Whether you’re hunkered down due to a mandatory work-from-home policy, or you’re still going into the office, one thing’s for sure — work doesn’t look like it used to for most of us. And as we adjust to new ways of working in the midst of COVID-19, the question remains the same: How do you make the most of your workday? The circumstances are unusual, to say the least, but that doesn’t mean your productivity has to plummet. Turn to these tips to stay efficient in the new normal (and beyond).
1. Create a designated workspace
If you’re one of the many people working from home during the pandemic, figuring out how to focus can be a challenge. An effective way to fix that? Create a designated workspace in your home. Whether it’s a spare room or a seat at your dining room table, set up a specific area that’s reserved for working. Ideally, it’ll offer you some privacy. Not only will a designated workspace help you maintain focus and discipline, it’ll keep you from blurring the lines between work and home life.
2. Set boundaries
Judging by the amount of conference calls interrupted by stir-crazy kids and barking dogs, it’s safe to say you’re not alone in your work-from-home challenges. If your whole family’s homebound thanks to the “new normal,” it’s essential to set boundaries. Establish do-not-disturb signals, such as closing a door or wearing headphones, to let everyone know when you’re working. Even if you’re not dealing with the distractions of family or roommates in your work-from-home environment, make sure to set clear boundaries with your colleagues. How? Keep regular work hours so they don’t expect that you’re available at all hours. Find a way to clearly indicate when you’re on and off the clock, such as logging in and out of your chat platform you use for work.
3. Stick to a schedule
No matter where you’re working, make a point to keep regular working hours. Granted, “regular working hours” might be different than normal, as many of us are juggling working full-time and homeschooling (all while trying to stay sane). But, if you stick to the same schedule throughout the week, you’ll have clearly defined work hours, which helps you remain productive. On top of that, it’ll be easier to transition back to office life if you stick to a consistent schedule.
4. Don’t get sucked into the news
If you’re like us, you’re getting inundated with COVID-19 news alerts throughout the day. Since much of that news can impact our personal situations, it’s hard not to get sucked in by it. While it’s important to stay informed, if you don’t set limits on your news consumption, you can quickly find yourself down a rabbit hole. And in the meantime, you’re losing precious work time. To avoid this situation, set limits on how often you check news alerts on your phone. If the alerts prove to be too much of a distraction, consider turning them off. You’ll be more productive and you can still catch up on the latest outside of working hours.
5. Create a realistic to-do list for each day
To be efficient, plan ahead. By creating a to-do list at the end of each day, you can start the next day ready to go without wasting time feeling overwhelmed or aimless. Don’t let your to-do list get too long though. If possible, limit it to your five most important tasks. If it helps to prioritize, consider the “80/20 rule.” Identify the 20% of your work that’s most important, break it down into actionable tasks, and prioritize that work for the next day. If you keep your to-do list short, not only will you have better focus, but you’ll feel more accomplished at the end of each day.
6. Implement the “two-minute rule”
This one’s for you, procrastinators. We kid, but in the interest of cutting down your to-do list and saving it for high priority items, practice the “two-minute rule.” What is that? If there’s anything that comes up between tasks during the day that takes two minutes or less to complete, just do it. It’s easy to put these tasks off, but if you tackle them right away, they won’t be hanging over your head. That way, you can focus on bigger priorities.
7. Take advantage of peak productivity periods
By now, you probably know when you’re most productive. While a lot of advice suggests taking the first hours of the day to work on your most challenging projects, the truth is, we’re not one-size-fits-all when it comes to productivity patterns. If you know you’re sharper in the afternoon, answer emails first thing so you can save the “heavy lifting,” or more complex projects, for the afternoon. Know when you’re at your best, and plan your schedule accordingly.
8. Break projects into manageable sections
When you’re faced with a big project, it can leave you spinning your wheels, unsure of where to start. To make it more manageable, take a step back and figure out how to break it into bite-sized pieces. By doing this, you’ll have a clearer sense of focus as you start chipping away at each action item. Even better, you’ll feel motivated by your progress, which will help you reach your end goals faster.
9. Keep a distraction list
While we’d love to say “eliminate distractions,” we know that’s not realistic. Distractions are going to come up, especially if you’re working from home. It’s easy to get distracted with other work and requests when you’re trying to be productive, but to stay on task, keep a list of those one-off items as they come up. That way, you can set them aside and come back to them when you have time. This allows you to complete the task at hand, but not forget about the other to-do’s that need your attention (just not right now).
10. Resist the urge to multitask
It’s a common misconception that multitasking makes you more efficient. Contrary to popular belief, research shows that multitasking actually kills your productivity. Not only does it create mental blocks when you switch back and forth between tasks, but it negatively impacts your problem-solving ability. Since multitasking requires a lot of “working memory,” also known as brain storage, it can detract from your ability to think creatively. To stay on point (and be kind to your brain), focus your full attention on one task at a time.
11. Check email at specific intervals
As we all know, answering emails can be a slippery slope. If you don’t step away from your inbox, it can sabotage your productivity. For many of us, going long periods without checking email isn’t realistic. A lot of work is time-sensitive, and communication is key. That said, if you don’t set aside specific periods of your day for answering and sending emails, it can easily eat away the day. To prevent this, pick a maximum of five times throughout the day to check email. That way, you can ensure timely responses, but email won’t erode your productivity plans.
12. Figure out what to delegate
Just because you’re working outside of the office and communication takes a little extra work, that doesn’t mean you should give up delegating all together. We get it. Sometimes explaining a project and making sure it’s done correctly feels like more work than just doing it yourself. And in some cases, that might be the case. But before you decide that delegation isn’t for you, ask yourself if your time is better spent elsewhere. If the answer is “yes,” identify the right person to help. Then communicate the project and focus your time on stuff that’ll help you move the needle.
13. Take breaks
This one may sound counterintuitive, but here’s the deal: nobody can focus for eight hours straight. No matter how efficient you are, it’s not possible to keep distraction-free focus for an entire workday. Plus, research shows that even five minute breaks can make you more productive. And let’s face it, now more than ever, most of us are in need of fresh air and a chance to clear our heads. Allow yourself opportunities to recharge during the day, but be deliberate about it. To make sure you take legitimate breaks, schedule a few of them throughout the day. That way, you won’t let any little distraction become your “break time.”
14. Equip yourself with work-from-anywhere tools
One surefire way to increase efficiency? Leverage time-saving technology. Whether you want to seamlessly collaborate with remote coworkers, effectively manage projects, accurately track time, or securely store and access data and resources 24/7/365, find the right tools to enhance your productivity. To do your best work — no matter where you are — you may want to take a look at these 43 crowd-favorite tools.