Within a span of just a few months, the phrase “social distancing” has become part of our contemporary lexicon. Similarly, working from home has become as pervasive as our affinity for procrastination.
Each of us know what we should be doing but too often we simply do not do these things. Responsibilities, errands, homework, projects — these are self-evidently priorities, yet they slip down our priority list like baggy trousers.
Stay at home orders and COVID-19 have exacerbated this with dramatic effect.
Through this pandemic, Americans from all over the country have been reporting they feel less productive working from home and spend far less hours per day working on their assignments.
Further, those who have now been relegated to their living rooms for work report that distractions are more accessible and their overall experience is less conducive for business and efficiency.
The question then arises: how can we become better at-home workers?
More specifically: how can we increase our productivity while working from home?
Each of us — myself included — tilt towards laziness whether we care to admit it or not.
This has become the case to an extreme degree since the advent of the pandemic.
The typical “home office” is hardly conducive to productivity because the laptops, smart phones, and tablets that constitute our “home office” are simply vehicles for our biggest distractions: Netflix, social media, YouTube, online shopping — the list is interminable.
We are inclined to take the easy route and procrastinate on our responsibilities. Now, however, extended hours at home and a gross reduction in social outings has made loafing easier than ever.
Things that we are supposed to do — show up to a day job, begin that side hustle, workout, meal prep, read more self-help books — seem to escape our grasp when we try and “fit them in” to our day.
In theory, each of us should have more free time than ever to create and manifest positive, healthy habits in our day to day lives. Less opportunities to socialize means more “me-time” (that is, you-time).
Notwithstanding, translating this increase in “me-time” to greater productivity has not happened.
In part, productivity has deteriorated because a daily schedule has become a thing of forgotten time, a relic from a bygone era when people showed up to the same place, at the same time, with the same people every weekday.
Schedules are best followed when there is someone to administer them like a teacher, boss, or coach. Plus, schedules are more likely to be followed in an environment filled with other people on similar schedules — a workplace, classroom, or even a coffee shop for remote work nomads.
Since a great deal of people are on their own working from home with little to no oversight (at least compared to showing up to work in person like we used to), motivation, productivity, and effectiveness have waned.
Of course there is a simple (but not easy; nothing’s ever easy) fix to this.
Create and implement a non-negotiable schedule
Installing a non-negotiable schedule can give you structure and consistency throughout the day, as well as the entirety of a week or month.
Building an approach that relies on a schedule can keep you productive because the schedule itself acts as your measuring stick, rather than some vague, nebulous notion of accomplishment.
Our brains are hardwired to appreciate routines because it makes things easier for us. Tasks within a routine are automated, and done out of habit rather than from conscious choice.
With a set, regular schedule, your options are vastly limited within each segment of the day.
Appointments, blocks for focused, deep work, and even planned breaks are all conducive to greater output and sanity.
This may seem counter-intuitive at first glance — some may believe that a schedule is constricting because it suffocates their freedom, creativity, and flexibility. Especially now that many are “free” to work from home, some people may argue that they have never been better off.
Let’s examine this more closely.
Without a schedule, you are more subject to decision fatigue. The idea is simple: our ability to act out our willpower each day has a limit.
We cannot simply do every single thing we will ourselves to do because our willpower is like a muscle. It can get fatigued and ultimately diminishes with more and more use.
In creating a schedule you are building routines that can help minimize decision fatigue and automate things throughout the day, leaving your tank full for the moments when decisions need to be made or when productivity needs to be dialed up to overdrive.
A schedule provides structure, which limits decision fatigue, which ultimately empowers you to make better decisions on more important matters.
The constraints of a schedule saves you from the headache of hundreds of tiny, superfluous decisions like when to eat lunch or when to exercise or have a phone call.
To structure your day in a manner conducive to productivity, start by waking up at the same time every day and going to bed at the same time every day.
This creates the “book ends” for your day — reliable, stable parts to your day that hold everything together and prevent collapse.
Next focus on the non-negotiable items in your day. These could include lunch, meetings, paperwork, or even your exercise routine.
Pencil in the most important items into time blocks that you will complete every single day. This way, without even thinking, your biggest tasks for the day will, in a sense, be automated.
With millions of people across the country (and globe) working from home, and many at-home workers self-reporting that they feel less productive, less motivated, and less accomplished, productivity seems to be at a premium.
No matter how bleak the outlook may appear with a cursory glance, this can be reassuring if framed correctly.
Maybe you have begun working from home for the first time in your entire life. Maybe this is your very first “adult” job and you’ve been given the opportunity to make your own schedule.
Or maybe you are a veteran work-from-home employee, but now you’ve been joined in rank by the rest of the working population.
In any case, one can frame this as an opportunity for personal growth.
For most of us, the opportunity has arisen to build a schedule around things that matter, and things that matter to you as an individual.
Days at home are longer because we have less places outside the home to go to. Malls, movie theaters, and social settings are limited, leaving us additional (dare I say, bonus?) hours to accomplish more than ever before.
Commuting to work is as simple and quick as opening up your laptop. No more traffic or painstaking parking space searches.
Focusing on things that you now have time to focus on can bolster your productivity in your professional life. A schedule is the key to this, too.
Whether it be fitness, reading, writing, painting, or starting your own business, you have the chance to schedule it into your day as something important and non-negotiable.
Rather than using this time to lounge around more often, sleep in and stay up late because you no longer need to show up to an office, you can instead enhance your personal development.
The beauty of creating — and adhering to — a schedule while working from home is that, by prioritizing correctly, it creates more time in your professional life and affords you the chance to develop in a new direction in your personal life.
Of course, only if you so choose.