The word “home” is often associated with rest and relaxation, and “office,” with all the stressors that have absolutely no place at home. But in recent years, just getting from the home to the office (and vice versa) has turned into a major daily challenge. According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency back in 2014, Manila loses up to P2.4 billion a day because of traffic congestion. A 2017 study by the Boston Consulting Group found that we spend up to 16 days stuck in traffic, equivalent to P100,000 in lost income. And we haven’t even gotten into office-related problems, or the inadequacy of public transport!
Working at home—whether as a freelancer or as an offshore employee—has thus become not just the viable option, but also the sensible one. Freelancers now make up around two percent of the total population, and Freelancer.com’s CEO Matt Barrie put the company’s 2017 Philippine-user total to 900,000. Remote work has gotten so much attention that the House of Representatives passed House Bill 7402 (the “work-from-home” bill) this May.
Here comes the next question. Given the sharp contrast of working where you’re not “supposed” to work, how can you stay productive? Here are ten tips that can work (hah) for you.
Change your mindset
You may be at home, but remember, it’s still work. No work, no money. Take it seriously! Stop referring to remote work as a mere racket or sideline, or thinking about home-based work as a temporary arrangement.
Most Filipino families still think of work in the traditional sense: on most days, you leave home, stay at the office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., then go back home. They can’t wrap their heads around the fact that work can now be done at home, and that you’re not slacking off.
Talk to everyone in your household; and set new, non-negotiable rules. You can’t and won’t do errands for them, do home repairs, wait for deliveries, etc., because “nasa bahay ka lang naman.” Close and lock your door, put on earphones, print out a Do Not Disturb sign if you have to; and don’t yield, except for extreme emergencies. Your time is as valuable as everyone else’s, home-based worker or not. Everyone around you must learn to respect it as much as you do.
Choose your work area
Already got a home office? Congratulations; you’re all set! But not everyone has a spare room to use. If you have extra space in your bedroom, clear enough of it for a desk and a chair from where you can work in comfort. Otherwise, stake your claim in the sala, dining room, or garden; or anywhere you can spend long hours working in.
We mean this in both literally and figuratively. A clean workspace will minimize the clutter in your mind, too. You can then focus on the day’s tasks instead of wasting time sorting and shuffling through stuff.
Now, for the figurative meaning. If you’re comfortable working in your oldest, rattiest, hole-iest pambahay, that’s alright. But you can also dress up in your corporate best, like you’re going to the office. Again, it’s all about the mindset: it helps you switch to Professional Mode, and makes it much easier when you have a meeting or meetings set up in the middle of your workday.
Be strict with your schedule
Work time is work time. If you’re fine with the standard 9-6, stick to that schedule. If you’re a morning person, wake up earlier and you’ll be done earlier. Night owl? There’s no shame in starting late and ending work at sunrise; you do you. What’s important is you don’t deviate from the hours you set for yourself.
Time it and list it
We suggest using a time tracker; it’ll help you see exactly how much time you spend on one task, project, or client. Our rough estimates of how much time we spent on something normally doesn’t match the actual number—the estimate is often greater. The other benefits of using a tracker: you’ll see which jobs eat up your work hours the most and/or pay the least. Check out online apps like Toggl, Harvest, and TimeCamp, which have free options for solo users. You can also use to-do lists and organization systems (e.g., Bullet Journaling) to sort out what you need to do for the day. Don’t just think about it and trust that you’ll remember it, because odds are you won’t.
We know it’s tempting to line up multiple projects and tasks, but don’t do it! You will overpromise and underdeliver, which would make you lose work prospects. This is why time tracking is so important. Once you have enough numbers, allot ample time for everything, know your limits, and focus on one thing at a time.
Silence is golden
Take your beloved smartphone and/or tablet, and put it on Silent Mode or Mute. Turn off your TVs, gaming consoles, or other entertainment gadgets of choice. They don’t need Quality Time from you right now, and whatever notifications are on it can definitely wait. The less distractions, the better.
Break it up
Taking breaks sounds counterintuitive when we’re talking about productivity, but hear us out. You can’t work like a robot all day, every day! Your body and mind will get tired, and they’ll ask for some rest. Be kind to yourself and rest whenever it’s needed. Have a snack, move around, exercise or stretch, whatever gets your blood circulation going again and your stomach quiet, do it.
Seek human contact
Working from home, especially if you’re the sole human being living there, can get pretty lonely sometimes. Try talking to people every day, especially those not involved in your line of work. Fire up those chat programs, or meet up with them after work hours. It’s important to work, but remember to have an actual, fulfilling life outside it. It’ll go a long way toward re-energizing you for the next day’s work, and to stave off burnout.