I have a virtual office in my nearest town in Mullingar because I prefer to work from home and I have been working from home now on and off for over 20 years. In fact, I was working from home before the term “remote working” was invented. 

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I don’t really need a virtual office to be honest but I have one because it helps my business rank number 1 on Google locally.

I have toyed with the idea of hotdesking but it isn’t practical as I am spending more and more time on video calls and I prefer to have some privacy for that. I could rent a self-contained office in Mullingar but the money would be better off being spent on my cash cow, Facebook ads because that generates new clients for me like clockwork.

It is fair to say that my feet are firmly placed in the working from home camp and it has only really been in the last few months or so that I have finally managed to get that happy work-life balance that so many people struggle with.

So here are my top tips to stay productive when working from home and you have probably heard of some of these before but I am sure that there are 1 or 2 that you probably haven’t even considered:

Get out of bed straight away

I was at the BizExpo in The Citywest Hotel in Dublin earlier this year and I listened to Donna Kennedy, one of the speakers, who is a business coach. She mentioned that if we managed to be 1% more productive than the previous day we would achieve so much more over the course of a year.

So I mulled this over for a few days and came up with getting out of bed straight away and starting 10 minutes earlier every day so now I get up at 5am and start working at 6am.

As soon as I wake up I count to 5 and I get up on 5. It gives me motivation and a sense of achievement first thing as I used to be a bit of a ‘hit the snooze button kind of guy’.

This simple tweak to my morning routine gives me momentum that makes me so much more productive because not only have I done a day’s work by lunchtime it feels like I have an extra 2 hours worth of work under my belt too.

I am naturally a night owl, but I could see the results early on so that encouraged me to keep it up.

So if you work from home and have a packed house starting early while the rest of the house is asleep really gives you a feeling of getting a head start on the day.

Don’t check emails first

Some people feel that they are productive answering emails first but the downside is that you actually get stuck answering queries for other people rather than doing your most important tasks first.

I check emails 3 times a day and the first time is at noon, then 3.30pm and one last check at 5.00pm to make sure that all incoming emails that are sent during office hours are replied to the same day.

Getting notifications every time an email arrives and answering it straight away is madness because it breaks your concentration in what you were doing beforehand and ruins your momentum.

Have an allocated room

If you have the space in your home try and use a room that you only use for work. Maybe you can squeeze a desk in a spare bedroom, or even buy a garden shed and work in the garden, I am serious! Or, you can pick up a converted 20ft shipping container for around €5,000 that would last you over 20 years. That works out at only €250 per year!

Once you have somewhere that you can close the door to after your days work you will find it easier to switch off.

Only use your desk or laptop for work

The novelty of working in bed with your laptop soon wears off especially when you get pains in your shoulders and neck.

What I try to do is use my laptop for work at my workspace only which is a spare bedroom that has been converted into a fully functional office and I use my phone to go online for personal use. Because if I start to use my laptop I get back into work mode and switching off from work is essential for that work-life balance that we are all looking for.

Get dressed for work

Every Sunday night like clockwork I iron 5 blue shirts. I got that tip from Gerry Duffy.

For those of you that have ever met me during office hours may well have noticed that I always wear a blue shirt. I do this because when I put on a blue shirt it gets me into work mode.

Sunday night’s ironing usually takes place while listening to a podcast that tends to get me back into thinking about work for the week ahead.

I also wear a back brace when sitting at my desk too because I slouch naturally when sitting down. I noticed a few years ago that I was walking with my head/neck leaning forward and that was because I was using a laptop at desk level and was leaning in to read it. So now I have a screen that runs off of my laptop at the right height.

The back brace serves as part of my ‘work uniform’ too.

Go for a walk at the end of the day

This really is a game-changer and 1 of my top tips.

I have never had a problem starting work because I really love what I do and I have stopped getting distracted as most people do by walking out to the kitchen, opening the fridge, looking in and then closing it again.

Come on, admit it you have done it too!?

My problem has always been switching off afterwards and I have often just gone back to tweak a website and been up to the early hours losing track of time and end up being wrecked the next day. So I found that getting changed out of my ‘office uniform’ and going for a walk not only clears my head but is a defining moment of the end of my workday.

An alternative to this is to take a shower because this also gives you closure.

Make your time accountable

When I worked in accountancy practices I had to fill in timesheets where every 15 minutes was allocated to a client or non-billable work. So I incorporate that into Gleeson Digital not just for my team but for myself too.

The advantage of this is that I can work out the time spent on individual projects which helps to highlight any areas that took too long so that I can train my team further and, be more accurate in pricing similar projects in the future.

Also, have you ever had a day where you have put the hours in but felt that you haven’t really got much done? Well, doing timesheets puts an end to that because it makes you more accountable.

Reduce face to face meetings

Video calls are more accepted now due to the Coronavirus crisis that changed the way we work since it reared its ugly head in March 2020, so try to schedule a video call rather than face to face meetings as much as possible it saves so much time.

I am seriously thinking of doing only online meetings Monday to Thursdays and leaving Fridays free for face to face meetings.

Travelling to and from meetings isn’t productive.

Listen to music when you work

I have found that listening to music makes me concentrate better. But if it is too overpowering it can be distracting. So I tend to listen to “easy listening music” through my laptop in the mornings on the radio using IE Radio. I find that listening to Q102 does the job nicely for me.

I don’t listen to music in the afternoons as I tend to be hopping on and off video and phone calls then.

Don’t use social media at all during office hours

It’s so easy to get lost down the rabbit hole that is social media and before you know it is lunchtime and you wonder where the day has gone.

I read recently that the average person is spending over 4 hours per day online on a personal basis and over half of that time is on social media.

