How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

Ads by Google

working from home thumb   How To Be More Productive When Working From HomeNo, Marissa Mayer hasn’t blown the whistle at me yet. I am still perfectly well ensconced in my own chair, in my own room, and drinking coffee in my own mug. The second reason is that I don’t work for Yahoo. I work for MakeUseOf.com and like our legion of readers, we authors are also spread around the world. But that’s not to say I don’t know what life is like on the other side of the “Iron Curtain”. 10 years of copious sweat has flowed in corporate cubicles.

Is working from home (or to use the term – telecommuting) more productive than working from an office? The debate was re-ignited after Marissa Mayer’s clarion call to all Yahoo employees. Just like all blah-blahs, this one too has two sides to it. But for me the question is not important. The answer to how can working from home be made more productive is more vital. The answer is weightier than the question because this is the digital age and there’s a substantial demographic that is working from home. That’s nearly 10% in the U.S. alone and rising.

To get back to our question and its solutions, let’s hash over these points and make working from home a more productive job.

Set Your Clock

working from home02   How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

Ads by Google

Isn’t the fact that you don’t have to stick to a specific time schedule the biggest perk of working from home? Well, it is but if you let the clock get the better of you, it is a recipe for unproductivity. Working from home also means that you have to be self-disciplined and that means taming the clock.

Possible solutions:

  • Understand the time of the day when you work optimally. For some it could be late nights too.
  • Set up a daily start time and (more importantly) a daily stop time. Routines will help with discipline and productive use of time.
  • Track time with the apps like RescueTime and others. Capture missing time and account for it in your routines.

Get Out Of Your Pajamas, Shave, & Get Ready For “Office”

working from home03   How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

Even though you don’t have to dress up to go to work in an actual office, it is important that “feel” as if you have to. You don’t have to put on a suit; a bath and a shave are good enough. Oh yes, try and get out of your pajamas. It will make you feel a bit more professional. Pajamas give a feeling of leisure. Ditch that. Just like using time, dressing up is also part of a routine. It also won’t feel uncomfortable if you need to go out for a meeting once in a while or if you plan to join the workforce later. Also, it’s important to look good if you plan to use Skype for a video-conference.

Possible solutions:

  • Personal story: I finish my breakfast and other daily chores before I sit for work.
  • Create a personal dress code for working from home. It could be a comfy tracksuit too.
  • The act of dressing up alone could help trigger your brain to switch to work mode.

Productivity = Daily To Dos

One of the hidden dangers of working from home is procrastination. It creeps in unobtrusively because we telecommuters think that we have all the time in the world. If I don’t do it in the morning, I can always snatch an hour for it in the evening…and there you go and blow the time schedules you had set. The answer lies in writing and maintaining daily to-dos. Getting things done in the right time is the yardstick for productivity.

Possible solutions:

  • Plan out your day the night before.
  • Use the many GTD apps available for free out there.
  • Alternatively, just use pen and paper but have your plans written down.
  • Do at least one productive long-term goal oriented task every day.

 Put up A Do Not Disturb Sign on the Door

working from home05   How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

There’s one major problem of working from home – distractions. It will come from family and friends who carry the impression that you are available 24×7…just because you work from home. Believe me; even those who love you to bits do think that you are just a knock or a call away. And then you could have kids who need your attention. How gingerly you tread around such sensitive toes will determine your productivity quotient.

Possible solutions:

  • Set ground rules for both friends and family.
  • Have a home office separate from your residence.
  • Use an answering machine or set up Google Voice (Google Voice is not available in all countries).
  • Don’t get frustrated. Accept that distractions are pitfalls of working from home.

Design Your Workspace

working from home04   How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

Your workspace is your sanctuary for all the 10-12 hours you plan to spend there. A neat and well-organized workspace adds to your productivity. Don’t believe me – try it out. A workplace is not only about ergonomic comforts. It is also a lot about creating the right kind of mood for the work you do.

