How to be more productive at home: 9 tips to blitz your to-do list fast

If WFH has zapped your drive, here’s how to get in the right mindset so you log out on time...

How to be more productive
(Image credit: Getty)

For the millions who have been forced to work from home (or WFH, in more common parlance) in recent months, the experience has been marmite. Every colleague extolling the virtues of life without wasted time spent on office make-up and the commute is matched by another struggling to source creativity from the same four (albeit freshly-painted) walls they’ve been staring at for months. We don’t know about you, but the novelty of being able to hop from duvet to desk, and desk to Selling Sunset, wears off particularly swiftly when that to-do remains bulging.

Indeed, if your past productivity has been replaced by procrastination (including, generous Instagram “liking” sessions of your friend’s sister’s cousin’s quarantine-swerving holiday to Mykonos), you’re certainly not alone. A Fortune poll found that 29% of workers had been struggling to get much done at all from the comfort of their home office chair. Among Gen-Z - those aged between 18 and 24 - this rose to 43%.

While some companies welcomed employees back to the office, there are numerous aiming to cultivate - and encourage - the opportunity for flexible working. Whether you’re desperate to return to water-cooler life (at a sensible social distance), or are quite happy typing away alongside your newly-purchased monstera plant, making tweaks to your lifestyle so that you get everything ticked off during the workday is a game-changer. Because finishing work on time helps you achieve that healthy, holy-grail of #balance by allowing you to re-charge in your downtime. Which, in turn, will help you be far more successful...

How to be more productive working from home

1. Start your day right

Getting your mornings off to the best start is key, because it sets off the tone for the rest of the day. “Make time for self-care first thing – drink water with lemon, breathe, stretch, exercise, mediate – even if it’s just 10 minutes,” advises Ryan Jackson, a success coach (ryanjackson.org). “The main aim is to get your endorphins flowing in order to feel as good as you can. When you create positive momentum in the AM, you will feel the effects throughout your day; you’ll be calmer and more productive. It’s about cultivating the right physical and emotional state so that mentally you’re on top form.” So no more crawling out of bed minutes before your 9am Zoom meeting…

2. Go back-to-basics

If midday energy crashes are causing you to zone out hours before an important deadline, you’d do well to take an honest look at what you are eating, how much you are moving and whether you’re getting enough shut-eye. “By incorporating quality sleep, a balanced diet and regular exercise, you can much more easily avoid common daily slumps,” says Dr Brent Agin, MONAT Scientific Advisory Board Member.

3. Take the first step

Conquering tasks is all about mindset, according to Emma Jefferys, a coach at Action Woman, who speaks regularly at London’s Soho House, an exclusive members’ club for creatives. “The good old two minute promise is always a great way to just get started,” she notes. “Don’t want to go for that run… just two minutes and you can stop. Don’t want to sort out those invoices… just two minutes and the rest can wait. Starting is almost always the hardest part and when you get cracking you’ll want to see the job done.”

4. Get some sunshine

Nope, we’re not advising a cheeky dash to the beach  - rather maximising your exposure to those natural rays (yes, it even kind of counts if it’s cloudy). “There are numerous studies citing the importance of our daily dose of sunlight, but whilst working we are normally only lucky enough to see this on our lunchtime dash to the nearest coffee shop,” acknowledges Helen White, co-founder of houseof , an online lighting store. “But it’s key to productivity - as well as reducing eye strain and headaches.” If you’re not fortunate enough to have a window seat from that aforementioned home office chair, accessorise your office space with floor lamps and table lamps which omit a soft, diffused light.

How to be more productive

(Image credit: Getty)

5. Get your greens (not like that)

When you’re dodging emails and Slack notifications left, right and centre it can feel counterintuitive to take your eyes off the screen in order to answer everything. “But taking a break and getting out into the fresh air is a serious booster to make you more productive,” recommends life coach Joanna Shurety. “Plus, nature gives you added bonuses. It sparks up your creativity (got a problem at work that needs to be solved? Go outside!), and reduces stress levels.” Don’t just wait until you’re feeling overwhelmed. “I always find I have extra energy in the afternoon if I’ve done a walk at lunchtime,” she elaborates. If you’re really short on time, just standing up, moving and getting a change of scenery can help, adds Dr Agin.

6. Don’t multitask

Honestly, it’s not worth it. “Women often pride themselves in their ability to juggle many things at once,” points out Wendy Rose, a coach for executives with 20 years’ experience. “But research shows that it takes 23 minutes to properly refocus on a task requiring good, deep concentration so every time we “just” check out emails or “just” ring someone back, we rob ourselves of the good quality brain space to think about the important substantive task that needs doing.  If what you want to do is to procrastinate about the important stuff - then great. If not, stop allowing yourself to grasshopper around.” You heard it here...

7. Fuel right

Your brain will be no good if it’s running on empty. “It’s made up of 73% water, so it’s probably not a surprise that hydration has an impact on our cognitive performance,” explains Shurety. “Research has shown that even a body water loss of 1-2%, which is considered mild dehydration already, impairs it.” As well as keeping a bottle of water at your desk, make sure you don’t go hungry either. “It can leave us distracted and low on energy,” she continues. But before you reach for the biscuits, it’s worth noting that certain foods have the power to boost brain power and focus. These include antioxidant-rich berries, protein-packed eggs and salmon - which is filled with omega-3s, iron and B vitamins. And chocolate - yes, really. “Dark chocolate contains antioxidant properties that increase the production of endorphins while enhancing focus and concentration, whereas milk chocolate is good for quickening reaction time and improving verbal and visual memory.” Sweet stuff.

How to be more productive

(Image credit: Getty)

Be ruthless

Let’s be honest - to-do lists tend to omit a superhuman level of optimism. “It’s great to cross things off your list and feel a sense of temporary satisfaction but, like the snakes on the head of Medusa, it grows more,” says Rose. “Spending all day being reactive to other people’s requests is a common trap, but you end up not making substantive progress on anything that really takes your agenda forward. Each day, be ruthless and make time for one thing that will be a game changer. The ‘big rock’ that you’ve been putting off - maybe because it’s slightly outside your comfort zone, a bit scary, a bit difficult - but that will eventually lead towards what you really want to accomplish.”

Wind down

A surefire way to kill productivity is not to give yourself enough downtime. “Setting boundaries and keeping a balance between work life and home life is vital,” notes Tia Roqaa, CEO and founder of beauty subscription service, Roccabox. “So, for example, I make sure I’m not scrolling through emails all night. It’s so easy to never give yourself the break you need - but it’s important to rest, and you’ll be far more productive thanks to that time away from your screen.” And on that note...