Tips For Working Effectively From Home

Photo credit: Mark Sebastian

For a lot of people working from home is great. In fact, a study suggests that employees who work at home have a higher productivity rate and are more satisfied with their job. It’s a win-win situation.

No matter if you’re self-employed or work 1-2 days a week at the home instead of at the office, you might run into productivity issues. If you are having trouble getting really productive at your home office, here are some tips that will help you.

Tip 1: Set up a physical home office space

The most important thing is your own office space at home. Clearly define where you work, put your desk there and set up shop. Get a nice desk and a good chair, you will need it.

Keep your work space clean and free of clutter as much as you can. Remove all things on your desk that might distract you. Keeping a green plant at your desk or get some design objects for inspiration/decoration.

Tip 2: Set your working hours

Working at home does not mean you have to work from 9-5. Neither should it mean that you work whenever you want. Setting your optimum working hours is key to good productivity. Commit yourself to a schedule and stick with it everyday.

One big advantage of working from home independently is that you can do your job at your favorite time when you operate at your best. Some people like to work in the morning, others get super productive when it gets dark. If you don’t know your optimal working hours yet, some testing might be required.

Tip 3: Make weekly and daily to-do lists

A task list will help you concentrate on your most important tasks and reduce your ability to procrastinate. You can use a digital task management tool or pen & paper, the main thing is that you have a clear to-do list.

The optimal daily to-do list consists of the three most important tasks you want to get done today. Of course, you can add more tasks down the list, but the top three tasks should be done as soon as possible and at any case. If you need help with prioritization, the Eisenhower Method might help you.

Make your daily to-do the night before and your weekly to-do list before your new work week starts. This way you get a head start on your tasks and can begin working right away the next day.

Tip 4: Set boundaries with your family & friends

To minimize distractions, you have to set boundaries with your family and friends. Despite you being at home, it does not mean that you are available the whole time for chatting or errands.

When your home is your office, you have to talk to the people who might distract you and lay out clearly when you don’t want to be interrupted.

Tip 5: Get out regularly

Especially if you are self-employed, the temptation is high to work all the time. To maintain a proper work-life balance, you have to “leave” work, especially if your office is two rooms away.

A common problem with home workers is that they lose contact to other human beings. At the office, there are plenty of people to chat with. If you work from home, it can get lonely sometimes. So get out and meet with your friends. Better yet, find other people who also work from home or do similar things like you do.

If your workday is over, it’s over. Stop working and do something completely different from work. You should always have some private time for reading, relaxing, exercising, etc.

So, do you work from home? Please share your experiences and tips in the comments.

The Eisenhower Method

The Eisenhower Method is a time management method that helps you categorize tasks for maximum efficiency. This method is attributed to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower

How it works

The Eisenhower Method is a very simple, yet powerful method. The system uses a matrix of four quadrants. To categorize a task you have to ask two questions:

Is the task important?

Is the task urgent?

As shown in the illustration on the left, every task ends up in one of the four quadrants.

Quadrant 4: Not Urgent and Not Important

These are the tasks you should not do. Typically, they are a waste of time with little to no effect on your goals.

Quadrant 3: Urgent and Not Important

These are tasks that need your attention right now, but really are not important to your bottom line. The Eisenhower method suggests to outsource this kind of tasks to somebody else.

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent And Important

This is the most important quadrant, you should spend most of your time with this kind of tasks. Quadrant 2 tasks are often tasks that we know we should do, but never really do them, because they don’t seem urgent enough. But deep down we know that they are important and make a huge difference in the long run.

Quadrant 1: Urgent and Important

This tasks should be addressed immediately by you. However, if you spend too much time with quadrant 1 tasks, you are just putting out fires. If too much important tasks end up urgent, you might need better planning or somebody to help you.

Eisenhower Method Apps & Tools

I found two nice tools that are specifically designed to support the Eisenhower Method: A simple iPhone App, great to organize your tasks on the go.