Possible solutions:

 

Change Your Workspace…Once In A While

inspire9 desks   How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

It’s also a good idea to walk away from the comforts of your home office and work in other settings like coffee shops. Most coffee shops these days advertise Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s a good idea for some actual human contact and using your surroundings for inspiration. Get away once in a while. Tina, a fellow author and friend has used couchsurfing to move around the world and still stay connected for work. Can you imagine anything that beats that!

Possible solutions:

  • Coworking and shared offices are great for human interactivity and work.
  • One of my favorite areas to work is a public library. It is noiseless by default.

Stay Tethered To Your Colleagues

One of the complaints against working from home is the disconnect with others. If you are telecommuting for a company with a physical address, it is important that you maintain regular contact. Your bosses, colleagues, and clients need to be constantly updated with your whereabouts and the status of any project you are working on. Even if you are your own boss, you probably have clients. Not only professionally, it helps to occasionally chit-chat with others so that you don’t feel isolated from the world.

Possible solutions:

  • Just pick up the phone and give a call.
  • Use Skype or Google Hangouts for impromptu video chats and face time.
  • For kinship visit your office once or twice a week. To keep credibility interact in the real world with clients.
  • Proactively schedule meal-meetings because face-to-face conversations are more open.

Don’t Lock the Doors – Socialize

working from home01   How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

Cut yourself some slack. Following the aforementioned point, it has to be said that you have to give equal some time to family and friends. Being in control of your time also means that we tend to use it at our whim, and that often cuts into quality time we should be spending with friends and family. Social isolation is a clear and present danger when you are working from home.

Possible solutions:

  • Join a gym or a club. Get into community service.
  • Set up joint ventures with others who have similar interests.
  • Get a physical hobby that forces you to walk out of the front door.
  • If you run a blog or an online business interact with your readers or customers face to face.
  • Take working vacations if need be. Always on connectivity ensures that you can work from anywhere while having some fun.
  • Try not to work during the weekends. This is the time when the rest of the world is also free and available for some back-fence talk.

Set Up Your Own 80/20 Google Styled Innovation Rule

Insulated from the outside world, it is very easy to fall into a routine and then fall headlong into a rut. Google has this fantastic policy of giving their employees 20% of company time to run with their own ideas and create something that can benefit the company. When you are working alone, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and your long-term goals. To keep your motivation going, set up your own 80/20 projects. I have often found that personal productivity can be the trampoline for work productivity.

P.S: Folklore has it that it was Hewlett Packard that started the practice. Companies like Google and 3M simply popularized it.

Use Downtime to Do Household Chores

http://vimeo.com/52607761

This is a personal little thing I put into practice.  I create “downtime” and work on the little things around the house. These personal downtimes are like mini-breaks between two work-related tasks which allow me to walk away from the computer. I get some household chores done and also manage to walk away from the computer, only to come back refreshed. I personally use the Pomodoro technique to break down larger tasks into smaller parts. Maybe, you can consider this productivity boosting method.

After working on both sides of the wall, I can safely say that working from home has its perks. The lower stress factors if you are lucky and the absence of daily commutes are definitely on top of the list. But there’s also the danger of looking at the gift horse in the mouth. Evils like social isolation and procrastination can be managed with some discipline. Yes, at the end of the day telecommuting isn’t for everyone and for every profession. But if you are among the percentage that does work from home, take it as a blessing (in disguise). The bottom line: it gives you a lot of time to be your own man and woman.

Our comment section is for your arguments. For or against, everyone is welcome. Do you work from home? We telecommuters need to stick together…so what do you do to be more productive?

Image Credit: Happy woman lying on floor; Oh, my god… I forgot I had children; Alarm clock in the floor; Maybe I haven’t made myself clear enough (Shutterstock)

Ads by Google

33 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Amy Brennan

Thanks for the suggestion of RescueTime. Although I don’t work from home, I find myself getting distracted while at the office and having something that I can check once in a while and see where I’m actually using my time should help me track my “lost time”.

