How to improve your time management while working from home

By Ernest Kim on 14 October 2020

Being able to work from home has many advantages: zero commute, no colleagues to bother you, and all the comforts of home – including your own fridge.

But remote work also comes with a set of unique challenges. Many of the top complaints by remote workers – as reported by a State of Remote Work 2020 report – can be remedied by using time more efficiently: not being able to unplug, for example, reported by 18% of survey respondents; or setting aside time for holidays (7%).

Here are some helpful techniques that will help you manage your time so you can be productive while on the job – and disconnect when you’re not.

1. Plot your schedule

If you’re working at home with a partner, collaborate on a schedule each day or at the start of the week to determine who will be working where and when, and who will be in charge of any childcare or house duties. Writing it down makes it easier to follow, whether it’s on a shared calendar app (such as Google Calendar or TimeTree) or even written on a piece of paper hanging on the refrigerator.

You also might consider using an approach called “windowed work,” if your job and company allow for it. In contrast to a 9-to-5 schedule, you schedule blocks of time throughout the day for business and personal activities. In a recent Robert Half survey, 73% of professionals reported that this approach helps them to be more productive.

2. Designate spaces

Choose separate rooms or areas around the house and designate the expectations for each. For example, the desk you set up in your bedroom is only for work, the living room is only for leisure time, and the kitchen table is only for meals and kids’ schoolwork time. This helps you create the connection between physical space and what to mentally focus on.

Using your living room for Netflix binging might make it trickier to get in “work mode” while sitting with your laptop on the couch, so find the best spots in the house to work and play, and try to keep it consistent.

3. Explore productivity apps

Take advantage of the wide selection of software designed to help people increase productivity (Evernote and Focus Booster are two free options). These apps not only help you keep track of projects, meet deadlines and be more organised, but also alert you when it’s time to take a break or finish out your workday. That can be pretty valuable on afternoons when you lose track of time and would otherwise keep going for an hour or more beyond quitting time.

If you’re looking for break reminders and a good stretch, Stretchly is an open-source application that offers a screen reminder and timer to get you up and moving from your desk.

4. Treat free time like work meetings

It’s important to continue taking breaks like you normally would in an office setting. Schedule them on your calendar like you would for any other work meeting, even if it’s for 10 minutes at a time.

Not only does this mean you’ll get a reminder, but it’s also a chance to block your calendar so colleagues see you’re busy. Use your free time to take a quick walk or have “watercooler talk” with your coworkers (also known as your family or pets).

5. Minimise social media distractions

Are you finding that social media is constantly distracting you? Log out of your social media accounts during work time so you’re less inclined to use them.

You can remove them from your web browser shortcuts or try working on a private or “incognito” browser so you can’t auto-login to any social media pages.

6. Be transparent with your manager

Again, the typical workday may not be the most realistic if you have family obligations competing for your time. You might also notice you’re more productive during nontraditional hours, such as before others in your house wake up or after dinnertime.

Whether you’re trying to stick to a set schedule or taking the aforementioned “windowed work” approach, communicate openly with your manager so you’re on the same page about availability and work hour expectations.

7. Set boundaries that work for you

Now that your commute home after work might just mean a walk from your kitchen table to the couch, it can be difficult to end your workday definitively. Having mobile access to work email and apps can also make shutting down a challenge. To maintain a healthy work-life balance, set an alarm to remind yourself when to end your workday.

Turn your computer off and store it somewhere away from where you are so you’re not tempted to keep checking in. Some people even disable notifications for work-related apps on their mobile phone at the end of the day.

The real key to effective time management is learning what works for you. That can take time, and that’s okay. Use these seven steps as a jumping off point to adapt your own work from home practice and, in time, you’ll find yourself much more productive.

A final tip: Include your work hours in your email signature or as a status/away message, if possible. That might help cut down on colleagues reaching out to you outside your work hours.

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