The ability to work from home is one of the sharpest double-edged swords in today’s modern, digital economy.
On the one hand, it gives you tremendous freedom and flexibility. Who doesn’t like the idea of getting up when you want and working in your PJs?
But on the other hand, working from home creates a situation ripe for time-wasting. There are so many distractions around you, and few if any people to hold you accountable, making it super easy to spend half a day lost in social media or catching up on your favorite show on Netflix, which just means you’ll have to work through the night to meet your deadline.
However, it doesn’t need to be this way if you take a different approach to work from home, one that involves the following things:
Set a Start Time and Get Dressed
This sounds silly, especially since one of the reasons so many of us wanted to work from home in the first place is so that we wouldn’t have to do this.
But you’ll soon find that the key to working from home is self-discipline, and one of the only ways you can instill this in yourself is to treat the work you do from home as a job, which it is.
Of course, you can still be flexible, but try to set a time to get up every morning and start working. And before you do, change out of your PJs into real people clothes.
This will help your brain recognize that it’s time to get to work, which will make it easier for you to actually do something.
However, if you’re like me and you struggle with mornings, then consider finding a way to actually get out of the house first thing.
Go to the gym, go get some coffee, or go to the library or a cafe. Or if you have errands to run, then consider doing them right away. Use this time out of the house to be productive so that when you return you’re already in that mode and can keep working.
In the end, everyone’s strategy is going to be a bit different, but the point is to train yourself to treat the work you do from as just that: work. Otherwise, you won’t take it seriously and you’ll wind up wasting a bunch of time and feeling bad about yourself as a result, which is no good for anyone.
Dedicate Time for Distractions
When I first started working from home I concocted this story in my head that I would wake up at 7 every day and put in a ton of time to both my freelance career as well as the business I was trying to build. However, shortly after I began this routine, I became drunk with freedom. If I got a little bored sitting at my desk, I told myself that putting the T.V. on in the background would be a good idea.
Or if I felt I hit a roadblock, then I’d play a video game or watch T.V. for an hour to clear my head.
But as you could probably figure out, this approach was a bunch of BS. An hour playing a game quickly turned into 3 and put the T.V. on in the “background” meant not working and watching T.V. for an hour or two. But how do you address this? After all, we’re still going to want to do this stuff, so telling yourself you’ll go cold turkey on T.V. or video games is essentially useless. But it’s also not a good idea to mix this with the work that you’re supposed to be doing.
For me, the best thing ended up being to block off specific times for this stuff. For example, I allowed myself to watch T.V. during my lunch break. I’ve always liked disconnecting completely during lunch, and this was a nice way to limit my T.V. watching without completely denying myself something I liked.
As for video games, I blocked off a few hours during one afternoon a week for video games. This ended up acting both as a reward system—if I got my work done then I could play—and it also worked to stop me from taking these unnecessary breaks that I had convinced myself were completely necessary.
So for you, I would recommend spending some time thinking about what stops you from being productive. If it’s social media, which is the case for a lot of people, then block off an hour each day, or a few hours each week, to spend time scrolling around. And do the same for anything else that takes you away from your work. You’ll not only find that this makes you more productive, but you’ll likely also see that it helps you enjoy your distractions even more.
Build a Home Office That Promotes Productivity
First things first, if you don’t already have a home office, then you need to find a way to build one.
It’s okay to start off working at your kitchen table (something I did) but your brain needs a dedicated space for work to be able to maximize focus and stay concentrated on the task at hand.
But know that not all offices are created equal, so make sure yours incorporates some of the following elements:
Give yourself a door that locks. This is particularly important if you live with other people, especially children. It’s important to have a physical barrier between you and the rest of the house so that both you and others know when you’re working and shouldn’t be disturbed. If you don’t have a separate room with its own door and lock, then section off part of another room and let people know that you shouldn’t be disturbed while you’re sitting there.
Pay attention to the sun. Natural light can improve workplace productivity, but it also can have an effect on the temperature of the room. Too much sunlight can make the room hot, whereas not enough can make it too cold.
Try to pick a space to work in that gives you enough light to see but not so much that it makes you uncomfortable.
Make it dedicated. Your office needs to be for work and not much else. It all comes down to tricking your brain. If it thinks that all you can do while in your office is work, then it will be much easier to sit down and do work when you’re in there.
However, if your office is used for all sorts of other things, then it’s going to be tricky to convince it to block out distractions and get things done when you need to.
Manage clutter. A lot of us, especially creative types, like to think that clutter is okay. And while it is to a certain extent, too much of it can really bog down our creativity and productivity. So the trick is not to try and eliminate clutter but rather to manage it.
Make sure everything has a place and set up a system for dealing with papers and other materials. This way you can easily put things back to normal when they get out of control, helping you save time in your quest to return to being productive.
Let’s Get to Work
All of these things should help you be more productive, but in the end, you need to figure out why you’re unproductive if you hope to ever really change. But combining this with the right approach to working from home is going to increase your output and help you get more out of the time you’re sitting at your desk working.