Following our relocation last year, I made the decision to focus full-time on my business and writing so I now work from home. However, working from home brings with it new challenges.
So I thought I’d make today’s article about best practices to stay productive. And since I have only been working from home for a year, I cajoled a few of my writer friends from Twitter to share their advice here too. 🙂
Here are 5 tips I have picked up for being productive while working from home.
Create a Schedule
Treat it like a real job. Set a schedule for when you start, when you finish, when you have breaks and stick to it.
Time seems to slip away from you while working from home and it can be easy to let yourself get sidetracked.
Have a Dedicated Space
If possible, have a dedicated space for your work. This helps to create a barrier between home life and work life.
If you have a separate room, make sure everyone knows that when you’re in that room, you’re working.
Still getting interrupted, make it REALLY clear. Stick a note on your door that you aren’t to be disturbed.
Get a Comfy Chair
I currently still have the old desk chair that I never had any problems with. However, I only ever used it during the weekends and holidays, when I worked away in an office.
Now I am in it all day and I realise it is not doing me any favours.
Spend some cash, get a good comfortable chair that gives excellent back support or even try a standing desk.
Be Clear With Family Members
I am still working on this one as my family seem incapable of understanding that I work from home and despite being in another country, often call or text me for favours or just to chat.
In the past, I would just ignore those calls, but sadly we’ve had several family emergencies in the past 2 years (including near-death situations and missing persons) so now I have to answer “just in case”.
Hopefully, your situation won’t be like that, in which case be very clear about your working schedule to reduce interruptions.
Don’t Forget To Eat
When we work at home there is often no one there to remind us it’s time for lunch. Also, when you work in an office with other people, you are more likely to be waiting for lunchtime so you can get away from your desk, have a chat and bitch about your boss.
If I didn’t have an alarm to remind me to take lunch, I’d live on cups of tea and air while working. Which isn’t a healthy option. Also, try and eat away from your workspace. Take it as an actual break.
Now for even more advice on staying productive while working from home.
Discipline is a state of mind. You will find distractions anytime you don’t want to do something but the biggest aid in getting work done has been consistency.
I make sure to be available at the same time every day. I treat the commute downstairs the same as the drive to the office. TVs, radios, internet, these things are limited, even though I spend more time on Twitter than I ought to.
The most I’ll do is have an audiobook playing in the background. I take lunch on a schedule and basically treat the whole thing as a normal job in a comfortable location.
I even have an office, because when you don’t have a workspace of your own it makes it difficult to get going usually.
When you are home, people in your household assume that you are available to help with whatever they need. This includes giving rides, picking up groceries, running errands, etc. So if you’re going to make the freelance lifestyle work, here are a few rules you should follow.
1.) Your office space should be a distraction-free zone. If you’re like me and you love video games, it’s very important that you do not open any applications to said video games. If your work doesn’t require you to be on the Internet, disconnect the internet.
2.) Set a schedule for when you are going to work. If your client needs to interact with you in the morning, work from 9-5pm. If you work better at night, set your night hours. Point is, you should condition your brain to get into work mode around a certain schedule.
If you wake up late, you’re late for work. Having a routine will remind your brain that you are not on vacation, you do not have the day off, you have work you need to get done.
3.) Make sure everyone in your household understands that YOU ARE WORKING. Just because you’re home it does not mean you are available to be hassled. Set strict boundaries and enforce them. Unless it’s an emergency, you should not be disturbed.
4.) It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the work. Make sure to pace yourself and take breaks. Spend 40 minutes doing your job with intense focus then take a break. You don’t want to burn yourself out for working too hard.
5.) This tip is harder to explain but leave yourself hungry to finish a project. Let’s say I’m writing a scene for a book. Most authors will write everything down until they are creatively spent. But then what happens?
You finished all your important scenes and now you don’t know what to do next because you burned yourself out. If you are about to finish a scene, you know how it ends, you know how you’re going to write, stop and call it a day.
Tackle that scene tomorrow so that when you finish it the next day, you will feel ready to write the next scene without having to slow down. This same rule can apply to your freelance work.
Don’t give everything you’ve got at the beginning. Spread it out evenly and give yourself time to step back, get some rest, and attack it the next day or after a long break.
I treated my desk at home as if I was in my cube at work. So, no TV or any entertainment consumption other than music. I tried to work within a window as well. For example, I would give myself about 8 to 10 hours to get work done.
By, say 6pm, I needed to be finished which held my focus. If anything else came up that wasn’t critical for that day, I would put it on my next day’s to-do. Having that daily goal really helped.
Finally, I would allow myself a treat like getting to go on a coffee break to my favourite local coffee shop. Something I couldn’t do at the office and something to look forward to in the middle of the afternoon while working from home.
1. I will leave my phone charging or in another room and set a timer on it. Usually for one hour. I find that if I have my phone on me I am often distracted by Twitter, Facebook, or whatever other social media I may be looking at.
Once the timer goes off, I will give myself 10 minutes to catch up, put my phone back down, and set another timer.
2. If I have my kids at home during my work hours I will usually do a balance. I do not like them to sit on technology all day long, but I do not like them getting bored either.
We keep a “craft closet” stocked with construction paper, pencils, markers, scissors, paint, etc. and have them work on a major craft. We keep old boxes from Amazon or wherever and have them use those for their creations. While they craft, I focus on work until it is time for the next craft or activity.
3. I keep a notebook or pad of paper handy next to my computer to put stuff in a “parking lot” for later. Since most of the time, all I can focus on is what I want to write in my book, as inspiration hits me I write it down on the parking lot to revisit after work hours.
