Even as shelter-in-place restrictions begin to lift, many companies are continuing to get into the groove of remote work. Work from home is slowly being normalized, and it’s becoming permanent (at least through the year) for many companies. In this new environment we at Wing want to share some working from home tips that can help professionals structure their days and increase productivity.
Work from home presents unique challenges to most professionals. Remote work may seem foreign and feel unnatural. It can completely eradicate the sense of structure that on-site companies provide— there’s no more physical presence of overbearing managers or prying coworkers to keep you on track. This relief of pressure may seem like it allows for a more relaxed time-frame to complete projects.
The truth is, this can cause a decrease in productivity. It might cause you to lose time to small actions like checking your phone or interacting with your family. The best way to combat this is to treat yourself like Project Managers would— apply SMART goals to your work so that your productivity can be increased.
SMART, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound, can provide a clear framework to manage your time. Through utilizing it, you become your own boss, and unlike your real boss, you can actually be very reasonable and still see your productivity from home spike!
Here are 5 ways that SMART Goals can Increase the Productivity of the Hours You’re Working from Home:
- Be Specific and Work on one project for as long as possible
- Make Sure you can Accurately Measure your Progress
- Set an Achievable Goal
- Clarify that Your Work is Relevant to the Team and Vision
- Give Yourself Time Limits that are Reasonable yet Ambitious
Tip 1: Be Specific With Your Work
The first of our working from home tips corresponds to the first letter in SMART: be specific in your goals when you work.
When you sit down in preparation to work, be defined in your mind about what you’re going to work on. This might seem intuitive— of course you know what you’re going to do if you decide to do it, right?
The truth is it’s extremely easy to slide between different tasks, especially if you don’t have a specific plan. This phenomenon happens more often during work from home because of its greater sense of freedom. You may start on one project before checking your Slack before suddenly messaging with a teammate about another project. While everything you do may be generally productive, the constant swapping of focus ultimately causes you to slow down. At the end of the day, your actual progress on the first project feels slower than it should have been.
As a result, it is important to be specific when you sit down and begin working from home. You need to choose one distinct and particular task and stick with it. When you don’t define what you’re going to work on and you hop into the first task you think of, it’s easy for your brain to start thinking of other, potentially more pressing tasks for you to switch to.
On the other hand, if you decide beforehand the most important project, you can exclusively focus on it and put off less important tasks for later. At the end of the day, this allows you to feel and be much more productive. You will see legitimate progress on a project that may have had you stumped!
Tip 2: Make Your Tasks Measurable
When choosing the specific project to work on, it’s important to consider the method of measuring your progress in that project. Before you work on any task, ensure that you have some way of knowing how much you’ve done and how much more you need to do.
Why Make Your Tasks Measurable?
1. Being able to understand how much you’ve done in measured terms can be very motivating and gratifying.
2. It allows you to set specific moments to stop instead of having to completely finish each task all the way through. This is especially important during work from home, as now managers may no longer consistently ask for qualitative updates to your work.
However, this isn’t necessarily easy for every project. Some tasks, like writing a brief, can be easily measured quantitatively through word-count. Other tasks, such as research work or strategic work, might be more difficult to pin down in measurements. Regardless, there is usually some quantitative or qualitative way to mark progress no matter the project, and even if it seems arbitrary it’s helpful to utilize a benchmark.
Measuring how much work you’ve done, especially during unregulated work from home, allows you to stay focused and motivated as you approach your benchmark. The truth is that, without those bossy upper-level managements asking repeatedly for updates on work, you don’t necessarily realize exactly how much you’ve done or how much you need to do.
By having a measured goal and ways of understanding where you are in relation to that goal, you can figure out if you need to adjust something. You can figure out if you need to work harder, lower your benchmark, or if you’re on the right track.
Tip 3. Be Realistic and Make your Goals Achievable
This tip may seem very self-explanatory. However, the problem with overachieving professionals when they start working from home is they become too hard on themselves. The fact that you suddenly don’t have to worry about commuting and that you feel a greater sense of freedom doesn’t mean that you should set unrealistic expectations.
Setting an achievable yet reasonable goal is important for increasing confidence as you continue working.
- If your goals are too unattainable, then not hitting your mark may cause you to start thinking less of yourself.
- On the other hand, if you set a target that’s too easy to hit, you’re mentally selling yourself short and you may get a false sense of achievement for subpar work.
It’s important to balance the two results, so that you gain confidence in your results but you also make legitimate progress.
