A recent study showed that 61 percent of people identify loud colleagues to be their biggest distraction.
When working from home without distracting colleagues, how productive are you on a scale of 1 to 10?
Our homes are like candy shops along the streets waiting for us to get all those goodies …
- Sunshine is callin’
- Netflix is callin’
- Messenger is callin’
- Inbox is callin’
- Housework is callin’
Remote work can be counterproductive and even frustrating if you don’t watch out for the most common traps.
In this post, I’m going to show you 7 work-from-home mistakes I often fall victim to and how to avoid them.
It all begins with your mornings …
#1: Waking up late
Having a productive day well begins the day before. Staying up late watching Netflix or hanging out with friends might make your next morning dreadful.
The alarm just goes off. You hit the snooze button and then go back to sleep.
An hour and a urination later, you get up, get some food, have a conversation with a family member, and sit down to check your inbox.
Until you realize that not a single task gets done, it’s around 11 a.m. It’s the time when you begin to anticipate lunch. Having a sense of urgency, you answer a few more emails and then check what’s new on Facebook.
Here’s the thing: getting up early and at the same time every day is how you put your workday into an orbit. It doesn’t mean that you should get up at 5 a.m. Just make sure that you get enough sleep and crawl out from bed in a reasonable time that allows you to have a nice margin to accomplish your daily plan.
That brings us to one of the worst work-from-home mistakes …
#2: Having no plan
If you’re like me who would open his inbox first thing in the morning to see what others have ordered him to do, welcome to the club.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
That’s when having a plan becomes inevitable.
Planning out your day well in advance is what separates high achievers from those who struggle.
High achievers know what’s important and have a strategic plan in place to channel their efforts into high-value activities.
The good news is that it’s learnable. I’m still struggling with it, but I’m getting better at it year after year.
Here’s how it works:
- Take a sheet of paper or use your favorite task management tool and make a list of your tasks that you want to accomplish the next day. Then mark your important, must-have items on your list: call them MITs (Most Important Tasks). These are tasks that move your projects forward; tasks that have long been postponed; tasks that need your brainpower.
- Select 1 to 3 MITs for the next day. There’s no magic number about how many tasks you should choose, but don’t overestimate your resources. Three is a good rule of thumb.
- Make sure that you begin your day with those high-priority tasks. Don’t allow yourself to take large breaks until you finish with those tasks. If it takes me two hours to get my MITs done, I refuse to take a break until I finish.
Having a startup ritual might help you establish a rock-solid workday routine. Michael Hyatt coined the term self-automation that sets you up for a productive day.
My current workday startup ritual looks like this:
- Check my calendar
- Check my goals
- Do my most important tasks
It’s OK in theory, you might say, but what about distractions? Read on.
#3: Getting distracted
There’s a never-ending list of distractions at home. Having the remote control just an arm’s length away or having unlimited access to the Internet all represent noise in an otherwise calm environment.
What can you do to avoid those distractions altogether?
Stay away from the physical distractions either by removing them from your environment or removing yourself from the game.
Say you want to beat your impulsive phone checking behavior. Remove your phone by putting it into your backpack or remove yourself from the situation by moving into another room. With this single trick (the backpack method), I managed to stay away from Facebook and email. And I’ve been phone-free for months most of the day.
Prepare for a nomadic remote work and cherry-pick some items from the list below:
- Shut down your Wi-Fi
- Delete social media apps from your phone
- Sign out from all major services you use
- Close all tabs in your web browser
- Turn off email notifications
- Turn off push notifications
#4: Having no boundaries
Ringing phones, distracting kids, dirty dishes, full trash bins, overflowing inboxes.
Sounds familiar? You may want to put on your noise-canceling headphones.
Not a bad deal, but there’s a more sophisticated method to deal with this situation: creating boundaries.
Here’re some points that you may want to consider:
- I wake up at 7 a.m.
- Until I get my 3 most important tasks done, everything else is a distraction
- I don’t answer my phone in the morning
- I don’t check email until 10 a.m.
- I keep my phone in my backpack until lunch
- Morning is for deep work, the afternoon is for my kiddos
If you have kids, it’s extremely useful to negotiate some uninterrupted time with your significant other.
That leads us to a common source of dispute between young couples …
#5: Abandoning personal relationships
If you immerse yourself in work, you may end up working too late and missing out time to recharge your batteries and caring for your family. And if you’re a night owl, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working overnight.
Having a workday shutdown ritual, as proposed by Michael Hyatt, helps you to close the open loops, make the transition to family life, and prepare for the next day.
My current shutdown ritual looks like this:
- Check open loops and tasks
- Set my most important tasks for tomorrow
- Fill in my 1 percent journal
At the end of the workday, I ask myself whether I can make a 1 percent improvement in my workflow. This is something I learned from Brian Tracy.
If I have anything to improve or have invented a good practice, I jot down the idea into my 1 percent journal. That’s a single note that I added to my Evernote shortcuts.
During my weekly review, I take a look at my 1 percent journal to organize my ideas and cement my improvements.
#6: Underestimating the importance of habits
According to Wendy Wood, author of Good Habits, Bad Habits, 43 percent of the time we act out of a habit.
This is good news because we don’t need to think about it. The habit of science tells us that we can use some hacks to develop good habits. And working from home isn’t an exception to the rule.
Wendy Wood identifies four steps to form a new habit:
- Create a stable context. Contexts are everything around you: location, time of the day, people, objects, and immediately preceding actions. Select a context cue that will initiate your habit.
- Reduce/increase friction. You should make the execution of a habit as easy as possible by either removing restraining forces or making the unwanted action extremely hard to perform.
- Make action rewarding. Find something that compensates your efforts.
- Repeat the action until it sticks. You may have heard that it takes 30, 66, or 90 days to develop a habit. According to the author, a habit is established when you no longer need the reward to persist (“insensitivity to reward”).
Let’s see an example. Say you’re spending too much time on your phone.
The context cue will be the time of the day when you begin your work. You increase friction by moving your phone to your backpack. Your reward might be the benefit that you can work without distractions or you can reward yourself with a phone time after work. Repeat this routine every day until it gets cemented.
Don’t underestimate the power of the monkey brain. It works!
The last work-from-home mistake puts all of the above-mentioned points into perspective.
#7: Lacking structure
At the end of the day, all you want is to unplug and enjoy your free time with your loved ones. Having and sticking to a scaffold as your day unfolds will help you stay organized and productive.
Waking up the same time every day, having a plan, creating boundaries, and building on your habits all provide a structure for working from home.
Having a daily routine can positively impact your mental health. And the best thing is that you can make use of this routine well beyond your home office.
Although this post is focusing on the mindset strategies you can implement to work from home more effectively, let’s say a word about the technical side of things.
The lazy work-from-home dude’s way to communicate
If you communicate by email, you miss out on the most powerful way of asynchronous communication: task-based communication.
Task management tools make teamwork easy by replacing email. You can assign tasks with due dates, followers, assignees, comments, and more.
Communication happens in the comments section of individual tasks rather than by email. When the status of a task changes, assignees get notified. Everything is simple and straightforward. Responsibilities are crystal-clear.
When it comes to task management tools, Asana and Nozbe are hard to beat. Learn more about these tools here.
Work-from-home mistakes revisited
Remember the eye candy metaphor from the introduction?
The best way to avoid those distractions altogether is to …
- Get up early and at the same time every day
- Begin your day with a plan
- Create some boundaries and make people (yourself included) honor them
- Nurture your personal relationships
- Develop and make use of good habits
- Have a daily routine
- End your day with planning out the next one, which …
brings us to the beginning of the cycle.