Even as the economy starts to reopen and quarantine restrictions lift, more of us are going to work not downtown, but down the hall. If you have been used to the routine of regular commutes, office banter, and dedicated workspace, this change can be a shock to the system.
But a lot of us find working from home to be really productive. What’s the secret to achieving productivity in the midst of family chaos?
For the last 10 years, I have mostly worked from home at the same time we were homeschooling our children, so I’ve had my fair share of days when the noise completely overwhelmed the signal. I’ve also found it amazingly rewarding to have my work and personal lives integrated throughout the day.
A few hours of work, then a snack with the family. Hop on a call, then have lunch on the deck. We’ve been amazingly blessed to live this kind of life, but it’s the way most of humanity lived for thousands of years.
One of the keys that makes remote work successful for me is to be sure I am taking care of myself so that I can take care of my team and my professional duties. More specifically, this involves creating an environment where the five senses are aligned and focused so that I can be productive.
Here’s 10 tips I use to prepare the five senses for a good productive day of remote work:
1. Declutter your space
Whether you work from a detached custom studio in Silicon Valley or a broom closet next to the kitchen, take a few minutes at the start of the day to clear your space so you can clear your mind. If that receipt is laying there, or the bills, or the book you started last month, it’s just going to send your brain firing in the wrong direction. Get rid of it. Find a cheap cart with drawers, or even a filing box you can put behind you (not under the desk where you’ll kick it and be tempted to sneak a peak). Clear your space, clear your mind, get more done.
2. Let the light in, just not too much
Lighting has been shown to have a powerful impact on your mood and productivity. While you can suffer from no daylight working in the basement, it can be just as bad to be next to bright windows with the sun hitting your screen.
If you don’t have access to natural light, you can purchase a sun lamp like this one that brings bright light into your workspace, even in the dark recesses of a dungeon basement.
If you have too much light, cover the windows with curtains. Of course you could go the formal drapes route, but if it’s a temporary situation, just find cheap curtains at Walmart and hang them with a shower rod. You can also buy rolls of tinted window coating to reduce the amount of light coming in.
All of this is create an environment where you have enough natural light to be energized and productive, but not so much that it’s distracting.
3. Practice aromatherapy
Be honest: since working at home have you ever been deep into a project then suddenly be distracted by a smell? Maybe the family is baking cookies downstairs, or you just realized you have been the same sweats for two weeks. Whatever it is, smells are powerful and can either help or hurt our concentration.
Scents like lemon, lavender, jasmine, rosemary, cinnamon, or peppermint can help you concentrate and reduce stress. But speaking from experience: use in moderation. Don’t douse your home office in lavender spray or you will be out sick. A little goes a long way.
4. Smell the roses
We take a brief commercial break from practical tips for something more metaphorical. And you’re right, I couldn’t think of a second “smell-related” tip.
The last few months have thrown the entire planet into an unprecedented pandemic. Everyone is trying to figure this out as we go and a quarter of US workers have lost their jobs. Things are not as they were.
We can’t change those circumstances, but we can change how we view them.
Maybe we needed to stop commuting two hours a day. Maybe we needed to not rush kids all over town for 100 different activities. Maybe we needed to look our spouse in the eyes and listen for the first time in years.
I am not trying to diminish in any respect the awful pain, stress, mourning, and loss so many of us have experienced. But if we can’t change the circumstances, it is worthwhile to try to find the bright spots. We don’t know when or how this nightmare will end, but we do know our perspective and outlook will make all the difference.
Take a minute. Smell the roses.
Ok, back to work:
5. Screen height
If you are reading this hunched over your laptop with your back silently screaming in pain, please stop, grab some books, put them under your laptop, and continue.
Did HR ever remind you that your screen should be at eye level in the office? Same rules apply at home. Use books or a monitor arm to get that screen off your desk and up to eye level. Added bonus: using a monitor stand helps declutter your desk (tip #1).
6. GET A GOOD OFFICE CHAIR
Sorry for yelling, but so many friends are working from a stool in the kitchen, then wondering why their back is killing them at the end of the day. Y’all, the temporary “I’ll check email in the kitchen real quick and oh, heck, how is it 5:30?!?” days have to end.
You are working from home. Dedicate a space, clear it out, and get a good, comfortable, sturdy, ergonomic office chair to sit in. In most cases, your manager should authorize the expense. After all, if you are being asked to work from home with poor ergonomics, it is setting up the company for a flood of workers comp claims. Investing in a good office chair is critical to staying healthy and productive working remotely.
7. Find a quiet space
Most of us are familiar with this need, but it deserves to be reiterated. We are wired to be distracted by sounds, so the more sounds you have in the background, the harder it is to concentrate, especially for a prolonged period of time. Not all of us have a dedicated quiet space, so now might be the time to invest in good sound-cancelling headphones to cut out the outside world. Good ones are not cheap, coming in around $200 — $300. But think about how often you will use them not only working from home but also once (if) you go back to the office or start traveling.
8. Create a morning playlist
I heard this tip once on a Harvard Business Review podcast and have used it ever since. The goal is to create a set of songs that help get you focused on work, but there’s an added benefit: by playing the same songs every day when you start work, it programs your brain to make the transition from home to work.
Personally, I love the Classical Concentration playlist on Apple Music.
Also, not all music has the same effect. Research has documented that classical music is the best for increasing your productivity, but nature sounds, epic soundtracks, ambient house mixes, jazz, or even white noise can help as well. Another interesting option: video game soundtracks. These compositions are specifically designed to keep you alert and engaged for hours on end, they might have the same impact on your work as your game scores.
9. Stay disciplined with nutrition
Finding it harder to hit your step goals these days? You are not alone. At the same time, you are probably cooking at home more and not absorbing the fatty calories of dining out multiple meals a day. So lean into that. Keep both a quality diet of fruit (especially blueberries and strawberries), whole grains, green vegetables and protein as well as a regular schedule of meals and snacks. Admit it: we’ve all thought we’d check “one more email before lunch” and ended up ordering pizza hours later. Avoid that outcome on the front end by keeping a good schedule with your nutrition.
10. Energy boosting beverages
If you’ve made it this far, I think we can have an honest conversation, so I need to share something with you that you probably won’t like to hear, but you must:
Red Bull does not give you wings.
I’m sorry, it’s true.
Sugary energy drinks like Red Bull have been proven to destroy your focus and productivity, even if they give you a temporary high of energy. Downing a pot of coffee is likewise not a good recipe for a full, productive day. Green tea continues to top the list of beverages to give you a healthy kick of focused productivity without negative downsides. If you haven’t yet, try switching your coffee to tea for a few days to see if your work time isn’t better and more focused.
Working remotely is a challenge, but also an opportunity. If you just jump into it without a plan, it is likely to be more stressful and less rewarding. Take a few minutes this week to be sure your home office is setup not only to tackle your to do list, but also to delight your senses. You’ve got this!
Which tips are you going to use? What other tips do you have to create a great, focused work space at home? Share them in the comments below.