As a freelance writer turned community manager, I’ve spent entire weeks working from my couch in my pajamas.
For many it sounds appealing — no commute time to wrestle with, no wardrobe requirements and no one standing over your shoulder requesting updates on your progress.
But I’ve also found that these are the same reasons why staying productive when working from home, sans a designated office, can be such a challenge. There’s not a pressing reason to leave the house or get dressed, and there is no one there keeping you from spending the afternoon eating junk food and watching trashy TV.
5 Ways to Boost Productivity When Working from Home
The work from home lifestyle is certainly not for everyone (especially those that thrive on day to day interactions with coworkers), but if you have a job where working remotely is an option, here are some tips for keeping you productive and happy.
1. Create a Routine
Not having a routine may sound like a good idea, but it can also lead to an utter lack of productivity.
Even though there are days where my workload would allow me to sleep in an extra 2-3 hours, I keep my wake-up time the same — give or take a half an hour. Not only does this ensure that I have my entire day to tackle whatever projects I have, it also keeps my body from getting out of whack.
I also keep the order of my work related tasks in relatively the same order so that I don’t waste time contemplating what I should be doing next. I start with responding to emails, move to phone calls, etc.
I have actually found that keeping a routine with work allows me to be more spontaneous with the rest of my life. Waking up early and staying in the flow throughout the day means that I can take off at 3 if a friend invites me to happy hour, or if I want to take a walk around the park.
2. Allow for Breaks
When I first started working from home, I would avoid breaks at all costs. I thought that this would help me get more work done, when in reality, it caused me to burn out early.
Now I take the breaks that any employer would require in an eight to ten hour work day — coffee breaks, lunch breaks, stretch breaks. I consider all of these to be a necessity because it’s the time spent away from the computer that helps ideas generate organically. And, of course, it’s good for both your body and your mind.
3. Go with the Flow
Do you find that your mind isn’t fully functioning before 10 am? Does your body need a nap between 2 pm and 3 pm? Are you least productive after 6 pm?
One of the largest benefits of working from home (unless you are required to clock in and out at certain times) is the ability to create your own schedule.
Not everyone works best on a 9-5 schedule — some work better on a 10-6 or 4-12 schedule. Figure out the times that your mind is at its peak, and try to follow that. For you that might mean taking a two hour break in the middle of the day. That’s simply the beauty of this lifestyle.
4. Get Out of the House
Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you can’t venture out every once in a while. It also doesn’t mean that you can be mentally okay without some regular social interaction.
Set up shop in a coffee house for a few hours, or if you can manage without wi-fi, work from the park.
For me, being around people — even if it’s not anyone I’m physically interacting with — helps me to feel connected to the world again. It also takes away the distractions that I struggle with at home — namely watching TV, talking on the phone, cleaning the kitchen, etc., etc., etc.
When you’re in another setting, there’s simply not much else to do but crank out the work that needs to get done.
5. Disconnect After Work
When you work from home, it can be extremely challenging to create a work/life balance. After all, you don’t have the luxury of leaving everything at an office where you can’t get to it until after the weekend or the following morning.
In the beginning I would read and respond to emails as soon as I received them and answer work-related phone calls long after 6 pm. I was constantly in work mode, never fully engaging in anything else because I was operating from the work state of mind.
In turn this translated to a lack of productivity during working hours because I was already burnt-out from semi-working all weekend.
Set limits for yourself — don’t answer phone calls before or after a certain time. Turn email notifications off and stop brainstorming ideas when you’re no longer on the clock. Let your mind and body relax when the time calls for it and your productivity will increase ten-fold.
What are your ideas for staying productive while working from home?
Photo by Ambro.
I’ll add 2 things:
1. Don’t overeat. Eat healthy (enough).
I’ve experimented a lot with my diet. I’ve tried just about every diet out there, real or fad. Almost all worked well. Eating obscene portions is the real dagger.
If I eat too much, I get that dreadful brain smog that keeps me from being effective at anything but sleeping. I NEED A NAP
2. Be Active.
After I finish work, I try to do something that gets me moving. Sometimes its challenging cardio workouts or play with my pitbull. Often I like to jump on my bike and explore random parts of New Orleans.
I get excellent exercise plus it takes my mind off work so I can recharge for my next session. Also improving myself physically also improves my mental stamina.
Another suggestion: Find or create a dedicated work space away from other activity in the house. In addition to helping avoid distractions, it may help other members of your household to take your “working from home” more seriously.
