As COVID-19 forced everyone to work from home, and vaccines are allowing businesses to open up again, you might wonder whether working from home will be here to stay. What started out as an experiment where everyone was forced to work from home, became a new normal.

Obviously there are several benefits from working from home:

  • Employers don’t need to lease as much office space and can re-purpose that office space into other uses
  • No commutes for employees
  • Additional time at home for employees to spend however they like
  • Better coffee and food from home
  • No rush from meeting room to meeting room
  • Ability to wake up and get to work right away

It’s been less than a year for me working from home, although I’ve also been working as a management consultant for a little over 7 years where I worked from client sites, the office, home, the coffee shop, and even from my car. For management consultants, work from anywhere was a reality a long time ago, even before COVID. What I’m trying to say is that I’ve learned a few things about productivity and here are the ten things I do that have helped me focus and get down to work:

Brain.fm for focus music

I have no idea how or why it works, but listening to a focus Youtube video on the brain.fm channel helps me get down to work right away. I sincerely hope it somehow hypnotizes me to focus, but every time I listen to a video, I become insanely productive. It’s also easy to know when you can get a break (because focusing for hours on end is exhausting) as the music will suddenly change (and your brain is great at detecting changes in patterns).

Scheduling a ‘can’t miss’ event at the end of the day

I like one tip from Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 hours, who talks about the strategy of scheduling something at the end of your day that you can’t miss. Maybe it’s a workout at the gym with a friend. Or it could be a soccer practice you have to drive your kids to. Date night with the partner. When you know you have a hard stop at some time at the end of the day, you are less likely to waft and get distracted, because you know if you don’t do it now, you won’t have the time later.

Beware though, of having time at night to work. If you feel like you’ll have time after date night or after the workout, you may feel you can procrastinate now because you can do the work later. Give yourself a hard stop for when you need to complete the work by, and then hold yourself to it.

Short to-do lists

Another Laura Vanderkam tip: short to-do lists. Although it can be great to write down 30 item to-do lists, it is also overwhelming to see 30 things you have to do that day. Instead, make it short: limit your to-do list to 3-5 items so that it is manageable and something you can complete (even before you end your work day). Of course, completing a to-do list will then give you the energy and motivation to tackle more items on your list.

Lunch is a natural way to break up your way. That means I’ll have a short to-do list for my morning, and then a short to-do list for my afternoons.

Use your little bits of time throughout the day

Not strictly a way to be more productive with work, but a way to be more productive with your time. My university biology teacher taught me this tip after one class where my classmates complained about all the assignments, mid-terms and quizzes they had. My biology teacher told us, for one week, to note down every 5 minutes what we were doing, whether we were studying, eating, slacking off on our computer, sleeping, etc. She told us that IF we did this experiment, we would find that there are these bits of time throughout the day we could use more productively. Five minutes here to look over some flashcards. Five minutes there to pre-read a textbook. All the five minutes added up.

The point here is not only do you have to be conscious of your five minutes, but you have to be prepared to take advantage of the five minutes. For example, sometimes you have a few minutes before your next meeting. Or you have a few minutes because you ate lunch extra quickly and you’re waiting around for your next meeting to start. Why not use those five minutes to sort through emails? Or get some reading done? Or jot down notes about your previous meeting while it’s still fresh in your mind?

Reflect at the end of your workday what your priorities are for your next day

I had to learn this the hard way when I got to work late or joined meetings where I was supposed to have done something and didn’t. A quick look over my agenda for the next day, at the end of the day, is a fantastic way to make sure you’re doing the right things and have the items you need to do on your to-do list.

Don’t learn my lesson the hard way, check out your agenda for the next day and figure out what you need to do to make your day a success.