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How to Work From Home and Actually Get Stuff Done

father working at home while holding son
Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock

Although working from home sounds lovely and relaxing, it has its own set of challenges. You need to be diligent about scheduling or risk getting distracted. Here are some easy steps for boosting your productivity.

Structure Your Day

You’re forced into a structure when you work in a traditional office environment. You have to get dressed (properly), commute, and attend meetings. You have the pressure of working around colleagues and you have defined times for starting and ending work.

It’s harder to implement structure when you’re on your own. However, creating a solid routine is key to being productive.

  • Wake up at a designated time: Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you should keep hitting snooze. One thing successful entrepreneurs have in common is that they get up early. Don’t let those productive hours slip by!
  • Get dressed: This will help switch your mindset to “work mode,” making you feel more productive. Resist the urge to work in your PJs: take a shower and fix yourself up, even if no colleagues will see you.
  • Do some work before breakfast: The usual recommendation is to start with a healthy breakfast, to fuel you for your busy day ahead. However, when you’re home all day, breakfast can be a drawn-out luxury, with reading, checking social media, and other distractions preventing you from getting started. Try diving into a quick work task, checking it off the list, and then sitting down to breakfast.
  • Prep meals in advance: Try prepping your breakfast and lunch the night before. Avoid the kitchen during your work day—you’ll be tempted to cook elaborate meals or waste time mopping the floor.
  • Eat in a separate space: Take your meal breaks away from your office—outside if possible. Pause all work activities, switch your phone to silent mode, enjoy the fresh air, and let your mind reset.
  • Exercise: One great thing about working from home is flexibility. Hit the gym early, do a YouTube yoga class from the comfort of your living room, or go for a quick run if you’re feeling stuck or need a mid-afternoon boost.
  • Utilize your productive time: Plan your day according to when you’re most alert and focused. If that happens to be first thing in the morning, then schedule demanding tasks at that time. If you experience a mid-afternoon slump, then plan on making phone calls, responding to emails, or meeting up with a colleague in person.
  • Set specific hours: Don’t let your work blend from morning to night without any definition. Set boundaries, just like an office job would do. This might look like 9-5, or you can start at 8 and finish at 4. Some home workers even break their day into two different four-hour blocks with a rest period between them.
  • Minimize interruptions: If you have others in your home during the work day, post a Do Not Disturb sign on your door or have a whiteboard that lists your work hours. When you first start working from home, the people you live with will assume that you’re home (and therefore available to them) instead of at work.

Create a Proper Office Space

Home office interior
Pushish Images/Shutterstock

It can be tempting to work from bed or while snuggling with the cat on the couch. But research shows that a well-designed, functional office space can increase productivity by 20%. Take the time to make your office shine, your work will pay off.

  • Separate space: If you have a spare room in your house, convert it to your office space. If you’re in a tiny loft apartment, create some fun room dividers to make your office separate from the rest of your living space.
  • Natural light: Try to maximize natural light, putting your work desk by a window. Remember, natural light boosts productivity!
  • Create stimulating visuals: Brighten up your workspace with lively art, blooming flowers, fresh plants, knickknacks, inspirational posters, relevant books, and so on.

Remember, you don’t necessarily need a separate room or fancy office furniture. Even if you’re working on a small desk at the side of an existing room, the important part is that it’s your space to work.

The Daunting To-Do List

Writing out a realistic to-do list is crucial to staying on track when you’re working solo. Don’t write down everything that needs to happen that week, instead write a detailed list for that day (with no more than 10-15 tasks). Focus completely on each task at hand; otherwise, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Set time limits for each job, rewarding yourself with a short break after each task is completed.

Avoid Social Media

This is easier said than done. It’s the ultimate distraction, even in an office setting. You have to be extra diligent at home since no one is there to reign you in.

  • Set up a separate toolbar on Google Chrome: Here are some tips on creating separate profiles, one for work use and one for personal use.
  • Log out of all social media accounts: This will make it harder to quickly check what’s happening on Facebook the minute you hit a wall.
  • Install a social media blocker: Sadly, social media is death to productivity. Here’s a list of the top 10 apps to help block distractions. Some allow you to use specific websites (if needed for research), whereas others block everything for a set period of time. This is a great way to delve deep into whatever task is at hand.

Schedule in Breaks

Woman walking Labrador Retriever on lead in park
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

This does not mean binge-watching Netflix or sprawling out on the couch, scrolling through Instagram. Go for a quick jog, do some stretches, sit outside with a cup of tea, or recenter with some mindful meditation (check out the best 10 meditation apps for stressed-out entrepreneurs).

And yes, household chores can be used as breaks if you use the time wisely. Don’t get distracted by whipping up a gourmet lunch or re-organizing the garage. Stick to simple chores, such as starting a load of laundry or running the dishwasher. Then, commit to finishing a task on your to-do list before moving on to the next chore.

Personal appointments, however, do not count as productive breaks. Avoid scheduling a haircut in the middle of the day—this will break your flow and lead to too many distractions. Limit appointments to the weekend if possible or set one day of the week where you regularly book appointments. If you do have appointments during the week, try to book them early in the morning or late in the day, so as not to disrupt your work hours.

Don’t Be a Hermit

Human interaction is important for creativity, productivity, and well, keeping us sane and balanced.

If you’re feeling stuck or distracted by everything at home, mix it up. Find a local coffee shop, a public library, or even a busy restaurant. The stimulation of being around people will get you out of your funk, and start creative juices flowing again.

This doesn’t mean inviting friends over or turning your home into a social zone. Having a quick lunch with a friend is fine, but remember to stay on the clock and treat each day as a proper work day.

Connecting with work colleagues can help with motivation and focus. Use various platforms to check in regularly, such as Slack, Google Hangouts, or Skype. Ask what their goals are for the day, and list your agenda. Having an accountability partner will go a long way. But don’t get distracted by sharing cute kitten videos.

Working from home has many benefits, which is why it’s becoming increasingly popular. But you have to be prepared to stay on top of your schedule, limit distractions, and stick to specific hours. Stay vigilant and your productivity will continue to increase.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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