Working from home is great, but it's important to be intentional about how you're using your time. It's way too easy to get distracted and lose your motivation, leading to lower productivity (and lower billable hours!).
Eight of the past 10 years I've worked from home. I know what it's like and what you're going through. It's not all roses. It can be very lonely and despite what people think, a lot more than a few hours a day. There are and estimated 54+ million freelancers and millions of additional workers that work from home in the US. You're not alone and there are a lot of people in the same boat.
This post will outline 10 ways to ensure you stay focused, motivated and stop sabotaging your productive when working from home. Please add your best tips in the comments below!
1. Use the rule of 52 and 17
We know that taking frequent breaks helps keep up motivation up and improve productivity. But a recent experiment suggests there may actually be an ideal formula for when to take breaks and for how long.
Apparently, the most productive people take a 17 minute break every 52 minutes. But it will also depend on your own personal preferences. For instance, I prefer to work in shorter, 30-minute sprints and then take a 5-7 minute break. Whatever you decide, set your phone alarm and resist any and all distractions during your dedicated work time.
2. Bribe yourself
Who says bribes are just for kids? Reward yourself for good behavior by doing something you really enjoy. Promise yourself that you can watch your favorite show or make a cup of coffee....but only once a particular task or project is done.
The anticipation of your reward can not only give you the motivation to keep plugging away, it can actually make you work faster. Think about it: Why wait until 2 for your caffeine fix when you could have it at 1?
3. Turn off your Facebook
You may have heard of research showing that social media actually helps improve work productivity. This research, while interesting, shouldn't be seen as confirmation that checking social media throughout the day increases your work output.
What it does suggest is that using social media to assist in inter-office collaboration increases productivity; looking at photos of your friend's party last weekend probably doesn't.
If you're going to check social media during the workday, set aside specific times to do so. Possibly you will use social media as your reward (see #3 from this list). Better yet, use a tool like Cold Turkey to completely block your access to social media sites during the time you're supposed to be working. Before you do that, here is how I semi-automate both social media.
4. Work out during your workday
We know that exercise can help improve mood and increase energy. But did you know that setting aside time to exercise during your work day can actually improve productivity?
Researchers found that workers who did 2.5 hours per week of exercise in place of work were just as productive - or even more productive - than those who didn't.
Instead of working out in the evenings when you're likely too tired, make it a part of your regular daytime schedule. And don't be surprised if your work output actually increases because of it!
5. Maintain a base level of pressure
I find I work best when I have deadlines. The more time I have allotted for a project, the slower I work and the less I actually get done. This is where self-set deadlines come in handy.
Give yourself tight but realistic timeframes in which to get specific projects or tasks done. This will help you weed out distractions, giving you laser-focus as you work to meet your goals.
6. Get out and work somewhere else
I don't know the science behind this one, but I find I'm often more productive when I work from a coffee shop or shared workspace. Even though it's noisier and there are more potential disruptions, I often find I get more done and feel far more focused.
Part of the reason for a higher productivity level when I go out may be that I usually also set deadlines for myself (see #5) when I work outside my home office. It could also be that the usual obligations of home and family are noticeably absent, leaving me 100% focused on my current task.
Whatever the reason, give it a try. Build in regular away-from-home work time to add a bit of interest to your day and to potentially increase your productivity.
7. Resist the urge to stay in your pj's
The clothes you wear have an impact on your work performance and productivity. When you wear sweats or pajamas, it can feel like you're not really working, leaving you more open to distractions.
According to Dr. Karen Pine, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, which clothes you choose may be more important than you think: "When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it's 'professional work attire' or 'relaxing weekend wear,' so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning."
Make a point of getting dressed every day, just as if you were going to the office. Your clothing could be the factor that actually boosts your productivity and motivation.
8. Decide ahead of time how long you're going to work
Looking ahead to the vast expanse of the day can feel overwhelming. Without the distractions of co-workers and the promise of a guaranteed end to the day, it can be easy to lose motivation.
Decide ahead of time either the exact time that is quitting time or a certain measurable sign when you'll know you're done for the day. You can either choose a set time, or - and this is my personal preference - decide which tasks or projects need to get done before you call it quits. This will give you added focus and motivation, and keep you from giving in to distractions.
9. Have a dedicated work space
Not everyone has the luxury of having a dedicated office, and that's ok. Even if you live in a 500 square foot apartment, you can set aside a small area that's just for work-related activities.
When you're in that space, determine that only work-related activities will happen there. If a family member is at home during the day, ask them to treat that area as they would an office; meaning while you're there, you're not available.
Making the couch "your work space" rarely works and will leave you fidgeting around for a more comfortable spot for your backside. Working on the couch not only causes distraction, but it also isn't good for your body. Get a comfortable desk and chair and use it.
Having this clear delineation between 'home' and 'work' will help ensure that you, and those around you, have proper boundaries and expectations when it comes to your work versus non-work time.
10. Build in regular people-time
Working from home means fewer distractions, but it also means more isolation. Even for introverts, being alone day in and day out can take an emotional toll.
To make sure you stay motivated and productive, build regular in-person networking into your weekly schedule. Whether it's attending formal networking groups, taking a friend out for coffee, or sharing a workspace with a fellow at-home worker, make sure you take steps to maintain regular human interaction.
Studies have clearly shown that working from home can increase productivity. But without the proper checks and balances in place, it can just as easily lead to feelings of isolation and a serious lack of motivation.
Planning for success is key, and the 10 strategies above should help. What would you add to this list? How do you stay productive when working from home?