Wouldn’t it be great to work at home? Thanks to technology and modern communication, it’s now a viable option for many people. And in case you’re thinking about it, I’ve put together some useful tips on how to be productive when you work at home, based on my experience working while having a full-time job.
In recent years, the number of people working from home has steadily increased. This includes remote workers, telecommuters, freelancers and entrepreneurs.
In fact, according to the U.S. Census, over 5% of all workers or 8 million people worked from home in 2017. And, that number continues to rise.
What’s more interesting is that a 2 year Stanford University study found that working at home and telecommuting makes you more productive. This is the complete opposite of what the researchers expected. And, probably what most managers and business owners believe as well.
So, if you plan on running your business, doing all your work or at least some of it from your home, here are some important tips I’ve learned from doing so.
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Wake Up Early
One of the drawbacks of working at home is that you can get too comfortable. This is why you’ve probably noticed that you have a different mindset when you’re in the office compared to when you’re at home.
At home, you’re the boss. This makes it easy to push things back or feel a lack of urgency. In contrast, at the office, there’s always someone to hold you accountable.
This is why it’s very important to get up early and get your day started in the right way.
Whether the first thing you do is get in the shower, look at today’s schedule or make a cup of coffee, you need to get up and start doing it once the alarm goes off.
Starting the day right and being ready to get to work is important. Otherwise, it’s easy to find yourself feeling sluggish or and taking long breaks doing nothing.
I know because I’ve been guilty of it. And, still am from time to time when I get lazy.
But, one thing I’ve come to realize was that because I have a job, I need to make the best use of my time before and after work.
One thing I can tell you is that on days I get up feeling lazy, it often messes my entire work at home schedule. Thus, wasting the valuable time I have in the morning before heading off to work.
And, because I’m a morning person, that means I pretty much lost majority of my productive blogging session for the day.
Work During Your Most Productive Hours
I’m a morning person. I usually am in bed by 10:15 in the evening. And, I’m up by 5:15 in the morning. I’m not exactly sure why I got used to going to bed and setting my alarm at quarter past the hour instead of on the hour or half hour. But, it works for me.
And, I believe that you should find a sleep and waking schedule that works for your too.
Ideally, something that gives you at least 7 hours or sleep at night and enough time to get your work done as well.
For me, I need to make it a point to get up and be ready to be productive in the morning because I’ve realized over the years that I work better in the mornings.
In fact, I probably get 70% of my work done during this time. I also make sure to schedule the most difficult or challenging tasks there because I tend to focus better in the early hours.
What I like about finishing the hard stuff in the morning is after about 2:00 pm, I know that much of my day’s work is done. This keeps me from feeling stressed or trying to speed things up because the day’s almost done.
That said, you may be different. You may do your best work in the afternoon or evenings.
That thing is, there’s no right or wrong. That’s because everyone is different.
The key is to figure out when you’re most productive. And, schedule most of the work there.
This not only lets you get more work done. It also allows you produce better results.
Use Time Blocking
Time blocking is one of the most effective time management techniques around. That’s why you’ll see a lot of successful people use it.
Basically time blocking means grouping or “blocking off” times during the day to get work done. What’s great about this method is you’re free to adjust how long each block is.
For me, it comes out to 30 minute blocks. Each of these blocks are 25 minutes of uninterrupted work followed by 5 minutes of rest.
If you’re into productivity, you’re probably more familiar with this time-blocking method as the Pomodoro Technique.
That said, I did kind of work my way into it. After some experimentation, I realized that these durations allowed me to focus and work better.
For you, it may be different. What’s important is that you find the time periods that fit your working style and personality best.
One prominent example of someone who uses time blocking very effectively is Elon Musk. Dubbed as the real-world Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, he’s one of the most innovative people of our time. In our generation, he probably shares this title with the late great Steve Jobs.
Anyway, Musk uses a 5 minute time blocking schedule. He also blocks out phone calls and skips breakfast to maximize the minutes as much as possible.
Five minute time blocking basically means splitting your entire day, from the time you wake up till you go to bed, into 5 minute chunks. This lets you fill in each 5 minute chuck with a task.
