Work from home like a boss, from eliminating distractions to upping your productivity
What’s a typical morning in the office like for you? Ringing phones, endless distractions and the constant low-level hum of colleagues spoiling Netflix shows you haven’t seen yet?
Or the tranquil bliss of working to your own schedule, never fighting for your favourite mug, and being master of the stereo? If it’s the former, schedule in a rethink: working from home has never been more popular.
According to one study released this year, 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week, while 53 percent stay home for at least half of the week.
This isn’t just due to better communication options and a more demanding workforce, either – forward-thinking firms are less inclined to invest in real estate and more keen to allow employees flexibility, both to attract better talent and improve productivity.
And it’s the last part, really, that’s key. Though WFH – as the time-pressed call it – seems like a blissful dreamland of sweatpants, Cheerio breaks and ignoring Facetime requests, it only really works if you’re getting stuff done. How to do it? That’s what we’re here to explain.
Can I just wear sweatpants?
Hard no. Sure, there’s a honeymoon period every WFHer goes through – the same time you’re nonchalantly scooping peanut butter from the jar or sticking a Blu-Ray on at 3pm – when not dressing for work is all part of the fun, but the thrill wanes quickly.
Also, it’s likely to impact your performance: a 2007 study on found that professionals felt most ‘authoritative, competent, and trustworthy’ when dressing formally, while a 2015 study in Social Psychological and Personality Science which measured how subjects performed on a series of cognitive tests when dressed in both formal and casual clothing found that the more dapper test subjects showed improved abstract thinking and strategising.
At the same time, you can’t wear a suit – unless you’re a complete maniac – so think business-casual: smart t-shirt and jeans, maybe a hoodie if you’re going wild, is fine. Fun fact: the first day you don’t wear trousers will also be the one you get an unexpected Skype call.
Do I have to be reachable at all times?
It depends what you’ve agreed with the office – but remind them that a study at the University of Utah recently found that just 2.5% of subjects could successfully multitask without damaging performance, and so responding to every ‘ping’ from your inbox is going to slash your productivity.
By all means download Slack, but instead of having it constantly open in a visible tab, split your periods of hard graft up into manageable chunks with the Pomodoro Technique, a time-management tool that slices the day into 25-minute bursts split up with five-minute rests. If even that much concentration feels hard, build up with 10-15 minute chunks of uninterrupted, solid work, but beware of doing more: 25 minutes seems to be the sweet spot for serious focus and is also just about the longest you can get away without checking your emails before anyone gets really upset.
How can I be more productive?
Without the natural structure of a normal working day, it’s easy to lose all track of time and end up down a Wikipedia rabbit hole or in a heated row about the correct order of the Rocky films (3, 4, 1, Balboa, 2, 5) on Twitter.
To crank up your productivity, use a bit of paper to map out an average day: start and finish times, breaks, and any work you do before or after your scheduled hours. Next, work out when you’re most attentive or sluggish: are you a slow starter, or sluggish after lunch? Note down any surprises, and work out the best time for you to do complex or difficult tasks.
If you’re firing on all cylinders at 8am, protect that time for your most creative efforts, and save the gruntwork, internet ‘research’ and inbox-clearing for your slump-times.
How do I stave off procrastination?
“I find my phone an immense source of distraction, especially when I need to knock off big chunks of work,” says journalist and author Poorna Bell. “So what I do is turn off my WhatsApp notifications or literally put the phone under a pillow until it’s done.”
Alternatively, wrap an elastic band around the screen – it’ll act as a mini-reminder that you don’t really need to check Instagram again before the invoicing’s done. The doomsday plan? Download the CrackBook app for Google Chrome - it forces you to stare at a black screen for 60 seconds before you can log in to your biggest time-sinks, delaying the surge of gratification of checking them and diminishing the dopamine hit you get from simply thinking about logging on.
Should I work 9-5?
Not if you can help it. “One of the reasons I love working from home is that I can structure my day however I like,” says Annie Ridout, author of The Freelance Mum. “There’s the obvious stuff - a run in the morning, making my own food in the kitchen - but also the things you can’t do so easily in an office, like have a power nap. I use an app featuring sleep recordings to help me drop off for 20 minutes, which can help rejuvenate me if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep.
"I also like that I feel no guilt taking a brisk walk, mid-morning, to get endorphins - and ideas - flowing, since there are no colleagues wondering if I’m skiving. Likewise with the hours I work, which are often unconventional - I make use of my son’s midday nap, or evenings, once the kids are in bed - rather than sitting at my desk 9-5.
"This means during that classic afternoon slump, I can just stop working instead of having to muster the energy to plow on through. And if home feels quiet and uninspiring, I head to my local coffee shop to have brief chats with other coffee-shop-freelancers, before getting my head down with a proper coffee."
What if it all gets too much?
If you’re going stir-crazy, take advantage of the fact that you’re alone: not necessarily by indulging in a burst of primal screaming, but certainly by doing stuff that’s frowned on in the office. “As a former Marine I’m obviously going to be in the “have a routine camp,” says personal trainer, model, actor and writer Sean Lerwill.
“But I’d add to that by saying ensure the routine has regular breaks from the desk. Have a yoga mat and a foam roller close by, and take regular stops for stretching. There’s a difference between busy and productive.” And if a conference call goes really wrong, go to the bathroom and splash some cold water on your face – there’s some evidence that it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, calming you down before you can send any angry emails.
Making A Break For It
What if your office isn’t embracing the WFH revolution? Here’s how to strategize for your escape, as proposed by Tim Ferriss and adherents of The Four-Hour Workweek.
1. Come up with a reason to work from home for a couple of days – waiting for a delivery, DIY emergency, or vague, non-threatening illness if you don’t mind fibbing slightly.
2. Make your WFH days super-productive (you’ll be working without distractions, so this ought to be easy), preferably with an e-mail trail or other evidence that you can present to your immediate boss.
3. Explain to your boss that you get more done without office noise, distractions and GoT chat, and suggest WFH two days a week – this means that, even if they object, you can back off to one day). Go in armed with solutions to any objections about how to reach you or collaborate on projects. Offer to let them veto it any time.
4. Keep making your WFH days your most productive of the week – and expand if you can…
How To Look Like A Conference Call Genius
Yes, you should do your conference calling on Google Hangouts (Skype is so 2015) – at least one study suggests that 60% of communication is non-verbal, so by staying exclusive you’re missing out on a lot. But how to give off the perfect air of stylish WFH-confidence when you’re in a shared flat? Simple: accessorise the backdrop.
Think Hagakure, the 48 Laws Of Power and How To Make Friends And Influence People – absolutely not anything
Maybe: Desk Ornaments
Sure, a miniature bust of Charles Darwin might be a nice talking point, and a Newton’s Cradle at least makes your desk look office-like, but an entire diorama of Funko Pops? Too far.
No: Hot Drinks
Coffee in a conference call? Even if you’ve got a mug you’d risk featuring in extreme close-up, it’s a bit cavalier. Stick with water: the drink of a man who’s staying hydrated, but not going hog wild on the company dollar.
Plants are great. Plants soothe, plants are productive. Plants say ‘Look, I’m at least capable of keeping this one small thing watered and alive, please give me the contract.’ Get a plant.
No: Big Map
You aren’t Winston Churchill.
Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.