I’m a work-from-home web designer. If I’m in front of my laptop at the dining room table, I look the same whether I’m working or wasting time on Facebook. I suspect my family thinks I’m always doing the latter, while I’m almost always doing the former.
Sequestering myself away in my attic office sends the message “Scott’s at work” even though I’m just 20 feet away (vertically).
Yes! I agree with the dedicated work space. It’s not possible my apartment but I’ve started taping a “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on the back of my laptop. Now my husband leaves me alone, instead of asking me load the dishwasher or if I want to see a movie or what I want for dinner, etc.
Take some time to get some exercise and don’t use “I have no time” as an excuse. When you work at home, you tend to stay rooted because you don’t have co-workers inviting you to lunch, or for a walk and you’re not walking to different departments, or walking from the train or subway.
After ten years of sitting on my butt (working at home) and not putting aside enough time to take care of me, I got a treadmill desk and now spend two to three hours each day working while walking. I’m more focused, and I’m healthier. This means I’m much more productive.
I’ve worked at home for ten years and my most important tip is to make sure you take time out for fitness. Trust me, you don’t want to learn this lesson the hard way.
History repeats itself – in Britain at least there is a long tradition of having a ‘study’ in the house – a room where one can go to work, and just to work. Essentially a bedroom for productivity and nothing else. I could write reams and reams about the different decor and layout options I’ve had over the years to get my space as productive as possible, but once you’re there, it’s just you, your ideas and your tools for crafting your thoughts into communicables to share with others: it’s lovely.
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I am not able to follow your 5th point. I fail to disconnect from my work. I am always thinking of new ideas, ways to imporve earning and much more.
Any suggestion to stop the mental working actively and focus in relaxing.
I have the same problem. Being a programmer, its really hard to ignore ideas lingering in your mind and not thinking about them. Most of the time I’m tempted to just test those ideas and the next thing you know, you’re already working beyond your designated work hours..
My biggest challenge working from home was trying to stop being distracted with everyday house work tasks. The solution I found – keep a designated time for them – early morning or late evening – act as if you are going out to work, and don’t get tempted to stop during your peak working time to attend to these chores. I normally schedule an hour during lunch to make a light lunch, and do some basic cleaning up, then eat and get back to my desk. It helps!
I applied all of these tips personally when working from home. I read this blog regarding productivity (Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy) that also helps me to stay productive. This is how I work from home, before I start to work I list my entire tasks and organize tasks depends on priority. I also set an estimate amount of time when working on each task that helps me limit wasted time. I even set regular breaks on it, in every 2 hours of work I take a 10 minutes break. However, when I feel sleepy I don’t force myself to stay productive instead I take a nap. Sometimes I also go out with some of my friends and go to the mall. At the end of the day when I already finish work I immediately go offline and relax. Take a look at this review regarding a productivity tool that I also use personally.
I am a graduate student that studying for a master’s degree. The suggestions of this article are really useful. Because of that we have plenty of time to research just like “working at home.” How to keep productive has become important. I used to create a routine when I was busy. It can makes me ensure how many things I have.
Great article! I can completely agree from own experience 🙂
Give myself a break 20 minutes to 30 minutes to take a nap is working for me, and making routine is the key i agree.
Personal accountability and a passion for what you do is what makes working from home realistic. Unless you have both you won’t do it at home. Great post.
I agree with everything here and can totally relate! Sometimes people get a bit frustrated with me as I only do emails in the mornings now unless there’s something that needs special attention, but overall it works well for me as I don’t want to go back to living in my inbox again!
Also, sometimes when I don’t think about my company’s agenda I get the best ideas, they just come to me. Don’t stress yourself out for ideas, they will come to you when you least expect it. Just be sure to document then or you might forget. A good example is when you’re in the shower and think of something only to totally forget when you get out and get dressed. Having a water proof case for iPhone has come in handy from time to time 🙂
Stay productive everyone!
My to-do list never gets completed and I’m fine with that. However, I mark one to three items as the highest priority and strive to move each of those forward today. These are usually time-consuming, creative projects such as client work or blog content. Other work may have to get done today, such as returning a phone call—this also gets done but it does not replace a true priority that moves either my work or my marketing forward.
Spending time to empty my mind every morning is my tactic! I do 15 min. meditation + 15 min basic Yoga every morning then start working, check my emails, focus on work… If you start your day positive, it can not go negative : )