It’s the dream, right? Waking up whenever you want, not having to get dressed and squeeze yourself onto mass transit or sit in traffic for several hours just to sit in a cubicle for another 8 hours or so.
Working at home is the ultimate lifestyle — until you actually do it.
More than 23% of Americans report working from home at least some of the time according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number has increased by nearly 25% since 2005 and continues to grow as the “workplace” takes on a more ambiguous meaning.
But it’s not all late starts and TV in PJs while checking email. Working from home, while an important perk in a culture with increasingly blurred lines on the work-life spectrum, can be a stressful experience if you’re not accustomed to self-motivating and driving productivity in a new setting.
Home is where you rest. It’s where you relax. It’s where you spend time with family. Your mind and body are trained to act a certain way when at home. Throw work into the mix and no matter how productive you are in the office, you can find yourself suddenly unable to focus nearly as well, overcome with distractions you didn’t even realize were there.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. By installing new habits specific to how and where you work while home, you can be as productive as you would be in the office — if not more so.
Set A Clearly Defined Start Time On Your Calendar
How long does it take when you get to the office to start working? What does that transition look like? Most of us have trained ourselves to almost instantly shift into work mode when we walk in the door. There is a very stark transition from home to commute to the office and those lines make it easy to shift gears.
It’s a lot harder to shift like this when you never actually leave the house. So, this transition needs to be simulated. To do so, use a calendar. Set a clear start time and know that when that time arrives, you are “at work.”
If this remains difficult, go for a walk or visit a coffee shop just before work starts to simulate that gear change and prepare your mind for the work day.
Build An Office Space That Is Unique Within Your Home
Dedicated space is a must. Whether you work at home once a week or are a freelance consultant home every day except for meetings, you need a space that’s only for work.
This does two things. Not only does it provide a private space where you can be productive with minimal distractions; it also physically separates you from the space in your home in which you relax. While you may technically only need a warm seat and a laptop to get things done, it’s much harder to be productive when sitting on the couch where you typically unwind at the end of the day.
Maintain A Lunch And Break Schedule
Much like a start time, your body is trained to follow a certain rhythm each day. Work for several hours, go for lunch, work for a couple more hours, take a break.
Maintain this schedule as much as you can. Sure there will be days on which deadlines overlap or calls push back a normal lunch time, and it can feel weird to take a “break” and walk 10 feet to your kitchen, but the familiarity of it will help you stay in that work mindset.
Build In Emergency Breaks To Avoid Distractions
Home is full of distractions: family, pets, TV, books, video games. You name it and there’s something on a shelf across the room from you begging to steal your attention.
Create a system in which you have a response when this happens. A Pomodoro timer is highly recommended as it will force you to stay focused for 25 minutes at a time in short bursts of productivity. Sure, you can get to that next Game of Thrones chapter, but only after you’ve completed one more short work session.
By creating a habit of focus and measured breaks, you can avoid falling down the rabbit hole of distractions that your own possessions can create.
Use Dark Periods To Stay Focused
One of the great benefits of working from home is that it’s much easier to go dark. In the office, you can turn off your WiFi, but if your boss really needs your attention, they can just walk over and tap on your desk.
At home, unplugging really means privacy, and that privacy can lead to your most productive hours of the week. If you work for yourself, this is even more important. It allows you to focus on large tasks in spurts of 1-2 hours during which nothing can distract you.
Set A Clear Stop Time
We’ve talked about start times and we’ve talked about break times, so of course we need to touch on when to stop.
When I started working from home less than a year after graduating from college, I worked for upwards of 12 hours of day. To be more accurate, I sat in front of a computer for more than 12 hours a day. A large chunk of that time was spent surfing eBay, watching music videos, and playing video games. I was a procrastinator, because I knew I could be.
Parkinson’s Law says that when given a set period of time to complete a task, we will fill that time. Imagine what happens when the time given is infinite? You never quite finish.
So create deadlines for yourself. It might be different every day, but set a clear cutoff time in your schedule when you plan to be done for the day. Whether this is 5 pm or you opt to take advantage of your newfound productivity and clock out an hour early, mark it on your calendar and build your daily to-do list around it.
Identify Work Triggers And Surround Yourself With Them
Work isn’t something we “just do.” It’s a state of mind we must create and maintain to remain productive. It’s not like you’re a paragon of productivity in the office either. Facebook is just as distracting. Friends are just as likely to drag you out for coffee.
The difference is that there is a certain social pressure to be productive. Everyone can see you, your deadlines are more visible, and an inefficient day means a long night.
The goal of working at home is to be less stressed, not more, but consider bringing home a handful of triggers that will help to put you into work mode and keep you there.
Notebooks from the office, a coffee mug from the company, even a toy with the company’s logo on it — these will all remind you what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. It seems small, but with the right nudge, you can more effectively stay in work mode even when the entire world seems to conspire against you.
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