Working from home can be an utterly amazing experience while at the same time it can be utterly frustrating and lonely. You have the ability to schedule your day according to your preferences, you can take a break and run errands at any time during the day, you can even take a nap or watch a show right smack dab in the middle of the afternoon. And don't get me started on the yoga pants...
But it can also be hard to stay on task. Without the rigid structure of a workday, apart from an environment that is "made" for work and also not a lot of people around to keep you focused and on point, staying productive while working at home can be a huge challenge.
Its been three years since I've called a corporate office my workplace and I've been working at some home in some sort of capacity ever since. I've learned a lot during this time and while I am absolutely NOT the end all guru of achieving massive productivity while working at home, I have uncovered quite a few tips that help me stay on point!
Turn off notifications
This has honestly been my number one way to remain productive during the day. So much so that I wrote a whole blog post about it. Keeping my phone screen "dark" during the day (with the exception of text messages) has done WONDERS to keep me on point. The screen is not constantly lighting up during the day and my eyes stay put. I was weary about weather or not I would like the no notifications thing, but its been months now and I can't imagine going back!
Another fabulous tool and resource to staying on point. I have a video about how this works HERE, but essentially, if you struggle with wanting to have a clean inbox but lots of "junk" arrives throughout the day...this will solve that problem for you. Click. Click. Click. done.
Don't leave tabs open
This is in the same vein of notifications on your phone. When you leave different tabs open in your browser, notifications will pop up for various things (new emails, facebook, twitter etc...) If you are like me, and you just HAVE to see whats going on when a new notification comes in, resist the temptation from the get go, and just don't have the tabs open. Understanding that of course it can be helpful to workflow to have various tabs open for various things, but if you find that you are being consistently distracted and pulled away from work to see whats going on in email or social media, do the smart thing by recognizing it and taking preventative measures to stop the distractions before they start!
A lot of research has gone into staying productive at work and time blocking seems to be a clear winner for many. Scheduling your work into blocks of time keeps you focused and energized throughout the day. It can also prevent you from feeling overwhelmed out of control. Here is a fantastic article that goes in depth about what time blocking is and how it can help you!
Allowing yourself to take breaks throughout the day is essential to remaining productive. No one can focus and stay on point for hours and hours on end. Our bodies and minds need to shut down for periods of time throughout the day in order to stay energized and creative. Utilize this and time blocking together to create periods of time throughout the day where you work for 50 min and then take a 10 min break. Or utilize the Pomodoro method and work in small bursts (25 minutes) and then take a short 5 min break. The most important thing to remind yourself is that breaks are GOOD FOR YOU! They don't mean that you are lazy and unmotivated. We need breaks in order to keep going.
I know this seems like common sense, but its strange how working in an office, the lunch break is a welcome part of every day, but working at home it can seem like an interference and bothersome distraction from getting work done. One of the biggest reasons I detest lunch at home is that I don't like "cooking" again during the day (dinner time is enough if you ask this non-chef) so I often procrastinate or snack throughout the day instead of taking the time to eat a proper lunch. I've been working on this lately however and have been making an effort to properly fuel for lunch by prepping ahead of time, or meeting Paul for lunch. Both of those activities are something I look forward to, instead of dreading.
Work when no one else is around
This also may seem like common sense and also easier than done. One main thing I have learned throughout my time working at home is that it is extremely difficult to get work done or stay on point when Paul and Kyle are home. It just doesn't work for our life. Recognizing this and accepting it for what it is has been working so much better than fighting against it. I schedule all of my work to get done during the hours that they are not home, and as soon as they come home I turn "work" off and focus on household activities or activities that involve them. This has freed me up in a HUGE way. I no longer feel guilty all the time that something isn't getting taken care of (work or them).
I understand that for those with little ones, this may be next to an impossibility, but recognizing the times when you are least distracted by family members and scheduling to accommodate that instead of trying to do it all at the same time can help!
This is another tip that has been HUGE for me. Before I was kind of just working whenever the mood struck or whenever something "happened" that I needed to take care of. This left me feeling frustrated and kind of like I was working Alllllll. The Time. Understanding that being a small business owner and entrepreneur, its hard to turn it "off", scheduling actual working hours for yourself can give you the space to still have some of a life despite the big plans you might have for your business.
