Anne is a home-based writer with a wide range of interests. It is her goal to share all of the tidbits she comes across with the world.
According to Nielsen (a top global data analytics company), the average American spends almost twelve hours a day consuming media through electronics. We spend the majority of our time watching television, but nearly five hours are dedicated to internet-connected devices each day outside of work. Those of us who freelance or work from home must contend with the distractions we can easily find going on around us. It is often too easy to find ways to be unproductive. As remote employees, we must have the drive to be self-starters and avoid procrastination so that we can focus on the work we must do on our computers.
There are many ways for us to become more productive in our working lives. Several methods for increasing productivity can be found online. However, the seven tips mentioned in this article should be the groundwork for a successful routine. Follow these tips, and your productivity is likely to increase.
Get a written plan
There are many advocates for writing down your daily goals and tasks. Many feel accomplishment when they can physically check off a completed item. You may feel a sense of accountability towards the tasks written down. Some studies show that having your workday listed in front of you increases the likelihood of completing everything that needs to be done.
There are many ways to organize a list of workday goals. It can be as simple as a sticky note or as complex as a proper planner. Many people use editorial calendars, which can be adapted to non-writing jobs with little trouble. Whatever method you choose, list each task you need to complete, any deadlines you may have, and notes regarding each task. This will help you prioritize and focus your work. Create your to-do list at the beginning of your workday or create the next day's duties at the end of each workday. Knowing what needs to be done will allow you to get started more quickly.
I, personally, find a system of notebooks and sticky notes to be most beneficial to me. As a writer, I have a binder of ideas for future articles and books that I can refer to. I also have a homemade daily planner where I can list my writing goals for the month, week, and day. I often use sticky notes to add information such as things to research, ideas that come to me, and word counts. I have found that creating a system where I can easily rearrange things gives me the best sense of accomplishment.
Figure out your chronotype
There have been numerous studies on productivity, and when people are most mentally active. Some of us are morning people, and some of us are night owls. Some of us are somewhere between these two extremes. These terms are simply labels identifying when we are most likely to be productive. A good portion of us falls somewhere between early bird and night owl. If you are lucky, your most productive times fall within the range of "normal" instead of at one end of the extremes. If you do not, there are some things you can do to be more productive.
Spend a week or two consciously tracking when you feel most motivated to work. Once you have a general idea of your most productive times, you can then plan your working schedule to fit into these times. If possible, try not to push yourself to work during your most unproductive hours. While it is possible to force a change in your chronotype or internal clock, it is usually much easier to work with your body's natural rhythms. Tracking your sleeping habits may also be beneficial. Discovering when it is easiest for you to fall asleep and wake up will indicate when you should be sleeping. Staying awake for a long time after getting into bed is an indication that you are going to bed too early. Dropping off to sleep before you manage to get into bed might mean you are staying up too late. If you can, work with your body and not against it.
Organize that desk
Clutter is proven to cause an increase in cortisol. Raised cortisol causes multiple health problems, including weight gain, heart disease, memory problems, sleeping issues, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Minimizing clutter around your work area can help to reduce stress (and cortisol levels). This can increase your ability to focus. Your risk for many health problems can also be lowered. An organized desk helps you focus on your work and prevents lost time looking for things you need. Keeping an organized, clutter-free work area is an easy way to mitigate several problems at once.
Remove items that provide a distraction if they are not immediately needed for work. Leave your cellphone in another room if it isn't required. If it is, refer to the tip that discusses helpful apps. Anything that isn't necessary to complete the task at hand should be placed somewhere else. Paperwork should be put into a filing system that is easy to use and out of the way. Throughout the day, and specifically at the end of your workday, you should clean your desk. This gives you a fresh start for the next day and helps minimize unneeded clutter.
Limit your desktop icons
Statistically, there are two kinds of computer users - those with far too many desktop icons where things are difficult to find and those who may have many or few icons but can quickly locate what they are looking for. According to Current Psychology, clutter causes a rise in cortisol and higher stress levels. Even virtual clutter can trigger these symptoms.
Experts recommend decluttering your desktop for several reasons. A minimalist approach to your desktop helps to ease visual clutter, which can help your ability to focus on the task at hand. Having fewer items on your desktop limits bogging down your computer's processing speed. When you have many files on your desktop, it can affect how quickly your computer responds to your commands. The older your computer is, the more this effect is noticeable. There may not be a significant slowing with newer and faster systems.
