I always knew I wanted to work from home. Have the freedom to take a day off whenever I want to or go to the supermarket in the middle of the day when no one’s there. Say good-bye to toxic office politics and small talks with colleagues I can’t stand. Escape the dreaded London commute. Especially escape the dreaded London commute.
I feel so incredibly lucky to have made it. And yet, it’s not always been easy. Here’s how a typical day went when I first started working from home:
Yay! I don’t have to go to the office at 8am today. I can sleep in.
I finally wake up at 10am. Shower. Have breakfast. Check Facebook to see what everyone else is doing.
I open my laptop to do some work. Something catches my eye. The flat is a mess. I tidy up and, while I’m at it, I decide to reorganise my closet by colour and season. Now I’m hungry. I have lunch.
Time to write that article. I sit down at my desk and jot down something. 30 minutes later, I wonder if my BFF would like to go for a coffee. I call her. We’re meeting in an hour. Better get ready.
I come back home at 6pm. I turn on the laptop and panic at the long stream of email that’s in my inbox. I start to reply to all of them. And shit! I still have two articles to write. Not going to bed till 2am today.
You get the gist. Your home is full of distractions. It’s so easy to get sidetracked and spend the first few weeks relaxing in the days and catching up on your work at night until you’re so burned out, you realise you either sort yourself out or you’ll have to return to the dreaded 9-5 job. Your business won’t last long if you don’t take it seriously and keep doing crappy work.
It was tough and took a lot of determination, but over the years, I developed several strategies to get super productive and cross every item off your to-d0 list when working from home:
Ditch The Distractions
You can count on it: as soon as you sit down at your desk to work, your phone will ring. Facebook notifications will go off. The postman will deliver a package. And then you see them. The dirty dishes still on the table. And is that dust on the window sill? Now your brain won’t leave you alone until you clean all the mess up. And then… the worst distraction of all hits you. You don’t even know how it happened but somehow you’ve opened Youtube and now are lost watching cat videos.
Don’t get sidetracked by distractions. Next time you sit down to work, turn off your phone. Tidy up the flat. Hang the “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door. Use an app like Freedom to block all websites for a certain period of time. Now you can finally get on with your work undisturbed.
Routine Is Key
I’m a creature of habit. I like to wake up early in the morning, have breakfast, do Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages and then write one or two articles or a book chapter. After that, I’ll take a break for lunch.
In the afternoon, my energy levels start to deplete. I use this time for meeting, scheduling social media, doing admin tasks like emails and all the other stuff that needs doing but doesn’t require a ton of brain power.
Around 7pm, I switch off my computer, have dinner, study Hungarian and then read for two hours before falling asleep. Ok, not every day is exactly like that. Sometimes, I’ll have a meeting in the morning, for example.
I also allow enough flexibility in my schedule so that if something pops up I can deal with it without wasting the day. But having a routine helps a lot: it ensures everything gets done and done well too!
Take A Break
When I said that I spend the whole morning writing, I don’t mean to say that I sit down at my computer and type uninterrupted for 5 hours. That’ll just burn me out! Instead, I use the Pomodoro technique: I set a timer for 30 minutes, take a 5 min break to stretch/go to the toilet/make a cup of tea and then I go back to work for the next 30 minutes. Of course, you can be flexible with this. If when the 30 minutes are up, you’re “in the zone,” keep working on. You can also take a longer break, just don’t make it longer than the work time. The point here is to give your mind a break every now and then. You’ll get more productive and improve the quality of your work a hundredfold, too.
Set Yourself Deadlines
I’m a terrible procrastinator. I tend to leave things until the last minute and then rush to complete them before time is up. I used to pride myself on working well under pressure but the truth is I hated the rush. I knew I could do a better job if only I started earlier and dedicated more time to it. So I started to give myself shorter deadlines. If a client asked me to file an article by the following Wednesday, I’d send it to her by Monday. If I thought that scheduling my Twitter feed for the week would take me 30 minutes, I’d challenge myself to do it in 20. It’s incredible how much faster I get a task done when I allocate less time to it. There’s actually a law for it. Parkinson’s Law states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” So set yourself shorter deadlines for your tasks and be amazed by how quickly they get done!
Know When To Stop
I don’t work after 7pm unless it’s an emergency. By emergency I mean your business will shut down or be severely compromised if you don’t fix the problem immediately.
In the past, I used to reply to emails at every hour of the day and night, which told my clients I was available around the clock. They’d often call me with “emergencies” (like updating a social media caption – seriously!) at 11pm as I was ready to go to sleep and I’d sort it out immediately. I’d often stay up late to finish an article only to rewrite it all in the morning because the copy was awful.
I was always so tired and the quality of my work suffered. I’ve learned that if I want to do the best job I can, I have to take care of myself and that means turning off the computer when I’m tired and spending some quality time with the boyfriend or reading a good book instead. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.
Over to you, now. What strategies do you use to be productive when working from home?