Young family balances work and home life.
From carving out a designated space in your home for work to actively preventing burnout, there are several effective methods to stay productive while working remotely. — Getty Images/Morsa Images

There are many distractions to be found when working from home: pets, kids, partners, snacks — all of which may be competing for your attention throughout the workday. Some of us overcorrect for these distractions, working longer and later into the night, a habit that can lead to faster burnout and low morale.

Many of us are still adjusting to working from home due to COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders. But, for some professions, working from home may be here to stay. There’s been a 44% increase in remote work over the last five years, and of remote workers, 84% work from home.

To learn more about how to manage your time throughout the workday, CO— talked to Tammy Bjelland, founder & CEO of Workplaceless. Here is her best advice and tips for managing your time effectively while working from home.

Adjust your expectations

Any change is hard, and in this scenario, the transition to working from home is coupled with the stress of managing a global pandemic. As a small business owner, you should try to be empathetic and flexible both with yourself and your team members.

“Small business owners should adjust their expectations for how work will be handled when working from home and be clear and consistent in communicating those expectations to team members,” Bjelland said. “Don’t expect that the workday will look exactly the same when employees are at home as when they are in the office, especially if they are sharing their home and workspace with other family members. Focus on outcomes, not input.”

The same goes for your own work: Be aware that you may not get a consistent block of time between the typical 9-to-5 to focus on managing your business.

[Read more: Managing From Home? Here’s How to Keep Your Team Engaged During Coronavirus]

Rethink your to-do list

Bjelland recommends categorizing your tasks into four categories:

  1. Asynchronous work that tolerates distractions (e.g., administrative or repetitive tasks).
  2. Synchronous or collaborative work that tolerates distractions (e.g., internal meetings).
  3. Asynchronous work that does not tolerate distractions (e.g., strategic work or writing).
  4. Synchronous work that does not tolerate distractions (e.g., meetings with clients or partners).

Once you see what you have that requires focus, versus collaboration, you can block your time accordingly every day depending on the work you need to accomplish.

“Focus on one thing at a time and use the space and tools that you have available to minimize distractions as much as possible. And don’t forget to take breaks — use those distractions as a reward for focused work sessions or for accomplishing a goal,” Bjelland said.

Instead of just using your calendar as a way to schedule events, be proactive about how you need to structure your day.

Tammy Bjelland, founder & CEO of Workplaceless

Set aside office space for yourself

It’s important to create a boundary between your home life and your work life, even though the physical space might be the same. As Harvard Business Review argued, “Unless you are careful to maintain boundaries, you may start to feel like you’re always at work and losing a place to come home to.” The opposite is also true: When you work from bed, you run the risk of never shifting into a productive mindset needed to perform professionally.

Try to carve out space in your home dedicated to work. This can be a corner of the kitchen table, a desk in your guest room or a chair in front of a sunny window. Surround yourself with things that make you feel productive: a fresh notebook, some headphones, or a desk calendar.

[Read more: How to Create an Effective Home Office Setup]

Find tools to help

The best tool to help you manage your time, said Bjelland, is your calendar. “Instead of just using your calendar as a way to schedule events, be proactive about how you need to structure your day,” she said. “Block off time so you can get deep work done, set parameters around when you are available to meet with team members, clients, vendors and partners, and create different calendars for different types of events. Share these parameters with your team or make them publicly accessible so you can manage everyone’s expectations and truly give yourself the time to get work done.”

Make sure you’re helping your team stay on task with tools for team productivity, and check out some of these must-have tech tools for remote teams.

Watch out for burnout

Burnout is a risk for workers under normal conditions and can be exacerbated when working from home. “Since people are at home 24/7, there’s an increased assumption that they should respond immediately no matter the time, and people are putting in many more hours than they did at the office,” noted Bjelland.

To prevent burnout, create a “boundaries agreement” with your team to clarify your expectations around availability, working hours and response times. Share this around your team to enhance collaboration and communication. Bjelland also suggests sharing your boundaries with those who are cohabiting your space, such as your partner, roommate or family members. This can help ease any guilt around trying to be always-on while still juggling caregiving, homeschooling and other responsibilities.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published May 20, 2020