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Eight ways to work smarter, not harder

Much has been written about how to be more productive in the workplace. But what if – like those of us who work for Accuracy Matters – your workplace is your home and your ‘office’ is the corner of a room that has some other function of an evening?

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” Stephen King

Much has been written about how to be more productive in the workplace. But what if – like those of us who work for Accuracy Matters – your workplace is your home and your ‘office’ is the corner of a room that has some other function of an evening? How do you stay productive with no ‘boss’ keeping track of the number of coffees you get up to make, or the number of times you stop to let the cat in (or out – or in again – and then out again)? And what if you’re having to work from home because the current climate dictates that you can’t go into the office?

Some organisations believe in starting the day with a round-the-table meeting for all staff. Some (like the New York Times) use this opportunity to start the day with a poetry reading. We don’t really go in for that at Accuracy Matters (though perhaps we should?!) as we all start work at different times (the beauty of remote working).

However, we do all tend to agree that the following are ways to make us more productive.

  1. A clear desk = a tidy mind. There is probably a happy medium to be struck, but too many piles of paper and empty coffee cups are massively distracting (and rather revolting).
  1. What’s your favourite (desk) position? We all have different preferences when it comes to where we site our desks. Rachel favours her desk facing the wall so she has fewer distractions. Personally, my desk is in the centre of the room facing my garden. I enjoy watching the seasons change and find that this is both inspiring and gives my brain a break from the task at hand. A happy medium might be to position your desk facing the wall but with the window to the side of you.
  1. Set the alarm. Getting up at the same time each day and having a working routine is key for all of us. And we never work in our pyjamas! While I don’t see the point of putting on a full face of make-up, I do try to put ‘real’ clothes on. (What on earth would the Amazon driver think of my fleecy onesie?!)
  1. Plan your day. As a team, we rely on Asana to help us plan our days and to keep us on track as a remote team. Elaine in our Accounts team says “Asana helps to keep me focused on what needs to be done and when. During lockdown it helped to remind me when tasks need to be completed, especially when at times I forgot what day it was!” But there are myriad other ways to plan your day and manage your to-do list. Author Nir Eyal argues that rather than offering freedom, an empty day with no plan is a “recipe for regret”. He argues: “If we don’t plan what we will give our attention to, we risk having our time stolen by distraction. Learning how to schedule our time is an essential skill to becoming indistractable.” He’s also written a book about this topic.
  1. Are you sitting comfortably? It sounds obvious, but it’s good to remind yourself of how you should be sitting now and again as it’s really easy to become complacent. Some of the team favour a standing desk, but I’ve just invested in a kneeling chair which has massively reduced my shoulder pain.
  1. Eye breaks and tea breaks. We all know we should take screen breaks but it’s really easy to get engrossed in something and forget to stretch your legs and rest your eyes. The Health and Safety Executive says we should “take short breaks often, rather than longer ones less often” and that “5 to 10 minutes every hour is better than 20 minutes every 2 hours. Ideally, [people using screens] should be able to choose when to take breaks.” As remote workers, we’re lucky that we do get to choose when to take our screen breaks. I favour letting the end of the washing machine cycle dictate my screen breaks. The annoying buzzer forces me to get up from my desk, so I stick the kettle on and peg the washing out. This has three benefits: my eyes get a rest, I get a bit of fresh air and I tick off a housework chore from my mental list.
  1. Consider creating a productivity playlist. Expert opinion appears to be divided on whether listening to music while you work is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing. And that seems to be borne out by the Accuracy Matters team, too. Rachel favours complete silence when she’s proofreading (as explained in her previous blog). I like a bit of quiet classical music on the radio for certain tasks but I can’t listen to talking on Radio 4. Beth is partial to a bit of Magic FM or Radio 2. Music isn’t for everyone though, and it really does depend on the task you’re doing. The trick is to experiment with an eclectic range of music to accompany the different parts of your job.
  1. Mind over matter? We all have days when we just can’t seem to focus. When this happens to Sarah, she ploughs into a ‘power hour’. She explains: “If I’m faffing around and getting distracted and not getting through the pages, I stop, make tea, come back and decide to concentrate for exactly an hour. I ignore my phone and emails. Even if I’m checking stuff on the internet, I’m really focused and just power through. And then I do a word count/page check afterwards, to see how much I’ve achieved as a kind of reminder that it’s possible! It’s usually enough to just get me over the concentration hurdle and back to normal.”

If you’re a remote worker, we’d love to hear your top tips for boosting productivity. Please get in touch.

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