Distraction is hard to beat when working from home, especially if you have to use your computer to accomplish tasks. On top of that, working from home means dealing with pets, potentially kids, and household chores that are begging to be done. Let’s not even get started on your never-ending Netflix queue.
Don’t let distractions take over your day. The key for how to be productive when working from home comes down to a mindset shift. It can be hard to see your home in the same light as your workplace, but these tips can help bridge that mental gap.
Ease into Your Workday
When you work from home, you inevitably save time on your commute. Many people swear by the mindset power of dressing up in slightly uncomfortable work clothes (business casual and pajamas are two very different things!), but you could nix a shower and dressing up to make more time in the morning, if that’s not helpful for your productivity. Ultimately what you choose to do is all about personal preference and knowing your own tendencies - know thyself.
Whatever you give up (commute, getting ready, etc.), you should instead use that time to get in the right mindset for the work ahead of you. Many productivity experts, like Chris Bailey, swear by meditation.
If that’s a little too crunchy granola for you, instead opt to do something like yoga, read a book (or the news), or even just sit quietly with a cup of tea. You could also use this time to work out - an activity that often gets neglected by those that work from home and get absorbed in their work. The point of undertaking any of these activities is that you’re not rushing straight into work, and that you’re clearing your mind to start the day off right.
But don’t expect to be super productive if you don’t start work til 11am--unless you truly get your best work done at night. Know your own circadian rhythm. But even if you are a night owl, realize that since most people work 9-5, things come up at night. You likely won’t want to miss out on life and fun just so that you can complete work. Being very aware of your schedule can help to achieve the optimal balance and schedule.
Create a Clearly-Defined Workspace
Ideally, your workspace won’t be your bedroom. Having a separate space or room will help you physically and mentally separate work from your home life. It will also help you to create a work life balance. When you’re in your workspace, you’re focused on work. When you’re not in your workspace, you’re done with work for the time being. It seems simple, but can be hard to put into practice.
Let family members and anyone who’s at home with you know that when you’re in your workspace, you shouldn’t be bothered. Kids may have a hard time accepting this, so try to explain that the better your focus, the sooner you’ll be done, and the better state of mind you’ll be in to spend time together.
If you work from home every day, push yourself to spend some time outside of the home.
For best results, maintain a clean and tidy workspace. Physical clutter can cause mental clutter. If you work from home every day, push yourself to spend some time outside of the home. It’s easier to get an office-like perspective away from home, at a coworking space, coffee shop, or even your local library.
Know Your Weaknesses & Distractions
Most people don’t like to take the time to uncover their weaknesses, because they see them as a completely negative thing. But being able to identify weaknesses and distractions is a necessary step in moving past them, and improving productivity.
A few quick tips for working with and around weaknesses:
- Use a tool like RescueTime to identify where you’re spending most of your time, then work through different ways to recover that time and separate yourself from temptations.
- Use a tool like Cold Turkey to temporarily block distractions, like time-suck social networking websites.
- Disable notifications on your phone and consider placing it well out of your reach, on silent, when working through projects.
- Use a tool like Planio to track time on various projects, so you know where your time is going. ## Take Breaks
People that work from home tend to either take too many breaks or not enough. An excellent way to find a happy balance is by incorporating the Pomodoro Method. With the Pomodoro Method, you spend 25 minutes on a task, then 5 minutes taking a break. An online timer can help you easily implement this without needing to install any additional software.
You’ll be surprised by how much you can get done if you spend the full 25 minutes completely focusing on one task. Just make sure you take your breaks just as seriously. Breaks are necessary for re-energizing. Not taking breaks can be non-productive, and can drain the day’s energy at a rapid rate.
If it makes you feel better, this can be a good time to knock out some of the chores staring you in the face. Or use it as an opportunity to get your blood flowing. Whether you work in an office, or from a home office, periodically taking a break from sitting is necessary.
