Working from home is a no-brainer. In 2012, 69% of entrepreneurs started their businesses at home, and that number has been rising ever since. More and more often, large, long-established companies are presenting the option to work from home as a benefit to new employees and a cost-saver for themselves.
The work-from-home phenomenon is the employee’s dream come true: no commutes, no impractical shoes, no office drama, and no rules but those you set yourself. But the comforts of home can be ever so distracting. Look at that pile of laundry! The sink is full of dishes again. Surely that counts as “working”. Just one more show on Netflix, then you’ll get right on it. Call your grandmother. Okay one more episode.
And suddenly the day is gone. You’ll do better tomorrow.
But how? Whether you’re a freelancer or you telecommute, when you don’t have to suit up and answer to your peers in person, staying focused is much, much harder. Unfortunately, your clients/employers won’t accept the fact that you finally got around to watching Breaking Bad as an excuse for missing the deadline for which they are paying you money.
Here are some tips to help you stay professional, even if you’re working in slippers and yoga pants.
- Have a designated work space that actually looks and feels like it’s meant for work.
Your couch is for binge-watching Star Wars, not working. Don’t plunk your laptop down on your dining room table or on your bed and expect to get a decent amount of work done. Your brain likes to go to sleepy-time in those spaces. If you don’t have the space in your home for a home office, set up a desk in an area in which you can’t see the TV and stay there while you are working. This space cannot double as any other kind of space.
- Make your breaks work for you.
According to psychologists, the average adult have trouble paying attention for more than twenty minutes. Now and then you get on a roll, but don’t expect yourself to stay on-task and pure-of-heart for three hours straight. That’s just crazy talk. When you start feeling antsy or feel the urge to check your Facebook newsfeed (which is a time-sucking rabbit hole of distraction), just get up and do something that’s guaranteed to be a quick task. Fill your water bottle, check the mailbox, fold one basket of laundry, make and eat a snack.
It’s better for your health to get up and move about every half hour, anyway, so steer into the attention-deficit skid and work with your inclinations instead of against them. Just don’t let the break take more than 5 minutes. Set a timer to remind yourself to get back on task. Put said timer on the aforementioned desk so you have to go back there to make that infernal noise stop.
- Do not mock the to-do list.
Lists are visible reminders of your commitments, and the act of writing down measurable goals actually makes us a lot more likely to accomplish them. But it shouldn’t be a general list of the stuff that’s coming up. Break down each task you have to finish in the coming week according to what you’ll accomplish each given day. Be specific. Break it down by the amount of content, or the specific task (depending on your line of work), that you’ll address each day, not the amount of time you’ll spend on it. If you miss the first step on the timeline, the “f*ck it effect” is likely to take hold and make it easier for you to throw out the rest of your day.
To glance back at the attention-span issue, design your to-do list to put a little variety into your day. If there’s one task that’s going to take many, many hours to complete, plus a few shorter tasks, break the big one into fifths and do a chunk plus one or two smaller tasks each day. Do the task you dread the most first. By the end of the day on Monday, you’ll have a sense of control and accomplishment. Suddenly, the rest of the week is perfectly manageable. Another tip: allow a little wiggle room in each day. Something unexpected will most likely come up before the week is through.
There are even apps to make it cool to manage your to-do list, like Todoist and Wunderlist. I use paper (gasp) because opening the internet to check my list is a gateway drug to internet distraction bliss.
- Start out strong.
If you start the day by checking your email and Twitter while watching TV, it’s harder to wrangle yourself into the right state of mind in which to do your work. Start with item number one on your list for the day before you do anything else, and get your brain in work mode right off the bat. Once that task is done, checking your email is a reward. Then move on to task number two.
If you really can’t help yourself, apps like Self Control or Freedom block you from visiting certain websites for a certain amount of time.
- Know thyself.
You know what your bad habits are and what triggers them, and when you’re working from home you’re alone with your particular devils. You may need to go to extremes from time to time when you go off the rails.
If your house is spotless, chances are you didn’t get many billable tasks done today because you let yourself go on a cleaning spree instead. Maybe you should work from the library or your favorite coffee place tomorrow to get back on track.
If you spent all day following a thread of blog articles and videos online, maybe you should physically switch off your source of WiFi tomorrow. Or if you share your dwelling with another human, ask said human to change the password and not give it up – no matter how much you beg and rationalize that you NEED the internet for your work – until your list is all crossed off.
You are a grown-up. You are good at what you do. You can do this.