How to Stay Productive When You Work from Home
Working from home is kind of the dream, right? No commutes, no freezing corporate offices or stuffy attire or endless meetings that should have been emails. What’s not to love?
Well, as I, and many other business owners have come to find out, there are definite downsides to working from home. Besides potentially not seeing another person that isn’t a family member or Starbucks barista for days on end, it can sometimes be incredibly difficult to plug in and get shit done at home. Especially if your workspace is your kitchen table and your business casual attire looks more like faded flannel PJs nowadays.
Since I’m coming up on a year of working for myself (from home) full time, I wanted to share a few simple but impactful ways you can stay productive at your home office, and still enjoy the flexibility you wanted in the first place.
Have a dedicated work space.
I know it’s not always possible to have a separate room as your home office, but even if you can carve out a corner of a room, a specific table or area in your space that is work only, it will help immensely. Balancing your laptop on top of last night’s dirty dishes or sinking into the couch or your bed every day will only contribute to feelings of stress and disorganization and make it harder to separate work and life.
Block out your time.
Something that helps me whenever I’m feeling unproductive or disorganized is to literally plan out my entire day and block it out on my calendar. Like, 10am-11am: Work on client brand project, 11am-12pm: Write and edit blog post, 12pm-1pm: Lunch break, etc. It may feel silly, and you may not even stick to it, but sitting down at the beginning of the day and intentionally planning out everything you want to do today and exactly how much time you plan to spend on it can break through some serious productivity blocks.
Keep to a schedule, but be flexible.
Somewhat in line with what I just mentioned, it helps if you try to keep to a general daily or weekly schedule. I’ve tested out quite a few different weekly schedules and right now I’m trying out Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday mornings are devoted to client projects, while Tuesdays, Thursdays and occasionally Friday afternoons are devoted to all the other things I have to do to run my business, like admin work, social media posting, content creation, and potential client outreach. I also stick to the same rough working hours
It’s important to stay flexible, however, because flexibility was at least part of the point of working for yourself from home, right? That means, if I want to schedule a hair appointment or grab lunch with someone, I don’t sweat it too much. Structure is good, but rigidity will only stifle your creativity and leave you feeling burnt out.
Batch your tasks.
Basically what this means is, instead of trying to do a million different things in a day and just getting more and more distracted, try batching your tasks into like groups. So say you decide that every Monday is your content day - so each Monday you spend all day working on writing and creating content for your website, social media, newsletter, etc. Instead of writing a blog post on the fly, publishing it, sharing it on social media, etc. all same-day, create lots of content that you can space out and schedule so you’re not feeling hectic and frenzied down the road.
This works for just about anything - choose certain chunks of time where you know you’re going to work on client work, or networking, or packaging orders, or whatever you need to get done. Focusing on one task for a longer block of time will help you get busy and bust through the tasks without getting distracted flipping your focus every ten minutes.
Be strict about boundaries.
When I was first starting out, I would answer emails at all hours of the day and night, let clients text me randomly after hours, and basically had no work-life balance whatsoever. This meant that I was constantly burnt out and distracted, always thinking about my work and my business. Finally I realized I needed to set firmer boundaries with myself and my clients. I implemented office hours where I would generally make myself available to answer emails, take calls, and do work, and shared them widely - I added them in the footer of my website and in my email signature for starters. I utilized a scheduling system and made it clear that I wasn’t available for random calls, they needed to be scheduled ahead of time in my calendar.
The biggest part to all of this was learning to be strict with myself. Sometimes it’s still hard if I see an email roll in at 8pm with a question or a quick fix. I know it would take me five minutes to do, but it’s about the principle. The evenings are my time to spend how I like and not worrying about work (unless I really want or need to - flexibility!). I remind myself that the world won’t end if I wait until 8am to answer an email query and go about the rest of my evening.
No matter how much I swear I don’t get distracted from my phone or social media, it’s just not true. Sometimes I can take a quick scroll and get back to work, but other days I find myself getting stuck endlessly down rabbit holes on Instagram or Pinterest or tweaking something on my own website. I also constantly swear I can have Netflix on in the background and still get stuff done while I’m chilling on the couch, but I’ve finally admitted to myself that my productivity is cut in half, if not more, when I try to do that.
It’s best to minimize distractions, even if you think you have them under control. For me, that looks like sitting at my desk (not the couch), turning on an ambient playlist (I love Spotify’s Deep Focus) and putting my phone in a drawer or in the other room for a while so I can get down to business. You have to find what works for you - and get really real about what’s distracting you.
Separate home life and work life.
This goes along with setting boundaries, but it’s absolutely crucial to separate home and work life when you work from home. It’s also 10x harder to do. When you work elsewhere, you go to work at 9am, leave at 5pm, and hopefully don’t think much about your job until you get there the next morning. When your office is literally in your bedroom or living room or wherever, it becomes way more difficult to separate the two out. When you’re sitting down to work during office hours, it’s hard to ignore the call of the laundry or the dirty dishes or whatever else you’d like to get done around the house. And vice versa, when you’re trying to chill out after hours, it’s difficult to tune out your computer chiming with new email sounds in the next room.
Like everything I’ve mentioned, it’s all about finding what works for you. I’ve said before that if I didn’t live with someone else that helped me enforce my own office hours and work-life balance, I’d probably work all day and all night - there’s always so much stuff I want to do, most of it being the stuff for my own website and business that often gets pushed to the back burner in favor of client work (rightfully so). However, never unplugging from your work is a one way ticket to burnout city, and fast.
If you don’t live with someone else who can help you enforce it (for me, it’s pretty easy to stop working once my boyfriend comes home and we start cooking dinner) then try to find an accountability buddy in a friend or fellow business owner. You can help remind each other to unplug and unwind for a while. It also helps to schedule social activities like dinners, happy hours, etc. so you have a natural stopping point.
Hopefully these tips can help you get more focused and be productive when you work from home - I know they’ve definitely helped me over the past several crazy months!