5 Strategies to Boost Productivity When You Work from Home
Zions Bankers offer their top tips for staying on task and managing stress.
If you’re among the large number of professionals opting to work from home since the coronavirus pandemic hit, you’ve likely been trying to adjust to a “new normal” that includes juggling work, child care and home schooling responsibilities with myriad distractions — from deliveries to barking dogs — peppered throughout the day.
Now, more than ever, time management is key to staying productive — even when the world appears to be conspiring against you. We asked four of our employees to weigh in with their top productivity tips. Here’s what they recommend.
Work from home productivity tip #1: Tame your inbox
Rather than allow himself to be overwhelmed by emails, Zions Bank Commercial Real Estate Relationship Manager Nick Sanchez uses his inbox to stay organized and on task.
“I am a very strong advocate for setting up and maintaining folders and sub-folders within my email inbox,” he says. For example, he has a folder called “existing loans” that includes subfolders for each of his clients. Once he has read and acted on each email, he files it in the appropriate folder.
“Working through my email in this manner has helped me more than any other organizational technique since I know exactly where to look for any information relating to any of my loans,” Sanchez says.
“In addition to knowing where to look for information, this method allows me to quickly look through the email in my inbox to know what needs to be actioned next.”
Wendy Leonelli manages her inbox by auto-directing emails wherever possible. “I subscribe to a number of industry periodicals and want to read them, but don’t want them to distract from my work as they pile up in my inbox,” says the Zions Bank Commercial Real Estate relationship manager. “I auto direct those to a specific subfolder that I can address as I have free time.”
Jake Heugly’s method is the complete opposite — he doesn’t delete or file any emails. “Yes, you heard that correctly,” says the director of Fee Income Strategies for Zions Bancorporation. “I keep everything in my inbox and use the ‘unread’ feature as a way to mark if there is more work to be done on the email. That way all emails are archived by the bank in order of receipt and I can search by topic or person and find any email within seconds.”
He says this process has saved him significant time managing emails: “Instead of looking for a lost email, I’m already working on the next one.”
Work from home productivity tip #2: Establish deadlines, and stick to them
This is another area where Sanchez relies heavily on use of his Outlook tools to stay organized.
“One thing that helps me stay on top of it all is being able to visualize when things are due,” Sanchez explains. “I will often create calendar events in my Outlook to block out time to work on specific projects, and I will also create calendar events to show when those projects are due. That helps me to see when things are going to be due so that I can prioritize my work week accordingly.”
Leonelli, too, lives by her Outlook calendar. “It provides a tool for both short- and long-term planning, and includes reminders,” she explains. “If I have a deadline that I’m backing into, I’ll block some time each day to focus on it piece by piece.”
She also relies on the assistance of a “good, old-fashioned” sticky note for deadline-sensitive tasks that need completed that day.
“I prefer to focus on more complex tasks — like financial analysis or underwriting — in the morning, when my brain is freshest, and schedule meetings in the afternoons,” Leonelli says.
Work from home productivity tip #3: Control your calendar
Heugly says if you don’t, someone else will. “In order to create a good work/life balance, far in advance I’ll schedule out anything that involves my family,” Heugly explains.
“From lacrosse games to family vacations to school activities, those events are in my calendar and I do my best to make it to every one. I schedule family vacations a year in advance so I have plenty of time to prepare my team and others that I will be out of the office.”
Work from home productivity tip #4: Focus on what is important, not only what is urgent
Zions Bancorporation CIO Jennifer Smith cites this principle from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. “By slowing inputs, we reduce what we believe requires immediate and sometimes impulsive reaction,” Smith explains. “In today’s environment, a lot of information we receive fools us into thinking it is urgent, but discernment is needed to manage time.”
She recalls hearing a CEO at one of the largest companies in the world say that he is 100% present for the person in front of him and doesn’t check emails while with others. “I wondered, how does he run this company without multi-threading more?” she recalls.
“After reflection my conclusion is his attitude is not only a gift to the person in front of him, it gives him the information needed to make better decisions and filters out noise.”
Work from home productivity tip #5: Manage stress
“When we are stewing on a topic for hours after we get home from work, we end up spending more time on a problem with less effective results,” Smith says. “I like to carve out time for writing down the problem, identifying who can help solve it, and note when I will get to it. I then reduce the amount of time I am thinking about it.”
She acknowledges that this approach isn’t easy. “I meditate, exercise, hike, and have a few hobbies that help distract me when mind gets too wound up,” she adds.
If this Global Workplace Analytics forecast holds true, 25 to 30% of the workforce will work from home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021. And that means the need for good time management skills isn’t going away anytime soon.
Nicola McIntosh is Social Media manager for Zions Bank.