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How to Work from Home and Stay Ultra-Productive

How to Work from Home and Stay Ultra-Productive

This is a post I’ve waited a little while to write, mostly because I didn’t feel qualified enough.

Sure, I’ve been a “work from home” type for quite some time now, but I didn’t know if just saying “I work from home” truly meant anything.

After all, saying one thing doesn’t make it true. 

stayed at home when most other people went to work.

sat in front of my computer for a certain amount of time each day.

I had some productive days and some un-productive ones.

But I think after almost a year of running a successful writing blog (from home), I’ve developed a keen sense of what helps keep me productive throughout the day — even if I don’t always stick to it! Here’s what I discovered:

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1. Productivity means different things to different people.

If we all lived in Ayn Rand’s world, we might be able to have a universal, objectified definition of what it means to be productive, but alas — we don’t.

We each have things to do every day, week, and month, and sometimes these are consistent. Sometimes they change drastically, and the only constant we can promise ourselves is that productivity and what it means to us must be constantly assessed. 

For example, this week I’m going to need to start promoting my free Kindle ebooks again, and I need to finish up some client work. Next week, however, I’ll need to make sure I finish up edits on my first novel and continue to write around 1,500 words a day on the new one.

Be willing and able to “brain dump” once a week on the things that you’re going to consider “productive wins” for you the following week. Know how you’re defining productivity, and know what you need to do to achieve it.

2. Make randomness go away, while still being random. 

I say often that I would enjoy just about any job, as long as I don’t have to do it day, day out, 24/7. This is true, but what I’m finding is that there are always going to be tasks and administrative things that have to happen each day, every day.

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Therefore, I try to incorporate all of these things into my overall daily productivity plan when I’m working from home: first, I check emails and respond to the pressing ones. Then, I spend 20-30 minutes on my RSS feed reader, scheduling tweets and social media updates for the next day or two. Finally, I make sure I’m writing consistently — usually around 1,500-2,000 words a day.

After that, I seek to add randomness to my day. Instead of working on a client project for 2 hours, writing for 3 hours, and blogging for an hour, I might try to blog all day today, do the client work all day tomorrow, and then write or edit my novels all day the next day. This “random” schedule lets me “come in” to work each morning feeling excited about doing something different that day.

Again, this is what works for me — feel out your own schedule needs and desires, and build your own schedule accordingly. Maybe you hate randomness — in that case, focus on “chunking” your tasks into the same “buckets” every day, and putting the random stuff inside. It gives the feeling of being less random, when in fact you’re still getting the numerous unrelated things done!

3. Know your working habits, and train them. 

Self-discipline is a muscle, and if we’re not constantly making it stronger, it’ll atrophy. Think about where, how, and how long you like to work when you’re not in an office environment: do you have an office at home? Do you love sitting on the porch or the couch, or do you prefer heading to a coffee shop or another place with more human interaction?

Know what your strengths and weaknesses are with each of these, and start to recognize the cues and habit loops you’re triggering each time you enter this place.

For me, in my home office, I like to make coffee, read a little, and then get to work — but I also know that I have a tendency to just keep reading. For that reason, I might opt to go to the local Starbucks instead, to keep me engaged with the work I need to do.

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4. Be comfortable, but not too comfortable. 

I can’t work in bed, and I haven’t from many people who can. My tendency and desire in just about any situation is to fall asleep, so a bed’s out the question if I’m trying to get work done.

However, I’m not much of a TV person, so working on the couch is a nice change of pace from the office and desk chair environment.

Like the previous point, know your limits and tendencies, and work them into your optimal work environment. I’ve found that a good rule of thumb for me is to be comfortable in some ways (clothes, temperature, coffee at hand, etc.) but not in others (sitting up or standing up rather than lying down, not having food near the desk, etc.).

5. Be willing to change. 

This point is huge for me. Since I’m not a fan of “same old, same old,” I don’t mind at all when my situation changes and I need to work from somewhere else, or at least in a different atmosphere than the one I’ve created at home.

That said, I think we need to be ready and able to make a switch when things change. Kid has soccer practice in the evenings now? Just bring your laptop and get the offline tasks done while you’re waiting in the parking lot. In-laws in town, sleeping in the “office” (really a second bedroom…)? Set up a card table in your bedroom or living room so you can still have a somewhat-similar desk environment.

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Part of the draw of a corporate office environment is also one of its biggest drawbacks: when you get to an office like this, you know it’s time for work. There’s no question about it — people are in their cubicles/offices, phones are ringing, people are walking around and going into meetings. You lose all of that at home, and it can be difficult to find your way through it without some systems in place.

These five points are great guidelines, and should get you off to a good start. Remember, be flexible, willing to change, and know your strengths and weaknesses!

What are your thoughts? Do you have trouble working from home, or do you find it easier? Why or why not?

Featured photo credit:  A cat in a home office via Shutterstock

More by this author

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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