I removed all my social media apps from my mobile phone as it was scary the amount of time that I was spending on the likes of Instagram, Facebook and Linkedin.

I check it on my laptop instead. Yes, I am one of the 2% of people that uses the desktop version of  Instagram.

Scrap the traditional to-do list

The problem with the traditional to-do list is that we cherry-pick what we prefer to do and other more urgent tasks take priority so certain tasks always remain on the to-do list and never get done.

I spend the mornings doing client work and leave my to-do list until after lunch.

I use this grid system to prioritise the most important tasks but I always start on the item that has been on the list the longest regardless of how urgent it is:

Then I slot these tasks into a diary between scheduled phone and video calls in the afternoon. If there are any items leftover they go into the urgent and important section for the next day.

I have tried all sorts of digital to-do lists but find that writing it down in this grid initially and then scheduling time for each task in an A4 diary that I leave open at my desk is the most effective way. Because once it is digitalised it is out of sight and out of mind.

Take regular breaks

In the offices that I have worked in, the only breaks that I ever saw people take were cigarette breaks and lunchtime, that’s it.

To be productive you need to take more breaks than that. Personally, I work for 55 minutes and then take a 5-minute break.

I leave my office/desk for those 5 minutes and either make a cup of coffee and start to drink it in the kitchen and finish it off at my desk or throw darts at a dartboard for 10 minutes.

As a result of this, I go back to my desk fully refreshed which allows me to work 10-12 hours a day without feeling exhausted.

As long as you leave your desk and do something completely different you will return fully recharged.

Start early

I am sure that you have heard of starting early before. But Mark Walberg takes this to a whole new level as he gets up at 2.30 am and goes to bed at 7.30pm. Now that isn’t for me but don’t knock it because it works for him as he was one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood in 2017 earning $68M!

I have tried all kinds of hours but found the feeling of working early and getting a day’s work done by lunchtime is amazing.

I get more work done and have always found that if I kept regular hours I am not doing anything of any significance that will benefit my business after 9pm anyway.

Have a set routine

I work the hours that suit me so whatever hours that you decide that works best for you make sure that you always start at the same time.

If you don’t it is a slippery slope of starting later and later and your workload just will pile up.

This would be my routine for the week, assuming that I don’t have to leave the office on Monday – Thursday:

Monday – Thursday

05.00 – Alarm is set to go off at 5am but I am usually up before then. I am out of bed within 5 seconds of waking up, I write my goals/affirmations into my diary, drink a pint of water and head off for a walk where I listen to audiobooks. No breakfast, no meditation, no shower as now it is work time.
06.00 – I always do client work in the mornings as I am more productive and my concentration is much better then too. Plus there are no distractions such as phone calls.

12.00 – I reply to emails for the first time and chip away at my to-do list before lunchtime.

13.00 – I take no calls during this sacred hour that is all about switching off.

14.00 – Returning phone calls to clients, video calls & project management. I ask my clients to ring in the afternoon as I can’t always take their calls in the morning and they are fine with that.
15.00 – Check emails for the second time.
16.00 – Do small tasks as it makes me feel productive towards the end of the day. Plus I can usually feel my brain slowing down at this stage.
17.00 – Reply to any emails and call it a day. I leave the spare bedroom office just after 5pm and never return to it until the following morning at 6am. I never answer my phone outside of office hours or during lunchtime.
18.00 – Go for a walk to unwind and to think without my phone.
19.00 – Watch YouTube or Netflix (wearing white/blue light reduction glasses) or read a business-related book.

20.00 – I turn all screens off so that I can start to unwind for bed. I don’t watch TV Monday to Thursday and the only thing that I watch on TV is sport at the weekend.
21.00 – Bath and I write my goals and affirmations into my diary and do some visualisation before nodding off around 10pm.

Friday

Friday has like a half-day vibe for me because I don’t do any client work at all apart from returning emails. I go out for lunch every Friday as I want to recreate that ‘Friday feeling’ that is hard to get when you work from home.

I work on my businesses such as improving my website’s SEO (I have an obsession with it at the moment), marketing, working on getting new clients for the week ahead and checking the numbers.

I always schedule time to learn something new on a Friday otherwise it will get put on the long finger.

Saturday

I work on Saturday mornings before I turn into an armchair sportsman for the rest of the day at 1pm watching either darts or snooker.

Saturday morning is a bit like Friday with that half-day feeling where I either read, write for clients because I feel like I am writing against the clock during office hours.

Sunday

Yep, I work every day.

Monday – Thursdays is at full throttle but the other days are more laid back.

I read a business type of book for 30-60 minutes during the week and will aim to finish it off on a Sunday morning. Because that way I can make notes on the book and put a plan together so I can put into action what I have learnt to implement it into my own businesses.

Final thoughts

I work around 60 hours per week, not as a badge of honour but because I really love what I do and growing this business and my new business Gleeson Digital Academy is so rewarding, which can only be achieved by putting the work in.

I might have to go down to a 4 day week in January 2021 when I start a Master’s Degree in Digital Marketing as that will take up around 15-20 hours per week. But by then I will have a project manager to ease my workload so I should be able to juggle everything.

These tips work for me and it took me a while to get to this stage where I feel that I am much more effective working from home rather than in a traditional office. So give a few of these a try and experiment as I am sure that you will find a few things that work for you.

If you don’t take a more systematic approach to your whole work-life balance you will be thinking to yourself “am I living at work or working from home?”

– Gary

Gary Gleeson

Gary is a website designer & digital marketing strategist. He holds a 2019 BSc Degree in Digital Technology & Design (Distinction)

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