and shouldn’t be disturbed.
2. Eat Smart
Low blood sugar from going too long without eating or eating the wrong kinds of food drains your energy and concentration, making your work take way longer than normal. So don’t skip breakfast! Your mind and body need that boost to perform well until your next meal.
Eating smart involves choosing both when and what you eat wisely. Space your meals out evenly to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and eat rich, filling foods that won’t make you crash a couple hours after eating them. Pack your meals with blood-sugar balancing protein, which you can find in meat, nuts, fish, oatmeal, broccoli, and kale.
For a caffeine-free afternoon boost, eat mind-stimulating blueberries. And rather than scouring your pantry for candy bars, keep a bag of almonds near your computer. These nutrient and vitamin-filled nuts stabilize blood sugar.
To the delight of chocolate lovers, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, containing 70% cocoa or more, can improve your mood, decrease anxiety, and enhance your cognitive functions. Try eating an ounce a day of both nuts and dark chocolate.
Keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration can cause a plethora of distracting symptoms, including headaches and fatigue. To prevent yourself from getting bored with water, add fruits or flavoring.
According to Michael Green of Aston University:
The brain works best with about 25 grams of glucose circulating in the blood stream — about the amount found in a banana.
Take the time to keep the proper amount of mind-stimulating nutrients in your body while working to keep your mind focused and your energy levels fresh. Otherwise, you may accidentally stretch 8 hours’ worth of work into ten.
3. Take Care of Your Eyes
Working from home may mean you have fewer in-person meetings to give your eyes a break from the computer screen. Trying to push through work with tired eyes or a frazzled mind doesn’t help you get quality work done; it just makes you waste your time. Although you may “just have one or more things to finish,” tearing yourself away for a small break first will help you get that thing done more efficiently.
If your work involves extensive computer use, you’ve probably experienced eye strain at some point. A commonly accepted rule for avoiding eye strain and headaches during work is to take a 20 second break to stare at a distant object, letting your eyes refocus, for every 20 minutes of work.
As inconvenient as it may be, pulling your eyes away from the screen for those 20 seconds can help you get more accomplished when your eyes return to the screen.
My eye doctor said many patients complain that their distance vision worsens after a day working on the computer. He explained that staring at a screen for too long causes your eye muscles to “lock” into their screen-reading positions. It takes longer than a seconds-long glance away from the screen for them to relax and adjust to seeing at a distance.
He recommended taking time every hour to walk away from your computer and let your eyes relax.
4. Find Ways to Be Active
If you’re often sitting during work, try to prioritize movement. Sitting for long stretches of time has both short-term and long-term consequences for your body. In the short term, it can cause back pain, tight muscles and joints, and decreased energy levels. In the long term, it can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, high cholesterol, diabetes, and weight gain.
Unfortunately, daily exercise (even when you’re doing it right) cannot undo hours of sitting. In fact, all your sitting counteracts your daily workout. Continue exercising but also purposefully incorporate movement into your work day.
A few ideas:
Set an alarm on your phone for every 30 minutes to remind you to get up and walk around.
Take advantage of any phone calls or lunch breaks to take longer walks.
Work standing up for certain stretches of time each day.
Take the stairs instead of the elevator when you go out.
Park farther away from buildings to give yourself a longer walk.
Sitting with good posture and doing regular back stretches can also relieve the stress that sitting causes on your body. Personally, I’ve found Pilates to be a great help. Whenever I start feeling stiff or sore, I pause and do a few stretches.
5. Identify Your Distractions
What distracts you? Is it the TV? If so, face away from it while working or even work in a different room. If it’s a messy work room, make a habit of straightening and decluttering the room each evening before bed. If your phone distracts you, leave it in another room or turn it on airplane mode. Alternatively, you can turn off all your phone’s notifications, so you’re only disturbed if someone is calling or texting you.
Does multi-tasking slow you down more than it helps you? Then close the extra tabs on your computer and pour all your concentration into one task. If you’re concerned you’ll forget the other things you need to do, quickly add them to a list with a reminder notification. Then you can peacefully forget about them for now but still remember them later.
Does music help or hinder your work? Tom Popomaronis, a columnist for Inc.com, recommends playing music while doing repetitive tasks or working in a noisy environment, but he suggests turning the music off while learning something new. He explains that listening to new songs can make you lose your focus and adds that music with lyrics can be especially distracting when reading.
If you’re looking for wordless, motivational music to keep you focused, I’ve built a Spotify playlist to listen to while I write. You can listen to it here.
Only you know what keeps you from performing at your best. Be proactive about distractions, rather than reactive. If you don’t set yourself up for success, how can you expect yourself to succeed?
Working from home brings both unique benefits and unique challenges, but neither is an excuse for not being productive. Identify your challenges and find ways to overcome them (even if that means leaving the house to work for a while!). As Norman Vincent Peale said, “Every problem has in it the seeds of its own solution.”
To all the work-from-home readers out there, please share any additional productivity tips you know of with the rest of us below!