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.
I stayed at home when most other people went to work.
I 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:
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.
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.
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.
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