“Working from home.” It sounds liberating, doesn’t it?
It can be. However, it can also be immensely challenging.
Distractions abound in a home environment. Kids, spouses, dogs, household chores and unexpected guests who fail to understand that “work from home” doesn’t mean “available to entertain visitors” — all of them pull your focus away from your job.
Early on, after I started my home-based freelance business in 2010, I quickly discovered I needed to put a productivity plan in place that would allow me to accomplish what needs to get done and build my business.
Whether you have your own business or work remotely for your employer, I offer you the following productivity tips in hopes they help you as much as they have helped me.
5 Tips to Boost Productivity When You Work From Home
#1 Have a designated work zone
Whether it’s a bona fide home office space or a corner of your dining room, have a dedicated space where you can be “at work” and have all of the office supplies and technology you need within reach. Before my husband enclosed our front porch and transformed it into a “real” home office, I worked out of one half of a spare bedroom for over seven years. Regardless how sophisticated or primitive your workspace, having that designated place to do your thing will help shift your mindset into work mode and help family members recognize when you’re on the job and not to be disturbed.
#2 Lay ground rules and set boundaries
Before constant interruptions by friends and family for non-essential reasons derail your focus day in and day out, explain to your loved ones how important it is for you to stay on task. Consider setting “office hours” so that your tribe knows when you’re at work and shouldn’t be disturbed. Or, determine windows of time during the day when you will give them your undivided attention. Also, give them some guidelines regarding what constitutes personal situations that can wait for your attention and those that are emergent and grounds for disrupting your work.
Be patient. After I became self-employed and no longer drove to work every day, I discovered it took some time for my family and friends to adjust to the notion. With consistency in routine and gentle reminders from you, the people in your life will eventually fall into the groove.
#3 Plan your work — and give yourself some “wiggle room”
I’ve found one of the best ways to stay organized and efficient while working at home is to schedule blocks of time for client assignments, other business-related tasks and personal commitments.
For example, today my calendar has chunks of time blocked out for writing this blog, editing contributor content for Lancaster Physician magazine, brainstorming topics for a client, walking my rescue pit bull Lulu, and going to the gym.
I use Google Calendar for this purpose, and it hasn’t failed me yet. Having a visual reminder of what’s on my plate not only prevents me from forgetting what I need to do, but it also helps me avoid over-committing myself and getting burned out.
When blocking out time for your tasks and meetings, also keep some “wiggle room” open on your schedule. If you leave as little as 15 minutes of free time in between the commitments on your calendar, you will have some time in reserve to accommodate when calls or assignments require more time than you anticipated.
#4 Turn off notifications and DO NOT multitask
Whether announcing that a text message arrived, someone sent you an email or someone retweeted one of your tweets, mobile phone notifications can kill productivity faster than you can say, “Ding!” Review all of your notification settings for text messages, social media, email and other apps, and determine whether it’s necessary to receive an audible signal every time there’s activity. If not, consider turning those notifications off, or at the very least mute your phone or remove it from earshot when you need to focus on work.
Also, beware of having an abundance of browser tabs open on your computer when you’re trying to concentrate. You may have good intentions in attempting to tackle multiple to-dos, but science says you won’t succeed.
#5 Disconnect sometimes
Resist the urge to be mentally connected to work 24/7. A few of the rules I’ve set for myself include:
- Do not check work emails after 10 p.m.
- Do not check work emails when I’m spending time with my family and friends.
- Do not check work emails when I’m walking the dog.
- Keep my phone in my locker when I’m at the gym.
- Keep my phone in my office or on my kitchen counter when I turn in for the night.
Although simple, these small practices make a difference. They give me an opportunity to clear my head so that when I reconnect with my work, I feel more capable and motivated to address whatever challenges await.
Home Sweet Home Office
You will likely go through a trial-and-error period before discovering the best M.O. for optimizing your productivity when working from home. Cut yourself some slack, and don’t expect to master it from the start.
I hope my tips will prove helpful as you figure out what works for you, and I encourage you to reach out to other people who have navigated the challenges and distractions of a home office for their insight.