16 Apr #301 – Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind (or Productivity) with Thomas Frank
Productivity expert and YouTuber Thomas Frank joins the podcast to discuss strategies for working at home without sacrificing efficiency and productivity. Since many listeners are currently stuck at home during the lockdown, unable to work at their normal office, Matt invited Thomas to help us all make the most out of our “new normal.”
The first thing Thomas recommends is creating separation and isolation for your workspace.
- If possible, designate a room for your office space. If that’s not possible, designate a space for work (more on that below).
- This space should reflect it’s purpose (work) and therefore be clean and clutter free.
- Discuss with your family and come to an agreement about what kind of behavior and interruptions are acceptable while you are working.
- If you don’t have an entire room to dedicate to work, try to at least set up a desk that only gets used for work. Even if you don’t have space for a permanent desk, set up a folding table at the same time everyday and dedicate that to work.
- Face your desk away from the rest of your family and possessions (especially the TV!), so you have less visual distractions while you’re working.
Thomas follows the “20 second rule” to incentivize good habits and disincentives bad ones. The concept behind the rule is that starting anything requires a certain amount of “activation energy,” that is, the amount of time and effort required to start a given task. If you have something you want to do more of, make it easy to access and quick to start. Ideally, you should be able to start the task or activity in 20 seconds or less. Conversely, for the things you want to do less of — perhaps video games, surfing the internet, or other non-productive activities — make them as inconvenient as possible to start.
Working in the same space, especially small home offices, can get monotonous. Thomas suggests breaking up your day by taking walks outside. Not only is the walk physically and mentally refreshing, it also serves as a nice divider between tasks, allowing you to “context switch” more efficiently and with less procrastination.
Thomas also recommends managing sound in your workspace. Sound is an involuntary sense. It’s always on, and you don’t get to choose what you hear, unless you block it out. He recommends getting a good pair of sound canceling headphones to reduce noise and auditory distractions while you are working.
Decision fatigue is another challenge of working from home. At home you have to make every decision about the day — when to eat, when to take breaks, when lunch happens, etc. Those who are accustomed to working in an office, which operates on it’s own schedule (open and closing hours, set lunch hours at the cafeteria, etc), may find the lack of structure in their home fatiguing as they have to manage decisions that were previously taken care of. Setting a schedule and sticking to it can mitigate this fatigue.
To that end, Thomas likes to rely on an external system for accountability. If you work for someone else, you probably have a manager, and thus someone to hold you accountable for your productivity. If you work for yourself, you have to create a boss, so to speak. Thomas likes to use a white board or scheduling system to plan the order and priority of his tasks for the day, then go execute them. Without that planning step, he often finds himself procrastinating and finishing things last minute.
Limit your list. Don’t dump everything you want to do on there, just the important things to accomplish today. If you add too many things to the list, and you don’t accomplish them, then it’s easy to go several days without crossing everything off the list. This obscures your daily work capacity and makes it difficult to determine how to schedule work in the future. It’s also disheartening to see a seemingly never-ending list, never get shorter!
Thomas prefers to tackle the biggest item on the list first. That way he knows he’s getting work done on the highest priority task in case there are unexpected interruptions during the day.
Matt follows a similar strategy, but allows himself the first hour of the day to take care of the smallest, easiest tasks on his list. This gives him the satisfaction of crossing off several things on the list, while he’s waking up and his brain is getting ready for deeper, more creative work.
You can follow Thomas Frank for many more productivity tips on his Youtube channel (check the links for his new Working from Home series),
How to Set Up Your Workspace
How to Plan Your Day
And more to come!
College Info Geek Podcast: https://collegeinfogeek.com
Thomas on IG: https://www.instagram.com/tomfrankly/
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