Having tried it, I can say 5 minute time blocking is tough.
For me, it felt like I was in a race throughout the day. You can probably tell that doing that day in day out wasn’t fun. And, it wasn’t as productive for me as I would have thought. Of course, I don’t have Elon Musk’s brain power.
The takeaway here is that, find a time period that works for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s different from everyone else. Again, there is no right or wrong duration.
What’s important is you’re comfortable with it. And, it allows you to be your most productive self.
Clock Time vs. Event Time
Now, I like using a clock time variation of time blocking because of my work schedule. Basically, I get
- Most of my blogging done before work
- Do a little bit during my lunch break
- Finish up at night and plan for tomorrow right before bed
Since my job blocks out the middle section of the day, I work around it. This also makes clock time more applicable to my situation. I have a set time before I need to leave for work, so I’m limited by that duration.
But, it’s not the only method that works. In fact, a lot of people do very well with Event Time Blocking.
Basically, it’s the same concept. You block off certain times to get specific tasks done. But, instead using time as the boundaries of your time blocks, you work by tasks.
This lets you split your day into blocks where each block is allotted for a certain task. That lets you finish the task before heading on to the next, without regard for how long t takes to complete that task.
This is basically how a lot of tech jobs work nowadays. You don’t have a time you clock in or out. Instead, as long as you get all your tasks and responsibilities done for the day, you’re good.
This is why you’ll see software engineers for tech giants work 3-4 hours one day and 15 hours the next.
Work Like You Would in the Office
One of my earliest lessons I learned on being productive when working at home is treating it like you were in the office. Basically, you follow a schedule like you would as an employee.
This keeps you focused. And, it makes sure you get work done.
At home, there’s a lot of distractions. More importantly, there’s no boss watching over you to keep you honest.
So, it’s easy to find yourself lying on the couch, turning on the TV or start playing video games.
Of course, it’ll never be perfect. That is, you’ll never capture the same work environment you have in the office at home. That’s what makes working at home awesome.
But, you need to find a balance where you’ll be able to focus on your work with the comfort and company you have at home.
Get Dressed Like You’re Going to Work
One of the things that really helped me work better at home is to get dressed like I was going to work.
Sure, it looks silly that you’re wearing office attire at home, or at least something casual formal.
But, for some reason, what you wear. And, how you present yourself influences your mindset.
Think about it.
- When you’re in sweats and your favorite tee, you feel comfortable. But, you’re also less likely to get work done.
- When you’ve got your cocktail dress and heels on, you feel confident and want to go out and mingle.
In the same way, when you’re wearing business or work casual clothes and groomed properly, you’re more focused, and ready to get down to business.
This keeps you away from the bedroom or the couch.
Don’t Let Yourself Go
In addition to dressing the role, it’s also important not to let yourself go.
It’s all too easy to not bother as much about appearance when you don’t have to report to work. But, that also gives your brain signals that you’re allowed to be lazy.
The problem with getting into the habit of not looking after yourself is that it will take over you after a while.
In the beginning, it may just be staying in your pajamas all day. After a while, you may not be brushing your hair. Then, you’ll brush your teeth and take showers less often.
Why do I know?
I used to do a lot less of these things during the weekends. I used to skip shaving and sometime stay in my home clothes if I don’t plan on going out.
So, here’s what you can do.
For guys, shave! Get your haircut as you normally would. And, don’t forget to brush your hair and teeth! Also make sure to shower every day.
Unfortunately, I’m no expert when it comes to women’s personal care. So, I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help there.
But you get the picture.
Basically, do your normal routine even if you’re not going to be going out as much because you’re working from home.
Keeping your mind and body fit is very important in being able to do what you do, not just work.
And, if you’re working while keeping your full time job, you’ll be logging in more hours because of the extra work when you you’re at home.
This makes it more important that you feel good and stay in the right mindset.
For me, among the daily things I’ve blocked out daily include:
- Two 15 minute sessions of meditation (one in the morning another one late in the afternoon). They help me clear my mind and destress.
