Seven Ways to Be Productive While Working From Home

Working from home isn’t for the faint of heart — especially if you work for yourself. While it eliminates distractions otherwise had in the busy workplace or at a coffee shop, it lends itself to many other interferences. You may easily feel tempted to watch more TV, clean, nap or even slack off, but those are all instant productivity killers.

Since I started freelancing/consulting (not crazy about either of those words…) I have been working from my home office a majority of the time. I have learned a lot of tricks and strategies that have kept me going strong and avoiding easy distractions (not to mention a cat that likes to lay on my keyboard).

Here are 7 ways to stay productive at home: 

Get ready for work every morning

Even if you’re not going into the office every day, it’s important to still get ready each day as if you were. This keep your mind in a regular routine of a workday, and I tend to think people take themselves more seriously when they’re ready to be seen by the world (as opposed to in sweatpants and a t-shirt). This can also prepare you for any impromptu in-person meetings or Skype calls.

Have a designated area to work

Your work area should typically be a desk, table or your building’s common area — not your couch or bed. The area should mock a workplace setting where you have a table, a good chair and room to spread out your work materials. I find it’s best to even rotate where I work throughout the day to keep my mind fresh. Many times I end up at my desk as that’s where most of my materials are, but it’s good to have a change of scenery by working at my kitchen table or even in my apartment building’s common area.

Get an external monitor

Many workplaces now give employees an external monitor to expand their working area. If you work from home enough — or all the time — this is really important to have. Upon my second week freelancing and working from home, I ordered a 24″ external monitor for my desk, and it has been worth every penny. It gives me more area to look at my work and to multitask when needed.

Time block your calendar

Since distractions can arise easily, it’s so important to keep yourself on task. You don’t have meetings to attend or others looking over you to check on your progress. You are the boss of your time when you’re at home. To combat this, time block your calendar with projects. Decide how long you need for each project, when you want to work on it, and then set that time in your calendar. I typically weigh my day’s projects based on urgency and importance first, and then set aside the appropriate time to get them done. I do this every day and it keeps me on track — and usually ahead of schedule if I get ambitious with my calendar :)

Create a to-do list

Parallel to calendar blocks, to-do lists are another great thing to do. I’m a very organized person as it is, so needless to say, I create to-do lists all the time. To make them easier to follow, I break them up based on project types and priority so that I can easily scan the list and know exactly where to start and end.

Save chores, errands, cleaning until after hours (or during lunch if necessary)

Even if you’re working from home, don’t treat it as a day off or a lazy day. Don’t do the chores and errands you’d typically do on a Saturday just because you are home. Get your mind used to the fact that you can work just as easily (if not better) from home by putting work first and other tasks second. If I need to run an important errand, for example, I may pop out during the lunch hour to get it done. If I need to clean up a bit to keep my work area clutter-free, I’ll do it either first thing in the morning or later that night so that it’s set to go during the day.

I can’t stress it enough: Resist doing at-home activities until after hours. 

Be okay with the fact that you may not feel productive at every moment of the day

Let’s face it — do you feel 100% productive 100% of the time while in the office? Probably not. So it’s okay if you feel that 2pm lull or have a hard time feeling fully awake until 9:30am. Just recognize when you are most productive and optimize around that.

What other ways do you keep yourself on-track and productive throughout the day?

  • Andrew Nacin

    The number one concept that has most influenced my productivity at home has been “habit fields”. It influenced my desire to make sure my desk was not even in the same room as my bed or desk. That’s not easy in a city, but carving out a designated nook is very important.

    It also does a deep-dive into isolating distractions by training your habits, like by relocating to a designated chair (perhaps with a designated device like a tablet or your phone) to check Twitter, Facebook, or personal email. I aim to only use my computer for work. Every once in a while I use it for something not related to work, but when that happens, I close down every other application. My computer also never enters my bedroom.

    The article also suggests adding self-imposed barriers to access distracting programs or websites. I don’t do that, but I do track my productivity — even down to the usage of individual websites — using RescueTime, which is just fantastic. It does give you the option to warn you when you’ve spent too much time on distracting things, which is good. It has also been used to confirm I am a news junkie.

    I was once told of a technique where this guy would start the day putting on his shoes, walking around the block, coming back inside and going to work. At the end of the work day, he would head outside again, walk around the block in the other direction, and then take off his shoes. It’s a pretty great way to separate work from not-work. I don’t go that far, but I do make sure I don pants in the morning and walk my wife to work before heading back home to get started.

    • kristinedziadul

      Awesome advice, Andrew! I also like to mix up my environment where I work to keep my mind fresh. It is hard to have a room completely set aside for work, especially in a city like Boston, but I try to designate different tasks to different places where I can work. This keeps me focused. Perhaps similar to RescueTime, I use FocusBooster, an app that sets a time limit for tasks you\’re doing to keep you focused and undistracted.