Working from home can be a dream come true – saving you time and money, giving you control over your schedule, and allowing you to create the kind of work-life balance that suits you best. That is, of course, until you sit down to work one day and your neighbor decides to start blasting Nickleback while working on his car in the garage that’s conveniently situated right by your window.
If you’re lucky enough to not have noisy neighbors, then it could be an attention-seeking pet, a family member popping round for endless cups of tea, or worse still, your own distractable mind that throws off your productivity. Indeed, many people find that even after the family members, pets, and questionable 90s rock bands have been silenced, productivity is still hard to achieve.
This can be particularly confronting if you were always one of the most productive team members in your office. It seems reasonable to assume that without the distraction of coworkers you’d be even more productive. However, your home environment holds many subtle traps that can splinter your attention, causing you to lose focus without fully understanding why.
With no colleagues or managers in the vicinity, you don’t even have to wear pants to work let alone get anything done. Though you would never consciously slack off because of this, when combined with the many subtle distractions lurking in the home, it can lead to you settling into a less productive state.
The following tips have been designed to help you figure out what’s been draining your productivity so you can create a framework for addressing those sneaky little issues, bringing a sense of balance to your work-from-home lifestyle.
1. Create a workspace and make it truly yours
Though it’s tempting when you first start working from home to simply set yourself up in the most convenient part of the house, this isn’t necessarily going to be the best spot for encouraging productivity.
Maybe you have a desk and all the outlets you need in your bedroom, but the lighting isn’t the greatest, and the presence of your lush, comfy bed in the room makes you subconsciously sleepy. Perhaps you like the lighting in the dining room, but there’s so much action going on out there that it’s hard to concentrate.
Whatever your situation, the truth is, the most convenient space in the house is probably not going to be the best for your productivity long-term. You may need to do some rearranging, cleaning, decluttering, and investing in extension cords, lights, and new furniture. However, these upfront inconveniences will pay off in the long run.
The ideal space is one that looks like it was designed for work – not one that looks like it’s meant for meals, sleep, relaxation, or entertainment but has had some work gear dumped on top of it.
By not establishing a clear boundary between your workspace and your places of rest and relaxation, you risk blurring the borders between these things. During work hours, this will leave you fantasizing about food, stressing about unfinished household chores, and wondering how bad it would be to have a midday Netflix binge. Then, when you finish up for the day, you’ll likely find yourself distracted by the work you didn’t finish and wondering if you could get away with knocking out a few emails while eating dinner.
By contrast, a dedicated office space allows you to “go to work” each day, improving your chances of compartmentalized the dual purposes your home now serves. Do this effectively, and the distractability of your mind will settle down, allowing your productivity to soar.
2. Try a change of scenery
Though it’s important to stake your claim on a portion of your home and turn it into your ideal work sanctuary, that doesn’t mean you have to stay cooped up in this space all day.
Depending on your personality and what’s going on around your home on a given day, it may do wonders for your productivity to get out and shake things up a bit.
If you miss the human interaction and background noise of the office, a coffee shop may offer the perfect ambiance to help calm your mind. Libraries, parks, and other spaces fitted with free wi-fi can also offer calming environments conducive to work.
3. Noise is more important than most people realize
This is another factor you will need to play around with to find what works for you. Some people work best when their favorite tunes are blasting, while others prefer a cocoon of silence.
Try out a few different soundscapes and take note of how they affect your productivity. Some options to experiment with include:
- Pure silence (created by soundproofing, noise-canceling earphones, or earplugs)
- White noise (this could come from a white noise machine or YouTube videos featuring rain, snowstorms, and thunderstorms)
- Classical and instrumental music
- Electronic music like techno, house, trance, or drum n bass (it’s best to stick to music without lyrics as your attention will naturally gravitate towards the words)
- ASMR videos (this stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” and it’s a calming effect produced by exposure to placid sounds and visuals. YouTube is filled with variations on the theme, including things like coffee shop ambiance, Harry Potter ASMR, and all sorts of nature-based videos. If it works for you, the calming effects are amazing for promoting productivity. If not, you haven’t lost anything by trying it out!)
4. Protect your space
With the first three tips, the focus was on removing your own internal blocks to productivity and establishing an environment in which your brain is set up for success. Though this groundwork is essential, it will all be for nothing if you don’t establish clear boundaries with your housemates, friends, family members, and visitors.
This is easier said than done. When you’re just in the next room, it can be hard for people to understand that they shouldn’t just stick their heads in and interrupt you with small questions. To them, this 30-second interruption was nothing, but for you, it could trigger half an hour of checking emails and social media before diving back into the work you were pulled away from.
For this reason, it’s worth taking some time to sit down with your family or housemates to let them in on your schedule so they know when’s an okay time to interrupt and when they should leave you be. Ask them to treat the “no interruption” time as though you really were at an office on the other side of town.
If you were teaching a class, consulting with a client, or writing an article from the confines of a workplace, your loved ones wouldn’t be able to plonk down on your desk and strike up a conversation. Nor would they have the audacity to even try! Ask them to keep this in mind and save any questions they may have for your regularly scheduled break times (more on this powerful productivity tactic coming up in tip 7).