Saikat Basu

Well, come to think of it, a large percentage of the working population do carry their work home. So, some of these tips become applicable then and there. And “distraction” and “procrastination” are two old enemies :)

Reply

macwitty

Schedule coffee breaks, both to ensure to take them and that they will not be too long.

Reply

Mike

I have been working from home for 15 years. I love the fact that I control the clock but that is not to say I don’t have timeframes, emergencies and deadlines that affect my work schedule. The flip side is that I can determeine when I want to be idle, feel lazy, play with the kids, give my honey a little extra time or time off and chip in with the support of our home and family. I think it takes a particular personality to work from home. I am not a 9-5 type worker. I love the early am when i cannot sleep to accomplish stuff. I use those nights where solutions come to me in my sleep and I can jump right in and work on them. You have to be a little bit of a workaholic but on your own timeframe rather than someone elses. I wouldn’t trade this for the world. Pretty much all your comments fit in one place or another.

Saikat Basu

Precisely. I couldn’t agree with you more. Today, I also wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

Reply

Brian D

I love the article but my attention to detail made me notice the spelling errors and the spacing issues. Great read though. Thanks

Reply

Anusha@Care

Thanks for sharing this Saikat! Check out Care.com’s article about working from home: http://www.care.com/child-care-10-tips-to-make-working-from-home-work-p1017-q21288628.html

Reply

Eweforia

I’ve owned my own technical communications company out of my home office for 18 years. I take advantage of downtime by learning new skills so that I can stay ahead of trends. For example, tech writers are scrambling to learn how to deliver content for mobile devices. Last year during a lull in work, I published a Kindle book for a non-profit group that I volunteer for. Shortly afterward, a client asked if I could publish their documentation to smart phones, and I said sure! Same software, different output. My favorite educational resources are Linda.com courses and watching webinars.

Your article was one of the best I’ve read on the subject and very timely for the many people who are working from home because the job market is so poor.

Tina Sieber

Wow, great advice, thank you for sharing!

How do you determine which skills to polish up on? Do you work on your strengths, the things that you find interesting or do you try to eliminate deficits?

Eweforia

I tackle new skills that I think might be useful down the road. For instance, one year I taught myself Photoshop; then Illustrator. Most tech writers don’t do a lot with graphics and my clients often had no internal resources. So I can do more to help them now (although I’m not a graphic designer). One year I wanted to do more with newsletter layout so I learned InDesign. I publish a quarterly newsletter for a non-profit that I volunteer for. That experience turned out to be valuable because at the time, InDesign was the best tool for getting a book converted to .mobi format for Kindle. Linda.com lets you create a list of courses you’d like to take; mine is probably nearing 100. So much stuff to learn; so little downtime! But I’ve proven that one of the reasons I have less downtime is because I have more skills to leverage outside my core skills.

Tina Sieber

Again, awesome advice and very inspiring!

Just out of curiosity, are you really driven by looming market pressure (staying ahead) or do you work with a career or life vision (passion driven)? It sounds like you really love what you do.

Eweforia

Saikat discussed some of the hazards of working from home, but he didn’t mention boredom. My clients’ regular projects are excruciatingly boring and offer few challenges in either technical skill or writing expertise. So I choose to learn new things that might help me offer services that are more creatively and technically challenging. Graphic skills, ebook and mobile publishing were really good choices for me.

What’s next? HTML5 and CSS. I learned just enough CSS many years ago to create a few decent Web ties for myself and my non-profit groups. Mobile publishing is all about HTML5 and CSS. I never wanted to be a Web designer, but it looks like I need to learn more of those skills to stay competitive as a tech writer.

Saikat Basu

Great advice as my colleague Tina says. I think the motivational trick is to set yourself learning challenges and use downtime’s to accomplish them. Any favorite resources for webinars?

