Just because your commute is only a few steps instead of a few miles or more doesn't mean that you don't face obstacles to a productive workday. And I'm not talking about tripping over your kids' toys on the way to your home office; I'm talking about the fact that working remotely is full of distractions and often lacks structure unless you're intentional and disciplined.
The good news is, here are seven tips you can use to be more productive and less stressed:
1. Turn off push email.
Nothing kills work like incoming email notifications. Turn them off. Then, set a reminder to check your email three times: once in the morning, once right before lunch, and once at the end of the day. By checking your email right before you take a break for lunch, and at the end of the day, you're less likely to get sucked into the email vortex that has killed many productive work days for even the best of us.
2. Do something else first.
If you were working out, you'd stretch and warm up first. If you jump right into your workout, there's a good chance it isn't going to last very long. You're certainly not going to perform your best, and you'll probably get hurt. Believe it or not the same is true with work (okay, maybe not the hurt part). Start your day doing something else.
And no, email doesn't count. Read a book, go for a walk, listen to a podcast, or workout.
2. Chunk your time.
One of the big benefits of working from home is that you don't have to show up at 8 AM and stay 'till 5 PM. That's good because working remotely presents an interesting set of circumstances called "life." For example, I have four kids and it's sometimes tempting to go do anything but work. Other times it's impossible to get anything done. As a result, I block times throughout the day to work.
Each block has a set purpose, which I even mark on my calendar. I assign chunks for writing, email, research, or scheduling meetings. This makes it easier to control the flow of work and make sure I'm able to accommodate the natural interruptions that occur with working remotely.
3. Have a place to land.
Even if you like to change things up and work from different places, create a workspace that you can always land when you need to hunker down and get things done.
I use my home office for research, video meetings and when I have to just work. Wherever your "place" is, it should have a comfortable chair, a desk, and access to all of the things you need to be able to work, including both technology and supplies.
4. Get out in the world.
As important as it is to have a place to land, take advantage of the fact that you can work from anywhere, and find somewhere interesting to work. Right now I'm writing this column in the Delta Sky Club at LaGuardia Airport. Working at an airport isn't feasible on a regular basis, but honestly, I'm most productive when I get out of the house once a week and write for a few hours at Starbucks.
Coffee shops are actually great because they stimulate your brain in ways your home office won't. They also help create an expectation that you'll get something done. You physically went somewhere with a purpose, and it's far easier to stay focused on that intent.
5. Shut the door.
Maybe the hardest thing about working remotely, especially from home, is that you sometimes have to say no to the people you love. I love my family, but there are definitely times when I have to get work done. Be upfront about work time versus family time, and create the expectation that when you're working, you're not available for things like impromptu wrestling matches with your kids.
Our kids know that if the office door is shut, it's work time. And it's not just with kids-- help your spouse by communicating when you're working and not available. At our house, they know it's like I've left and gone to work, but I'll be home soon and we'll have plenty of time to wrestle then.
6. Plan when to quit.
Just because you work from home doesn't mean you should always be working. It's not healthy, and it's not fair to the other people and responsibilities in your life. You're also far more likely to be productive when you know your time is limited. Set a time and stick to it.
7. Tell someone about your day
You'll get more done if you know someone is going to ask what you did. Whether it's your boss at a daily check-in meeting or your partner when you get home, let someone know what you're working on and what you accomplished. It doesn't have to be an exhaustive list, but telling someone what you plan to do, and then whether or not you actually did it will help you be accountable.
Plus, this helps bring a personal connection to what can often be a lonely way to work. By the way, even if you don't have someone to tell, send yourself an email. Seriously. The process of writing it out will help you focus your thoughts at the end of the day, and reading it later will motivate you as you are able to look back on what you've accomplished.