Strategies to Stay Productive When You're Working from Home
Staying productive is a challenge no matter where you work. A study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that in the eight hour workday, the average worker is only “productive” for about three hours.
Working from home eliminates many of the distractions that come with working in an office. There are fewer pointless meetings, water-cooler conversations with coworkers, and other general nonsense. On the flip side, working from home can mean a lack of structure and accountability, as well as the constant draw of housework, playing with the dog, or let’s be honest, watching TV in your jammies.
I’ve worked from home almost exclusively since 2012, and I’ve got several tools in my belt that help me stay productive in this lifestyle. I don’t practice all of these strategies every single day, but instead I try to use what fits the moment.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
If you are self-employed and don’t have a dedicated workspace (aka, NOT your kitchen table), then that is absolutely your first move. A dedicated workspace that is designed around your needs eliminates distractions, inspires creativity, and promotes productivity.
This doesn’t have to be fancy, and it also doesn’t have to be an entire room. Our family lives in a 950 square foot condo in Washington, D.C., so my dedicated workspace, consisting of a desk and a small file cabinet, is in my bedroom. Even though it’s far from fancy, having a dedicated space where I do my work makes it much easier for me to get into “work-mode” when I sit down each morning.
Pretend Like You’re Leaving
This strategy requires getting your home into a state that you would feel comfortable leaving it in IF you were going to work in an office. In other words, make your bed, clean up the breakfast dishes, and do anything else that you would want to have done before leaving the house for eight to 10 hours. I find that this helps eliminate the “let me just do these dishes real quick” kind of productivity-killing distractions. An advanced version of this strategy would include making your lunch in the morning before you start working – just like if you were taking it to the office.
Designate Office Hours (and stick to them)
It’s extremely helpful to have set “office hours” that determine when you will work and when you will NOT work. Not only is this helpful for setting client expectations, but it’s also incredibly important for work-life balance. If every hour of your life is potentially an hour you can spend working, then you have no incentive to work efficiently to get the most value out of your time. But, if you hold yourself to shutting the computer at 4:00 or 5:00 pm (or whatever hour makes sense for you), you’ll be more motivated to work smart and stay productive.
Create a Startup and Shutdown Ritual
When I worked at the consulting firm, my workday start up ritual was to put my purse down in my office, boot my computer, and then walk to the break room to grab a cup of coffee before sitting down at my desk to get started. This routine definitely wasn’t anything you would find in a Tim Ferris volume, but it did give my brain the “ok, you’re at work now” message that it needed to start the day.
An intentional workday startup ritual can give your brain the same, “you’re at work now, let’s do this” signal that my haphazard one gave me. Your ritual is totally customizable and can include anything from making a daily to-do list, filling out a gratitude journal, prayer or meditation, or reviewing your goals.
Similarly, when I worked at the firm, I didn’t need a “ritual” to tell me work was over; I just went home. For the self-employed, a workday shutdown ritual can be incredibly helpful for telling your brain, “work is over, it’s time to relax.”
Block Out Your Time
At the beginning of the day, you can create a basic schedule that lists the tasks you need to do and the amount of time you want to spend on each. I find this strategy particularly helpful when I’m feeling either unmotivated or overwhelmed.
Keeping a timesheet is a next-level version of this strategy. My timesheet helps me stay productive, accountable, and focused on my most important work. I wrote about my experience with keeping a timesheet here.
Take Re-Energizing Breaks
Research shows that intervals of focused work and intentional breaks is the approach to structure your time for optimal productivity. Working from home offers more interesting options for taking breaks that don’t involve drab break rooms or vending machine snacks. For instance, at home you can take a lunch break in your own dining room. Or read a book. Or do some yoga. Or take a walk outside. Or work on a house project or craft. The opportunities for re-energizing breaks are really endless!
Focus timers, also called Pomodoro Timers, are helpful for being intentional about rotating focused work and intentional breaks. I use my focus timer a lot, particularly when I’m feeling distracted or unmotivated. My timer’s default setting is for 25 minutes of work followed by five minutes of rest. But, you can experiment with the intervals that work for you, such as 45 to 50 minutes of work followed by 10 to 15 minutes of rest. There are many apps available (this is a helpful list).
What about you? How do you stay productive when you work from home?
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