Remove downloads, screenshots, saved files, folders, and program shortcuts that you do not frequently use. Most programs can be accessed through the computer's native search features. Files can be stored in pre-installed folders such as Documents. Programs and folders that are accessed frequently can be kept on the desktop, though there are some advocates of the No Files Desktop, where everything is accessed through the Start Menu, Finder, Search, or Dock.
Some may find having nothing on the desktop gives a sense of satisfaction at both the start and end of the day. You may find having a central folder on the desktop where all files are organized into a hierarchy is best for improved productivity. Test different methods to see what works best for you.
Remove excess browser tabs
Many of us are guilty of having multiple tabs open on our web browsers and several programs running at once. When we have so many options in front of us, it is easy to forget that we should be focusing on work instead of the dozens of websites we meant to visit the night before or the many social media sites that are so easy to get sucked into. A "quick" look at your tabs could see you still browsing several hours later without having made any progress on work at all. We then find ourselves trying to rush to catch up, telling ourselves that we should have gotten to work sooner and that it won't happen again tomorrow. Yet, tomorrow can quickly become a repeat of unproductive procrastination.
To combat this cycle of non-work, make sure you keep the number of tabs open on your web browser to a minimum. Bookmarking websites you intend to visit when you are not working allows you to keep your browser distraction-free. A minimum number of tabs that are all related to work helps you to remain on task. Keep a bookmark folder specifically for websites you wish to visit on your downtime to keep them organized and readily available. Closing programs that are not needed to complete your job is also a good idea. Having applications run in the background is both a distraction and slows down your computer. Instead, run only the programs you need specifically for work. If possible, keep open only the ones you are actively using at the time.
Employ helpful apps
Sometimes, the temptation to do anything other than work is too much. You may tell yourself that you will take a break and check social media or email for "just a second," only to find yourself not getting back to work after what was supposed to be a short break. Many of us find it challenging to get back to work after taking a break. At-home workers are very prone to saying "just a few more minutes" and letting the day slip by. Procrastination takes over.
One of the ways to help build self-discipline is to use apps and tools to aid you in creating a habit. There are many free apps available for every platform. Common features of so-called anti-social apps include website blockers and timers. These prevent you from accessing certain websites for the amount of time you specify. Cellphones often come with Do Not Disturb features that prevent your phone from sounding notifications and calls. Many phones now have features that allow approved calls and notifications to go through. Some apps schedule your day into blocks of work and breaks. Trying out a few anti-procrastination apps that will help you to focus on work is a good step toward increasing productivity.
Take breaks as needed
Taking frequent breaks from work isn't a bad idea. Forcing yourself to work when you cannot focus does not help productivity at all. Studies have shown that most people perform better at work if they are allowed to take brief breaks throughout the day. For most people, a break as short as fifteen minutes can help to refocus your mind. Studies have shown there is a fine line between taking too short of a break and too long of one. The longer the break, the more likely for productivity to decrease once a person goes back to work. Typically, thirty minutes is the maximum limit to keeping productivity high. Those same studies also say that not taking enough breaks and forcing yourself to work when you are unable to focus dramatically decreases productivity.
When you find yourself struggling to work, you should take a break. It is recommended that you do not spend your break on the computer as it may trick your brain into thinking you are still trying to work. Instead, it is best to leave your desk entirely and find a non-work related task. Stretching, exercising, cleaning, reading, or anything else that can't be confused with work is best.
Overall, it takes self-discipline and hard work to work productively from home. It is easy to find ways not to work at your best. There are many resources online to help you focus yourself and become more productive. Hopefully, the tips provided here have provided a framework to get you started.
- Get dressed for work everyday to put yourself into the work mindset.
- Consider decluttering your computer's hard drive for maximum organization.
- Establish set working hours that work for you.
- Work from a desk, not bed or the couch.
- Many apps and website provide music and white noise to help focus on your task.
- Working at home doesn't have to equal junk food. Stock up on healthy snacks.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Anne Ryefield
Nikhil Sharma from India on April 12, 2020:
Those are really some practical ways on how we can have a productive time using our laptop.
Unwinding and unplugging frequently is something you should definitely practice in your everyday lives.