5. Kickstart your day with this fun trick
When you first started working from home, you were probably delighted to ditch your morning commute in favor of more time to sleep, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and perhaps fit in some exercise and meditation.
However, that commute time actually has a surprising benefit woven into its surface-level inconvenience. It acts as a buffer between your home life and work life, allowing you to prepare for the day ahead and launch right into work when you reach the office.
Losing this transition time and gaining freedom with your schedule can leave you with a nebulous border between your morning routine and the start of your workday. However, there’s a way to hack the system in your favor.
Instead of frittering away the time you otherwise would’ve spent commuting, aim to wake up at the same time every day, smash through your morning routine as though you really do have to get to work by a certain time, and then sit down at your computer when you would’ve headed out the door to make it to work. This way, you get a headstart on your workload, and the little dopamine boost you get from the achievement will help you develop a productive pattern for the rest of the day.
If you had a particularly long commute and you’d like to fit in more sleep or perhaps time to prepare a healthy breakfast to enjoy with your family, then you can dedicate some of your saved time to these pursuits. So long as you get some tasks out of the way before the time you would’ve been arriving at the office, you’ll still be able to take advantage of this fun little brain hack.
6. Structure your workdays
Lack of structure is one of the biggest productivity killers. You may have a rough idea of the tasks you need to accomplish each day, but if you haven’t planned them out, then each time you get something done you’ll need to figure out what to do next. Though this seems like a small inconvenience, these little moments of indecision create weak spots that are often attacked by distracting forces.
“I’ll just have a quick look at Facebook while I figure out what to do next.”
“I’ll get the dishes done while I plan my next move.”
Before you know it, an hour has passed, you’re all caught up on your household chores, you’ve liked and commented on dozens of social media posts, but you’ve lost your momentum for work.
To save yourself from these focus-sucking traps, it’s essential to be your own personal assistant and set up a schedule of events for each day. Depending on how demanding your business is, you may wish to download scheduling software. However, for most people, the simplicity of Google Calendar is perfect.
7. Add well-timed breaks to your schedule
Breaks are one of the most powerful tools for boosting productivity. Adding a 5 to 15-minute break between every hour of work will give you the chance to assess what you’ve done, adjust your plan for the next round, and then get back into it with a clear head. The quality of your output will increase dramatically from just this small step alone; and even the most difficult task will feel more manageable when you know you only need to tackle it for an hour before you get to enjoy some rest.
While it may seem counterintuitive to focus on breaks when you feel like you’re struggling to get everything done, not doing so can lead to one of the sneakiest productivity killers.
When you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re not being productive enough, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of doing busy work instead of taking breaks. This could take the form of unsubscribing to marketing emails, doing the dishes, cleaning your refrigerator seals, or organizing the files on your desktop. The problem with this is these tasks feel like work, but they’re not contributing to your most important tasks of the day.
All those odd jobs can lead to you feeling like you’ve spent the whole day working when you’ve really only gotten a couple of hours of valuable time in. This leaves you feeling overworked and unproductive at the same time, and if you’re not careful, you can slip into a vicious cycle.
Scheduling regular mini-breaks in which you genuinely take a rest from work is a healthy way to break (or prevent) that negative cycle, and get yourself into a productive working rhythm.
The one exception to the break rule is if you’ve gotten into a flow state with something you’re working on and interrupting it would pull you out and destroy your momentum. If you’ve slipped into the zone with your work, it’s worth riding it out and taking a break when you hit a natural endpoint.
8. Make a clear boundary between work time and home time
There are a couple of issues at play here. First, you’re at risk of spending days on end at home with very little change of scenery. This can lead to a feeling of being stuck in an endless loop of sameness, which is no good for your mental health.
To combat this, it’s essential to break apart your work and home time by including excursions away from the house. Walking around the neighborhood, exploring any nearby natural areas, and even just heading out to the backyard to do some gardening or read a book in the afternoon sunshine are all great ways to break up the monotony.
The other issue arises from how you manage the moment when the workday is over. If you want to protect your long-term productivity, it’s important that you take a minute to log-off, both from your technology and from your to-do list.
A simple way to achieve this transition is to pack your equipment out of sight. Though this may seem like an unnecessary extra step since you’ll just be pulling it all out again tomorrow, it’s worth doing if you want to genuinely be able to relax and let go of your responsibilities.
If your house was a stage and your life a play, this would be the moment when one set is replaced by another, creating the new scene and making sense of the action to follow.
With the stage set for relaxation, you can enjoy the comforts of your home. Dance to your favorite music, cook a delicious meal, read a few chapters of a book, kick back and catch up on the Netflix series your friends keep hounding you to watch – do what makes you happy.
If you remember a non-urgent task you need to do or get struck with inspiration for a project you’re working on, don’t be tempted to log back on. Instead, jot it down in a notebook to deal with tomorrow. If you keep dipping back into work mode, you’ll never feel like you’re truly free from it, and this sense of always being tied to work can lead to a crash in your productivity.
Where to next?
If social media is your kryptonite when it comes to productivity, check out our guide to being productive without having to quit social media.
Do you have any questions about productivity when working from home? Or do you have any brilliant tips that work for you but didn’t appear on this list? If so, feel free to drop a comment below.
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