6 productivity tips for staying on schedule when working from home

Remote work is the new reality in the age of COVID-19. Productivity experts offer advice on staying focused in meetings and eliminating distractions while you're working from home.

The coronavirus could make remote work the norm, what businesses need to know
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As the COVID-19 pandemic shifts the workforce to online, many employees and managers are learning to adapt to a new office space––their homes. This is the way of the future. While COVID-19 is making the move to remote work urgent, new Gartner research shows that by 2030, the demand for work-from-home will increase by 30%. But a new workplace poses new challenges.

Working from home can also bring distractions from friends, family, social media, new obligations at home––especially if you're sharing space with others––and reinventing schedules. All these things are likely to throw you off your routine. As a result, it's easier to lose track of time or miss out on the regular reminders about important workplace meetings. 

Here are six tips from productivity experts about how to stay on schedule and not miss out on important workplace meetings:

  1. Create a new alert infrastructure

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the international bestseller The Happiness Project. As someone who has dedicated a lot of thought to examining the best way to live a productive and fulfilling life, you could call her an expert on setting healthy habits. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

"I'm losing my sense of time," Rubin told TechRepublic. "I usually know exactly what time it is, and what time of day it is, and it's getting lost. So, even if you don't usually depend on calendar alerts and putting Post-it notes up, you might find you need to build up more infrastructure." 

"With so many habits being disrupted, those cues are missing," she added.

2. Make it clear to others that you are home, but you are still working

If you have roommates, a partner, or kids at home, working at home might make it seem as though you're more available for activities around the house or hanging out. And while the great benefit of working from home is the increased flexibility, it's critical to make sure you maintain a healthy boundary between your home life and your work life. 

Gently inform others who might be distracting you from your work schedule that you need to stick to your schedule. If it's you who is creating the distractions, make sure that you keep yourself accountable by setting hours and sticking to them. Close the door to your office area, if possible, or put in headphones to block outside sounds. 

If you're balancing childcare with a spouse, your workday might not be at your own disposal. Set normal expectations with your partner, Rubin suggests.

Distractions––other than the approved short breaks every so often to stay mentally fresh––are a big problem for productivity. Tackle the problem proactively by making clear rules about your availability––to yourself, and others.

3. Stop messing around on Instagram

Social media is designed to make it easy for you to open and browse quickly. At work, though, this convenience can be the detriment of your productivity.

To counteract your social networks' ease of use during work hours, remove them from your browser shortcuts and, according to Fast Company, log out of every account. You might even consider working primarily in a private or incognito browser window. This ensures you stay signed out of all your accounts and each web search you conduct doesn't autocomplete the word you're typing. It's a guarantee that you won't be tempted into taking too many social breaks during the day.

4. Write down your schedule––and stick to it

Rubin suggests writing things down on paper to stay on track. "Without the infrastructure and the social aspects of seeing people come and go, you might forget. You might have to prepare something for Friday, but you feel like Friday is an eternity away," she said. "Yet time is still passing, so you might need to write things down more explicitly."

5. Create your *own* workspace

It's key to make a space that feels like it's meant to get work done. That means avoiding your bed and sofa, if possible. "I think a lot of people would benefit from reimagining their space," Rubin says. "You might even need to move your childrens' bedrooms around to make a work or study space." 

And now, with so many workers operating with others at home, it also means having some privacy. "Setting up on the kitchen table is probably not a great idea right now," Rubin says. 

6. Double-check your tech

Many of us have experienced the dreaded moment when your conference call has started, but you're not able to get into it. Maybe your internet connection is slow. Maybe you haven't downloaded the proper software. Maybe you haven't checked your audio. For those working at home in the age of COVID-19, the problems could be amplified––maybe other people in your space are loud, and you can't hear the meeting. Or you're juggling multiple meetings online and finding it hard to keep track which one you're supposed to join. 

Because of the increased distractions, it's especially critical to get ready for your meetings sooner than you normally would. Set aside a half hour beforehand to get logged on and ready to ensure you won't be behind. Not only will it help you stay on track with your meetings, but it will also help keep your stress down during these times when all of us are prone to be a little more edgy than usual.

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kid standing near sofa while mother working with laptop

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