When I tell people I work from home, they get all gooey, sigh and say, “That must be SO great!”
It certainly can be, but it’s not the Nirvana they think.
Working from home – especially if you share it with young children or another adult who also works from home – can be a greater challenge to productivity than working in a busy, noisy office with lots of distractions.
Here are some tips for improving your productivity in your home office.
Routines and rhythms
- Set up a regular work schedule – and stick to it. Flexibility is one of the biggest attractions of a home office is that they can be flexible in their work hours. You can shop when the stores are empty, chaperone your kids’ field trips or get your tires rotated when everyone else is stuck in an office.
However, they should be the exception to your work schedule, not the rule. The work still needs to be done, and by heedlessly interrupting your work day, you’re just extending the number of hours you work. Decide when you want to work – adding in time for breaks – and stick to that schedule.
- Create rituals. Morning rituals (whenever your “morning” starts) are important. They start your day with structure and allow you to gradually ramp up your energy level so you’re ready to tackle your most important task of the day.
For optimal productivity, your rituals should include at a minimum a meal for energy, a big glass of cold water to rehydrate your brain after sleep (our brains are 75% water and the temperature will help wake you up), and dressing for work.
Yes. Get dressed for work. If you’re a woman, you may want to forgo the makeup, but working in your jammies all day long doesn’t get your head in the right place for getting things done.
- Plan your work and work your plan. I used to plan in the morning when I worked in corporate America. Once I went into business for myself, I found I could sleep better when I had my following day mapped out. As an added bonus, I could jump into my most important task of the day right away. Do a brain dump of all the things that need to get done, then prioritize.
- Use time blocking. This was one of the most important things I learned after devoting myself full time to my own business. Set aside a specific amount of time to do specific tasks, and make that a routine, too. Entrepreneurs need to block out time to work ON their business, during the the time when they are most productive. For most of us, that’s 2.5 hours about 2 hours after we wake up.
- Prepare for the next task. Clear away everything associated with what you’ve just completed and set yourself up for your next task. File the papers. Close unneeded tabs on your computer. Get the files or emails that are required to tackle the next job.
- Drink water throughout the day. I’m bad about this, so I’ve got a routine – drink a glass of water and after I…er…recycle it, go back and have another glass. And repeat.
- Plan – and take – breaks. You. Must. Eat. Lunch. Food is the fuel that will get you through your afternoon slump. Get away from your desk, go light and take it easy on the complex carbs, which take a lot of energy to process and have a tendency to drag down your energy level.
And taking breaks mean getting up from your computer – without your phone – and going into another room or outside to enjoy nature.
- Consider an extended break right after lunch. You’re digesting your food, and you’re probably a little sluggish, so take a 20-minute nap. If you can’t sleep, just recline and close your eyes.
If you’re a coffee drinker, consider an espresso nap. Take a shot of espresso, then lie down. It will take about 20 minutes for the caffeine to ramp up your system and by the time your alarm goes off 20 minutes later, you’ll be buzzed enough to face your afternoon tasks.
- Disconnect when your workday is over. This is “you” time to spend on things that are fun and relaxing. If you must work, OK, but don’t make it a habit. Working consistently more than 10 hours a day dramatically increase your chance of heart disease.
Shut off all your electronics – including TV – about 90 minutes before you go to bed. The blue light emitted by your devices simulates daylight, which inhibits the melatonin production that is a vital part of sleep. And don’t work in bed – that’s for sex and sleep.
Headspace and workspace
There are certain things in your environment – and in your head – that will help you work productively from home.
- Your very own dedicated computer. No sharing.
- A flat surface. This is your workspace.
- A comfortable chair. This could be the most important of all. Make sure the seat and back adjust; get one with arm rests, too.
- Good lighting. Important to prevent eye fatigue and to be able to clearly see what you’re doing.
- Clean workspace. It just feels better to be in clean surroundings. There is nothing more distracting than having a bunch of crap cluttering up your office. (Looking at this woman’s office at the right makes me break out in hives.) Americans waste nearly an hour a day looking for things. What could you do with that hour?
- Temps above 65. If your office is too cold, it inhibits productivity. Probably because you’re shivering too much to hit the right keys.
- Control the distractions you can. These are ringing phones, new emails, social media and the like. If you have a door, close it. If there is ambient noise in your environment, get noise-cancelling headphones.
- Good communication skills. Tell your family members/roommates when you are working and need to focus without interruption. Then ask them to honor that. A sweetener you can throw in: “The sooner I finish this project, the more time I’ll have to spend with you.”