- 15 to 20 minute nap mid-day
- 30 minute walk after lunch time
- Working out at least 3 times a week
Make Sure to get 30 Minutes of Physical Activity Daily
Another thing that’s important is getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily. I’m no health expert, so I’m not going to give you any fitness advice.
That said, any kind of physical activity works. The more fun it is the better. At least that’s my experience.
Running for half an hour to an hour on your treadmill can get really boring. This is especially true if you work at home. It basically adds to your solitude and monotony.
For me, I enjoy taking brisk walks. It allows me to go outside and take different routes each time to see different things.
The isolation of working at home is probably also one of the reasons I keep my job. It keeps me in touch with others.
Make Sure You Drink Enough Water
Don’t forget to drink at least 2 liters of water every day. That’s about eight 8-ounce glasses. This ensures that you keep your body well-hydrated.
If you engage in vigorous physical activity or sports, you may want to add 500 ml to that for every 30 minutes of exercise.
Water not only keeps your body functioning properly, it also helps you focus. Not getting enough water has been linked to feeling sluggish and tired. Both of which you don’t want to experience when working at home.
Don’t Keep Any Junk Food At Home
This is one mistake I did when I started out. I often have a stash of junk food and other snacks lying around in the pantry
They were never a problem when I didn’t spend a ton of time at home.
But, trust me, they do become extremely enticing when you’re sitting in front of a computer a few hours at home every day.
My stash often included microwave butter-flavored popcorn, oreos, waffles, potato chips and skittles. I’d also find myself ordering in a cheese pizza at night every so often.
Fortunately, this is something that’s fairly easy to fix. In my case, it was getting rid of the unhealthy snacks.
Basically, out of sight, out of mind works.
But, I still do get hungry at times. To fix that, now have healthy snacks like fruits, oatmeal, yogurt and skim milk around.
Get Out of the House
This is something I realized when I took a few vacation days. Because I didn’t have to go to work, I was finally able to spend the entire day blogging.
One thing I quickly realized was blogging can get lonely.
You basically work in isolation.
While it’s true that blogging in its very core is a about relationships, a lot of the nitty gritty work you do is by yourself. Even when you exchange emails, you’re still on your own.
This is why it’s important to set times in your work day to get out of the house.
Ideally, go somewhere you can get normal human interaction, not just go somewhere where there are people.
This lets you stay connected with the real world. And, it lets you enjoy human connection.
If You Have Kids, Get Some Help
I know many bloggers, both mom and dads, who love the lifestyle because it lets them stay with their kids. This is one of the biggest benefits of our current generation.
Working at home lets you enjoy time with your kids while still making a full-time living.
That said, the kids can also be a distraction from your work.
Let’s face it, playing and spending quality time with your kids is more fun that any work in the world. So, when they’re around, your mind will naturally gravitate to them, especially when they call you.
As a result, it can be difficult to spend long periods of time focused on work when the kids are around.
This is where help can go a long way.
Having a babysitter, nanny, friend, neighbor or even grandma there to watch over the kids allows you focus on work. At the same time, you also know they’re in good hands because you trust the person. And, you’re a just stone’s throw away.
Take Note of Distractions
We all get distracted by something. One thing that gets me off my work “zone” is my dog. She’s spoiled. She usually amuses herself by wresting with this big dog bone shaped pillow I got her. At times, she’ll play with her other toys as well.
But, when she gets hungry or bored, she’ll come by my side and start pawing my thigh or arm. If that doesn’t get her attention, she’ll jump onto my lap while I’m working on my laptop.
Once that happens, I’m gone. Next thing you know I’m playing with her.
By the time I get back to my desk, 30 minutes to an hour has passed.
Of course, she’s not the only distraction. But, she makes a habit out of it enough to make it stand out.
That said, when you’re starting out, something I learned is that it’s a good idea to note down the things that distract you. Anything that can pull you away from whatever you’re working on is a distraction.
It could be email, instant messaging, a phone call or text. It could also be the kids.
