Working from home might sound great, but it can prove to be a chore. In this blog post, Maria offers her top tips on how you can make working from home effective for you.
University libraries are great spaces for doing research, writing up your thesis, or drafting your teaching plan. However, when I was working on my PhD, I found that working in the library week after week and month after month eventually started eroding my focus and slowing down my productivity, so I decided to also try working from home.
Others may have no choice but to work from home, because the commute to their university is too long or expensive to allow them to travel frequently, or because they may have family commitments that require them to spend more time at home.
But although working from the comfort of your own home can at first seem like a great option, the reality can be sometimes quite different. Being at home can be a source of distraction, and it may simply not feel like the right environment for structured work.
So what are some things you can do to maximise your productivity when working from home? Read on for some tips and tricks that I learned the hard way.
1. Dress up and show up for work
The first trick is to make sure you set aside one specific part of the day — say, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., same as a regular day job — to do your work. However, simply deciding on the work schedule is not enough.
You may also find it helpful to signal to yourself that you’re at work now through other elements. For instance, consider ditching the pyjamas or loungewear and dress up, just as you would before leaving the house to go to work.
Studies suggest that how we dress helps us not only send a message about ourselves to others — e.g. “I’m a professional”, or “I’m creative” — but it also helps us to slide more easily into the “role” that we want to play. Researchers Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky call this phenomenon “enclothed cognition”.
So if your goal for the day is to do research, or analyse data, then maybe ask yourself what set of clothes would make you feel most like a serious researcher on that day, and then go ahead and put them on before starting work.
Another way in which you can “trick” your mind to recognise you’re at work is by making sure you have a work-conducive environment. If you happen to have your own office at home, that’s great, but if not, then try creating a little “work nook” in your home, or in your room, if you live in shared accommodation. PhD Life blogger Jenny Mak offers some excellent advice on how to make your workspace work for you.
2. Disable social media and notifications
When working in a shared office or in the library, checking social media, watching funny videos on YouTube, or placing a “quick order” on Amazon may not be much of an issue, because being surrounded by other people who are hard at work can keep you motivated to stay on task. However, when you work from home, often there’s nobody there to keep you accountable.
So what can you do to make sure you steer clear of online disruptions during your set working hours? There are actually many web browser extensions that block you from accessing certain, during the time frames you set.
Some free-to-download ones are:
- StayFocused, a Chrome extension
- LeechBlock, another web browser extension similar to StayFocused
- Cold Turkey, an app compatible with both Windows and macOS (its Basic version is free to download, and students can apparently buy the Pro version at a 20% discount)
But social media and mindless websites are not the only danger. You may find it hard not to check your email constantly, especially if you have email notifications activated on your smartphone. But by doing that, you may end up replying to countless emails that can actually wait or get lost in a world of checking academic (and non-academic) spam.
So unless you really have to, try not to check your email frequently throughout the day. Disabling notifications, or even deleting your email app altogether may help you stick to this resolution.
3. Use ambient white noise
If you’re anything like me, you might find it hard to focus if you can hear the neighbour’s favourite TV show instead of your own thoughts. One easy, straightforward way of shutting out unwanted noise is wearing earplugs, but this method may not cut it for everybody, and it doesn’t quite work for me.
I for one, find it equally difficult to focus in a very noisy environment and in a very quiet one. For this reason, when I need to boost my productivity, I prefer to wear my headphones and listen to white noise, such as the sound of distant, indistinct chatter, the pitter-patter of rain, or the calming sound of sea waves.
You can find many white noise tracks on YouTube, from nature sounds to soft café chatter. However, there are two white noise websites that I like to use on a nearly daily basis:
- Rainy Mood, which gives you an option to listen to looped rainy sounds only, or to pair them with selected music tracks streamed through YouTube
- Rainy Café, where you can listen to rainy sounds and café chatter either mixed together or separately
These are my top tips and strategies when it comes to working better when not in a regular work environment. However, the list doesn’t end here, and I would love to find out what strategies you apply to make sure you can be productive at home.
Do you find it easy or challenging to work from home? What are your best tips and tricks on how to stay productive? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Maria Cohut recently finished a PhD in English and Comparative Literary Studies, and now works as a medical journalist. In her spare time, she writes poetry, weird fiction, and occasionally creates taxidermy pieces. You can reach her on Twitter, @mariascohut.