The thing about working from home is, even if you’re not the single mother of a messy toddler, there are always plenty of things to distract you – or help you to procrastinate, if you’re avoiding a particularly unpleasant job. Clean the kitchen, put on a load of washing, tidy the book shelf… Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about!
Here are a few tips to help you to remain productive when you’re working from home…
1. Don’t always work from home!
If I have a time sensitive job that I really need to get done, I go out to a cafe. Being at home, there is just so much to distract me or allow me to procrastinate; if I take my laptop and notes to a cafe, I get my head down, and get on with it. Every single time I take myself to an outside location to work, I get it done twice as quickly.
2. Keep a detailed to-do list
I use Todoist, and I love it. It syncs with my calendar so that I can see what I need to fit in each day, and I can prioritise tasks and move them around if I like. It gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I tick something off my list, but it also means I’m not relying on my memory or a hastily scribbled note in the pack of a notepad to ensure I get things done. The fact I have everything in my Todoist, and check it off once it’s done, means that I don’t have that niggling “forgotten something” feeling as often. Case in point: last week in a fit of productivity I batch-produced several of this week’s blog posts for a client. On Tuesday, when I would usually sit down to write their blog post, I knew I had already done it because I had already checked it off on my Todoist. I didn’t have to try and remember how many posts I’d already done, or go and check their site to see what I needed to do – it was all taken care of. When I wake at 3 in the morning thinking “I must remember I need to buy a Christmas gift for John tomorrow” I grab my mobile, add it to my Todoist, and go back to sleep. I keep a shopping list open on there, and add things as and when I think of them – then whenever I am in the vicinity of a supermarket, I just pull out my mobile, and see what I need. Todoist saves me a lot of time; it’s like having a PA.
3. Say no
When you work from home, a lot of people (family especially, it would seem) assume that you get up, watch a bit of daytime TV, do a bit of shopping, maybe surf Facebook, make a coffee, and pootle about for the rest of your day. The idea of “if I don’t keep my clients happy/work bloody hard/get this finished by lunchtime, I can’t pay my rent” doesn’t register with many people who are happily employees elsewhere. Therefore, you will often find that people call you on their lunch break, wanting to meet you. Or they’re out and want to know if you’ll meet them for coffee. Or could you just nip to the shop for them. And so on, and so on. I used to do all of these things, fitting my schedule around everyone else’s – after all, my whole reason for being self employed was so that I could be more flexible, right? Wrong. My reason for being self employed is to be more flexible around my daughter and her needs, not that random person who calls once a month saying “I’m in Costa, come meet me.”
Switch your phone onto silent, and treat it like a “proper” day job: no personal phone calls, no last-minute coffee dates, no shopping or errand running. People will soon begin to take the hint!
Yes, I know I mentioned in the previous point that you should say no to people who try to drag you away from your work. But if you resolve to sit at your desk and work solidly from 8am to 5pm, you will find that you are actually not that productive. Actually, fans of the Pomodoro Technique swear by taking short, regular breaks between work. Having tried it, I do find that taking a short break to stretch my legs (and perhaps put on a load of washing) does help. The trick is to be honest with yourself: are you taking a short, scheduled break or are you procrastinating over a job you don’t fancy doing this morning?
Here’s a great online timer you can use, but not just for the Pomodoro Technique. I find that with anything I don’t really fancy doing, I am better able to just get my head down and do it, if I have a set amount of time to work on it. If I set the timer for half an hour to finish drafting a blog post, it helps me to focus on the task in hand rather than checking my emails, organising my paper clips or doing the washing up. For example, while I was writing this post a courier knocked the door with a parcel; I signed for it, but then put it on the side in the kitchen and got back to work, because the timer I had set for this task only had a few minutes left to run!
5. Eat that frog
There is a brilliant book by Brian Tracy with this title. The basic premise is that you look at your to do list, and target the ugly-looking tasks first. The ones that make you want to go and clean the bathroom. Get that nasty job done first thing in the morning, and you will waste less time during your day!
6. Use a tracking app
I use Rescue Time; it runs on my laptop as well as my mobile devices, and tracks my time online. Each week I get an email to tell me how many hours I spent online, and how productive I was – as well as how that compares to last week. As well as this, I can check the app at any time during the day to see how I’m getting on. When I look at the app and see that I’ve only been 40% productive today, or that I’ve already logged 3 hours on social media sites, it focuses my mind. I’m one of those people who loves to see stats, and to beat last week’s figures so this works really well for me.
7. Consider how you dress
Remember at school, when you had a non-uniform day and everyone came in wearing jeans? It brought a different atmosphere to lessons, didn’t it? Nothing much ever got done on a non-uniform day at my school. This is why many offices who never have any dealings with their customers face to face still have a dress code. When you work from home it can be very tempting to slump down in your pyjamas to start work – but the process of dressing yourself smartly helps to put you in the right frame of mind for work. I know a local photographer who always wears a smart shirt and trousers, even if he’s just editing photos all day – because it helps him to get into that “work” mindset.
8. Try to make a dedicated work space
Some people have an actual office at home; others a desk in the corner of the living room (me). Either way, if you have a dedicated space for work it helps (as with the previous point) to get into that “I’m going to work now” frame of mind. Also on a practical level, having a dedicated space for your work means you don’t have to waste precious time getting your work out from wherever it’s stored, and then putting it away afterwards
9. Keep that work space clear
It’s amazing what a difference a clear desk can make. Anyone who has seen my desk will tell you that it is piled high with all manner of junk, and they would be right. Every few days though, I take those piles and put them on the floor behind me so that I cannot see them. On those days, I get a lot more work done because my mind is not busy noticing a big pile of junk every five seconds, and thinking “I really need to tidy this desk; perhaps I should stop what I’m doing and…”
10. A clear work space applies to your computer, too!
I don’t know about you, but I often have so many windows open on my desktop that I’m forever clicking on the wrong one when trying to flick between them. And clicking on the wrong one means that my attention is drawn to whatever is going on there: Twitter, Facebook, emails, a news story about a flying pig I used for research yesterday. When I close down every window except the one(s) I need to get this particular job done, there is nothing for me to accidentally click on – and checking my Facebook or Twitter becomes a conscious “I am going to stop work and look at social media now” so I do it less often.