Working from home is tough. There are so many temptations, so many things that demand your attention — the dog needs to go out, the kids want to play, there’s laundry to do, and oh man, the couch looks so comfortable right after lunch, maybe just a short nap or some Netflix won’t hurt right?
In truth, working from home is no less productive than working at the office. There you’ve got meetings, water cooler conversations, meetings, phone calls to make, and meetings. (Did I mention meetings?) That’s on top of the 30 – 90 minute commute each way.
If anything working from home may be more productive because you don’t have all the distractions of the workplace to keep you from doing your work. You just have to figure out how to avoid the distractions of home.
Here are five ways that I stay productive while working remotely.
1. Have a designated workspace.
If you have space, set up a desk or at least a spot at the kitchen table where you can make it your designated workstation. You’ll want to avoid the rest of the household activity during this time, so don’t set up a place where the kids watch TV or the general hubbub of the house will distract you. It will be hard to take conference calls, and you’ll find yourself watching the activity around you more than working.
If you’re fortunate enough to have an empty house during the day, then pick a spot where you’re not going to be tempted by the TV and other distractions. Make sure it’s comfortable, and where you can get plenty of natural light.
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2. Set ground rules for the family.
One of the biggest distractions can be family members who think that since they can see you, you’re available to help them.
You have to set the rules that you’re “at work” between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm — you wouldn’t be able to do those things if you were at the office, so you can’t do them when you’re at home. After all, you’re not going to be on your laptop while you’re eating dinner, so set up the expectations early.
Some people will actually leave the house, drive around the block, and come back home just to create the mental separation of home and work. Others will dress up as if they’re going to work. I’ve found it helpful to change out of my pajamas and into jeans and a shirt once I’m ready to boot up my laptop. The important thing is to create mental separation between home and work so you can get into the right frame of mind.
3. Block social media sites during work hours.
Even if you shut off all the other distractions, there’s still the temptation of social media. Since no one is watching over your shoulder to see what you’re doing, it’s easier to take a few minutes (that turn into hours) playing around on Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter.
There are several productivity plugins that will block social media apps and sites for you on your web browser — plugins like Work Mode and StayFocused for Google Chrome, or Freedom, which not only works on your computer but your phone as well.
If you think you can just exercise some basic willpower to avoid using social media, that’s great. We hope you can do it. But for those of us who can’t resist the last donut in the break room, let alone taking a quick look at Facebook during a conference call, look for solutions that will help you avoid temptation during normal work hours.
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4. Use a productivity timer.
If you find yourself easily distracted, try a productivity technique that builds in a reward structure that will let you have a little fun, but still makes sure you get everything done. There’s one called the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian, and it’s based on the little tomato-shaped kitchen timers you can get. You can now get pomodoro timers for your smartphone too.
Set the timer for 25 minutes, and then work on a single task for the entire time. Consider it a long sprint: you’re not working on anything else, you’re not going to be distracted, you’re only focusing on that one task and nothing else.
When the timer dings, take a five-minute break and do something else. Take the dog for a quick walk, use the restroom, or make a sandwich. When the five minutes are up, set the timer for another 25 minutes, and do it again. If you do this several times a day, you’ll get more done than you ever did while you were at the office.
5. Skip to-do lists, schedule your projects.
Rather than just creating a series of to-do lists, schedule your projects on your calendar. If you have to create weekly pipeline reports every Friday, block off a couple of hours Friday morning and make sure to work on it during that time.
This helps you in a couple of ways:
1) People won’t try to book meetings and conference calls during that time, because you’ll show up as “Busy” in the shared calendar.
2) You know how much time to devote to the task, and know when you can and should work on it.
Working from home is a wonderful perk that many tech companies are allowing. The key to making remote work successful for the employee and the employer is a sharp focus on getting work done without distractions.
Do you work from home? What are your secrets to being productive?