10 Tips for Being Productive When Working From Home

Do you find yourself doing housework rather than client work when working from home? Here are 10 tips to help you get your work done.

1. Have a to do list of what you want to achieve today

Write down the tasks you want to achieve over the day.

Try to keep the tasks small so you can tick them off and see that you’re making progress. Break big tasks down in to smaller ones so they are achievable in a short amount of time.

Personally, I make a list on paper and have it out on the desk at all times so I can always see it, but there are many to do apps for your phone or computer if you’d prefer to be digital. Todoist and TeuxDeux are ones freelancing friends have recommended to me.

2. Train your brain with small successes

Every time you finish a task on your to do list, tick it off and take a moment to revel in the fact you have got something done.

Take satisfaction in doing your work, you want to train your brain to give you a hit of pleasure when a task is completed, so it wants you to finish more.

3. Only try to concentrate for short bursts of time

Concentrating on just work for short amounts of time, then giving yourself a small break, is an excellent way to build up to very productive work.

The Pomodoro Technique is a classic way to do this. It suggests doing concentrated work for 25 minutes, then taking a 5 minute break. Then repeat with another session of the same length, then take a slightly longer break.

Working up from 2-3 Pomodoro length sessions in a morning to 6-8 across the whole day is a great way to build up your productivity.

4. Don’t expect to be productive for 8 hours a day

Be realistic about what you can get done. It is hard to properly concentrate on work for more than 3-4 hours a day. Doing 5 hours of decent, productive work is amazing.

Don’t schedule yourself 7-8 hours of hard work, start with expecting to get to 2-3 hours of productive work in the day and to fill the rest of the time with tasks that take less concentration, like replying to email, catching up on admin for your business, or working on marketing yourself. As you get used to this level, try upping the productive time by an extra half hour a day until you get to 4-5 hours of really useful time.

5. Have a place to work, a time to work and work there

Whether you’re working in an office at home, or a table in the kitchen, get yourself a space you can consistently work at and use it. It’s best if you can use the space just for work, but I realise not everyone has that luxury.

If you’re using a shared space, clear yourself some usable space – no sharing a desk with a pile of washing waiting to be sorted, shove that out of the way while you’re working.

Sit down, check and think about your to do list, and try and get some work done immediately without getting distracted. You need to train your brain to see your work time as just that, time you need to get on with work, not just considering future work.

6. Have a playlist for work

I have particular music that I like listening to for work. This started out listening to electronic music with no lyrics at school, and I discovered this is a good way of getting my brain in to work mode now, 25+ years later.

So, find something you like listening to when you work. A lot of writers I know prefer songs without lyrics, programmers often like up-tempo electronic dance music, or heavy metal where the lyrics are… indiscernible unless you’re an expert listener.

It doesn’t matter if you like 1980s pop, 1890s choral music, or bang up to date club mixes. As long as you like it and can work to it. Build yourself a playlist. When you are ready to start work, put it on.

Don’t put it on when you’re not working.

The key thing here is getting your brain used to hearing a noise that makes it think “oh, time to work now.”

7. Position yourself to block your view of mess

If you get distracted by mess and feel the need to tidy it up, then position yourself where you can’t see the mess.

If you don’t have a dedicated space for work at home, this is easier than if you’re using a shared space, but even so – don’t get in the habit of dumping clutter in your office.

I started my freelancing business in the corner of my living room and worked that way in various small flats (apartments) for four years. The key to getting work done was when I was pointing at my computer, all I could see was work related items – shelves with folders and notes in, or a calendar of work appointments. When my procrastination was high, I ended up building a barrier between the side of my desk and the rest of the room so I couldn’t see anything else. My very own work cubicle. It wasn’t pretty, but it helped me focus.

8. Give yourself some time for housework

If you can get yourself productive in your work time, you’ll be able to slip in some housework too. Just give yourself some time to do it.

Need to get washing out of the machine and hang it up? Schedule in a 15 minute break to do it. Dinner in the freezer but needs defrosting? Get it out during one of your 5 minute breaks.

Put these tasks on your to do list, and give yourself some time to do them, but stay disciplined about the time and about when you do the task. Don’t interrupt a work session to do something, note it down and do it in a break.

Over time you can get in the habit of balancing home life you need to do, with client work you need to get done. You can structure the housework as part of your day that is a break from work, and that can be good for your productivity, as long as you don’t let the home tasks take chunks of time away from your billable time.

9. Get up and move occasionally

One of the negatives of working from home is it can make you very sedentary. With your commute being a matter of a few steps, it’s easy to end up getting no exercise at all, and that’s bad for your concentration as well as your health in general.

Between tasks, get up and move about a bit. At lunchtime, go for a walk around the block. When I’m working from home I find it helpful to start the day with a walk around the village I live in. It helps wake me up and prepare me for the day. If I’m doing the school run, I’ll then drive to somewhere I can’t easily walk to and walk around there, for a bit of variety.

10. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work immediately or you lapse occasionally

Didn’t get hours of productive work done yesterday? Today is a new day, try to get back in to good habits now, don’t worry about what past you did wrong.

Once you’re used to regular productive work, lapsing out and having a bad day, and seeing the drop in income that represents, can knock your confidence. Put it behind you and concentrate on what you need to do to get useful work done again now. We all have bad days, they’re not going to magically stop, but if you find techniques that work for you, you can get productive again quickly and overall feel much better with your work life.

If you consistently get runs of bad days, consider slightly reducing the amount of work you’re trying to get done. Let your productivity muscles build up and increase your workload again in a few weeks and see if it sticks. This isn’t about pushing yourself to cram in work, it’s about finding a balance where you can earn enough to be happy without over working and burning yourself out.

Further reading listening

If you’re very interested in productivity, you should try the Focused podcast from Relay FM. The hosts David Sparks and Mike Schmitz are self employed and have a great attitude to being more productive and know it’s often more about keeping work in work time so you can enjoy time away, as much as it is about cranking work out.

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Advice from Paul Silver, Farm organiser & full time freelancer since 2004.

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