I used to be pretty organized, back in the distant past of 2020 when I worked in an office.

I had a good system for tracking deadlines, I was generally able to find things I needed with my filing system and I had small periods of downtime between meetings where I could do fun things like go to the bathroom or eat lunch.

For me, being organized and keeping a routine was the key to maintaining productivity and getting a lot done every week.

Then the pandemic hit.

All of the programs I manage are essential services, but it’s not always essential for me to be on site. To reduce risk, I moved to working remotely three to four days a week and in the physical office once or twice each week, depending what I had going on.

Suddenly my organization system was in shambles. I was losing track of emails. I had “to do” lists at both my home office and my actual office.

Things that used to be drive-by conversations now required a video meeting and as a result, my schedule went from jam-packed to “I want to cry every time I look for an opening”.

I was mostly working with a laptop on my bed, or from the couch where there were a lot of distractions from the other people and animals in the house.

Every time I needed something, I had to hunt around from room to room looking for it.

Worst yet, I was drowning in communication.

As our staff moved onto the Microsoft teams app we enabled the “chat” function in the software. This means if someone wants to talk to me they might text, they might email, or they might contact me in the Teams app.

Keeping up with all this was challenging, and when I needed to find something later, I was looking in all three places. Totally unsustainable.

About five or six months in, I had finally had enough. I released my resistance and finally accepted this was going to be our reality for the foreseeable future.

I asked myself, if I was starting a work from home job fresh, what would I do to be successful?

Then I made some changes. Big changes. Small changes. But all designed to increase my productivity while working from home.

If you’re struggling with organization and looking for ways to increase your productivity while working from home, these tips might work for you.

Create a home office

We had a room that we euphemistically called the “guest room” although instead of a bed it was filled with junk.

I cleaned it out Marie Kondo style and was able to create space both to teach online yoga classes and make an office for my day job.

Then I bought one of those desk tables on wheels, the kind you have in the hospital. The one I bought has an adjustable height, and since it’s lightweight and on wheels, I can easily wheel it out of the way when I need the room for something else.

If you don’t have a separate room you can use, clean out part of another room. There’s got to be a comfortable corner somewhere that you can access.

And don’t forget to get a comfortable chair. You can only sit on your dining room furniture so long before you start losing feeling in your legs.

Make sure the area you choose has a good connection to wi-fi. If you need to, buy a basic extender to ensure you maintain your connection while you’re working.

Having a dedicated workspace that is not your bed or dining room table also helps you to create a separation between your work life and your home life. It’s easy for those lines to blur, so set yourself up for success.

Choose a web-based organization tool

I have to admit, I was a little old school before the pandemic hit.

I loved to keep my “to do” and tasks lists in a notebook in the office, where I also kept my meeting notes. This didn’t work as well when I was going back and forth.

After some research I decided to use Trello, which calls itself “a Kanban-style list-making application”. I use the free version of the tool which allows me to create separate boards, each with multiple lists and cards to track tasks.

You have the option to put due dates to help you keep deadlines. You can share some boards with others on your team and send them tasks and reminders that way.

Most of my team was less excited about it than I was, but for me Trello works great. I keep lists for my day job as well as my various writing and yoga enterprises.

Since it’s web-based, I can easily access Trello from home, the office, my phone or my iPad. Then if I get a great idea in the middle of the night, I can just add a card to the list and forget about it.

Connect notes and agendas into the Calendar item

This may be different in other tools, but the Microsoft Teams app we use for video calls also has the ability to put notes and comments in and attach them to the meeting.

Instead of writing myself notes or sending agendas, now I attach them to the meeting.

For example, I have a weekly meeting with my team on Mondays. As things come up through the week, I put a note “for our next meeting” and if there are follow-up items we also put that in the chat attached to the meeting.

It helps when we want to go back and review for follow-up, and it keeps a record of the discussion so if someone missed the meeting and wants to catch up.

Build in breaks

Sitting still all day staring at my computer made me too exhausted to focus on my work.

Now I build in a break to each day and use it to take an online yoga class (I’m wearing yoga pants every day now anyway), take the dog for a walk, or just get up and talk to my roommate.

It sounds counterintuitive, but working less helps me get more done. After taking a break I come back more refreshed, which helps me focus on my work and get more done.

Busy hands to increase focus

Staring at video meetings all day gets soul-sucking after a while, and it can definitely exacerbate my anxiety.

Then I realized that there are some meetings where I don’t need to talk a lot that or actively engage the entire meeting.

These are times where I can multitask to get other mindless chores done. For example, fold a basket of laundry, changes the sheets or wipe down the counters.

I used to have a boss who would knit during staff meetings and when I asked her about it, she said that keeping her hands busy actually helped her to concentrate more. I found it was the same for me.

I can clean the windows or dust the dresser and still fully focus on my meeting. And it gets me up out of my chair for a while, which we could all use.

Final thoughts

A new way of working means a new way of thinking about how you do the work.

Use this opportunity of long-term working at home to be creative and try out new ways to increase productivity, reduce overwhelm and improve your outlook. You’ll be glad you did.