Brainwaves, Foreign Radio and Rowdy Politicians: 10 Homeworking Productivity Tips
Working from home means freedom from office life, but it also means being responsible for keeping yourself productive. Without other people to nudge you into action and the stimulation from a busy working environment, it can be hard to concentrate. For those of us who get their energy and creativity from talking things through with others, it can even cause withdrawal from social interaction all together and low moods (for reasons I explained in this blog).
I’ve experimented with many different ways of tackling this problem over the years, with some successes, so here I share some techniques I’ve tried for keeping focused when working solo, along with my rating for how effective they are.
1. BBC News
Or any TV programme without a storyline or action to follow. When I first started working from home my go-to background TV was BBC News because I think I was missing the buzz of an office. It recreates the noise of people talking in the background but you can easily tune it out too. The downside with BBC News is that it repeats, a LOT. So I used to switch to BBC Parliament in the afternoon for a break. Parliament is either like the office on Friday afternoon (empty) or like the pub after work with people having a loud row in your ear. I’ve ditched BBC Parliament but I was watching BBC News on a daily basis.
2. White noise apps
Sick of a repeating news cycle and desperate to create the background noise of my workmates chatting away, I tried white noise apps like the imaginatively titled ‘White Noise’. The idea is that you play the background noise of a cafe. You can even choose from cafes in Toronto, New York, Korea (it doesn’t specify which city), a small cafe, large cafe and a coworking space etc etc. The effect may have fooled my ears but my brain didn’t get the memo. I didn’t feel surrounded by people I just felt like a person, alone, in a home office, listening to weird noises. This would be 0/10 if it wasn’t for the fact that the nature noises are fantastic for aiding sleep when you have a lot on your mind (which aids productivity I suppose).
3. Slow TV
I was searching for background noise with real people in a way that wouldn’t distract me so I tried Slow TV. It’s a concept that originated in Norway in 2009 when they broadcast a 7-hour train journey in real time. You literally watch the view from a camera mounted on a boat/train/barge/reindeer in real time for hours on end. I LOVE this!
I appreciate it sounds weird but we know by now that all the cool ideas come from the Nordic countries. Trust me it’s compelling stuff, almost hypnotic. Background noise, real people and no repetition. You can choose from dozens of these videos on YouTube (ignore the people who clearly don’t get it and have hyperlapsed the trips into 5-minute vids??????).
4. Brain Fm
I heard that some of Team GB were using this app to help them focus during their training for the Rio Olympics. Scientists behind it have worked out the frequency of your brainwaves when you concentrate. That same frequency is achieved by listening to the music on the app. There is science behind this and you can download the whitepaper from the website.
Brain.fm is easily my favourite way to help me focus when working alone. I’m an annual subscriber and use it on a regular basis. Even when I am tired, ill or hungover, I can get a performance out of myself with this app in a way that caffeine can’t even achieve. The sleep music doesn't do much for me but focus and meditation options are superb. You can check it out here.
5. Creative Music Playlists
I’m a very auditory person so music doesn’t usually help me concentrate because I get into it too much. Anything with lyrics is a big no-no. However, I have recently found some good playlists on Spotify to help. The best one I’ve found is Creative Thinking Music. I also like to use Spotify’s Radio function for the Icelandic band Amiina or Ider’s song ‘Body Love’.
6. Foreign Radio
Do you get transported back to your young adult days when you hear guitar or indie music from the late nineties? Do you like BBC 6 Music but find the chat distracting? Yes? Then listening to Danish publish service radio station P6Beat is for you. I can’t understand a word the DJs are saying so the chat doesn't distract me and I love the tunes! I discovered this by accident. I was co-working at Katy Carlisle's house and it was on in the background (her partner is Danish). For some reason, it just worked! My wife is now an avid listener too.
7. Go to a Cafe or Bar
Rather than use a White Noise app to recreate the buzz of a cafe I often get off my bum and go to an actual cafe, bar or pub. I find the walk to and from a cafe helps get me in a great physiological state for productive working and you can talk to actual people. Actual people!!!!!! Which is great, because I don’t dump an entire days worth of news in 30 seconds on my poor wife when she naively asks “how was your day?”. I find this works best if you make friends with the cafe owner so you have people you speak to on a regular basis. Pubs and bars work just as well. Of course, it helps to pick the right venue, right time and to be open to chatting with random people. Human contact helps stave off feelings of isolation and talking to people helps make the leap from ‘feeling like I’m with people’ to actually being with people.
If you really miss the environment of an office you can always find another office, but one where you choose the office and the coworkers. My preference is pop-up coworking events like Freelance Folk where we meet in a cafe with our laptops and chat across the desk as we work.
I also cowork at friends houses which is a much cheaper and nicer way of doing it. We take the opportunity to eat lunch together and chatting over a meal allows us to discuss business challenges and ideas. Whether at a venue or in people’s homes coworking provides a good networking opportunity too. The interaction with other people makes me much more productive and I can overcome problems and get creative much more easily with people to bounce ideas off of.
Of course, there are coworking spaces you can hire too but these usually require a monthly fee. Personally, I’m not in one place enough for that to work for me.
The downsides of coworking are travel time and/or cost but I make a point of doing this about once a week as I know it does me good and keeps cabin fever at bay. This also saves the Amazon delivery guy from the lost productivity of having to slowly back down my path as I try to engage him in conversation about the weather.
9. Get on your feet
If you want a quick, cheap and easy way to boost your productivity change your physical state. I do some of my working standing up. I stick magic whiteboard sheets on my wall to do planning on my feet and I have an Ergotron attachment for my desk so I can work at my laptop standing up too. If it’s appropriate, I conduct some phone calls or do some thinking whilst walking. Being in a more energetic physical state helps to get me in a more productive mood and I notice that my body feels better for it too.
Unfortunately, the Manchester weather doesn't allow me to work outside as much as I would like but when it’s not blowing a gale or raining sideways I find that taking my work outdoors helps. I've even driven my campervan to some nice spots before and worked from there. Studies suggest that nature enhances short-term memory, reduces stress and boosts productivity.
In the absence of an opportunity to work outdoors, there’s always the option of bringing the outside indoors. One wall of my office is basically a massive picture of an Amazonian Rope Bridge which is great for video calls because it confuses the hell out of people who wonder where I’m calling from. A few plants can give some connection to nature too. This might not be great for concentrating on a particular piece of work but the environment we work in has a huge effect on our mood and productivity so it definitely helps.
Did I miss anything?
What are your best tips for keeping productive when working from home?
Do you agree with my ratings?
Let me know.