Stay home: 5 tips for being productive (even if you don’t have to be)

This week, I’m heading into Week 4 of working from home, and I know a lot of people are just starting or getting into the swing of it.

Today, as the second part of my Stay Home series, I wanted to talk about a few things I’ve learned about being productive in what’s normally a fun, relaxing space—whether you’re working from home, or just working on a project you want to do while home.

1. Split up your productive time and fun time.

In my last post, I mentioned that one of the ways to keep from going crazy when you’re home is to stay busy—especially within your established work hours. And that was such a big point that I’m going to build on it here!

After all, take it from someone who knows: It’s one thing to keep busy, but if you don’t create clear lines between your working time and your fun time, you’ll find you tend to switch back and forth through the day—and then you won’t be able to separate them in your mind.

You’ll either get so caught up in being unproductive that you won’t want to start anything productive, or you’ll get so caught up in being productive that you’ll burn yourself out in half a week. Been there, it’s not great.

Setting clear boundaries for when you do certain things will help you stay in a regular routine, which will help differentiate days and times so they don’t just all blur together.

If you’re working from home, this is pretty easy; make an effort to differentiate work hours from leisure hours, even if that means getting dressed nicely for your 30-second commute to the den, and be careful not to let work seep into your evening too much.

If you’re not working from home, this feeds into my point from my last post; make an effort to do your projects within what would normally be your working hours to make it feel like you’re still going to work.

2. Take breaks from your productive time.

I can’t say this line with a straight face, but it’s incredibly vivid and kind of horrifyingly accurate: We all have a tendency when working from home to “plop and grind.” You all have my job’s HR department to thank for that one.

But to get back on track, that line really ties into all the articles I’ve been reading lately that suggest that people working from home tend to work one to two hours longer than people at the office.

It could be from reduced commute time—but most likely, it’s because people forget to take breaks when they’re at home. There are fewer distractions, fewer coffee runs just for the social contact, fewer side conversations.

When you’re home, even if you’re not really working, be sure to take breaks from your productive time so you can move around, or your days will start to blend together. Plus, the human body just isn’t supposed to sit in one spot that long!

My favourite technique is to take a few minutes every hour or so and stretch my legs on a small elliptical machine from Amazon that fits under my desk and slides out for breaks.

3. Take time for self-care while you’re working.

One of the biggest struggles people face when working from home is the lack of human interaction, which can at times turn into unnecessary stress when you start freaking out over whether Karen from HR sounded like she was being bitchy in that email when she really wasn’t.

At work, this isn’t such a big deal because you, you know, see the person regularly. But at home, you don’t have that option. And that’s where I find adding a bit of self-care to your routine can really help.

It doesn’t have to be anything too big—just taking a few moments for anything that makes you feel good and relaxes your brain will do the trick.

For example, I love lighting a candle while I’m working at home. It’s not something I can normally do at work, but I’ve found that having familiar (and frankly delicious, because I’m obsessed with baking-scented candles) smells helps keep me from getting too stressed out over work.

4. Don’t fear the background noise.

Confession: I nearly always have the Office on in the background when I’m working. It’s a bit sad, but I’m really skilled at tuning it out; it’s just nice to have the sounds of an office behind me, because then it feels like I’m still at work.

I’m not saying you have to watch the Office on repeat for the next several weeks until we’re allowed back out, but having background noise that you can hear without really needing to pay attention to it can surprisingly help keep your brain in the zone and focused on your work.

5. Reward yourself for getting things done!

This kind of ties in with my point about taking breaks, but too often, people working from home can get so caught up in doing things that they forget to notice when they’ve actually done something—and then the to-do list just feels unconquerable.

I love taking a moment when I’ve finished something to recognize that I finished that thing, and reward myself with something satisfying—even if it’s something as small as scratching it very enthusiastically (and maybe a touch aggressively) off of my list for the day.

Other ideas for rewarding yourself include taking a quick social media break (but don’t get absorbed in it), going outside to enjoy the air for a moment, taking a minute to grab yourself a treat from the kitchen, or even just sitting somewhere different to let your brain relax.

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