Pay attention to when you are most needed. If 9-3 seems to be the time you have the most free without other commitments to attend to, then make those your business hours and stick to them. Prioritize to do items to get done within that time frame. Resist responding to emails or social media inquiries outside of those hours. If you consistently reply and respond to clients at all hours of the day you are training them that you are essentially available all hours of the day. Balancing your need and want to serve and love on your clients does not mean that you are consistently at their mercy. Respect your time and they will too.
Schedule social media posts
Yes, yes, yes a million times yes. If you are not already scheduling your social media posts, then do it now!! I felt the overwhelm of posting on social media early on and quickly found some solutions to help take the pressure off. I've been fine tuning my approach ever since and while I don't think my solution is perfect, it does take a huge load off me during the day. I currently use Buffer to schedule posts for FB, Twitter and Google + and it has been working great. Since Instagram is insistent on all content being posted directly from a phone, there isn't a perfect way to schedule IG posts although you can prep them ahead of time through tools like Hootsuite and Latergram.me. My dream would be to someday use Edgar, but at $50/month that is likely not happening anytime soon. For now Buffer has been working for me and I will likely keep with it for a while. Doing anything you can to stay off of social media throughout the day will help however, because we all know what a black hole social media can be! Productivity killer #1.
Break it down
Thanks to my dad, I am the quintessential list maker. I have lists around me all the time and this is probably one of the reasons why I love programs like Trello so much. My mind works better when things are line item one on top of another and I can cross them off as they get done. On days where I am feeling overwhelmed by the running list of things that needs to get done in my mind, my first step is to grab paper and pen and write it all down.
I break things down into must get done, nice to get done and someday items so I have a clear picture of what to focus on next. I always feel better after this exercise because things aren't nearly as scary when they are written down. I find that the practice of attempting to get done 2-3 small things and 1 big thing per day leaves me feeling energized and productive and like I really did something to move my business forward that day.
Parking Lot items
This is a common term in corporate language (synergy anyone?) but it makes sense for working at home entrepreneurs as well.
How many times have you been working away and then something comes up that instantly impedes progress? A software program you are downloading gives you trouble. You have an idea for a photo you want to incorporate into a promotional item or blog post but you can't find one and taking one would take up the next few hours of your time. You just discovered a new resource that can potentially help you accomplish a big goal, but it will take a few days to soak in all the material and learn how to use it. You run across some helpful material that you want to read through, but you end up finding more and more links on the website that would help you more and more and before you know it, 4 hours have gone by and you didn't get anything done that you were planning too that day. Sound familiar?
Oh friends how I have been there. This is one of the main reasons I have to be extra cautious to stay off of social media throughout the day and schedule times when I can go on and browse around. When I do find things like this or run into speed bumps, I parking lot them. I put them all in one place to refer to later. Whether that be a written list, a Trello board or a fun website like Pocket, have a place where you can put things that seem like they need your immediate attention, but in reality they can be fit into your schedule later when you can clear time in your day to take care of them.
This one may seem to be the most counter-intuitive of them all. "Cinnamon, how can I stay productive, if I am walking away from what needs to be done?" That is a great question and thank you for asking!
By walking away, I mean this in more of a metaphorical sense rather than a literal one. If you are struggling with a project or a concept or not feeling the creative juices flowing, sometimes you need to put everything down (mentally) and walk away from it for a bit. Shake off the dust. Let go of the frustration and give yourself some grace. Parking Lot whatever it is that is eating up your time and draining your creativity and productivity and come back to it at a later date. I understand, this can be HARD to do especially if you are on deadline, but giving yourself a little bit of space between the pressure and the objective can end up jump starting that solution that you never knew existed. This is why ideas or names we have forgotten come to us all of a sudden in the shower or while we are driving. The mind is a powerful and mysterious force, work with it, not against it and feel that productivity flow!!
I REALLY hope you found those tips successful and I would LOVE to hear some of your ideas and strategies for staying productive if you work from home! Leave a comment below and let me know what works for you!! I just might steal it. ;-)