I’ve gotta be honest – I didn’t used to be very good at working from home. There are so many distractions in my house; if I’m not fighting the urge to throw in a quick load of laundry or a crockpot full of soup, or dealing with barking dogs and ringing phones, the fact that being in such close proximity to the refrigerator means my brain thinks I am hungry ALL THE TIME.
I’ve had to develop some foolproof techniques to keep myself on track. Here are my top tips for improving productivity when working from home.
Create a Top Three List
When you wrap up for the evening, make a note for yourself of three things you want to complete the next day. These shouldn’t be maintenance items, like routine reports. These should be three things that are going to get you closer to your goals. I like my Top Three to include at least one of the following: create something new, connect with someone, or automate something (i.e., a checklist or improved process that will save me time down the road). I write these on a big sticky note and slap it on my computer before I shut down for the evening. The next morning when I sit down to work, I know exactly where to start. I don’t allow myself to do anything else until my top three items are complete.
Timing is Everything
I am at my most creative from (wait for it) – 5:00 a.m. to about 11:00 a.m. Call me crazy, but my brain starts rattling off ideas in the wee hours of the morning, peaks at about eight, and then crashes by lunchtime. So, I make sure that I do my creative work first thing and save spreadsheets and data crunching for the afternoon. If you are wired differently, then flip the script and do the mundane stuff first and keep your Top Three for later in the day when you hit your stride. Whatever works best for you, make it a routine and stick to it.
This is a tough one. Sometimes you tell people that you work from home, and in their brain, they hear you say, “I do nothing all day and am at your service.” They assume that you will do things for them like accept packages or pick up dry cleaning or, God forbid, watch their animals and children. It is difficult to say no because you sound like such a jerk if you’re not willing to “just” run over to the neighbor’s house at noon and let their dog out. This takes you, what, ten minutes tops? But here’s the thing – you’ll lose momentum. Between watching the clock for noon to roll around, to going over to take care of Pebbles, to getting back in your chair and finding your groove again, the whole 10-minute process can actually cost you an hour or more.
I know it’s hard, but you must set boundaries. Do a little favor occasionally for the karma, but be sure to make it clear that you are WORKING from home, and therefore you are not available during work hours except for extreme emergencies.
Keep a Notepad Handy
This is a big one for me. While I’m typing away, I will suddenly remember essential things, like we are out of hand soap in the powder room. Even though no one uses our powder room on a daily basis, this will feel urgent enough that I will be tempted to go pull another bottle out from under the sink “while I’m thinking about it,” thus losing my momentum. Instead, I make myself a little note for later and stay in my chair.
It’s Okay to Hide
Realize that you do not have to answer the phone or the ringing doorbell. Really. That kid selling chocolate bars for the high school band or the guy who is washing windows down the street and is willing to make you “a special deal” while he’s in the neighborhood will give up and go away sooner or later. Of course, they might think you are dead and call the police to break down your door, but until that happens, you can probably knock out a little more work. Resist the urge to answer.
Training the Others in Your Home
If you have pets or children running around, good luck to you. My only suggestion is to try to establish routines: try walking the dog at regular times every day and hope he naps a bit in between. The same thing might work for children, but I find they are less reliable than animals and often harder to reason with. And don’t get me started on husbands.
The Bottom Line
The key is – stay in your chair. Plan your lunchtime and some legitimate breaks every hour or so to stretch, get a glass of water, stare out the window, and relax your eyes. Then get back to it.
Working from home can be such a blessing, but only if you are committed to making the most of it. If you work from home, what are your best tricks to stay productive? Share in the comments below!