Working from home sucks (sometimes). Sure it’s great to be able to spend the entire day in your pajamas. And the commute? A breeze! But neither of those really make up for the lack of colleagues or lack of structure that defines a traditional work day. I was never so envious of the average 9-5-er until I started working from home. When your home becomes your office, you never really clock off. Not to mention, the distractions aren’t just of the online variety. I have to resist the urge to stop working for a few minutes to wash the clothes or rearrange my shoe cupboard or mess around with the pots on my porch just because I can. It mightn’t seem like you’ve wasted all that much time until you get to the end of the day and realise you’ve only completed a third of your to-do list!
So here are some tips to keep you on track.
MAKE YOUR MORNINGS COUNT
First things first: fix your bed! There are a million studies that suggest fixing your bed gives you a small sense of success first thing in the morning and leads to a more productive day. After that get dressed and try to get to work at 9am, just as you would if you were working outside of the office. Pajamas are comfy and all, but they also promise rest and relaxation, which is not what you want to be channelling when you’re trying to work.
From the moment you sit behind your desk, pretend you’re in the office and the rest of the house is out of bounds. Try not to mess about with domestic duties or last minute chores. And avoid Googling the random things that pop into your head. You can look for tonight’s dinner recipe in the afternoon when you no longer at peak productivity. If you simply can’t resist, try turning off your wi-fi and removing the temptation.
THE TO-DO LIST IS JUST THE BEGINNING
The first thing I do every Monday morning is write a list of all the things I want to achieve that week. It takes me about an hour, but it includes short term and long term goals, the deadlines I have to meet and things I want to do to expand my blog and my business. When I have that list made, I spread the tasks out across my week.
Then each morning, I sit down and make a daily to-do list. This will include the things I had planned for that day and any other tasks that have come up in the meantime. Then I allocate each of these tasks a time slot. Anything that takes a minute or less, I do first. Then I take care of my least pleasant tasks. I call them the brussel sprouts. Getting them out of the way first is the best way to avoid procrastination. Only after I’ve done all of that, do I check my emails. Emails are usually the harbingers of bad news or more work, so you want to get as many things done before you get bogged down in them.
STOP FOR LUNCH
One of the most important things to remember when you’re working from home is to take regular breaks. Remember when a colleague would ask you if you wanted to grab a coffee? Well, now you have to pretend you have an imaginary colleague who wants to do the same (I sound nuts, right?) To be at your most productive, you should take a 5 minute break every 25 minutes. Get up, stretch your legs, grab a drink, watch a YouTube video and reset the clock before buckling down again.
When lunch rolls around, get away from your desk and eat at the kitchen table with a book or something that takes you and your eyes away from the computer.
WHEN YOU’RE FINISHED, YOU’RE FINISHED
Working longer doesn’t necessarily mean working smarter. You need to decide what time you want to stop working each day and stick to it. I once read that a good way to always stop on time is to structure your day in reverse. So if you want to stop at 6:30pm, work backwards assigning tasks from 5:30pm-6:30pm, 4:30pm-5:30pm and so on until you get to 9am. To do this though, you need to have a really good understanding of how long a task will take you and you need to know how to prioritise. Do the jobs that bear the most fruit, anything else you get done is a bonus.
When you work from home, it’s easy to get distracted, but it’s even easier to work too hard and for too long. If you can, try not to work on weekends, although as I write this post, it’s Sunday afternoon, so clearly I’m not practising what I preach, but I am a firm believer that you need balance in your life. If you don’t have time to relax in the evening or at weekends, then you probably aren’t going to very productive when Monday rolls around again!