How to work from home productively

Written by: Melanie Leemans and Jacques Leemans

With all this chaos and panic happening around us, many companies are asking their employees to work from home. With the right tools, mindset and focus, you will be more productive than you have ever been at work!

Small and big corporate companies have always been a bit sceptical about their workers working from home due to the productiveness of these employees.

When my Husband and I started working from home about 10 years ago, the first few months were rough. There are various stages one goes through if you are used to working in a 9am-5pm environment with people all around you.

  • Excitement! There is a sense of excitement when you first start working from home, like a kid in a candy store. You have all these ideas and plans, and you’re going to catch up on all your house work while popping in on your email every now and again to monitor your work. Type a key or two on that spreadsheet or word document and then rush off to planting that new flower. This excitement is as good as a holiday because it feels a bit like you are on leave.
  • A few days later you realise “ok, I need to take this seriously”, you ignore the dirty house and the dog begging for a walk, and you get your head down to focus. Focus being the operative word! It is really difficult to get that focus you need just to work uninterrupted for a full 45 min.
  • Loneliness, this is the hardest phase. It comes a few weeks later into working from home. Eventually you miss that annoying colleague behind you, the loud chewing bestie across you, and your boss asking you “How far is your work?”. There is no one to bounce ideas off of, no one to brainstorm with and no one to troubleshoot with except a voiceless message through your online chat with the distant work colleagues. Yes you can use skype, phones, google meets, but nothing is as good as human interaction and face to face discussions
  • Finally, acceptance of that you need to now get your arse into gear and go! The procrastination is over, the longing for others has subsided, and the weekend coffee catch ups are now more than enough to subdue that need. You work at a pace you have never worked at before, and find that you have a new found focus that you have always dreamed of. Welcome to being the most productive you will ever be.

Time management

It’s all about time management, sounds easy? Think again, it takes practise and is a skill that can be mastered. It not only can be used for work, but in your day to day life and tasks too.

Time management can be split into a number of different categories:

  • Scheduling/Planning
  • Tracking/Measuring

Scheduling/Planning

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” - Benjamin Franklin

Techniques:

  • Pomodoro: 25/5 x 4 sessions, break, 25/5 x 4 sessions.
  • Pomodoro Alt: 25/5, no breaks
  • 15 Min Slots: 96 - segments a day
  • 25/5 Slots: 96 segments a day
  • 45/15 Slots - 24 segments a day

Each Sunday/Monday, we take our calendars and plan the time we realistically have available to work. We have a number of different calendars being, personal, work, holidays, etc… all enabled at the same time so you can get a holistic view of your availability (the empty slots)

Planning calendar

From the calendar, a person can then determine how much time you have available each day/week/fortnight.
“To Google: Please make it easy for me to see the number of hours available each day! Thanks!”
This information is then used with our Spreadsheet to plan our availability and in turn, what clients/project to work on.

Planning Spreadsheet

We also have formulas to calculate the estimated invoice for each client (some are international and others local, so there are different rates)
Make a copy of this sheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1IpvVcWEoggL9_gVV2wDSWPxX0SaXZKJAlodJK4CzLDA/edit?usp=sharing

Tracking/Measuring

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” - Peter Drucker

If you had to start timing yourself realistically at work, how many hours of hard, focused work do you actually put in? Be truthful with yourself, this is for you!

I can say that only about half ot three quaters of my working day was being put to fully focused work. What did I do with the rest of my time? Catch up with colleagues, go to the canteen, eat lunch really slowly and meetings, yes soooo many meetings! I am not saying meetings are not necessary, but meetings were being scheduled for the planning of scheduling a meeting!

Application Tracking and Time Tracking

There are a number of tools and techniques to measure and improve your productivity.

Application Tracking - Tracking the amount of time you spend in a specific application.
We use RescueTime. It’s a free desktop and mobile application that automatically tracks how much time you spend on websites and on applications, both on your phone and desktop/laptop.

