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I tried 5 different productivity hacks for working from home. Here's what actually worked.

OKAY. I confess!

Working from home isn't built for me.

I know, I know. Flexible work conditions are a luxury, and hugely welcome to many. 

It's a blessing to have the resources to be able to work from my own home, and as a single 20-year-old living in a fairly comfortable share house (yes, that means no family to distract me) who am I to complain?

Well, indulge me. 

Watch: Things you never say in 2021. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

How are you? I'm Emma, I'm from Sydney, and you know what that means. 

Nine weeks ago, I, among hundreds of thousands of others, was sent home from the office on a standard Friday afternoon for two weeks of working from home. 

Easy enough. 

It started off strong. I loved the novelty of working from home that meant pyjamas all day, working from the couch, bed or even outside if I so desired.

But two weeks turned to three, three turned to many, and here we are, nine weeks into a lockdown that doesn't look to be easing up anytime soon and boy has my output been suffering. 

So I thought, now that I've got two months of practice under my belt, it's about time I whip those working from home muscles into shape with a good old challenge. 

This week, I trialled five productivity hacks to see what would get my creative juices flowing.

But first, the work from home productivity basics:

Setting up an ~ergonomic~ workspace. 

Remember that aforementioned Sydney share house that meant I didn't have to deal with family?

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Well, it also meant no dining or kitchen table to set myself up at. No flat surface actually, if we don't count the coffee table.

This has never been an issue before, but towards the end of week one working from home, I noticed a worrying 'tech neck' emerging, so I caved and bought myself a second-hand desk and chair from Facebook Marketplace.

With a bit of room reshuffling, I set up my new workspace. And isn't she cute!

Very profesh. Image: Supplied.

Eliminate distractions.

Ah, where to begin? 

For the next week, as much as is possible in my job, I would leave my phone outside of my bedroom/office to be checked every few hours. 

I'm lucky to have most of my work accessible by computer so this wasn't too difficult. 

What was difficult, was escaping social media - my number one distracter, which is very present in my day-to-day tasks as a writer working in women's media. 

This may sound extreme, but to combat the inevitable scrolling I would fall victim to while searching for an Instagram photo to use in a story, I created a second "work" account that only followed other news organisations.

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And finally, that good old procrastination method disguised as work: my inbox. 

If like me, your inbox is another big distracter, you might find it useful to do a quick clear of it as the first and last thing in your workday. 

Incorporating this into my daily routine has been very helpful.

Now, onto the juicy stuff...

Day 1: Power Hours

I decided to kick the week off with a bang by trialling 'power hours' first thing on day one.  

As you might suspect, a power hour consists of deep focus on one (or a few!) tasks for 60 minutes. 

For me, I'm most productive between 12-3pm and 5-8pm, which is handy, because my usual weekday shift is 12-8pm. 

So, I try to fit in my power hours around these times.

On a good day I can fit in three to four. On a not-so-good day, I can fit in one or two.

I liked kicking my shift off with a power hour as I came in with a fresh perspective and got two-to-three times the work I could usually get done finished right off the bat.

Knowing that I could chill out for a bit once the hour was up prevented me from feeling burnt out in the meantime. Plus, I quickly realised the harder I worked in the hour, the easier I could take it in the afternoon. 

Genius. 

Most days, around 3.30pm, I experience a slump in my productivity. 

This is when I substitute deep work for "shallow" tasks like responding to emails and creating images for my stories. 

Will I be doing it again? Every damn day! I struggle to maintain a consistent level of productivity, so flipping between deep and shallow focus works a charm for me.

Day 2: Get outside.

On day two of my productivity challenge, I took the advice of everyone ever and got some fresh air where I could throughout my workday.

There are a whole bunch of reasons why getting into nature is a good thing. A very quick google search told me it would help my short-term memory, improve concentration AND sharpen my creativity. 

Now that's a list of benefits. 

So, at my 3.30pm slump when my brain was caving in, I walked to the bottom of my street (and what also is surely the steepest hill in Sydney) and ran up it. 

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What inclined me to take it to that extreme? I'm unsure. But I will say, I felt like I'd just taken a pure shot of endorphins once my heart rate and breathing calmed down.

Other ways I got into nature on day two included moving my workspace outside for some afternoon sun, and doing a lap of the block when I experienced some writer's block.

Both of these methods proved valuable and my mind felt a lot smoother.

Will I be doing it again? Running up the hill? Maybe when I forget how painful it is. Getting outside? Absolutely. 

Day 3: Micro-breaks.

I love words that are prefaced by 'micro' (so cute and small!), so I was looking forward to day three.

In essence, micro-breaks are brief gaps in your workday to be taken every 45 minutes to an hour. They can last anywhere between 40 seconds and a few minutes.

You can learn all about micro-breaks on Mamamia's new productivity podcast: 8 minutes to change your (work) life. Post continues below.

According to the US journal of Applied Psychology, "people are more engaged and less fatigued when they are given the freedom to take brief impromptu micro-breaks whenever they feel the need through the day."

As Deborah Ho, host of Mamamia's new productivity podcast 8 minutes to change your (work) life says, "They improve your ability to concentrate and change the way you see tasks you have to complete."

And I certainly felt the effect.

Every hour, I took a few moments to get away from my work and found that when a task at hand was challenging, I came back to it with fresh eyes.

Some things you could try in your micro-break include:

  • Reading a page of a book
  • 5-minutes of meditation
  • Stretching
  • Walking up and down the stairs

Will I be doing it again? Yes! Especially when I'm feeling stuck.

Day 4: Dress for success.

Admittedly, I was not looking forward to testing out this tip.

If there's a benefit to working from home, it's being allowed to wear trackies and hoodies day in, day out. 

But that's not in the spirit of productivity now, is it?

So, on day four I popped on jeans for the first time in a long time, a pair of boots and a knit jumper (because jeans and a blazer felt far too formal for home).

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Fit check! Image: Supplied.

According to many experts, getting dressed for your workday while working from home is said to create structure and improve confidence.  

And I get it... in principle. 

But I really like comfy clothes - lockdown or not. 

Will I be doing it again? Yes, and no. 

Getting dressed brought some welcome structure to my day but the jeans... did not. In future I'll be swapping out pyjamas for lounge wear, and that seems like a fair compromise to me. 

Day 5: Substitute the commute.

No more getting out of bed two minutes before my shift starts. 

On day five, I got back to my typical workday routine and imitated my old commute to the office. 

When I was going into the office earlier this year, I had an hour walk or, on days when I was really pressed for time, a 15 minute bus trip. 

Which meant that on day five, I was to implement a 15-minute to hour-long walk before my shift started. 

Why is this necessary? Well, according to Business Insider, it creates a smoother transition between your work and personal time. 

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It also provides some much needed 'me-time' away from housemates/family/co-habitants of your work or personal space.

In my fake commute, I listened to a news podcast (which I would typically do on my commute), did a lap of the park, and it was really pleasant!

Will I be doing it again? Yes. It stops me staring at my desk with dread for the hour before I start my shift, and I appreciate that. 

Verdict: 

There were days in this challenge when I thought I'd found the world's best kept secret, and days when I couldn't bring myself to respond to emails.

That's because my energy and lockdown optimism ebbs and flows, and that's okay.

What I loved about this week, and intend to keep in place as long as this lockdown should go on, was giving myself simple tasks and goals to try. 

By making a game of things like leaving my phone in another room and deep focusing for an hour, things were surprisingly easier.

For more from Emma, you can follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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