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Hour-by-hour: How to structure the perfect workday from home

There is a way to nail productivity while working from home. (Source: Getty)

In the era of coronavirus, workplaces that have never contemplated having even a single employee working from home have had to shift to an entirely work-from-home model.

For thousands of workers across the globe, it’s disrupted a natural rhythm and flow of the day built up of morning coffees, daily commutes and regular meetings, leaving bosses and workers alike to deal with new obstacles as they present themselves.

But there’s a way to nail working from home, according to productivity expert Donna McGeorge – and it’s all about establishing routine.

“For those new to working from home, that normal daily routine is critical to being able to maintain a ‘working’ from home mindset,” McGeorge told Yahoo Finance.

And it starts – literally – with making your bed, she added.

Here’s an hour-by-hour breakdown of what a productive 9-5 day working from home might look like:

8am

In the first hour before work, make use of online fitness videos and do some form of exercise for 30-45 minutes (she recommends stretching or yoga).

“This is also a good time to check the news. There is so much information out there right now, it’s best to pick one that you trust, and only look for 15 mins max,” McGeorge said.

But steer clear of social media to minimise the risk of absorbing misinformation, she warned.

9am

Kick off with a 10-minute ‘stand-up’ meeting with your team. Clear communication will be more important than ever since you no longer have the luxury of leaning over the desk to check in on what your colleagues are up to.

“Dial in [to your preferred conference call platform] and share with them what your priorities are for the day, and also hear theirs. Set up any later calls now so that you can be free to sort your day.”

Then check your emails for anything urgent. 

“If there is nothing that requires immediate attention, start working on something that requires high levels of focus and attention, and that will also provide high impact,” she said.

“The first two hours of your working day is when you have the highest levels of focus and attention. Don’t waste them!”

10am

Still feeling focused? Take a short break and grab a tea or a coffee, put your head down and just keep going – if you’re on a roll, it’s important to keep the momentum going, McGeorge advised.

“The third hour of your working day is typically the most productive. It’s when you are in a flow state, so don’t interrupt it, and plug away.”

11am

This is the best window to come up for a breather and check in with others. You could make a personal call or chat to some work colleagues. The interaction will help you feel less isolated, too.

“The point of this call is that it isn’t about work. It’s about putting your head up, popping the kettle on, grabbing a (healthy) snack and having a chat with a friend/colleague. After a 10-15 minute chat, you can then get back to it,” McGeorge said.

12pm

Ah, lunchtime! While it’s tempting to stay at your desk and munch away in front of your screen, take a proper break of at least 30 minutes, the productivity expert said – it could be a nice idea to go out for a walk.

“If you have others working from home, or family members around, now is a good time to congregate around the table and catch up on where we are all at.” 

Or you may opt to conference call your lunch with your team and eat ‘together’.

Just try to avoid talking about work – this is about hitting pause.

1pm

“Your body clock will be slowing down a bit here. If you can take a 15-minute power nap, do it! Why not? There’s no one to judge you,” McGeorge said.

In parts of Asia like China and Japan, it’s actually common for workers to rest their head on their desks and take a short nap during break. 

“It sets you up for success in the afternoons.”

Studies have also shown that you can maximise this effect by having a ‘nappucino’: since it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to hit, drinking a coffee right before having a nap can have you waking up buzzed and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

2pm

You might be feeling a second wind behind you at this point. If you’re powering through emails and ticking things off your to-do list, it might be time for a ‘fruit break,’ according to McGeorge.

“I had a colleague that used to stop around 3pm every day, take a piece of fruit to the kitchen, and peel, slice and eat.

“I asked her about this ritual and she says when you stop, peel, slice and eat, you are being mindful,” McGeorge said.

“Taking 10 mins to do this gives your mind a good break, and you also pay more attention to how good the fruit tastes.”

3pm onwards

From this point, you’re likely working on tasks to prepare yourself for tomorrow: what you want to achieve and how you can set yourself up well. Take the moment to write a to-do list for tomorrow, check what meetings you have scheduled and make whatever preparations you need to.

The second half of the day should be dedicated to low-intensity tasks anyway, so wrap up loose ends that you can basically do on autopilot.

Expert’s productivity tip

“Don’t feel like you have to be 100% productive every minute of every day. Even when you worked at the office, it’s likely you were only really productive for around three hours per day,” McGeorge said.

A 2016 study in the UK that surveyed 2,000 workers found that, in an eight-hour work day, the average worker was only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes.

Instead, the real challenge of working from home is to draw firm boundaries between your work and social/personal life.

“Keep your family in the loop around when you are available (or not) for casual interaction. Make sure you start and end your days at consistent times so you don’t blur into social time,” McGeorge said.

“And most of all, we are all in this together, and it’s going to be tough getting used to new ways of working. Be kind to yourself and everyone around you.”

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