When we just started, our RescueTime report used to look something like:
60% Productive - Unity, Visual Studio, Google Docs, Google Sheets,
40% Distracted - Facebook, YouTube, News (yes it’s distracting)
Ideally a person should aim for the Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule)
80% Productive, 20% Distractive

Time Tracking - This is used to track how long a task or project takes per client. It can also be used to track the amount of time you spend watching Netflix etc. This requires brutal honesty. Are you ready to be real with yourself? You can keep it your dirty little secret.

Nothing fancy is needed for this, and I find that toggl is the best tool for us. (https://toggl.com/)

This is a free or paid tool and for what we need it for, the free version is perfect.

When your working day is over you will be exhausted because a full 8 hour day of constructive work is hard work! No procrastination, no fudging the time, no 1 hour toilet breaks, just hard work with your small breaks. The first few times you do this you will see you won’t even be able to get to 8 hours solid work by the “end” of your work day. Between stopping your clock for those times you are not working and are busy painting your toenails, it will be a few hours less.
This gets better as you get your mojo for focused productive work!

10 Years later, and we have sharpened our time management and productivity. What we now need to master is when to switch the laptops off and call it a day! The problem comes in that when you get your productivity and focus up on working from home and time management, then your working hours between 9am-5pm become blurry. Slowly over the years the working day becomes 7am-5pm, 7am-8pm, sometimes even 6am-10pm. When you are in your flow state it’s hard to walk away from your computer when it’s staring back at you. It’s that mind set of, “let me just send this last email, code this last line, debug this last error”.

As strict as you have to be with no procrastinating and doing focused work, is as strict as you need to be when calling it a day to spend some quality family time, or some you time.

Unfortunately you won’t see a blog on that from us as we have most definitely mastered the skill of working from home, but not from “leaving the office”, and switching off mentally and physically.

Tips

Shower

I know this sounds obvious but it’s so easy to get out of bed and immediately go sit and work. This especially happens when you have found your mojo and focus, and you say to yourself “let me just do this one task, or read this one email”. The next thing you see is that it’s home time for the kids and a different type of chaos begins, and you haven’t even gotten out of your pj’s.

Do your morning routine tasks as if you are going to the office. Shower, get out of your pj’s and gown, do your makeup or hair. This routine is important to keep, for your sanity and time management!

Appointments

Try and stick to booking appointments as if you were sitting at the office, so if there was a time you couldn’t do appointments at work, don’t do them at home. Stick to your routine

Lunch Breaks

Take your lunch breaks, stretch your legs, get those steps in! One thing I immediately saw when working from home was that our steps reduced drastically. This is the same mentality as showering, “I will go for that walk later”. Now that you work from home, the bathroom is a lot closer or the kitchen, compared to the onsite canteen. So your steps will be very displeasing by the end of your day. If you take your 15 min after a 45 min work break go for a brisk walk, treadmill, run in the spot, anything just to get you fresh and energised again!

Time

Use your time wisely. In the time you would have been travelling to work, use that time for doing the things that you would have done during your procrastination time. So housework, personal tasks, any small quick wins. This will help remove them from your brain/tasklist that will inevitably keep nagging at you, and you can put more focus into the larger, more challenging tasks.

Boundaries

As mentioned earlier, you need to know when your work day has ended! Switch off and walk away.

Other Productivity Tools

Slack - Team communication and ChatOps
Asana - Project/Task Management
Trello - Project/Task Management
Google Drive - Documentation and Collaboration
Drawing.net (Draw.io)
Google Meet
Skype
IFTTT - Automation tool
https://calendly.com/

Staying Motivated

The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins - Great book to read, and she uses a technique that before any task, being from getting out of bed, writing that article, or filing those numbers, you can start by counting 5,4,3,2,1 GO!

Kaizen - small incremental changes - Instead of making big changes in your life, make small changes, eg: If you cant start off with a full 45 minutes focused work, then start off with 25min and 5 min break, and so you can push it a little bit at a time until you get to 45 minutes uninterrupted work. This technique can be applied to anything, exercise, homework, daily chores and works really well to get you into the swing of things.

If you use these tips, hints and tricks, you will quickly find your mojo and get into working from home sooner than you thought. And if you plan it right you boss will love the newly motivated, productive employee and maybe you get to work from home even after the planet calms down! Happy time tracking, and happy times!

Planning Spreadsheet