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The productivity problem of working from home

When the pandemic hit, a huge percentage of the global workforce found themselves working from home. And then, tons of articles about working from home means improved productivity started popping up on the internet. On one hand, it can be true. On the other, there’s more to working from home than sitting in front of your laptop while the kids play in the other room.

Productivity is not possible without focus, and focus is different for each of us. Some people need absolute silence to focus, others need white noise or background music. Some people are capable of doing the work even when there are kids playing around in another room, others can’t.

Are we really productive when working from home?

This is one solid question. Are we?

Working from home became more appealing because it was supposed to boost productivity significantly. Since you’re working in a more comfortable environment, you should be able to get more done, right? Cutting out travel time was also meant to give you more time to devote to your work. And don’t forget about the flexibility that’s often baked into most work-from-home setups. Do all of those things translate to a tangible increase in productivity among individuals who are working from home?

Not all the time. Reality is, it’s just not easy to focus when you’re at home. It requires more self-discipline since there’s always the urge to chill or procrastinate. Or the urge to do other things like doing the laundry or buying groceries. This is especially true if you’re handling your own time. Working from home also requires the ability to recover from distractions more quickly. Sometimes, this means being distracted for an hour and trying to regain focus for another hour. Only then can you get back to work.

Distraction is so much more than a few minutes of redirected attention

And can we just say, distraction is so much more than a few minutes of, well, getting distracted. It means losing focus or having your attention redirected for a few minutes or hours. And then, spending time and effort to regain your focus. Your overall productivity may suffer because you have a poor working environment at home. Some people also have more obligations at home and that can cut into their working hours.

To enjoy “real productivity” that comes from remote work, you must first develop a work schedule that works with your home schedule. Also, develop solid self-discipline. Here are more tips to help.

Tips to combat the productivity problem when working from home

  1. Set some house rules – Working from home often means being around your loved ones. While it’s nice to be around them, they can also be pretty distracting. You must set new rules in place to prevent your loved ones from distracting you during your working hours. Limit access to your home office or ask your kids to play in their rooms so you can devote your attention to your work.
  1. Create a home office – Not all of us have the luxury of creating a home office, but if you can dedicate one room at home to be your temporary home office, that would be perfect. The space you’re currently using could be full of distractions (we’re not just talking about human distractions) so it’s possible those distractions are taking away your ability to work effectively. Try to recreate your old workspace and see how that affects your productivity.
  1. Follow a work schedule – Sometimes, the productivity problem of working from home happens because of an unstable schedule. Instead of working whenever you want, try creating a schedule that works for you. And stick with it. Start with something as simple as “check and reply to emails from 9-10 AM and again at 3-4 PM.” From here, develop more detailed rules and develop a work schedule that won’t compromise your work-life balance.
  1. Stay in touch with your people – Whether that’s a client, a co-worker, or fellow freelancers, set time to catch up with them. Quick but scheduled meetings with clients or with co-worker freelancers can be super helpful in maintaining productivity, because you’re surrounding yourself with people who are also, well, working.
  1. Take a break – Taking a break is not counterproductive. Working continuously can cause you to lose concentration and makes you more susceptible to fatigue. Simply put, your productivity decreases if you keep hustling. Integrate breaks into your workday so you can maintain your optimum level of productivity. Take a break after every hour or so to avoid burning yourself out.

Remote work doesn’t yield the same results for everyone. To make it work for you, consider implementing some changes. Working from home and freelancing are often sugar-coated. We’re here for the real deal. And reality is, productivity can be a problem when working from home. It’s not 100% good stuff. But there are ways to make it work for you. It’s all about self-discipline and finding a system that fits you.

Tammy Danan
Tammy Danan

Tammy Danan is a storyteller who reports on environmental and social issues. She also covers productivity, creative pursuits, and the future of work. Her words have appeared in VICE, Audubon.org, ZEKE Magazine, Shutterstock, Toggl, among others. You may find her on Instagram @SlowFreelancing.