When I left my corporate job to start my own business, there was a definite stigma about home offices. Virtual receptionists, virtual offices — many entrepreneurs did anything they could to make it seem they worked from a “real,” not a home, office.
But that doesn’t mean working from home is easy — at least not for everyone.
If you’re struggling to be as productive as you like — or would like to be even more productive — try the following:
1. Set a schedule — and share it with everyone you know.
Interruptions are productivity killers. When you work from home, your family and friends can be the most frequent sources of interruption.
That’s why you need to be proactive and share your schedule. Explain when you’ll be working. Describe how you work best: Whether that’s “interrupt me at will” (probably not) or “only interrupt me if it’s truly an emergency” (more likely).
Above all, don’t assume people will automatically respect the fact that while you’re working from home, you’re still working. They won’t.
Help them understand.
2. Spend a little money where it counts most.
Working from home implicitly means you’re a knowledge worker. That means you spend a lot of time sitting.
No matter what else you do, invest in a good computer, a good phone, and the most comfortable and ergonomically correct chair you can find. When you’re uncomfortable, it’s hard to stay focused and productive.
Feel free to economize on other things. I don’t own a desk; I like to move from dining room table to den to deck). But see your chair as an investment, not an expense.
3. Split your work day into chunks.
Generally speaking, we can focus on any given task for 90 to 120 minutes. After that, we need a 15- to 20-minute break so we can recharge and get ready to achieve high performance on our next task.
So do this: Split your day into 90-minute windows. Instead of thinking an 8-, 6-, or 10-hour workday, split your day into four or five 90-minute windows. That way, you will have, say, four tasks you will get done a lot more efficiently.
4. Schedule breaks.
Your calendar may be full of tasks, calls, meetings, deadlines, but it also should include scheduled break periods.
Set a time for lunch. Set break times. Otherwise, your day will get away from you — and so will your opportunities to recharge.
And also plan how you will recharge: a meal, a snack, a quick walk, etc.
Remember: The best recovery is active recovery.
5. Turn off notifications.
Turning off alerts on your computer and phone will greatly improve your ability to focus.
When you need to get things done, turn off any digital elements that might interrupt you. Then, when you’re done, pop your head back up and see what you might have missed.
Chances are it won’t be much — and in the meantime you will have gotten a lot more done.
6. Embrace a routine.
Maybe one of the things you like best about working from home is the lack of enforced structure.
That’s great, but unless you create your own structure, you’ll fritter away much of your day bouncing from task to task and mistaking things that seem urgent for things that are truly important.
Instead, take advantage of the fact a structure is not imposed on you to choose a routine that makes you as productive as you can be. One might be the getting-things-done methodology. (Here’s a primer I wrote about David Allen’s personal productivity system.)
There are plenty of others. Spend a little time creating a system that will work for you.
See that effort as an investment in productivity that will pay off for years to come.
7. Tidy up once a week.
Things find their way into your office, especially when it’s in your home. (If nothing else, I get 10 or 12 books a week from publishers and authors who hope I will review them.)
Purge, purge, and purge some more.
While it might sound odd, your workspace will actually be more productive when it looks more productive.
8. Create a nighttime routine.
The first thing you do in the morning is the most important thing you will do that day, because it sets the tone for the rest of the day.
So prepare for that first thing the night before.
Make a list. Make a few notes. Review information. Prime yourself to hit the ground at an all-out sprint the next day. A body in super-fast motion tends to stay in super-fast motion.
I always pick an important task I need to get done and plan to do it first. Sometimes that task takes an hour, sometimes just 20 minutes or so. Regardless, knocking out an important item sets a great tone for the rest of the day.
9. Create a morning routine.
Of course that means the key is to get to that first task as easily as possible. Pretend you’re an Olympic sprinter and your morning routine is like the warm-up for a race. Don’t dawdle. Don’t ease your way into your morning. Don’t make sure you get some “me” time (hey, sleep time is me time).
Get up, clean up, fuel up — and start rolling.
My elapsed time from bed to desk is less than 15 minutes. (I shower, sit down, open a protein bar, and start working.) I don’t check email first thing either; I work on, and finish, the one important thing I planned the night before.
10. See your home office as a competitive advantage.
Some people assume that having a home office will make them feel like they’re never away from work.
Flip that thinking around: If you like what you do, feel glad it’s easy for you to get work done at odd hours — hours you choose to work.
Plus, you can leverage the convenience and efficiency of a home office to be more responsive and flexible than your competition.
On your terms.
Can’t beat that.