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Working from home productivity guide

Working from home productivity guide

Struggling to get into a good flow while working from home? It might be time to try some simple productivity techniques. Productivity is an elusive, ever-changing state that depends on several factors, from your mood at any given moment, to the equipment you work with. To fire up your energy levels and boost your work from home productivity without burning out, it can help to take a holistic approach. Keep exploring this guide to find out more.

What does it mean to be productive?

What does it mean to be productive?

Productivity is a measure of output. A productive person produces good quality work in a timely and efficient way. An unproductive person burns up time and resources with little to show for it.

Productivity is not always constant. It’s natural for us to fluctuate between being productive and unproductive throughout the working week, and even throughout the day — after all, we’re not robots. We are humans with complex lives, unique genetics and constantly shifting biochemistry. This means our moods and energy levels are always in motion, constantly affected by external and internal influences. A task that took you five minutes once might take you an hour next time. Fluctuations are inevitable, but maximising your work from home productivity is possible if you take the time to understand your own unique patterns of behaviour.


Are we more productive at home or at the office?

Are we more productive at home or at the office?

The COVID-19 pandemic set the stage for a world-wide experiment in remote working. Was working from home more, less, or equally as productive working from our offices? Research by the Office of National Statistics concluded that:

"Overall, individuals reported the main advantage of homeworking being an improvement to work-life balance. Another positive was a reduction in the time taken to complete work, which may be linked to most individuals finding there were fewer distractions when working at home compared with in the office."

Other findings reveal:

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One third (33%) of employers surveyed by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said remote working improved productivity throughout lockdown.

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According to the Office for National Statistics, 52% of employers said there was no change in productivity levels.

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A study by Stanford University of 16,000 workers over 9 months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%.

Work from home productivity is a personal thing. Some people prosper in the comfort of their own homes; others start to flag. If you’re one of the latter, making a concerted effort to boost your work from home productivity is a great place to start — but it’s worth noting that doing so has both benefits and risks to your health, wellbeing and quality of life.


What are the benefits of boosting your work from home productivity?

What are the benefits of boosting your work from home productivity?

Whatever your reason for wanting to boost your productivity, it helps to know why it’s worth the effort. Being as productive as possible benefits both you and your company (or business, if you’re self-employed).

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Benefits to you include:

  • Good, quality work takes less of your energy — so there’s more to spare for your personal life.
  • Being efficient means you’re more likely to keep on top of your workload and avoid work-related stress.
  • Good work should be rewarded and remunerated (with appreciation, higher salary, promotions etc).
  • It feels fulfilling and satisfying to be good at what you do.
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Benefits to business include:

  • Bigger profits
  • Save time and resources
  • Better end-product/service
  • Happy employees and customers

What are the risks of trying to be more productive?

What are the risks of trying to be more productive?

Before you commit to boosting your work from home productivity, it’s crucial to understand what productivity really means. Being productive is not just working faster, or putting in more hours. In fact, there’s a real risk of burn-out if you approach work with this ‘grind til you die’ mindset.

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In 2020, 79% of British adults in employment said they commonly experience work-related stress (according to a study by PerkBox).

Work-related stress can be caused by any number of things, from bullying and poor company culture, to having too much on your plate. A common cause of work-related stress is trying so hard to be productive that you neglect your own health. Putting in long but unproductive hours is known as presenteeism.

Presenteeism is a performance of productivity. It is showing up and appearing to work hard without much yield. This might happen if you:

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Try to work even though you’re feeling ill

It’s hard to concentrate and do your best work when you’re not feeling well. Perhaps you feel guilty for taking time off, or worried that you won’t be able to catch up. This is a sign of poor company culture and it’s actually counterproductive for you and the business. It’s always more productive to take time to recover and come back when you’re healthy, energised and ready to give work your full attention.

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Work beyond your contracted hours

This often happens when you’re feeling insecure about your job, or are under too much pressure. Overworking can be counterproductive as it usually leads to burnout, which causes health problems, lowers your ability to produce good quality work, and may eventually require you to take time off sick.

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To avoid presenteeism, treat productivity holistically. Consider:

  • Your physical health
  • Your mental health
  • Your work-life balance

Are you being treated fairly? Does your employer expect too much of you without offering the necessary wellbeing support? If you feel pressured to work so much that your health is being affected, talk to your manager or HR department and, if necessary, seek advice from your GP.


Common reasons you’re less productive at home

Common reasons you’re less productive at home

If you’re struggling to get into the zone at home, the first logical step is to identify why. Do any of these common work from home productivity blocks sound familiar?

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1. Distractions and noise with no rules

If you live with other people, or find that you’re frequently jostling for space, it can be difficult to get into the zone. Interruptions from housemates, family and pets can upset your flow and prevent you from being productive. Distractions from the TV, Internet and other sources of household entertainment can also prove tempting when you’re finding it hard to focus. It’s important to set boundaries with both others and yourself.

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2. Messy or uninspiring environment

The environment around you matters. Research published by Harvard Business Reviews found that people with a cluttered home were more likely to procrastinate. Mess and chaos can also make us feel anxious, stressed and depressed — all big blocks when it comes to work from home productivity. To declutter your mind, declutter your space.

