Anyone working from home knows that staying focused just might be the hardest part of their job. Once it’s time to settle into to your long work day, you find this unforeseen burst of motivation to suddenly fold a month’s worth of laundry or prepare a six-course meal. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, however, by the time day is over, it’s apparent that you’ve accomplished nearly no actual work.
In order to help you stay focused and productive, we’ve rounded up these 10 working from home tips that you can easily implement when making the often tough commute from your bed to your laptop.
When you picture yourself working from home it looks something like this: Sleep in until 11 am, get up and make a coffee, go back to bed with your laptop and pretend to be productive until about 3 pm, all while never changing out of your pajamas. As blissful as this sounds, we all know it doesn’t add up in the productive equation – especially for a person working on a solo project with a distant deadline. It’s a wise choice to actually set a schedule and hold yourself accountable. Are you used to working from 9 to 5? Or maybe you’re more creative in the morning and therefore starting at 7 am would be better?
Find the time of day that works for you, but make sure you commit to it. It’s important to put yourself in the mindset that you are working from an office by staying strict with a time frame – as in don’t expect to bake a batch of brownies from scratch or deep clean your oven during this time. If you have structure, it will benefit you greatly. For example, you’ll know those are your productive hours, and there’s less chance you’ll procrastinate. Moreover, when you turn off your computer, it means that you’re officially done for the day (and maybe you’ll actually get those chores done after all, too).
Even if you don’t plan on seeing anyone or leaving your house all day, make it a point to put on clothes in the morning (and we’re not talking about just a dress shirt with boxers like you normally do for Skype interviews). But why? Because getting dressed tricks your mind into thinking you are going somewhere, hence preparing you to take on this work day full power. No, you don’t need to put on a suit and tie (unless you want to, we won’t stop you), but even changing from pajamas to slightly more presentable sweatpants or jeans will help you feel more put together and ready to work. Most people have a morning routine before they go to work, don’t skip that! Do your hair, put on makeup (or maybe not), take a shower, whatever you need to do in order to feel like you’ve prepared for the day and are ready to smash your work.
As people who sometimes procrastinates like college seniors at finals time, we understand how difficult it is to work on a project that isn’t due for months. A good way to put the pressure on yourself to get some motivation is to make your own deadlines. Set benchmarks along the way that will help you accomplish something each day. Try bribing yourself with an added incentive. For example, some let themselves eat that second brownie or even buy the new sneakers they’ve been drooling over for months after finally meeting a deadline. This way you are consistently working instead of having a really stressful push right before your project is due.
Similar to setting deadlines, having a plan for each day will help you stay focused and on track. It’s helpful to begin each day by writing a plan of attack. List all the tasks you need to complete for that day. It can also help to write your task list for the following day in the evening. This way, when you wake up the next morning, you can get going right from the get-go. Or simply set yourself a daily goal: start creating your freelance website, finish that presentation for the end of the week, write three social media posts, create a pitch – whatever you need to accomplish, commit to it.
Social media can halt productivity faster than you can hit retweet. It’s very tempting to scroll through your social media feeds. But before you know it, an hour has gone by and you’re deep in the web creeping on your friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s cousin’s Instagram photos from 2012. So, try logging out of all your social accounts during work hours. Checking social media is a habitual compulsion, so make it as difficult as possible for yourself. Also, force yourself not to look your mailbox compulsively. This study finds people check their email an average of 74 times a day – talk about one of the utmost focus-breakers. Set yourself specific times in the morning, afternoon and evening to check and answer your emails, so that you can concentrate more on the actual productive work for the day ahead.
There’s nothing wrong with stepping away and taking a break from your work; in fact, it will actually enhance your focus. Approach breaks with discipline. If you’ve had a really productive hour, give yourself 5-7 minutes to make a coffee or do some yoga. Maybe you just finished a project or sifted through half your inbox – this is a good time to take a walk, with an exact time you need to be back. For me, taking 15 minutes to meditate or stretch helps me take my mind off work without getting distracted by social media or TV. Also: don’t forget to take a lunch break!
Create a space in your home that’s only for work. This doesn’t have to be an entire room or even an entire table, just one area that you use every day. This space helps your mind know it’s time to work from the moment you sit down. It will be easier to resist the urge to do anything else around the house and you’ll accomplish more productive tasks. We know from experience that it’s best when everything is clean and organized before we start to work. For example, making sure to get up early enough to clear the kitchen table and set up your working area before your scheduled start time.
As someone who works from home, people may assume your days are flexible or even free. Set boundaries with your family and friends so that within working hours your neighbor doesn’t ask you to dog sit and your friend doesn’t call to complain about her ex for 3 hours. This won’t only send a signal to them, but it will also help you respect your own working time and communicate to others that just because you’re home doesn’t mean that you’re available.
Working from home can be isolating, and it’s easy to feel a little shut out from the universe after a while, so schedule in some social time. Don’t neglect the importance of getting a drink with friends or going to your favorite yoga class after your work day is over. Having time outside of your house and with other people will help you fully turn work-mode off. Then, the next time you need to tune in, it will be even easier.
Ever have a day when you just can’t get in the groove? Change up the scenery. Step out of your house and find a coffee shop, library, cafe or anywhere with Wifi. Leaving the house and going somewhere with the sole purpose of getting work done will, in fact, energize you. Sometimes the only way to concentrate is to leave your own space and get away from home distractions like Reality TV shows and piles of dirty laundry. Surrounding yourself with the buzz and chatter of a coffee shop can be inspiring and rejuvenating.
However, at the end of the day, you know yourself and when and how you work best. Use these tips along with a little bit of self-discipline to create a schedule and working environment that will allow you to do your best work and conquer the day ahead! After all, nothing feels better than having your work behind you.
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