Your Work-at-Home Checklist: 9 Tips for Finishing Projects

tips for working from home

Home is where the heart is — not always the mind.

Nevertheless, this is often where some of your most important projects must be done.

Productivity in the work place is hard enough, even with a supervising boss, limited personal distractions and an atmosphere of like-minded coworkers.

Rip away that stable atmosphere and keeping the momentum of progress can be harder than catching lightning in a bottle.

As a college student in the age of the smartphone, I understand as well as anyone how difficult it can be to sit down and complete a time-consuming assignment without getting – hold on a second while I check my newsfeed – distracted.

The extent of your productivity is contingent upon how you enter into the battlefield. Here are a few pre-project tips for working at home to get you through the most arduous of tasks:

1. Sit Down Ready To Work

Make sure you’ve had plenty of rest or are properly caffeinated. Remind yourself why you need to get this done while the urgency or motivation is fresh in your mind. Write it on a sticky note to put on your work space.

Speaking of your work space — make it your happy place. Organize it. Clean it. Spray some air freshener. Put your prettiest office supplies out on display.

In other words — make this a place anyone would be honored to work in.

2. Inform the Masses of Your Absence

If a roommate, child, family member or significant other also lives in your home, let them know that you have an important assignment. Tell them where you’ll be, and try to give an estimated time frame of how long you might be working.

Take care of any last-minute business with them (cooking dinner, discussing bills, etc.) so you can focus.

3. Bid Farewell to Your Phone

If you’re on-call for something you just can’t ignore, turn your ringer on and place your phone in the far corner of the room. Otherwise, if any contact initiated can probably wait a half hour, put your distraction-box somewhere out of the room.

It’s important for there to be at least one door between you and *it* to give you the feeling of true separation. The same goes for any media or entertainment-related websites/apps on your laptop — close them out. Let the withdrawal begin. You can take it.

4. Set Your Timer for 20 Minutes

Don’t cheat and pull out your phone. If you don’t have a stopwatch, find one on your computer. Relying on a clock won’t work — you want to avoid having to look at the clock at all.

The face of whatever time-keeping gadget you’ve chosen needs to be facing away from you, so make sure the volume of the alarm is sufficient to get your attention.

5. Decide What You’ll Do For Your Break

Most people know by now that the secret to productivity is taking breaks. If this is news to you, welcome to the land of the living — things should be easier for you from here on out.

You have five minutes to do whatever you want, guilt-free, after every 20 minute hard-core work period. Set another timer for it.

This is when you can check your phone, eat a snack, chug a soda, go to the bathroom, etc. The idea is that you’re working hard during those 20 minutes, without distraction, to earn your five minute break. Make it count.

6. Keep What You Need Nearby

Determine what you’ll need for your project and put it within arms-reach. If you can possibly avoid having to leave your work space for materials — fantastic.

Leaving the work space means entering reality, and reality is full of distractions you just can’t afford.

7. Debate Soundtrack vs. Silence

Depending on the type of work you’re about to undertake, music might be a suitable companion. Relaxing soundscapes are frequently recommended, but I’m advising against that – it’s likely to over-relax you and leave you feeling lethargic.

Keep to upbeat instrumentals that aren’t so abrupt they’ll snatch you out of your train of thought. I personally listen to movie soundtracks, but the works of many classical composers can also do the trick.

If you don’t trust yourself to stay focused on your assignment with music playing, silence is golden. Odds are, when you get in the “zone,” you won’t be processing whether there’s music playing or not.

8. Pick an Accountability Partner

This isn’t just for workouts. Telling somebody about your project solidifies its importance in your mind and keeps you motivated.

If you want, have them text you every once in a while to encourage you; just check your phone during breaks. It never hurts to see a friend is cheering you on.

9. Plan Your Celebration

When it’s all over, at that glorious moment when you’ve finished the job, you’ll be one happy (albeit drained) camper. Promise yourself something special — it’ll keep your spirits up when your five minute breaks end and you drag yourself back to your desk.

You’re ready to show this project who’s boss. Put on your game-face and good luck.

Your turn! Any tips for working from home? Let us know in the comments!

(Photo by Citrix Online / CC BY)

Sydney Nye is an undergraduate at Stanford University majoring in chemical engineering. She is expected to graduate in 2018.


  1. Steven on the 10th September

    This list was an amazing refresher. Thanks! I personally set my timer for between 60-90 minutes, with 20 mins break. Works for me :-).

  2. Gregor Moniuszko, Ph.D. on the 10th September

    Nice article Sydney.
    However, for me the 4th point is the most debatable one. Most people simply can get in the ‘zone’ after about 15 minutes so 20-minute alarm will destroy their most productive flow state prematurely. For me the loud alarm is the worst I could do to my work. Instead, I use silent alarm and do not give myself permission to check the clock before 5-10 minutes of work. Starting the work is the most difficult. After that you don’t need the clock as your body and mind will tell you when to stop (unless you’re workaholic ;-). Sometimes it takes only 10 minutes, usually between 45-90 minutes, occasionally even longer.

    • Sydney Nye on the 11th September

      Thanks Gregor,
      I’ve always found that promising myself a shorter amount of time to work prior to the next break gives greater incentive to start working (which is, I agree, the hardest part). After I’ve alleviated that initial hesitation to start a daunting project, the worst is over and the juices finally start flowing at their own pace. You’re right – everyone’s brain has his/her own optimal cycle of focus and rest; the key is to pinpoint one’s own.

  3. This article can be very helpful for work at home novices. Two critical points that I would add are: 1) planning in advance WHAT project you will be working on, and 2) having available the background materials needed to begin your work. One sure sign of sabotaging your best intentions is finding yourself digging and sifting through papers and books before you can begin your work.

    I find that planning your work week in advance significantly increasing your daily success. On Friday, examine what you have completed and what still needs to be done. This should be in the form of an action list for the next week. Also set aside time to organize your work space for the next week. I am a stickler for arranging work project in order of deadlines and importance. I think this is critical because we often make the mistake of celebrating TGIF with regard to what we have accomplished, but not concerning what we still have to do the following week.

    Lastly, the importance of delineating work space from home space cannot be emphasized enough. In my case, my den serves as my office and TV room. Monday through Friday it is my office. Saturday and Sunday it is my TV/den. It is incredibly important not to mix the two, particularly if you have youngsters in the house.

    Make sure they KNOW when you are working in the den by putting a sign on the door and/or expressing your game-face. in either case, you will witness more success working at home when you have a plan of action and are able to cordon off work space versus home space.

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