Marika: Staying Productive While Teleworking
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in January 2022, Marika is sitting in her living room and absentmindedly stroking the head of Mandamus, the Persian cat she adopted to help her overcome the loneliness of confinement.
Marika is pensive and reflects on all the past months of teleworking. Admittedly, at the beginning of the pandemic, she appreciated the flexibility that this work arrangement provided. Sometimes she would do a load of laundry between Teams meetings with clients, extend her lunch hour to attend an outdoor yoga class, or schedule some personal appointments during the day. Marika, being conscientious, would extend her working hours to make up for the time spent on her personal activities.
Lately, however, Marika has been somewhat bitter about teleworking. Although she thought teleworking was synonymous with flexibility and a better work–life balance, she feels instead that she is working longer hours and is less efficient, and that work is encroaching on the other areas of her life.
Marika feels tired and lacks motivation. Moreover, she procrastinates on a regular basis and postpones deadlines in her files, much to the dismay of her clients, who have already experienced several delays due to the suspension of time limits decreed by Order 2020-4251.
Marika wonders how she can take advantage of teleworking without her relationship with her clients deteriorating.
In order for teleworking to provide greater flexibility and a better work–family balance, it’s important to put into place methods for remaining productive and helping you keep your work structured. Here are some preventive measures for staying productive while teleworking:
Keep a morning routine: This means setting your clock and maintaining your morning routine as if you were going to the office. Some people even go so far as to simulate travel time by taking a walk before starting their day. A morning routine helps prepare you mentally to start work.
Set a work schedule: Maintain your usual work schedule as much as possible. If this is not possible, at least try to have some routine and structure in your schedule. In such a situation, inform your clients and colleagues, while reassuring them of your availability. You should also let them know the best times to reach you and the easiest way to do so.
In her article published in the Harvard Business Review and entitled How to Stay Focused When You’re Working from Home, Elizabeth Grace Saunders, a time management coach, founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Speaking and author of the books How to Invest Your Time Like Money and Divine Time Management, suggests you clarify what is and what is not acceptable to do during your “office hours”. To help you do this, ask yourself this question: “If I were at the office, would I do this task during the day?” If the answer is no, do this activity before or after your workday.
Organize your workspace: Setting up a workspace establishes a boundary between your work and your personal life, and it also helps you ensure professional secrecy by limiting access to confidential documents or conversations.
Moreover, did you know that the way you set up your work environment influences your behaviours and can help change certain habits? This is what Amantha Imber, the founder of a behavioural science consultancy company and host of the How I Work podcast, suggests in her article entitled What Super Productive People Do Differently.
For example, if you’re procrastinating writing an opinion, why not end your day by leaving the file for which you’ve been putting off this task on your desk? The next day, the first thing you’ll see is the file in which your client is waiting for an opinion. This will make it easier to get started.
Schedule your tasks: Establish your schedule on a weekly, rather than daily, basis. By planning on a weekly basis, you will be aware of deadlines well in advance so you can get the work done without stress. Conversely, by planning on a daily basis, you’ll end up focusing only on emergencies (phone calls, emails) and crises. This can lead to missed deadlines.
As part of your planning, remember to schedule uninterrupted work slots for complex tasks that require concentration. Inform your colleagues and your assistant of the time periods during the week when you don’t want to be disturbed.
Batch returning calls, answering emails and holding virtual work meetings: This means scheduling times during the day for doing these tasks. For example, you could decide to answer your calls and emails three times a day (e.g., at the beginning of the day, before lunch time and at the end of the day). The goal is to maintain uninterrupted work slots in your day.
The same logic could apply to virtual meetings. According to a study from Ohio State University, the work hours prior to a meeting are less productive. More specifically, someone who has to attend a meeting in an hour or two does 22% less work than if they had no meeting at all, because they will be thinking about what to say at the meeting or refining their presentation. It’s difficult to focus (be “in the zone”) on any task other than the meeting when you know you will be interrupted in the next few minutes.
Thus, to the extent possible, in order to gain in productivity, you could group your virtual meetings in three days of the week (e.g.: Monday, Wednesday and Friday) or schedule them in the morning so as to leave your afternoons free for individual work.
Use technology to make it easier to schedule your work: Don’t hesitate to use technology to help manage deadlines, reminders and collaborative work periods. Many email programs have applications to manage these items. Examples include To Do in Outlook and applications such as Teams and Microsoft Viva.
Establish rules with the other occupants of your house in order to facilitate teleworking: Given the current pandemic, you are probably not the only one working from home. As with your colleagues and clients, clearly indicate to the other occupants of your home what your work schedule is (e.g., 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.), what times of the day you are available (e.g., at lunchtime) as well as the times when you absolutely must not be interrupted (e.g., virtual hearing with a judge).
Give yourself time to rest and do activities you enjoy: Rest periods are necessary for fostering creativity or complex problem solving. In addition, even though you are working from home, vacations are an opportunity to “recharge your batteries” and come back to work refreshed. As for physical activity, it has a positive influence on your performance at work. So schedule time in your calendar for these moments.
Like many things, teleworking has its share of advantages and disadvantages. That said, benefitting from these advantages requires discipline. Following the preventive measures described above will help you meet the challenges of teleworking and have a positive impact on your productivity. It’s never too late to learn new habits!
Amantha Imber, “What Super Productive People Do Differently”, in Harvard Business Review, December 8, 2020, online: https://hbr.org/2020/12/what-super-productive-people-do-differently.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders, “How to Stay Focused When You’re Working from Home”, in Harvard Business Review, September 28, 2017, online: https://hbr.org/2017/09/how-to-stay-focused-when-youre-working-from-home.
Indeed Editorial Team, “20 Tips for Working From Home: How To Be Productive Outside the Office”, in Career Guide, November 15, 2021, online: https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/productivity-tips-working-from-home.