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Helpful time-management strategies for home working

For many people who run a small business, working at home is the most financially viable option. But how do you optimise productivity while maintaining a healthy work/life balance? Our tips may just help

1 Set a routine… and stick to it
If you don’t have to reach the office by 9am, it may be tempting to be flexible about your start time. Before you know it, breakfast slides into just one more coffee, then another, and it’s suddenly 11am. Inputting deadlines and commitments into an organiser like Google Calendar – or even keeping it old-school and writing a ‘to-do’ list the night before – can help you keep on track. Humans are creatures of habit, so by sticking to a schedule, you will be more alert and focused while taking care of your mental health, too. It’s also an idea to overestimate the time you assign to each task because they will generally take longer than your initial estimate. However, a perk of working at home is that you can identify when you are at your most productive. So, if you are an early riser, you could aim to get three hours of work under your belt even before 9am.

2 Dress for success
While the occasional day spent in your comfy joggers and sweatshirt won’t cause your business to derail, wearing smarter clothes will make you feel more business-like. And a 2015 study in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal backs this up. It measured subjects’ performance on a series of five cognitive tests when dressed in both formal and casual clothing. Abstract thinking – which is associated with creativity and long-term strategising – increased when formal clothing was worn. It’s thought that what we wear impacts how our brain views everything from objects, people, events… and of course, work.

3 Have a dedicated workspace
This will help flick the switch in your brain from leisure to work mode and will also set boundaries with other family members. If you’re working at the kitchen table or on the sofa, for example, you’re more liable to be easily distracted than if you’re in a room with the door firmly closed. There are also plenty of inspiring solutions available for carving out an office zone in the most minimalist of spaces, so you can maximise comfort, too.

4 Clamp down on social media
In a 2018 survey conducted by sound solutions company Jabra, a third of the business professionals who took part claimed that they achieved more when they worked from home. But with many studies showing that during a typical working day, we can lose around two hours looking at skateboarding cats/messaging friends/researching next year’s holiday on the internet, it’s important to be strict with your own usage if you’re going to fit into the group above. Easy ways to do this include muting notifications for specific periods and allocating time slots to check your phone. Take it one step further by using Cold Turkey WriterTM, a tool that claims to be ‘the toughest website blocker on the internet’, to block your virtual Achilles heel/s.

5 But use technology to your advantage
Of course, technology can be your best friend in terms of time-saving solutions. This includes using collaboration and data organisation tools, which help cut down on duplication and endless time-consuming discussions. A shared drive on Google Docs is simple to use and keeps track of who has been working on a piece of work. WeTransfer.com is a free sharing service for data-dense files such as images, sending items within seconds.

6 Keep an activity log
Management and leadership advice website Mindtools.com advocates this simple method to help you identify the time stealers in your day. Their simple downloadable template asks you to record every task of the day – and yes, that includes that 30-minute tea break and 10 minutes loading the dishwasher – noting the time you spent on each one, and more tellingly, how you felt and then rating the value it contributed to your working day. A week’s worth will give you a good overview and highlight the activities that need to be excluded. Productivity apps like Harvest and RescueTime are good virtual alternatives. It could also highlight the tasks you could delegate to other members in your team. As the company owner, it can be all too easy to think you have to deal with every detail, when your time might be best served on the ‘bigger picture’ aspect of the business.

7 Avoid ‘work creep’
When it’s your own company, it can be hard to step away at the end of each day. It’s even harder because, unlike an office environment, there’s no official finishing time. But getting the balance right is key. Stick to a regular time to shut down the computer every day – and mark the transition by heading out for a walk or catching up with personal phone calls, for example.

8 Work on your wellbeing, too
It’s all too easy to feel guilty about stepping away from your computer when issues crop up. But it’s long been recognised that exercise not only looks after your physical health, but boosts mental abilities, too. A Harvard study showed that it improves creativity, learning capability, memory and concentration. So, heading out for a walk in the park or a gym session is a really good idea. It can also help ward off feelings of isolation. We’re social creatures and need interaction with other people to feel connected and to look after our mental health.

9 Daydream for a while
Though it might sound counterproductive, allowing your thoughts to roam for a spell of time can act as a kind of reset. According to University of Florida Psychiatrist Eugenio Rothe, letting our minds wander activates different parts of our brains, accessing information that may have previously been out of reach. This means that a solution to a work problem you have been struggling with might suddenly appear.

10 Don’t be scared to change the rules
A perk of being in charge of your work life is that you have the flexibility to try new approaches. If working at home suddenly feels stale and suffocating, there are plenty of shared workspaces you could try out, or simply pop to your local coffee shop for a couple of hours for a change of scene. 

Words: Rachel Roberts