Since the beginning of the pandemic, most people who work from home have struggled with being productive at some point in the pandemic. The way we worked completely changed, and many had difficulty finding the new 'balance' (for the lack of a better word). Although I can't talk about the general experience with my limited knowledge, I can totally talk about my own, on which I am the expert.
For some context, I was working remotely even before the pandemic. However, the remote work experience before the pandemic was quite different as compared to the one during the pandemic. Foremost, I had just moved to Canada in February of 2020. Moving countries is always a challenge, but during the pandemic it was incredibly hard. Secondly, I lost my job and almost no-one was hiring during the time. Being skilled with software engineering, I had to do food deliveries to sustain myself. Most importantly however, before the pandemic, one could still be social, travelling, living in hostels, meeting new people, doing fun stuff together. The pandemic forced us to be isolated.
After the dust settled, I found a software engineering job where I was not "allowed" to work-from-home, I was required to. I couldn't go anywhere, except for short walks around the block. Staying away from people was considered polite. Sorry, it was called staying in your bubble. My productivity suffered a lot. I didn't like the daily scrum meetings ever, but with this new team/job I had to deal with emotional distress every morning. Mostly because, not everyday would I have done something.
There are days for everyone when we can't get much done. Daily scrum meetings want you to realize that. I had to take certain amount of therapy to get out of the distress and deal with it. I am glad I could do it, and I did it in time. I wonder about the people who don't have the resources or access for such luxuries. Now, coming back from the digression, to the productivity. I think a lot of it is about knowing what to do.
We procrastinate on things that we believe are difficult, or hard to do, or not exciting. Procrastination is an avoidance behaviour. In today's world, we don't really get bored if we avoid doing something. Most of us have access to instant gratification tools in our pockets. It's easy to get distracted than ever before.
If you are struggling with that, here are some tools you try out, which helped me. (try to follow as you go through them)
1 - Setup notification schedule(s) on your phones
Setup your phone notifications to be blocked from 9am – 6pm (feel free to choose your own time, you can even start with as short as 4 hours). Do not, I repeat DO NOT, keep your phone close to you during these times. This is to stop you from picking up your phone mindlessly… just so it becomes intentional when you have to.
There are excuses to pick your phone, like needing a code to sign-into some multi-factor authenticated platform. But go to the phone, remember the code and walk back to the desk.
2 - Write your to-dos
Don't use an app. Get a small notebook with a pen. You can clip the pen to a bunch of pages so they both stay together. Now, write 3-6 things you need to get done today. If you think you don't know how to do something out of them, it needs to be broken down into smaller tasks. You can even write: "Learn about xyz" or "Figure out abc".
You must do this everyday, at the beginning of notification-free slot in your day. The beginning of the notification-free time has to be sacred for you. Don't let it slip.
3 - Pick a task from the to-do list
This step is important. Drink water, go to the toilet, relieve yourself and get some food before you begin. This is just to get rid of excuses you can give yourself to move away from your desk. Then make sure your first task is the one that will take the shortest time to complete.
4 - Do the task
By the time you get here, you have already done at least 3 tasks: put your phone away, written your to-dos for the day and chosen a task. Don't underestimate the importance of the utility of those 3.
Now, do the task. Initially, you might feel like you are forcing yourself to do it, partly because that's what it is. Focus on the task for 3-5 minutes, you will develop momentum to accomplish it.
If you don't feel the momentum, you shouldn't allow yourself the carelessness of doing-something-else. Be bored for a bit, your brain will come back to it as it needs to do something. [read paper]
Once you do that, pick the next one. As you complete one, two, three in a short time, you will develop the feeling of the day used well. The more you do, the more productive you were.
Seems simple, but isn't. Quite frankly, self-control is the key. It is like getting off of an addiction. You need to practice self-awareness and control. The above steps are just tools that could help you.
There are always ways one can distract themselves. Reading random blogs, youtube on computer if not on phone, finding out your desk needs cleaning before the work can be done, nails need trimming, let me budget something and a million more ways. But…
I trust you can do it. believe in yourself.