There's a lot to love about working from home: you get to skip the commute, take meetings from the comfort of your couch and wear your favorite pair of sweatpants. But it can be harder to focus and maintain a work-life balance when your home becomes your office.
While research shows that most Americans prefer remote over in-person work, the transition from the office to home has caused new, continuing challenges to productivity and burnout.
HighSpeedInternet.com surveyed 1,000 U.S. workers in December and 77% reported that they have felt unproductive while working from home. Research from Eagle Hill Consulting published in November shows that more than half of U.S. employees are experiencing burnout, with women and younger workers reporting the highest levels of stress.
There are several common mistakes people make in their remote work routines that are "wasting your time" and can exacerbate burnout, Anna Dearmon Kornick, a time management coach and head of community at Clockwise, an online calendar platform, tells CNBC Make It.
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Here are the top three time-wasting habits and how to avoid them:
Responding to emails right away
If you're working from home, all – if not most – of your communication is likely online, whether it be through email, Slack or another platform. While you might feel productive responding to messages as soon as they hit your inbox, you're stealing time from more important work.
"When you're living in reactive mode and responding to emails as they come in, your day becomes incredibly fragmented and you're not going to have the space available to focus on the actual work you need to get done," Kornick explains.
Instead, Kornick recommends scheduling three 30-minute "check-in time blocks" to check your messages during work. "By putting a fence around your online communications, emails won't stretch and take over every single minute of your day," she adds.
'Chasing the shiny things'
One of the sneakiest time-wasters is getting caught up in "busy work": new tasks that come up throughout the day or small action items on your to-do list that might make you feel productive, but distract you from more important work.
Psychologists call this phenomenon "shiny object syndrome," which describes the habit of getting distracted by anything that's new or exciting.
"Accomplishing lots of little things gives us hits of dopamine, which makes us feel great until we realize we've procrastinated our highest priority work by chasing the shiny things," Kornick says.
She continues: "You might sit down with every intention of focusing, but all of a sudden you remember that you're out of toilet paper, so you pop over to Amazon to order some toilet paper, and then you remember that your mom's birthday is coming up, so you order her a gift. Soon, you've done so many small tasks that have just popped into your head that you've missed that window of focus before your next meeting."
Here's how to combat "shiny object syndrome": Review your to-do list in the morning and choose the top three things you need to accomplish. Then, create time blocks in your schedule dedicated to each of those three items to help you stay focused. Save the smaller tasks for after you knock out at least one of your top three, Kornick says.
Scrolling through social media
OfficeNeedle asked more than 600 remote employees what their biggest distraction is while working from home and 56% said their phone. We've all been there: You get up from your desk for five minutes to stretch and check your phone, then 30 minutes pass and you've fallen down a TikTok rabbit hole.
Turning off your notifications and putting your phone in a different room can help curb the temptation to check your apps. If that's not possible, and you need to be reachable on your personal device, Kornick recommends experimenting with a "no-phone timer" to give yourself distraction-free breaks to make progress on harder projects.
"Set a timer for 20-30 minutes and only check your phone when the timer goes off," she says. "These distractions won't disappear anytime soon, but we can learn to set boundaries and do our best to concentrate on work."
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