Reply

Guy McDowell

Saikat, this is almost a manual. Excellent! Like Amy, I think I could integrate something like RescueTime into my daily routine at work.

Saikat Basu

Thanks Guy. You are a man of many hats, so I guess it could be useful for you.

Reply

Rob H

Working at home it’s easy to get distracted. It’s also possible to get too involved and not switch off but keep workig too long. To solve this one guy I knew would put on a business suit go on a 15 minute circular walk arriving back at his house but now he treated it just as if it was an employers office. He did a days work then took the 15 minute circular walk back home! He found that put him in the right mood and state of mind, not only switching on to “work mode” but also switching off to “home mode”. Sounds crazy but it worked for him.

Another guy told me how he dealt with the problem that sometimes he had too little work so then when opportunities arose he’d grab all he could and was overloaded. He reckoned he could complete 2 days work in one day by working 4 hours, taking 2 hours break (eat and sleep), repeat 4 times =16 hours work 8 hours rest.

Tina Sieber

Two amazing stories. I don’t think I could do with 8 hours rest in 2 hour increments. That sounds crazy!

Rob H

It certainly does. He had loads of justifications though:
The first half of a normal 8 hour day is when we’re more productive, so he just works the first half of the day – but 4 times in 24 hours!
If you’re travelling long distance by air you tend to have cat-naps and it works (kind of) so this is just the same.
The first couple of hours sleep are the most refreshing
In mediterrannean coutries they have (or had before air-con and changed expectations) a mid-day rest – the Spanish siesta.
Children and the elderly are very good at taking naps – maybe it’s us inbetween those groups that are getting it wrong.
He only worked this regime for one or two weeks at a time (and claimed that as he worked a 7 day week and was more productive that was enough to do 3 “normal” weeks work.)
I don’t think I could do it – but I’ve never tried!

Saikat Basu

I have experimented with sleep after reading the optimal duration for naps. 20 minutes is perfect. You wake up refreshed. So far, it has worked for me. The dangers of working from home include oversleep.

Reply

null

Nice Post! There are many good tips.

Reply

Andrei Anikin

thanks for the article, nice read!

Reply

Patricia Valadez

I truly appreciated this article! Although I don’t work for a big corporation, or any corporation for that matter, these “tips” are very useful for anyone with a task at hand.

Reply

Caleb

Thank you so much for this, I’ve been working from home for months now but had to go back and do the office and report again because I feel that “procrastination” has crept in. Instead of working 40 hours a week, I “SPREAD” out my days, which has made my working days 7, instead of 5.

Already experiencing a greater level of productivity in the office but I’m sure hoping I’ll mature enough as a professional to be able to work from home again.

P.S. I’ve started reporting back to the office voluntarily since Monday and nervous for tomorrow when I’ll be opting to work off-site again, this time maybe at a coffeeshop or library.

Saikat Basu

The best thing about working from home — you don’t get hit with the Monday Blues ;)

Reply

Alan K

Thank you for an excellent piece. I too work from home and think your tips are very helpful.

I write and have thought of using one of those web based platforms that totally eliminate distractions. Has any one tried any of these? What was your experience like?

Reply

Clear S

I thought your whole article was going to be about working from home, at home, like online with a computer working for a company to do services; i.e. like typing,data entry, transcription, copy and paste, edit, proofread, correct term papers, write term papers for students in college or a University. Blog, write articles (like you), novels, manuscripts correcting them.
I didn’t know your article was about managing time at your home while You work.