After a few weeks of keeping note of them, you’ll be able to identify your distractions. And, in doing so, you’ll be able to figure out the best way to deal with each of them.
Something that helped me solve this is to have a short list of my main work distractions and beside each item, a potential remedy. So, when time comes, I can test out that remedy. It if works, great! It sticks. If not, I’ll think of a better one to try.
Prioritize Your Tasks
Some tasks are harder than others. They may be more time consuming or just more difficult. Then, there are tasks that we either don’t like doing or have some fear of doing.
When it comes to taking care of them, I try to make them the first thing I do. That way, I’m still focused and have more energy.
I find it harder to motivate myself to get harder things done later in the day when the stresses of work and my energy level isn’t at its peak.
I’ve noticed that a lot of people tend to be the same. Try and see if you’re better at doing the tougher tasks first, in the middle or last. Whichever works best, try to organize your work day to put the hardest jobs during that time.
Leave Your Emails for Later in the Day
When I started blogging while working my full time job, I used to check my emails early in the day. There were many days that it was the first thing I did.
The problem was, it quickly eats up time. I noticed that I would spend at least 15 minutes browsing through new mail. On days that one email led to another, it can get close to an hour or so.
That’s not productive especially considering that I’m most productive during the first hours of the day.
Schedule Your Non-Work-Related Tasks and Chores Beforehand
We all have chores. Doing laundry, cooking and buying groceries are just some of the things we need to do on a day to day basis.
Unless you hire someone to get all these tasks done for you, you’ll need to find a way to integrate them into your schedule.
One thing I’ve found is setting a regular schedule, instead of doing them “when needed”, makes me more productive. Scheduling your routines and chores lets you organize your entire weekly schedule.
Here’s how to do it.
- List all your regular chores.
- Block out your chores in your calendar. For example, Sunday morning is laundry day. Saturday morning is grocery shopping and going to the farmer’s market.
- This lets you block out all the time periods for your chores.
- Once you’ve gotten the chores down, you can schedule your work periods in the remaining free blocks on your calendar.
Have a To Do List and Update It Before Going to Bed
This is something I’ve gotten used to doing since college. It helps me be prepared when I wake up in the morning.
I’m not exactly sure but knowing what you’re going to do tomorrow seems to make it easier to get going. There’s no lag time because you have to stop and think, “is this what I should be doing next?”
It also helps because you don’t live in a vacuum. There are other things besides your work that need to get done. Whether it’s taking the kids to school, buying groceries or getting the car fixed, having a to do list lets you schedule or organize the sequence of events for the next day to maximize your time.
Take Breaks from Your Desk: Get Up Do Something, Anything
We all know sitting on your desk all day isn’t healthy. Unfortunately, it’s probably the most effective way to work.
I’ve actually tried working behind one of those standing desks but could never do it. For some reason, I got really restless after 20 minutes or so. And whenever that happened, my mind started to wander and think of other things.
So, a good way to prevent yourself from staying seated for too long is to get up once in a while. This is the 5 minute rest period I give myself after every 25 minutes of straight work.
Standing, stretching and walking around for a few minutes every half hour really helps me stay focused. And surprisingly, I get a lot of ideas during these short breaks.
Take Sunday Evenings to Reassess the Past Week and Plan for the Next
It doesn’t necessarily have to be Sunday evenings. But, I’ve found that it’s important to assess what you’ve done during the week. And, also plan for the upcoming week.
Looking back at the week lets you see what you’ve done and what you planned but weren’t able to do. It also lets you take stock of why you weren’t able to get some things done.
The most important point being, you’ll be able to improve your productivity.
In the same manner, planning ahead for the week lets you prepare for what’s ahead. I like to list everything that’s up next. Things I need to do. And, figure out their priority.
This makes it easier to organize your to do list.
I’ve also found that when you have limited time to get things done, thinking of what you should be doing, and in what order to do them can burn a lot of that time.
Working at home is great. It gives you the best of both worlds. You’re in your comfort zone and you are able to get work done. But, you do need to stay accountable in order to be productive.
How about you? I’d love to hear about what your most effective work at home productivity tips are.