When you work from home fulltime or part time, too many people in your life—definitely in mine—think you’re available 24/7 to cover an extra carpool run, walk their dog, watch for a neighbor’s delivery, drop a package at the post office… To others, it’s no big deal for us to juggle our schedules; we’re mostly home after all. There’s no boss standing in our office doorway or at our desk wanting results on the spot. But, there are some easy ways of stopping the intrusions and increasing your productivity when you work from home.
Our friends and family don’t fully understand that working from home requires the same time to focus, research, set up meetings or finish reports as it does for employees working on the company’s premises. I doubt they comprehend our deadlines or understand that any wrench thrown into the system often results in working nights or at dawn’s first light.
I realized that I was the problem, not my inquiring friends and family members. I created unnecessary pressure on myself because I, someone who wants to be perceived as caring and helpful, had no boundaries. On one of many occasions my husband stopped in my home office in the middle of the day with a seemingly simple request: Please call to arrange a dinner with friends. It took 15 minutes; my friend won’t text and is very chatty. Seems a trivial chunk of time, but I should have told my husband, “I can’t now” and continued working. Instead, I felt frustrated and annoyed—avoidable feelings if I simply said “no” or asked him to make the call.
The people-pleasing tendency opens the door for invasions at the most inconvenient times. I had a lot of trouble saying no when asked for a favor or to handle a problem. I also believe I can always squeeze in one more task. I think: “I’m already busy, so what’s another thing to do?” Yet, the smallest “ask” has a way of compounding stress.
I needed to find ways to be make my work-from-home time more productive and stop being an ever-ready yes-person. The process of finding solutions turned into The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say it and Mean it―and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. Here’s a bit of what I learned that may help you accomplish more without harming your relationships.
7 tips to increase productivity
Here are seven fixes for increasing your productivity when your work from home. Starting just a few of them will be a surprising help:
No one is a mind reader. Enlighten friends and family by spelling out the hours you work. A schedule automatically creates boundaries so vital for making those who encroach on your time less able to do so. The more you are faithful to a routine, the sooner those around you will see it as gospel, too and be hesitant to call on you.
Set up a safety zone. Even young children can be taught to respect your workspace. They understand signals. My son knew if I held up my hand when he entered my office that he should not speak. If you have young children, consider using a sign similar to the stop sign used by crossing guards.
Assert yourself. Embrace a no-response: “I can’t; I’m on deadline.” Or, “I have to finish this project/report/job today.” It’s almost always true, isn’t it? When you say no, the asker is not thinking about you as much as you wonder and worry about what she thinks. She’s moved on to find someone else to help out.
Protect your time. Maybe you’re super handy or a whiz at organization and called on regularly to help your friends. Perhaps you are everyone’s go-to wordsmith: to proofread a friend’s important email; help your niece write her college essay; draft a friend’s resume. It’s flattering to be asked, but before agreeing, ask yourself: Do I have the time? Will I wish I had said no soon after saying yes? Will I resent the person asking? Will I feel pressure to get it done before my regular workload?
Ditch your cellphone. Research from the University of Texas at Austin indicates that “defined and protected periods of separation” between you and your smartphone can improve brain function and let you perform better. You have fewer interruptions, but this distance also boosts brainpower. Even having it at your side and turned off undercuts cognitive performance—it’s a brain drain on family relationships too.
Think ahead when boss or client asks. It’s quite easy to become overloaded when—or maybe because—you work from home. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to say “Yes!” immediately to new assignments, then to only feel stressed later on. If this is a problem for you, strive to think “No” before “No problem, I’ll do that for you!” Go through a mental checklist: Is the new job beyond my ability or expertise? Are there details I should request before committing? Am I being too unrealistic about how much time I have to devote to this project?
Ignore your inbox’s siren song. If your inbox is like mine, you’re amazed at how much email floods in daily. When I paid attention to how often I checked my email it was more than the estimated median (higher in some studies) of about every 15 minutes. It’s too easy to get distracted; yet it takes over a minute after looking at an email to refocus on what you were doing, according a study of information workers at the University of California. Consider saying no to the email barrage by muting notifications. Checking email when you are trying to work is procrastination.
While working from home, the time lost as a result of being an “easy mark” for friends, family, on site coworkers, clients and email can be saved by embracing a NO when you need it. Fortifying yourself with this little word will help you earn respect, increase your productivity, and find a little extra time to relax and rejuvenate—and likely come up with fresh ideas—all essential for your enthusiasm, outlook and increasing your productivity when you work from home including the caliber of your work.
For more on building your boundaries with friends, family, even your children, see The Book of NO.