Sorry, I’m here trying to desperately find an online position cause I’m out of time Bill wise and I’m scared I’m going to loose my internet which is with my TV and phone bundled, cause I got the phone free with the package. But I owe $160 by the 9th or early 10th or it’s cut off. This is how I’m going to make a living since I’m disabled and pending disibility still after 5 years.
Please offer me another suggestion for working FROM home online telecommute freelance, contract. I type 90 wpm, data entry 9000 ks pm, transcribe, 90 wpm all accurately. I’m also in school online with medical bill and code and in the fall or winter I’ve already been accepted with an online University.
Please help, I know thats not what you wanted from a reader but I need HELPPPPP!!!
Thanks and God Bless

Clear

Reply

MississippiBuffalo

Thanks for this great piece of advice! Mine is probably a bit more unusual than most of your situations as I am no longer able to work due to health reasons. I always was the “Type A” workaholic who thought nothing of putting in 100+ hour work weeks for months, even years at a time. In 2007, on top of having been a Juvenile-onset Diabetic for 30 years, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Renal Failure & Chronic Kidney Disease due to, of all things, my blood pressure. Along with that diagnosis came the news that I could no longer work. Period.

Fast forward 5 or so years (to spare you the gory details) and I’m beginning to emerge from an extremely deep and severe depression that includes a couple of suicide attempts. I still cannot “work” in the strictest sense of the term but I’m finding some joy in things I can do. Such as develop and maintain the web site for the municipality where we live and becoming the “IT Department” for the village and many of its residents.

Like “eweforia”, I’m now taking advantage of the extra time to learn some things I never had the time to learn before. My work on the village’s site has segued into an interest in graphics and to develop my programming skills that I never really used after college. (I was hired as an RPG & CL programmer on the AS/400 but due to a staff shortage wound up supporting hardware for business clients) It also has led to a burgeoning interest in photography which in turn has led to an offer to photograph the annual Fire Department Inspection this weekend.

It’s definitely not all wine and roses. There are days when my potassium is too high or my phosphorous levels are wack-o or my blood sugar spontaneously decides to fly off over 500 for absolutely no apparent reason. There are days when getting to the bathroom to pee make 8 hours on the elliptical seem like sitting in a recliner by comparison. I’m definitely not out of the woods yet.

But again (finally?) I am finding in myself my old need to get organized and get busy. In your article, I found some great suggestions and tools to help me get there. Thanks, Saikat, and all of you who left comments, for the assist!

JG

Saikat Basu

Hi JG,

Your story is inspiring to say the least. Despite your problems, you took the steps necessary to move forward and not get bogged down. That in itself is a tremendous achievement. I am so happy that this little post helped you in some way. There’s so much we take for granted when we think we have all the time in the world. The gift to learn and teach ourselves new skills is in that list too. And there’s no better time other than today to start learning something new.

Aibek Esengulov

Thanks for sharing your story here. There is something to think about here for many of us.

Aibek

Reply

Bublegum Blancaflor

very useful tips for me as a freelancer. i work at home and distractions are sometimes unavoidable. but instead stay away and your family member should be considerate that you are working and no distractions allowed indeed.

Saikat Basu

One of the most difficult things to achieve in my experience. Now, I have accepted that some distractions will be there and I just have to work around them. I don’t get so frustrated so much anymore :)

Reply

Rarefeito

Great article! It was so easy to recognize myself in a pair of the risks, like overtime work.
I work for a company overseas, with 5 our difference time. So it is very common to get phone calls outside my working hours. And there will always be an urgent situation (for them), like distractions by the family at home. I have to complement your suggestion: “Don’t get frustrated. Accept that distractions are pitfalls of working from home. And if you work for a company in a different time zone, accept that it is easy for them to forget this situation. Yes, they will give you wake-up calls or call you while you have dinner with family.”
Another point to share is the way I turn on and off the “work mode”. I decided to drive the kids to school every morning. That way, I take a shower, change cloths, get the outside air and come back with the “work mode” selected. Having something at evening every day (gym sections, for example) works to get you off the “work mode”. It has worked for me.
After 8 months on that, I am not yet satisfied with the results. Now I will try some of the productivity and “stay connected” tips you mentioned to improve this.
Thanks.

Your comment