Tips to Improve Working From Home

With the Corona virus outbreak, it may be the case that you are now working remotely.  At first, this seems like a dream come true – optional dress code, 5 to 7 second commutes, no one looking over your shoulder, etc.

But soon, you learn that it isn’t as easy as it looks.  It’s easier to get distracted at home than when in the office.  Suddenly, other things seem to creep into your workday like the kitchen (whether cooking or cleaning), easy access to social media, and of course, kids.

With that in mind, it’s more important than ever to be focused and productive when you do sit down to tackle your email. Try these 4 tips for working from home effectively to help improve your email throughput:

Keep your same Monday morning habits.

When I first started working from home back in October 2002 to run Sperry Software, I wore a collared, tucked in polo shirt and slacks with dress shoes for the first 60 days.  This had the most positive effect on my thinking that I was “in the office” and not at home.  If you have things that you normally do on every weekday it’s best to keep those habits going for as long as possible.

Chunk up your workday.

If you have kids, it will be impossible to get hours of work done without being interrupted, and this should be expected and is normal. To deal with this you can assign yourself certain hours of the day to get things done. For me, waking up early, getting a cup of coffee and then immediately answering emails is one way to get focused – even though most productivity experts say to start your day with anything other than email is best, that may not be right for you right now.

Regardless of how you carve out time, once you start concentrating on work try to create a short term goal of 30 minutes or less.  For example respond to the five most important emails in your inbox and also organize it to get rid of the clutter.

Delegate it; Defer it; Delete it; Do it.

Speaking of getting rid of clutter, when you go to sit down and organize your emails (or more likely perform triage on your inbox) it’s good to keep in mind what the makers of Outlook intended when using Outlook.  The article has many useful suggestions but the one that stands out for me is to follow the four D’s when dealing with email.  I apply the four D’s to today’s email and then when I go to actually handle to-do’s from my inbox, I work on all of yesterday’s emails (which were flagged either by me or by rules).  Working on to-do emails from yesterday, but still applying the four D’s from today allows me to respond quickly to important emails and still get things done – in fact, working this way has a name, it’s called Yesterbox.  It was coined by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh and he worked this way for years as am I.

Use more automation.

One way to increase productivity is to use an add-in like the Outlook Quick Text Hotkeys add-in to quickly insert phrases or canned responses that you frequently use directly into an email with a single click. This is my personal favorite, and I use this tool every day.  In fact, I cannot remember the last time a manually typed out “” (which for me is mapped to the F6 key).

And if you haven’t done so already, the one thing you can do to free up more of your time when dealing with email is more automation – if you have to organize your emails into folders for business reasons and you are doing it manually you can use Outlook rules to help organize your emails or even better, our Timed Email Organizer to move certain emails after a few days, or perhaps after it’s been read.  Here’s a chart showing the differences between Power Rules Manager (which uses Outlook rules) and Timed Email Organizer (which uses its own rules engine).

For instance, I just added this rule earlier last month: move emails with the words “newsletter” AND “unsubscribe” to an Outlook folder labeled “Newsletters”.  I did this to emulate Outlook on the Web’s “Focused Inbox” and it is helping a lot to remove clutter.

What methods are you using to stay focused while working remotely?