Well, each person would have their own distractions I am sure. Pets, children, spouses etc..So if questioning single writers, then my answers would be as follows:
I myself write late at night best. that time being after 11:00pm or so. All the lights in my house are off, I then light a candle or two for ambience, I usually listen to Dark Ambient Viking or Celtic music with no lyrics to set my mood.
Then I take my list of what I want to write and pick from that. I try to set a goal of X amount of words per sitting and have that on a sticky note on my screen.. I also usually make sure I have a drink and some munchies near so I do not have to get up.
I invested in a really comfy chair also for ergonomics and body stress so I can write longer without becoming sore. As for staying focused, I have my favourite book I read as a child also in front of me on my desk as an incentive.
Seeing that someone can write something I enjoyed, helps make me want to do the same for someone else in return. And when I finish my first book here in another month or so, I intend to at the very least, have a hard copy printed to sit beside it as a reward.
Susan L. Urasky
I learned it’s essential to write daily and working from home could prove difficult.
Knowing yourself is critical, I have worked from home in previous jobs, Medical sales & dabbled in politics. It is easy to go out to the pool on a warm summer’s day. Knowing how I can misbehave, I learned to be more goal-oriented.
I set short & long-range goals: My goal is to complete my first rough draft by October 1. I rise early at about 6:00 AM & consume an abundant supply of coffee, it’s quiet and my husband is at work. I begin writing or researching my subject (my novel requires quite a bit of medical research).
Setting deadlines is when my writing takes shape if my writing coach asked for a revised outline, I set a deadline as to the completion of that specific task. (I ‘m behind on that one since we broke up the whole plot & outline…still working on that.) But I don’t beat myself up.
Avoiding distractions such as TV is critical unless it’s breaking news, great sprinklers for my garden, came in handy to free up time spent watering. At 3:00 PM I check to see what I am making for dinner and prepare it ahead of time, then cook to be ready at 6:00 PM.
Chores need to be done, I use the urgent scorecard to determine what I will tackle. No underwear is an urgency, but handling household chores is paced and completed done before noon.
If I am not actively writing, I am researching the topic & building social media which is a must in the publishing world today, though technically challenged I must admit.
Whether it be character building, revising my outline, or getting the story down on the page, something is happening Monday through Friday regardless. I finish my day after dinner time.
Having a support system in place has been helpful, I can sound off on my accomplishments or complain about what didn’t get done. Having a cheerleader makes writing less lonely.
Appointments, writing groups, meeting with friends are all scheduled when I know I can allow myself to take a break. Breaks are crucial, I find I am refreshed after meeting a friend for lunch or take off the whole day.
In summary, working from home is less distractive when the pace you set is reasonable. Much will be accomplished when goals are not set too high in my opinion.
My best advice for staying focused and disciplined is to set working hours and make a schedule for yourself that you stick to.
I start work at 8am every day by checking my emails and social media. Then from 9-11 I prep packages for orders and answer customer messages on my website.
11-12 I usually go to the post office to drop off packages. 12-1 is lunch and I play around on social media or catch up on YouTube stuff.
Then 1-5 is working on new items and shopkeeping stuff like the books and ordering supplies. I end for the day and go make dinner lol.
Consistent scheduling is the key to success. Knowing how you work is always important! Some people need more breaks than I do!
1. Keep your phone off & check messages/emails at specific times.
2. Schedule phone conferences & bill for time.
3. Get dressed. It’s easier to focus when you’re not in pajamas.
4. Hold boundaries with those who say, “since you’re home anyway, can you just. . .” No. I’m WORKING.
5. Keep an organized calendar & your files handy.
6. Know when to be flexible & do something unique & different outside the house. That’s why you work from home. To set your schedule.
7. Know your own biorhythms. When do you write best? Research best? Edit best? Interact best? Schedule as much as you can by that.
8. Take breaks, eat lunch, re-institute cocktail hour at the end of the day!
I keep my calendar and to-do list on the same page of a notebook. It’s essentially a messy bullet journal. It helps me be realistic about what I can accomplish in a day.
All the tasks on the to-do list have to be acted on that day, even if it means rescheduling it to another day.
I also get motivated by deadlines and will impose them on myself even if a client doesn’t have one.
Designate a workspace tailored to you and conducive to YOUR working habits. Not everyone is the same so not all workspaces will be the same. If you work best in silence and low light, make sure your workspace reflects that.
If you can’t work without noise and the sun on your skin, make your space sunny and filled with music. Do what you need to be comfortable. (Within reason, of course.)
Observe your approved break and lunch periods. When working from home, the temptation can arise to work through a break or lunch, particularly when your workload is high… but you need rest.
You will work more efficiently when your body and mind have been cared for. Give yourself the time you need to renew your energy.
Don’t allow yourself to get distracted. Put your phone away. Stay off social media. Ignore non-work-related calls. All of those things will be waiting for you on your breaks or lunch or when you’re done with the day. Prioritize and focus on what you need to do to reach your work goals.
If you need help, reach out to a colleague. Don’t keep spinning your wheels on something because there’s no one physically present to ask about it. Send an email or pick up the phone and call to get the answer or direction you need.
Sometimes, working from home can feel lonely and isolating. It doesn’t hurt to briefly check in with a trusted colleague or mentor if you are feeling like you need contact with another human being.
This can be as simple as sending a “hello” or “Happy Friday/Monday” meme back and forth. As long as you are respectful of your colleague’s time and don’t distract him or her for long, a simple “hello” can go miles to making you feel less like a solitary troll on an island of work.
A big thank you to my 10 guests who shared their own experiences and best practices for working from home. Do take a moment to check out their links.
If you have any advice yourself, please leave it in the comments section below. I would love to hear from you.