“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.” - Benjamin Franklin
Those of you who know the joys of working from home, whether you’re
self-employed or freelancing or telecommuting, know also the joys of
procrastination and the lures of laying on the couch.
Photo courtesy of the trial
Now, I’m as much in favor of a good nap as the next guy, but a nap should be a break, not your default work mode.
On the other hand, working from home tends to blur the boundaries
between work and personal life — if you work too hard, you will have no
personal life left.
So how do we stay productive, and at the same time stay sane? As I recently quit my day job, I asked the readers for their advice. They came through, as always, and I’ve chosen a few
of my favorites for others to use as a guide (well, I’m going to use it
as a guide too).
A few caveats, before you dive into the list:
Again, these are from the readers, so you guys deserve all the credit.
Second, I edited them, so any typos are my fault. Third, this is a
compilation list, meaning that some tips may seem contradictory —
that’s because the best way to use this list is to find the ideas that
work for you, and give them a try. If they don’t work, come back to the
list and find a few more ideas. Don’t try to implement them all, and
certainly not all at once.
Thank you, readers!
1. Define your spaces; separate work from home.
Have a room dedicated to working. Don’t do it wherever you happen to
be. Set aside some space, preferably a room (it doesn’t have to be big)
to be your workspace. That way, when you enter it, you know consciously
what you’re there to do: go to work. It changes the state of mind from
“I’m at home” to “I’m at work”.
2. Set regular hours, and stick to the schedule.
3. Don’t stay unshaved in pajamas. Instead, have breakfast, have a shower, get dressed. Then make a list of sensible tasks for the day and get started.
4. Close the door. It’ll be very easy to leave the
door to whatever room or space you set apart to be your workplace open.
Don’t do it. If the door is open, that represents something to you, and
to your family. To you, it represents the idea that if it’s a bit
tough, or you don’t feel like working today, you don’t have to. To your
family, it represents the idea that Dad is around, and I can go and
talk to him.
5. Keep your desk and general work area tidy. A tidy workspace helps keep a tidy mind, which helps make your day more productive.
6. Turn off the telephone when you need to work without distraction. Turn off IM and email notifications too. In fact, if possible, shut off the Internet.
7. Don’t stop working if it’s a hard day. There’ll
be times when you haven’t got any ideas, or just don’t feel productive.
Train yourself to do some work anyway. It’s a short fall from “It’s
just not happening at the moment” to “It’s a bit tough, I’ll stop for
the day”. Next thing you know, you never seem to get anything done.
8. Keep three lists of three. The first list has
three things you will do today. The second is three things you’d like
to get done, but aren’t essential. The third is three things that need
to be done at some point. That way, when you’ve trogged through your
days work, you don’t end up sitting twiddling your thumbs.
9. Start the day properly. Have a good
breakfast, spend some time alone to just sit and do whatever. Relax,
let your mind wander. Pray. Just make sure that your mind isn’t in the
“I hate working” frame of mind.
10. Have a good chair. Mesh backed ones, or good comfy leather perhaps. It’s worth spending some money on.
11. Keep a notepad and pencil nearby. Jot down ideas
for blog posts, projects, anything that springs to mind. Then have a
pinboard to stick them on. Look at it twice a week to refresh your mind
of things that could be done sometime. Some of the best work you’ll
ever do will come from random bits of inspiration.
12. Give yourself breaks. Don’t be locked in the
room all the time. For every hour you work, have a 15-30 minute break.
Give your mind time to digest what it’s just done, then come back.
You’ll improve the quality of what you produce a hundredfold.
13. Don’t go back to work when you’ve finished. Had
a great idea for a post? Fantastic, write down the basics on a note,
and pin it up. Don’t go back to work when you’ve finished.
14. Schedule, if possible, around your natural schedule. Some people peak in the morning, others in the afternoon, still others at the witching hour.
15. Have a pint of water by your desk all the time. Try and work up to drinking a few pints a day, if you don’t already.
16. Be careful what music you listen to while you work.
Music, TV, the weather… Just about everything will influence your mood.
Some you can’t change, some you can. Make sure that you surround
yourself with things that will give you the best frame of mind for
whatever you’re about to do.
17. No turning on the computer for a quick email check or to
do 1 little thing until you’ve gotten “ready for work” as mentioned
above. The nuance is if you have nowhere to be, that 1 little
thing leads to showering at 2 in the afternoon with a splitting
headache because you’ve forgotten to eat etc.
18. Know when to stop. Don’t work late into the
night. Set defined times when you’re going to work, and then when it
passes, stop. You can have a bit of leeway here, but make sure that you
don’t end up letting work run your life.
“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” - Ovid
19. Don’t work an eight hour day. One reader works
about 5 hours, in four blocks of an hour, with a 20 minute gap between
each. If you do more than that, your attention might start to wander,
you’ll be restless and your work won’t have it’s normal level of
20. Designate certain days for certain work. For
example: file everything on Friday afternoon, no later than Saturday
morning. This allows you to walk out of your office for your “weekend”
without feeling like you left work unfinished.
21. Set boundaries for those around you as well.
Schedule your work time and make sure the kids and spouse know that you
are unavailable for playing, chores, etc. during this time.
22. Sound Canceling Headphones. Seriously useful if you have a 3-year-old.
23. Pay attention and crunch numbers with your accounts regularly.
You are less inclined to watch television when you realise how much it
can cost you to mess around. Put a reminder that “work NOT done = no
24. Have a good lunch. One readers suggested that something with good carb content works best. Puts you in the mood for the second half of the day.
25. Track your time. One reader suggested a simple
program called gtimelog (http://mg.pov.lt/gtimelog/). You enter what
you’ve done when you’ve completed it. It’s very simple and stays out of
your way. At the end of the day, week, you can see a summary. It also
allows you to break out work time vs. fun time in a simple manner.
26. Set online times. You don’t always need to be accessible for chit chat. This may be more applicable to telecommuters than the self-employed.
27. Don’t allow work to consume your life. Easier said than done when working from home. Make sure you set limits for the amount of time you will work.
28. Make time for people. When people ask, give
them what you can. Respond in some way to every email. It doesn’t
matter how long it takes you to get around to it. You don’t have to
reply that day. Just make sure you do. It matters.
29. Say thank you a lot. Figure out who the people
who have helped you and your blog (or your business) the most. If
you’re a blogger, that’s the readers, not the people who gave you
mentions on their big blogs. The people who have given their time and
energy to helping you get where you are. You owe your life from this
point on to them. Make sure they know you’re greatful.
30. Be grateful you’re working from home and not in some cubicle! That gratitude will motivate you to work harder, so you can continue to work from home.
See also: an excellent post at Productivity 501 on this topic (disclosure: I was one of the ones interviewed).
And lastly: EffingTheDog, a humorous productivity blog, interviewed me recently. Check it out. It’s a Stephen Colbert-type interview, so take it as a bit of fun.