Tip 4. Check With Your Team that Your Work is Relevant
Our fourth tip is to make sure that the tasks you focus on are relevant to your team and company.
This is generally very intuitive in the office— corporate culture usually ensures that team members and projects stay connected with each other. When working from home, however, people begin to feel like they are alone and that they must rely on themselves. It’s important to remember that this feeling is a trick. Even during remote work, it’s a good idea to think about the team. Always consider if the task you’re working on is something that the team requires of you.
This relevance to your team’s vision is an important criterion in making sure that you specify the most productive task. Even if you personally think that you should work towards one goal, your team may benefit more if you focus on another for the time you’ve allotted. Just because work from home physically separates you from your team doesn’t mean that communication isn’t still a top priority. Consistently check in with them to ensure that your work remains relevant.
Along with making your actions relevant to the team, another aspect of checking relevance is making sure that you are the right person for the task. I understand, delegation and collaboration can seem very difficult during remote work! But, it’s important to remember that you still can have others help. Even if this help is virtual, it is important.
If you believe that someone is more suited to a responsibility or task, communicate with them! Let them know that you might want help or might delegate it to them. Ultimately, you should remember that you don’t have to tackle everything alone, even if you are physically separated. Checking with your team about your actions’ relevance to the overall vision remains very important. If you want more tips on how to communicate with your team well during virtual work, check out this post.
Tip 5: Give Yourself Deadlines
The final advice of our SMART working from home tips is to make sure your tasks at home are time-bound.
Just like you should ensure that your activity is measurable and your end goal can be defined, you should also make sure you set targets for time. Making goals time-bound seems very obvious when managing long-term projects— every professional knows that setting long-term deadlines is an important aspect of keeping team-members on task. However, the less intuitive aspect of work-at-home for many professionals is setting short term time frames for individual tasks.
Why Make Your Tasks Time-Bound?
1. It allows you to take notice of how much time you’re spending on tasks, which means you can keep yourself accountable. If you give yourself all eight hours of the day to complete a task, you inevitably slow down per minute. Instead, maybe give yourself two hours to complete a task! You can check your measured progress against the time you’ve allotted, which pushes you to complete it.
2. It allows you to set break times for yourself after you finish tasks. Pre-defined break times are extremely helpful because you can fully relax within those moments. When you don’t have a clear idea of when to end your break, your “short break” may stretch too far.
3. It allows you to segment your time among tasks, which can be very productive if done correctly. Understanding when is the best time to do something analytical versus doing something creative can prevent a lot of frustration.
Normal offices usually have clearly defined short-term time frames for work. Work starts at 9 AM, then there’s a ten-minute break after an hour, and then a lunch break at noon. Working from home, however, has eliminated most of these routines. This may seem very liberating, and you may find power in breaking your schedule from the normal corporate routine.
Changing up your routine is perfectly okay, but it’s important to be cognizant of the time you spend on your tasks. Make sure you segment accordingly and continuously monitor how close you are to a self-given deadline. When you sit down and choose your specific task to work on, make sure you have a specific time frame in mind as well. This allows you to be your own boss and keep yourself on track! That is, as long as you stick with the deadline.
So, how does one exactly make their work from home time-bound? The best way to do this is to segment your time per task. For each activity you decide to do, make sure you place a short-term deadline for yourself to accomplish it.
Reminder: Make sure that this is in conjunction with all the other tips mentioned! Besides making a deadline, make sure you keep the task you’re doing specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant.
For instance, if you decide to take the time to research your competitors’ market shares, you may give yourself an hour to come up with three or four key competitors and their market control, before taking an hour to work on something else if need be. This way, not only is your goal specific, but you can also be specific and measured in your time.
What are exactly the best ways to segment your time? There is no exact or most efficient way to work— some people set aside discrete tasks for discrete moments of the day, whereas others like to work on the same project for 25 minutes before taking a short break (this latter one is popularly known as the Pomodoro Technique). It usually falls on each person to figure out what kind of time segmentation system works best.
Takeaways: How Do You Use These Working From Home Tips?
Each of these 5 tips, when followed, can dramatically increase your work from home productivity. However, it is most efficient when these steps are all taken. Making sure that you choose a specific, measured, achievable, time-bound, and relevant goal before even starting work will give you the ability to conduct a productive session. Professionals should be able to own their time, no matter if they’re in the office or at home. Hopefully, these SMART-based tips we’ve provided will allow you to continue crushing the virtual work given to you!