Working from home: Top tips to stay focused and be more productive

We all work from home at Pocket-lint. While the idea of it is idyllic for many, the reality is that it can bring to light some issues in terms of productivity, concentration, lack of the right equipment and too-frequent trips to the kitchen.

With more and more of us being asked to work from home because of the coronavirus threat, we thought it was high time to share our tips for working from home.

Do you have somewhere to use as an office?

The best approach is to have somewhere separate from your living room and bedroom that you can use as an office. If you’ve got a study or spare room then super – you’re there. Shut the door when you’re working to separate yourself. If the only option is to make a space in the shed for the summer, do it.

If you have to work in the living room, bedroom or kitchen, work at a table.

The gear you need

If you’re going to be working at home permanently, you need to get yourself a desk, a proper work chair, a keyboard and mouse and a monitor. 

Hopefully, your employer will provide at least a screen and keyboard/mouse if you need to work from home on a semi-permanent or permanent basis. Typing on a laptop is OK for a day, but it’s a no-no if you’re working away from an office for weeks on end. You really do need to bear ergonomics in mind, otherwise, you’ll end up causing yourself health issues. 

You could also get a laptop stand to raise it up and use alongside a keyboard and mouse. 

If you will have regular deliveries for work, get yourself a connected doorbell, otherwise, you’ll be waiting in all the time.

Partners and housemates

Other people who live with you need to get the message that you are not in “home mode” when you’re working at home – you can not do the washing up or put the laundry on the line unless it’s lunchtime. The “closed door” we mentioned above helps here – when the door is closed they shouldn’t interrupt you.

If you have kids…

Work somewhere where you won’t be interrupted by them. Or, at the least, ensure you can block out the noise. Headphones can be very useful here, but so can earplugs if you can’t work with music.

Obviously school holidays can be challenging and that’s when you need to schedule some work time elsewhere. And after 3pm can be an issue when they come home. There are some sensible things you can do to reduce any issues here, like not scheduling conference calls late in the day.

Get dressed

Yes, really. While working in your pyjamas sounds great, it’s hard to feel in the work zone.

Avoid the bed and the sofa

Related to the above point, you need to be at work during your working hours. Preparation is key to that, and it’s really not great to be sat on the sofa however wonderful it may seem at first. And sleepiness does not help productivity.

Chat and calling apps

Collaboration apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack are a distraction for some but a tool for many.

Crucially they are handy for employees because they help businesses get away from the notion that being in the office means you are at work, being out of the office means you aren’t.

If your employer doesn’t use anything like this, point out that it might be a good idea if you are starting to all work from home as a team. Although some employees are prone to chatting about non-work-related topics, the benefit is that it cuts down on email.

For video conferencing, if your employer uses Google Apps (aka G Suite) then Google Hangouts generally work well for video calling as they integrate with Google Calendar. If you’re an Office 365 organisation then Skype integrates well with that and Microsoft Teams. Of course, many employers use their own bespoke or off-the-shelf solutions here.

Keep the room light and airy

In winter it’s crucial to keep the room light and in summer you need to make sure it’s nice and airy, too. If it’s natural light then so much the better.

Keep away from the kitchen

The kitchen is the worst thing about working from home. Seriously. Permanent access to food you already own can be troublesome and you don’t want working from home to mean you just eat all the time. We’ll leave it there. 

Listen to music or the radio

Working from home can be a lonely business and the main thing we miss about working from home is the interaction with people. The radio is great for this as you can enjoy the show and hear voices as you work. However, we know this doesn’t work for everybody.  

Don’t watch the TV

 Having the TV on while working does not help you work. Before you know it, you’ll be watching Homes under the Hammer, the latest episode of The Crown or re-runs of Hawaii Five-O. However, it can be a good tool at lunchtime if you have problems getting away from your laptop.

Stick to set hours

If you have set working hours, this is an easy one. If you don’t, be really careful not to be consumed with work even if you do end up working more hours than you would have in an office.

If you have personal stuff to do, try and stick to lunchtime for this. But it must be said that popping to the shop or post office is also a good way to get a screen break.

Make sure you exercise and take breaks

Talking about lunchtime, the best scenario is that you take a break, leave the house or do some exercise at lunchtime every day. There might be exercises you can do at home or perhaps you have a hobby you can spend a bit of time on. The main thing is you should not spend the whole of lunch sat in front of your laptop eating.

Replace the commute

It’s hard leaving the house before and after work, especially if you have kids. But if you’ve been used to commuting prior to working from home, we’d imagine you’ll find you’ll need to replace that “switch-off” time. It is important to get out of the house if you can even if it’s just a short walk around the block.

Minimise distractions and turn social off

If you’re easily distracted, minimise potential issues – see TV above! Having a separate office or desk really helps here as you’re away from books, magazines, the Amazon delivery, alphabetising your Blu-ray collection or generally faffing about.

The internet is a challenge to keep away from and that’s the same whether or not you work in an office. We use the multi-platform Freedom app to restrict the hours we spend on social on our work PC and Mac – so before 9am and 5pm access is unrestricted and also between 12 and 2.

This can be a bit of an issue when we need to tweet for work, but it helps a lot. Freedom also enables you to restrict other websites – helpful for that ASOS addition.

Techniques to stay focused

Procrastination is the enemy of any worker – we use the Pomodoro Technique to help stay focused. Essentially you work on a task for 25 minutes and then have a 5 minute break to relax (er, answer emails). It doesn’t always work, but productivity techniques such as this can be helpful to cut through your tasks.

We’re also fans of the Getting Things Done time management method to manage all the stuff you have to do. Again, it’s not always possible to always adhere to these principles, but it points you in the right direction among a sea of stuff to do.

Ask your boss for help

Unless you’re a freelancer or other self-employed worker, it’s worth remembering your company is still responsible for your health and safety according to the UK Health and Safety Executive. 

Your contract probably states your place of employment so if you’re suddenly asked to work from home it’s not unreasonable to ask for help with costs and equipment. Some employers help with broadband and mobile phone costs. But there are no hard and fast rules here, which is a bit of a shame. 

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