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I road tested WFH productivity techniques, here’s what works best

IMAGE VIA @inesenglishh/INSTAGRAM

WORDS BY HANNAH COLE

Hack your way to a better day.

With all this time spent working from home (WFH) in the last 18 months, you would think that we would have the whole thing down pat. But I miss colleagues and constant human interaction; I need to bounce ideas around without scheduling Zoom upon Zoom.

The mornings are particularly tough – I still struggle to get my brain into gear, and I often wake with a dull ache of anxiety. These spiralling thoughts and looming deadlines send me into a tail-spin of procrastination. This cycle, of course, worsens every problem: instead of just doing the thing, I put it off. Working from home is not my jam.


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The experts say to ‘work smarter, not harder’ as a way to smash those productivity goals while also maintaining mental, physical and emotional health. Is it possible to hack my way into peak productivity at home? I road-tested a few strategies to find out.

Hack #1: Remove distractions

All of the productivity listicles call for a ‘distraction-free work zone. It makes perfect sense: close the doorway for potential interruptions, and they will no longer cause a disturbance. For some people, this may be as simple as setting up a desk in a more isolated room or switching your phone onto aeroplane mode. It’s a bit more complicated when it’s the hair on your head that sucks up your time over and over again.

Those who know me well are aware that my hair serves as the ultimate procrastination tool. It’s only worsened with fewer haircuts. When I’m overwhelmed, I sit there snipping split ends – a nearly insatiable obsession. To limit my unique distraction, I decided to keep a scrunchie desk-side. As soon as the anxiety bubbles, I whip my locks away and out of sight. Shit gets real then.

Hack #2: Stop multitasking

Earlier this year, I tried to ditch my traditional multitasking ways for unitasking instead – essentially, the practice of committing to one activity at a time instead of many. We think we are heroic when bouncing between multiple requests and emails, but multitasking makes us more inefficient, flustered and scattered. Deliberately completing one task at a time works wonders for the to-do list.

It’s still a work-in-progress, as I frequently have to remind myself to sit still and commit to one task before the next. When I listen to my inner guru, I feel so much better for it, though. I get more done, feel less stressed and let my whirring brain rest.

Hack #3: Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique originated in the late 1980s, taking its name from the traditional tomato-shaped timer. It’s an oft-spruiked tool designed to create allotted intervals of work and rest. Following this method, one sets a timer for 25 minutes of dedicated work, followed by a five-minute break, repeated four times before taking an extended rest.

It’s logical: distractions are less disturbing when we know there are limited minutes on the clock. Suddenly, it’s much easier to ignore the urgent text or push notification – only 20 minutes more. Regular breaks help to ensure fewer interruptions and greater workflow.

The Pomodoro Technique has completely changed my WFH game, allowing me to balance work tasks with minor things around the home. During my mini-break, I can stand in the sun, take a quick walk, clean the kitchen or catch up on socials. I practice the technique daily now, at least in the morning when I will itch at every scratch presented to me.

It’s essential to personalise the method, though. I find that 25 minutes is not nearly enough time to settle into a task and feel accomplished. The snappy schedule made me more stressed, anticipating the short bursts nearing their end. Instead, I concentrate for 90 minutes and reward myself with 15 minutes of rest. One journalist and researcher concurs with this timeframe: “When we’re awake, we move from higher to lower alertness every 90 minutes”. The flow enables more intense focus, so we get more done in a shorter amount of time.

Before I know it, it’s mid-afternoon, and half my list is checked off. To assist, I use the Flow app, which lets you personalise intervals and even gives encouraging motivational messages at the end of each burst. Shia LaBeouf told me, “Just do it!”, and I did.

Hack #4: Listen to functional music

Background music is vital to my working day; the tunes can really make or break my mood and productivity levels. One day I’m listening to bangers, bopping along and smashing every task. The next, I’m falling asleep if the vibes are a little too chill or emo.

To boost my 90-minute morning bursts, I tried using Brain.fm, which implements a science-backed approach to music. ‘Functional music’ is designed to optimise behaviour, whether for deep work and focus, meditation or sleep. There is something calming about these gentle beats and the gradual noise flow; I breathe more easily and slide into the heavy work much faster. I’m a convert.

Brain.fm is a paid subscription, but it isn’t too hard to find free options as well – search for ‘functional music’ on YouTube (Brain.fm even has a few 30-minute uploads) or try some ambient tunes instead (cafe sounds, rain, gentle waves).

There will always be good days and bad days, but one little productivity hack can go a mile. Sometimes I even use them all at once and see my to-do list shrink before my eyes. Harder, better, faster, stronger: that’s me.

For more working from home tips, try this.

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