By Chaviva Gordon-Bennett

Without a crystal ball or time machine, no one could have predicted just how important it would be to have employees who are capable not only of working from home, but also of maintaining productivity while juggling remote schooling schedules, pets, chores, self care, and more. 

Long before COVID-19 struck, many organizations were warming to and even embracing the remote lifestyle, while others—including the federal government—were reversing work-from-home (WFH) policies altogether. However, hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. In mid-March, the administration reversed its tune and said governmental agencies and businesses should leverage telework to keep employees safe and productive.

According to Gallup figures, 43 percent of the more than 157 million U.S. workers do their jobs remotely at least some of the time—a figure that will undoubtedly continue to grow long after we have a COVID-19 vaccine in hand and enter a new normal. 

At SmartBug Media®, where 100 percent of our workforce works remotely 100 percent of the time, we’ve become pros at maintaining productivity no matter what’s going on in the world. Here are some of the real challenges that our SmartBugs face daily while working from home—and how they stay productive anyway.

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Avoid the Allure of Household Distractions

For Liz Dodds, a digital project manager who has been working remotely for two and a half years, the greatest challenge to productivity while working from home is avoiding household chores and distractions during work hours. Senior Copywriter Joe Gillespie, who has been working remotely full-time for more than five years (with an additional 12 years partially remote before that) agrees about the allure of distractions at home—whether that’s family or food or something else. 

Although we have a flexible schedule at SmartBug®, the bulk of the action happens between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Dodds says that the key to staying productive is blocking off chunks of time on her calendar in order to stay on task and power through tasks without distraction. Whether you block off time to complete a major project or group small tasks together to accomplish over an hour-long chunk of time, time blocking can keep you focused and super productive. 

This is the tactic that Christopher Hutchens—a marketing consultant working remotely for the past three and a half years—takes in order to stay productive, focused, and get the most done while working from home. 

“Things inevitably come up during the day that may need your attention,” Hutchens says, “but you should always start with a list of tasks you want to accomplish for the day.”

Consider hanging up an art print of Parkinson’s Law, which states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Basically, if you know that you have a set amount of time to get something done, you’re more likely to get it done. If you give yourself a week to complete a one-hour task, the task will grow in complexity and may never get done.

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On the Other Hand, Embrace Household Chores

OK, we definitely just suggested avoiding doing chores during the workday, but marketing consultant Joe Brannen leans into them to help stay productive. 

“When I hit a wall and have to take a break, I do something productive as my break activity so I don’t lose momentum,” says Brannen, who has been working remotely for one and a half years. “Dishes, dusting, bills, going outside and cutting brush—it doesn’t matter, as long as I accomplish something. It allows me to rest from what I’m doing but lets me accomplish something so it’s not as big of a ramp-up to return to my original task.” 

And, to give an extra productivity boost during that brief break to fold your briefs, listen to music. According to one study, 80 percent of Americans surveyed said they listen to music while they clean and 94 percent of those surveyed reported feeling positive when listening to music while cleaning. On top of that, music has been shown to boost productivity and cognitive function, so keep the tunes on when you get back to it.

For Marketing Programs Manager Nicki Kamau, the ability to take a break to get things done around the house is one of the perks of the remote lifestyle. 

“You can use a 15-minute break to take care of some of those things, but you have to self-regulate,” she says. 

And if you’re not sure when to take breaks throughout the day, Hutchens says you’ll just know when a break is needed. 

“Throughout the day, you may find yourself refreshing your email or looking at Zoom or Slack, and this is usually when it's time for a break,” he says. “Taking 15- to 20-minute breaks not only helps with burnout, they can also help you refocus so that when you come back to your desk, you can jump back into a task with a fresh mind.”

Or take Molly Rigatti’s approach to embracing distractions and boosting productivity at the same time. A marketing strategist working remotely for three and a half years, Molly says you should block out your calendar—even for chores—to be more productive while working remotely

“Whether you have business or personal tasks that need to be accomplished, blocking out time will help you ensure that it actually happens—and that your team knows when you are and aren't available,” Rigatti says. “Block out time to do a load of laundry, catch up on emails, set up new projects, water your plants, check on analytics, take the dogs on a walk, proofread new content, strategize a new email campaign.”

Get Moving to Be More Productive

Jen Spencer, SmartBug’s VP of Sales and Marketing, says her biggest productivity challenge is getting pulled into meetings and answering questions nonstop because—when you’re remote—no one can see what you’re really up to. 

“If I was in an office, people might be able to see I’ve got my head down deep in a project or notice that I haven’t gotten up to eat lunch yet,” Spencer says. 

Kamau knows this is a unique challenge of working remotely, but it’s very common for the WFH set. 

“When you're working from home, the visual cues that you would have in an office of not being available are gone,” Kamau says. “Because the visual cues—not being at your desk, being in a conversation with someone else, or physically being involved in a project—are gone, it can be easy to be pulled off-task to work on something else.”

But when Spencer is done answering questions and rocking major projects and her brain is tired or fuzzy, she exercises her body to kick-start her productivity—and Kamau does the same. After transitioning to full-time WFH, Kamau realized how easy it is not to move at all, which hurt how productive she could be.

“My tip is to stay active,” she says. “Whether it's a walk before work, a midday dance party with your kids, or even 15 minutes of your choice of YouTube workout, get your blood flowing.”

When you exercise, you increase blood flow to the brain, which can sharpen awareness and increase focus. In fact, in an interview with Fast Company, New York University Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki said that movement “stimulates the release of a wide range of neurochemicals and neurotransmitters, growth factors. These include serotonin, dopamine, endorphins. All of this relates to a better mood and higher energy score.”

According to Suzuki, exercise is simply good for the brain: “I like to say that every time you work out, it’s like you’re giving your brain a wonderfully enhancing bubble bath.” 

Be More Productive While Working from Home

Whether you’re the kind of person who works for two hours and then takes a one-hour workout break to refresh your mind or one who needs to work for an hour and take a laundry break for 15 minutes to get the juices flowing, we hope these tips from our team can help increase your productivity. For more tips, check out “6 Tips for Staying Successful While Working Remotely.”

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Chaviva Gordon-Bennett

About the author

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett was formerly a Senior Copywriter for SmartBug Media. She graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor's degree in journalism. As a Senior Copywriter, Chaviva writes inbound marketing content for SmartBug's clients. Read more articles by Chaviva Gordon-Bennett.

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