Working from home is awesome. For one, I don’t have to leave the house on the coldest day of the year. It’s been a solid couple of weeks in the negative twenties Celsius around here. Brrr. Secondly, as a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother of three children 8 and under, it’s very convenient to be able to choose when and how I want to work.
Being my own boss is freeing. But then there’s the problem that many entrepreneurs struggle with: too much freedom sometimes equals too little discipline. Some of us need to leave the house to be more productive. But for those of us who enjoy staying warm in our houses in the winter, or for the homebodies who would rather not leave their cozy spaces, here are some tips on how to stay productive.
1. If at all possible, have a designated work space.
Having a space designated solely for your work can help you get in the mood to do that work.
I find it difficult to concentrate on the work I need to do if the dishes from supper are within sight, or if there’s some kind of mess that needs cleaning.
My awesome husband created a lovely space for me to work at home, and I find I’m much more productive when I can close the door and concentrate on the tasks at hand.
The space doesn’t have to be fancy or huge: my office is in a tiny storage room. Some people choose to create cloffices. Whatever you choose, having a place to keep your work related things could help you focus and stay productive.
2. Set times for your workday on the day before
One of the best things about working for myself is being able to set my own schedule.
Unfortunately, the reality of being a homeschooling mom working part-time is that my schedule isn’t always consistent. And an inconsistent schedule can often mean half-finished work. And for freelance writers, half-finished work means you business goes under. Since I obviously want my small business to be succesfull, I need to ensure I open up time in my schedule to get my work done. But how can I do that when my attention is constantly pulled in 100 different directions?
One of the ways I combat this is to set a work schedule for the following day on the evening prior. I discuss these hours with my husband, write it down on my day book, and designate them as sacred work time.
But, since I do have children and I’m working from home, I make sure I’m still available for the children as well. I do allow interruptions (unless I’m on a call), because my family is the reason I’m working in the first place. Remembering your priorities is of the utmost importance.
3. Use a timing system
A common problem writers talk about is lack of time. Another is inability to focus for extended periods. This last one is particularly true for those of us who struggle with ADHD, or even for those of us who just have multiple interests. Lack of time and inability to focus are not insurmountable… and a few tweaks may help you to overcome these problems in record time.
For many writers, lack of time is a real problem—hey, you’re reading something by a homeschooling mother of 3 kids who freelances on the side here—I get it. But for many others, lack of time is just a perception. How many minutes are you wasting on social media “for work” when it’s not actually work? Losing yourself in “research” for a piece, when a simple skim of that blog post would suffice? Let’s be honest, we all do it.
To combat these issues, building in breaks where you are allowed to “waste that time well” works wonders. That means that you’re not allowed to waste time except during those breaks. Allowing yourself to waste time feels freeing, and actually helps you get more work done.
One idea is to use the Pomodoro Technique. You can use a physical timer or an online one. The idea is that you work for 25 minutes solid without distraction, and then take a 5-minute break. You can do whatever you want during those 5 minutes, including surfing the net for fun (though getting up and stretching would probably be a better use of that time—just saying).
I use the Pomodoro Technique when I’m doing a task that I’m not particular thrilled about (a difficult edit, for example). But when I’m writing and I get going, I can spend an hour or two writing, so I’ll ignore the timer. Remember what Jet Li said and “adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” Use a timer, but adapt techniques to suit your needs.
4. Use time-tracking software
Speaking of wasting time o social media, perhaps you’re not being entirely honest with yourself when it comes to how much time you actually have. Why not use time-tracking software for a week to see where all your time’s actually going?
Time tracking software can also be extremely helpful if you charge by the hour (though you shouldn’t). If you do decide to track your time, there are several free options online, as well as free apps for your phone. I choose to track my working time on a website.
I’ve been using Time Panther since the beta version came out, and I find it works very well. In addition to tracking your time, it automatically calculates your rate if charging by the hour (though you shouldn’t), and has other useful features. It’s worth checking out. Although be warned, the creators seem to have abandoned the project, so you won’t get support. Another option is ClickUp, which has many more features than time Panther, including a time-tracking function, I believe.
5. Build in snack breaks
How many times have you gotten bored or distracted as you were working on a difficult piece, and headed to the fridge to grab a snack? Were you even hungry? Mindless snacking is bad for productivity as well as for your waistline.
Set yourself snack breaks and only go get that snack when that alarm goes off. That’ll also help you with mindful eating.
6. Reward yourself for completed tasks
Build in little rewards into your day. Create your daily checklist and create a reward for when all those tasks are completed. For example, I enjoy doodling in my day book. So if I finish a task on time, I reward myself with some extra doodling time.
Find out what motivates you and add mini-rewards to your day. It may help you get more work done, and it’ll probably make you happier, too.
Do you have any other ideas for staying productive when working from home? Let us know in the comments!