Summary: Remote work is more common than ever, so it’s essential that you and your workspace are functioning at their fullest. From creating a schedule to enforcing breaks to staying focused, here are four things our experts say you can use to improve your productivity and your work-life balance. Plus, a prediction of what future workplaces may be like.
The last year has required most of us to adjust how we work — whether that meant going into a less-populated office, being 100% remote and leaning hard on our home internet, or a hybrid of the two — adaptation has become an important skill set. So has knowing how to stay focused and productive while working remotely.
So, we turned to two experts in workplace wellness, mental health, and physical fitness for some suggestions. Here are four things they suggest to improve your productivity and your work-life balance — plus a look at what future workplaces may be like.
Vashti Boyce, MA, MBA, has worked in the mental health field for more than seven years. Boyce offers leadership development, training, and consulting work including creating culturally-inclusive programming for businesses.
Laura Scholz is a certified classical Pilates instructor, marathoner, and Fitness Editor of Atlanta magazine. Scholz frequently writes about the intersection of wellness and the hospitality industry for national publications and websites.
Working From Home Trend – Here to Stay?
The remote-work trend was emerging long before 2021. A 2017 Gallup survey found that 43% of Americans occasionally work from home — up from 39% of those who did in 2012. And a 2019 LinkedIn survey found that 82% of workers want to work from home at least one day a week, and 57% wanted to work from home at least three days per week. Things are moving faster now: over the next five years, remote work is expected to double permanently compared to 2019.
How Do I Create a Remote Work Schedule?
Once the allure of “I can roll straight out of bed to my desk” wears off, it can be hard to know what your work-from-home schedule should look like. While very few people miss the grind of their commute, remote workers do lose out on that added structure, decompression time, and change of scenery. Get the best of both worlds by creating a schedule that sets you up for success without sitting on public transit or in traffic for 30 minutes.
“When you have work, gym, school, and social hour all in the same space, it’s really easy to let work bubble over. You feel like it’s ok to check emails after dinner or write up a report. I’m seeing a lot of people blurring those lines,” says Boyce.
“I know that I am much more productive if I just stick to a routine. I could feel my productivity sliding at first. There would be multiple days in a row when I stayed in comfies all day while working from home,” says Jena Dunham, VP of Brand Marketing for EarthLink. “By about five weeks in, I started getting up at my usual time to shower, get ready, and start the day.”
Keeping a schedule, such as logging out of work at a consistent time and cooking dinner, will help your mind-body connection and sense of purpose. Being clear with your supervisors about which tasks must be completed and which have more fluid deadlines will help you prioritize your to-do list, and feel confident when you log out for the day.
Create a Sleep Schedule
Creating (and sticking to) a sleep schedule is important, too. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to long-term health issues as well as short-term memory impairment — including the ability to think, remember, and process information. Just like creating a work schedule, a sleep routine can remind your body that it’s time to go to sleep soon, helping you fall asleep faster and for longer.
“Having some sort of control and having your body understand it’s time to go to sleep is so important,” Boyce said. “It will take time and flexibility to really see the results, but any additional day-to-day consistency you can give yourself will help your physical and mental health.”
While avoiding screens is often touted as a good rule of thumb, your routine should be whatever helps you wind down at night. It can be anything from logging off of social media at a certain time, prepping your meals for the next day, watching a movie with your family, sitting down with a book, or meditating.
Enforce Your Boundaries
Physically dedicating a workspace will help train your brain to focus and work when you’re in that space — even if it’s your kitchen table and not a home office. Bonus: it will also help you disconnect from work when you move out of that space.
“I have a dedicated workspace, but I change my spot around the house when I need a new point of view,” explains Ann Tran, EarthLink’s Director of Email Marketing.
You can also take advantage of your computer’s built-in boundaries. Set up an out-of-office message if you’ll be tempted to reply on days off, enable screen-time alerts, or turn on Do Not Disturb. Worried you’ll miss an important call? You can create interruption exceptions for Apple and Android to let certain contacts reach you, even when Do Not Disturb is enabled.
How Can I Stay Focused When Working from Home?
When setting up your workspace, many experts recommend creating an area with as few distractions as possible. A room with natural light and a door that closes is ideal, but not always an option. Wherever you’re working, try to position your chair so you’re not facing a major distraction (and experts suggest keeping distracting items off your desk, too).
Now that your workspace is set up, you can move on to strategies that keep you on track. For some people, the Pomodoro method (where you break work into 25-minute intervals) can be helpful. Others have found that background music can help them focus — especially if you’re more aware of your surroundings than ever. Classical and instrumental music has long been touted as helping listeners focus, and maybe even learn information more efficiently.
“I listen to instrumental music all day,” explains Erin Ellison, Director of Content & SEO for EarthLink. “I like having jazz or classical or electric funk on in the background – lyrics can distract me and, this way, I also can’t end up singing along.”
Classical not your thing? Turns out, video game soundtracks can help you focus, too.
If streaming music works for you, make sure to keep an eye on your data caps — especially if you’re also doing a lot of videoconferencing and file-sharing. Data caps are a limit on how much information you can share each month. When working from home, everything you do online gets you closer to that data limit — whether it’s work or leisure. If you reach or exceed your limit, you can be hit with added fees or sluggish internet. If that’s a frequent issue, it may be time to choose a high-speed internet service provider with no internet data caps.
Why are Work Breaks Important?
So, you’ve created a schedule, and you’re staying on task — you still need breaks. Even if most of our work happens through a screen connected to high-speed internet, we can still take some time each day to counteract the effects of video conference calls or sitting too much.
Laura Scholz suggests taking one in middle of the day.
“Even if you have to stay by your computer all day, working in a few short breaks can be really helpful.” She advocates for stretching with a focus on moves that will loosen the hips and push the shoulders back after hunching over a computer.
Boyce agrees. “Most people can only focus for an hour or two on a task before they need to change it up. So be intentional about changing the pace and taking breaks, and knowing what you need to get done each day.”
Breaks are the most effective when you use them to do something completely different. (Read: you might not be well-served by using yours to scroll social media or news sites.) Activating a different area of your brain — by reading, cleaning, or walking your dog — can help replenish the skills you use at work.
How Do I Prioritize My Work Responsibilities at Home?
Both Scholz and Boyce voiced the importance of knowing what’s expected and the best way you can accomplish it. For EarthLink’s Senior Web Developer Tony Price, the biggest adjustment was having a co-worker in elementary school.
“It was really handling school for my 5th grader and my work. That meant setting a ton of alarms and reminders for him (and me) so we don’t miss anything.”
A frequent traveler before the pandemic, Scholz had to figure out how to get work done on low-energy days. “It’s about knowing at what point in the day you have the most energy, and what tasks require the most energy. I’m most productive in the morning, so that’s when I schedule any creative work. In the afternoon, I do emails or invoicing. Sometimes I’ll take a walk or schedule an interview for the early afternoon to help me perk back up.”
For people who don’t have structured work requirements, it’s important to get clear with your supervisor about what needs to be done and when. “Understanding what flexibility you have with your schedule can help inform how you get that work done.” Boyce even foresees a reduction in the standard workweek moving forward as more people have realized their job can be accomplished from home — without missing out on time with family.
If you’re implementing a new schedule or routine, remember you won’t reap the benefits immediately. Like most things, it will take some time.
In fact, the only thing that shouldn’t take time is your internet connection. If one of your biggest hurdles to effectively working from home is a slow internet connection or a limit on how much data you can use in a month, let us help. EarthLink has no internet data caps and the fastest high-speed internet available. It’s internet the way it should be.