Priority Matrix: Desktop and mobile software, available for Windows, Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Final thoughts

The Eisenhower Method can be used both in personal life and in business with great effect. It can also be integrated in popular time management frameworks like GTD, just prioritize and file your tasks accordingly.

A simple approach to use this method is to use it with the 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of your time with quadrants 1 & 2 and only 20% with quadrants 3 & 4. While this can be hard to achieve in the beginning, it is definitely possible in the long run.

So, what do you think? Would you give the Eisenhower Method a try?

The 20-answers problem solving method

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Every now and then we get stuck with a really difficult problem and it seems like there is no easy way to solve it. I’m sure you experience such nasty tasks, may it be at work or in your personal life.

There are a lot of methods to get on top of the situation, like splitting the problem up in smaller tasks or asking somebody for help who had a similar issue.

However, there is a clever method I like to use to battle though problems, it’s called the 20-answers problem solving method.

I don’t really remember where I found this, so I kind of claim this method as my idea now ;) Anyways, here is how the 20-answers problem solving method works:

Step 1: Formulate your problem as a question

Formulate your problem as a clear question. Beginning the question with “How can I” or “What should I do to” are great ways to start.

What should I do to get a promotion in the next 3 months?
How can I improve my marketing to get more customers for my business?
How can I improve my relationship with my wife?

Step 2: Find as many different answers to your problem

Find as many different answers to your problem. The first 1-10 ideas will probably come easy. It’s important that you search for a variety of answers from different areas. Be creative and think outside the box.

Sometimes it’s really hard to find answers, but that’s good, because it forces you to dig deep and really get to the bottom of your problem. Find at least 20 good answers and write them all down.

Step 3: Sort your 20 answers by importance

Time to sort your 20 answers by importance. Prioritize the list and put the ideas with the best effect/effort ratio (high impact tasks, quick wins, etc.) to the top of the list.

Assign the highest priority to the 3 best answers which you think will have the biggest impact on your problem. If some answers are bad in retrospective, kick them out and keep your list clean this way.

You should have a prioritized list of 20 answers as a result of this step.

Step 4: Implement your ideas

Implement your ideas! This is the most important step, you have to take action. Don’t let the problem slide, you have an excellent action list now, use it.

As soon as you start working on your answers, you will hopefully find even more new ideas on how to solve your problem. It is important to collect these ideas and prioritize them in your list. You want to work on the most effective tasks, so prioritize and don’t waste time.

Go from answer to answer and your problem will be solved

The 20-answers method helped me with a lot of problems. Most of the time you don’t have to implement all 20 ideas from your list, because the problem is sometimes sufficiently solved after the first 3-10 ideas.

So, what’s your experience with this problem solving method? If you have tried this method after reading this article, please share your results.

5 tips on how President Obama gets things done

If you think your workday is busy, try having a job with 300 million bosses, a 24-hour news cycle of critics, and a to-do list that is often life or death. That’s President Obama’s job.

A job with huge responsibility and a lot of difficult decisions every day.

According to a cool article by 99U, this are the 5 productivity tips on how President Barack Obama gets things done.

1. Your day begins the night before

Obama stays up working at night, when his family is already in bed. He works on things that have been left unfinished during the day.

This time is also spend on preparing important stuff for the next days.

2. Limit decision fatigue

Facing an excruciating number of decision to make every day, President Obama tries to limit his information intake.

Obama: “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

He also prefers simple “decision memos” with three options: agree, disagree, let’s discuss.

3. Shut out your critics

The President doesn’t watch the news where he is constantly criticised and commented on.

Instead he filters the news as much as possible and watches SportsCenter instead.

4. Exercise & workout

Every day starts with a 45 minutes workout. He also plays basketball regularly with friends.

Obama: “The rest of my time will be more productive if you give me my workout time.”

5. Personal time is sacred

President Obama has three fixed windows of personal time every day: the morning gym time, dinner with his daughters and the nighttime after his family falls asleep.

So, what do you think? I’m sure that everybody can implement this presidential productivity tips in their daily lives and profit from them.