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3. Poor set-up and equipment

Common homeworking set-up issues include:

  • Lack of a dedicated workspace
  • Spending too long sitting on soft furnishing (sofas, armchairs, beds etc. may lack the physical support needed for computer work, and result in discomfort and injury)
  • Using a laptop without ergonomic equipment (causing tech neck)
  • Putting up with discomfort because your situation might be temporary
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4. Lack of daily routine and structure

Typically, office life follows a strict routine. There are start and finish times, set breaks, dress codes and etiquette guidelines. At home, the day can easily roll by without any structure. Unless you exercise some self-discipline, this unstructured time can leave you feeling lethargic and unmotivated, which can make it harder to focus and get tasks done.

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5. You’re an extravert

If you’re extraverted, you get your energy from being around people. Working from home alone can leave extraverts feeling isolated and lonely, lowering their mood and affecting their productivity. Working from home isn’t suitable for everyone, which is why it’s important to keep up clear communication with your employer. They might be able to give you an alternative, such as office working, or hybrid working.

These are some of the most common work from home productivity blocks, but you could be struggling to focus for any number of reasons. Working from home without a clean, inspiring environment, healthy habits, or good support from your manager or co-workers can all lead to a drop in productivity. Fortunately, there are lots of simple steps you can take to improve your work from home productivity.


Ways to boost your work from home productivity

Feeling demotivated? Can’t stop procrastinating? Before you give up on working from home, try these productivity boosting tips:

1. Create a dedicated workspace

Create a dedicated workspace

Free up a weekend and spend some time cleaning, sorting out junk and clearing space for a desk, ergonomic chair and all your work equipment. You’ll need:

Sit-stand desk

A desk
(try a sit-stand desk to stay active)

Laptop stand or monitor arms

Laptop stand or monitor arms

Suitable mouse and keyboard

Suitable mouse and keyboard

Install plenty of storage to reduce clutter and arrange your screens and equipment according to ergonomic principles:

How to arrange your screens and equipment according to ergonomic principles

You’ll be amazed by how much a clean, pleasant environment increases your ability to focus and enjoy work.

2. Develop routine and structure

Develop routine and structure
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Productivity requires momentum. Give your day pace and energy by:

  • Setting an alarm to wake up
  • Exercising daily
  • Getting washed and dressed
  • Going for a walk before and after work (to simulate a commute)
  • Limit social media use
  • Don’t do work in your own time
  • Tidy your work area after use

3. Learn healthy habits

Learn healthy habits

Keeping active can help boost your energy levels and improve work from home productivity. Regular, moderate activity may be just as (if not more) beneficial than infrequent high intensity activity. Try to practice both by:

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  • Getting up from your desk every 30 minutes to move and stretch
  • Going for at least one 30 minute walk a day
  • Doing moderate to high intensity exercise at least 3x a week (such as jogging, dancing, cycling, or swimming).

4. Eat well

Eat well

Research by the British Journal of Health Psychology found that adults who ate more healthily over a 13-day period had greater wellbeing and felt like they had more meaning and purpose at work. But what does healthy eating mean? Aside from getting sufficient calories for your age, weight, sex, activity levels and metabolism, it’s important to eat a balanced diet. Always seek expert advice if you’re planning to change your diet, but here are some general tips to boost your work from home productivity:

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Limit caffeine — according to research by John Hopkins University, it’s a myth that drinking coffee gives you a feeling of euphoria. What’s actually happening is that caffeine withdrawal reduces your performance and lowers your mood, so drinking coffee simply lifts you to the level you’d be at if you gave up your coffee habit.

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Don’t get hungry — hunger can make you tired and moody, which can reduce your work from home productivity. Keep your energy levels up by eating nutritious food regularly.

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Avoid sugary snacks — your energy levels might spike quickly after eating something high in sugar (like chocolate, or cakes) but they’ll drop quickly and leave you feeling fatigue.

5. Keep active

Keep active

Each week Brits spend twice as much time making tea (4 hours 37 mins) than they do exercising (1 hour 36 mins), according to one study of 2,080 UK adults. Being inactive increases your risk of health issues, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and — because of weaker muscles, you’re more at risk of back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders. Being inactive also means you’re missing out on the feel good endorphins produced when you sweat, and the reduction in cortisol levels (the body’s stress hormone).

Productive people tend to be active. Try incorporating the following habits into your work from home lifestyle:

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  • Get up from your desk at least every 30 minutes.
  • Use a sit-stand desk to move between sitting and standing regularly.
  • Use a balance board like the MoovRite to activate your leg and core muscles while working.
  • Go for walk before or after work.
  • Have an active lunch break.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try to get 7k-10k steps a day.

What next?

Ready to go forth and apply your new productivity skills? Great! But before you go, why not explore some of our other useful guides, all designed to boost your health, happiness and productivity while working from home.

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Back pain working from home

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Working from home wellbeing

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Working from home fatigue

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Working from home tips

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Home office set-up

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Home office lighting

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Hybrid working from home