Seven ways to be more productive when you work from home

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We dug through the research to find the best ways to increase your productivity at home

Flexible working is on the up, with an increasing number of people choosing to work at home, instead of in an office. In fact, data from the Office of National Statistics shows that 4.2 million people regularly worked from home in 2015, and it’s forecasted that half of the UK’s workforce could take up remote working by 2020.

While the move towards more flexible working is well on its way, there are downsides to working from home. Yes, it’s handy for childcare, and means you don’t have to spend hours commuting. But, on the flipside, it also means you have to battle the constant distractions of home life, namely the TV, the fridge, and the sudden urge to whip the hoover around, instead of tackling your to-do list. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s seven tips, backed up by research, for how to be more productive when you work from home.

1. Set office hours – and stick to them

One of the biggest draws of flexible working is taking control of your hours. But, just because you work best at midnight, doesn’t mean you necessarily should – the World Health Organisation has even linked working at night to an increased risk of cancer, due to the disruption to your circadian rhythms. Sticking to set office hours is a great way of maintaining productivity in your working day, and means your emails will (hopefully) be replied to in real time, not hours later.

2. Set aside a dedicated work space

Yes, it’s nice to work from the sofa, with Netflix on for company. But, deep down, you know it’s no good for your output. In fact, a survey by Gensler, an architecture firm, found that improvements to workplace environment could result in a 20 per cent increase in productivity. This doesn’t mean you need to build an entire home office (although this would be ideal). Instead, set up a dedicated space in a quiet corner, preferably with lots of natural light, and use it only in your set office hours. When you’re in this space, you’re working.

3. Get dressed

Working from home is freeing in lots of ways. But that doesn’t mean wearing your pyjamas in the middle of the day is great for your productivity levels. A growing field of research is that of ‘embodied cognition’, which proposes that we think not just with our brains but with our bodies, too. To this end, a study  by Northwestern University found that participants who wore a white doctor’s coat focused more and felt more confident in accomplishing tasks. Now, we’re not suggesting you wear a lab coat at your desk – but showering and dressing in an outfit you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen in in a regular office is a great way to start.

4. Put your phone in the next room

A survey carried out by Microsoft earlier this year showed just how distracting technology is when it comes to a productive workplace. Plus, according to research by the University of Texas, just having your phone close to hand can impact productivity, as your brain is actively working all the time to not pick it up. Instead, invest in an old school landline for work calls, and keep your mobile in another room – in the research, the people who did this significantly outperformed ones who kept them nearby.

5. Make exercise a priority

We all know we’ve got to make exercise a priority for our health – both mental and physical. But it’s essential for maintaining good productivity levels when you work from home, too. A study by the University of Bristol found that the productivity levels of its 201 participants rose by 21 per cent on days when they exercised. Motivation levels increased by an amazing 41 per cent, too. So make sure you’re using all that time you’re not commuting wisely, and head out for a run or a gym session.

6. Take a break

You’ve created a dedicated work space, along with set office hours. Now, you need to give yourself a break. Countless studies show that taking breaks is essential for remaining productive in the working day. A study into the decision making process of Israeli judges found that ‘decision fatigue’ is a very real thing – the longer you work without breaks, the harder it is for you to make decisions, and the easier it is to procrastinate or make simplistic choices. So get up, stretch, go for a 10-minute walk, or put the hoover round. It could make the difference between finishing your to-do list, or not.

7. Leave the house

One of the biggest dangers of working from home is cutting yourself off from human interaction, which can have a serious effect on your mental health. Indeed, a study published in 2014 showed that the number of interactions people had in a day correlated with feelings of belonging and happiness. So make sure leaving the house is as important an event as sitting down at your desk in the morning. Schedule in evening pub sessions with friends, group gym classes or even networking events.