Working from home often means much more flexibility than working in an office, and don’t be afraid to take advantage of this fact. If you’re tired and have no energy to keep working, take a nap. No one will judge you or find out if it helps you to be productive!
Have Healthy Food Available
While you’re figuring out how to be productive when working from home, it’s easy to be a slouch. If you’re working on a difficult task, it can be hard to tear yourself away from it just to make sure you eat an actual meal. It takes even more effort to make sure that your meals are healthy and can sustain your energy, instead of fast food that satiates, then causes an energy crash.
To get around these issues, consider picking one day a week to meal prep. You don’t have to go overboard, just make sure that you have options when time is scarce and the alternative is something unhealthy. Make sure to also keep good snacks around, so that food won’t get in the way of you being productive when working from home. Oh, and don’t skip breakfast! It’s your first and most important opportunity to energize your body for the day ahead.
Start with the Hardest Tasks First
As the day turns into the afternoon, energy inevitably takes a dive. Sometimes, this means important tasks go undone, and nothing is worse than a missed deadline. As a rule, start your day with the hardest tasks, or the ones with the closest due dates, first. If you’re having a mental block, at least take the opportunity to “procrastinate” your big task with other important tasks.
Block out time for certain tasks and hold that time as sacred. Maintain a schedule, and make sure EVERYTHING is on your calendar so you don't miss anything. Make sure that your schedule includes time blocked out specifically for:
- Calls with clients
- Time for projects
- Time for breaks!
- Time to check email. According to Lifehacker, it takes 25 minutes to refocus after getting distracted. Email can be a giant productivity drain when handled incorrectly, so consider blocking out 2-3 short time periods each day to focus on it specifically - then stay off it for the rest of the day.
- Time for non-work activities. This goes hand-in-hand with maintaining a good work/life balance. If it’s not on your calendar, it’s not going to happen.
Besides scheduling time for everything, make sure that you write out your to do list the night before so that you know exactly what needs to be accomplished the next day, and can get started immediately, with a purpose. Try to focus on no more than 3 important items, otherwise you might get overwhelmed before the day even gets started. If there are more consistently more to do items than time in the day, you may need to reevaluate your schedule and commitments, or learn how to delegate.
Avoid Calls/Meetings Whenever Possible
Calls, and meetings in general are a time suck. Avoid calls when possible, see what you can accomplish through email. Here are a few ideas to help other team members, clients, and other stakeholders get on the same page:
- Schedule 15 minute time blocks for meetings, instead of more standard 30 minutes or 1 hour blocks (and stick to the scheduled time!).
- When you’re on a call, let people know that you have another one immediately after (even if you don’t) so that people feel more pressure to stick to the available time.
- Set the agenda ahead of time so the call has a purpose and there’s no wasted time figuring out what to talk about.
- Limit attendees to only the most relevant parties so that the purpose of the call doesn’t get lost in having too many voices.
- If you freelance, build meeting time into each client contract and charge extra for additional meetings. ## Track Your Progress
There’s something very satisfying about checking off items from a to do list. Take the list you’ve prepared from the night before, and cross off tasks as they’re accomplished. Additionally, add in other items that were taken care of that day that weren’t necessarily on this to do list. The goal is to create an “Accountability Report” to show you everything that resulted from your day’s work. If it doesn’t look like you accomplished much, use it as motivation to push yourself harder during your next work day.
Maintain a Connection to the Outside World
Working from home can be incredibly isolating. And feeling lonely is not good for productivity. Use your breaks productively by grabbing coffee with a fellow freelancer or industry connection, or by making time to establish a presence at a regular networking event. By connecting with others in a similar situation to you, it can be productive to work out any demons and compare notes.
How to Be Productive When Working From Home
It’s easy to get sucked in by all the distractions present when learning how to be productive when working from home. By knowing how you work and creating systems, you’ll find more success.
What are your best tips for how to be productive when working from home? Tweet at @Planio, and we’ll share our favorites!