7 tips to efficiently work from home and stay motivated (and sane!): home office for PhD researchers

Recently, most of us have been literally forced to work from home. No matter where you live and what you do, you probably struggle now in the same way as we all do!

It’s the beginning of April 2020 and COVID19 is rampaging around the globe. Lots of us have this unique opportunity to keep our jobs and work from home. But it’s not always easy, isn’t it? There’s always something that may distract you…

And because of that, I’d like to share with you a few tips that help David and me to stay motivated. Yes, I do recognise that our lives are all different – some of you are single, some of you have families, children, dogs, cats or even fish in the tank.

However, I trust that the productivity tips I share with you below are pretty universal for all of us. After all, efficient planning and prioritising are the keys to success. I’d love to hear about your productivity tips – please share your thoughts in the comments and helo others to work from home more effectively!

Work from home essentials

Let’s start with the essentials to work from home. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is a PC with a decent internet connection. I know this can be tricky these days, but it’s worth getting in touch with your broadband provider to see if they can offer an upgrade at the same price.

What’s even more important is to organise a workspace that supports productivity. You might be creative here! I’m sure you’ve already seen already some funny photos with home office based on the iron boards or the kitchen cupboard!

Work from home may be challenging but with a few adjustments to include best productivity tips you can be your home office hero and achieve great results.
To work from home more efficiently, make sure you set up your working space, plan your activities and stick to your daily routine!

Let’s not forget about motivation. As a freelance graphic designer and marketer, I decided to work from home more than two years ago. Therefore, I can understand and assure you – it’s not easy to keep your motivation at a high level all the time. And it’s totally fine! All you need to do is to ensure that your work is done on time. 

Plan your day and keep tracking!

If it’s the first time you work from home, you may be a bit overwhelmed, especially at the very beginning. I want you to realise that it’s really normal and nearly everyone is going through this phase (even David!). Everything is super stressful, you’re probably worried about your family and friends, so you’re allowed to feel uncomfortable in this situation. It’s fine – you’ll get used to this new uncertain world and will be able to move on, no matter what will be next. It’s not easy, but the show must go on!

I found that the best way to maintain high levels of motivation and productivity is to set up a plan of the day, write it down and to stick to it. Such a plan should include the time when you want to start and finish working that day and what you need to do in the order of priority.

Write down your three most important work-related things to do on that day. You may also include some smaller home-related activities, like doing laundry or taking a walk (where allowed!). In this way you will remember you need to do it, but you can easily focus on your work. Keep this piece of paper near you throughout your day and when you remind yourself about something, just write it down. In this way, you can plan it for the next or the following day!

Importantly, don’t try to push the work-related activities for “later”. Because you stay at home the entire day, it doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice your work-life balance! 

To help you plan the day and work from home better, I’ve designed for you a minimalistic daily planner, ready for print. It can be printed on both sides of an A4 sheet. I included two days on a single page when you print it on both sides, you’ll have daily planners for 4 days! Download here!

Want to work from home more efficiently?
Click the photo to download your free daily planner to print

Track the time!

We all sometimes have this weird feeling that we were working all day, but we haven’t actually completed anything! How to help with that? Well, it’s quite easy. Track your time!

You can use some app to keep track of what you’re doing. Alternatively, you can use the simple timer on your phone or PC to keep monitoring your work.

Important tip – remember to pause it when you don’t work! In this way, you’ll exactly see what you did and how much did it take. I also find it beneficial to split the time into some blocks (i.e. by task). Also, if you work in the office and usually take a lunch break, so don’t change that! Keep your daily routine alive!

There’re a few useful tools available, like Pomodoro. But I believe the way you track your time is down to your preferences and type of work you do.

Stick to your morning routine

If you don’t usually work from home, for sure, you’ve already developed some sort of a morning routine that you practice every day before you go to work. From my experience. I learnt that it’s a good practice to keep it up! I know it’s very tempting to stay in bed longer in the morning, but I felt much more efficient when I just stick to my morning routine.

Brace yourself

When you work from home, it’s very tempting to sit by the laptop wearing the jumpsuit or… even PJ’s. Yeah, it happens to me too! And because of my experience, I can assure you, this might sound funny, but it makes a difference in what you are actually wearing “to work”.

You don’t have to wear a suit or black dress – don’t get me wrong! But it helps to feel that you can go outside anytime if you need to do so (even now, when we’re not really supposed to do it!). It makes you feel more professional, and so helps to work more efficient. Also, you don’t need to use any awkward excuses during the work call, like “my camera doesn’t work”…

If you’re usually wearing make-up to work, it’s a good idea to put it on when working from home too! This may sound silly, but trying to live your life as normal as reasonably possible by doing such little things will help you focus and minimalize the temptation to lay down on the sofa and watch Netflix all day long!

Set up your working space

This is an important one. I didn’t realise why sometimes I wasn’t as productive as I wanted until I set up a working space at my place. Make sure your home office resembles (to some degree) an office.

If you don’t have a desk where you can work, or if you simply don’t need it, it’s very helpful to tidy up the working space before you actually get to work – even though it’s your kitchen table or sofa. Make sure you clean that area, remove any distractions and make it comfortable. Remember about your wellbeing – your back will be grateful in the long run if you take care of it now by taking care of your working posture.  

If you’re living in a noisy neighbourhood or live with somebody else, it’s a good idea to use headphones (ideally with noise cancellation!). You can use any music apps there you find – my favourite is Spotify. There’s a bunch of others you might like more. Even old, good YouTube can do the work here (yes, they still have music over there, not just funny cats).

Do you take an iron board with you to work? 

From my experience, this is one of the biggest distractions when working from home. When you’re staying at home, it’s extremally easy to do the things you usually do at home (especially when you need to work and you’re not in the mood)!

My advice here is to include the home-related activities in your daily plan (as I mentioned above) or do them after work. When you’re in the office, I’m sure you don’t have your iron board with you!

Working together is easy

When you’re working with the others in your household, it’s a good idea to set up some ground rules.

For example, Dawid takes a lot of work-related calls now. In the morning, we’re planning what is happening that day, so we can agree on when and where we can work, what activities we can do without interrupting each other too much and when we break for lunch to spend some time together. It’s pretty normal that I’m sitting in this same room, but I need to remember not to sing aloud!

If you’ve got children, managing this (nearly military) operation might be a bit more complicated. If it is possible, you can split the child care with your partner or arrange it in some other way. There’s always a solution, sometimes you need to dig deeper!

Be social, but after work!

We all use social platforms and we all know how addictive it is to “scroll through the feed”! This is a serious time waster when working from home.

Unless you don’t use social media in your work, it’s better to turn it off. Even better, I recommend you block it for the time you work, if you can’t control yourself. For some time now, I use the extension in my web browser to hide the feed on my Facebook because I find myself just to scrolling the feed. I found it wasn’t effective and efficient at all! 

If you’re tempted a lot, allocate some slots for social media in your daily planner and TRACK THE TIME. Remember, it’s very easy to go from 10 minutes to an hour.

Share your tips with us…

Working at home isn’t always easy, but let’s try to make it fun. If you’d like to show us how do you work, post the photo on your Instagram and tag us @motivatedacademic. We’re happy to share your idea with the others! 

I hope these straightforward tips will help you manage better your home office, work from home more efficiently and help you to survive this difficult time!

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Digital Marketer & Graphic Designer /// CEO Magda Hanak Creative Design

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