1. Get started early.
When working in an office, your morning commute can help you wake up and feel ready to work by the time you get to your desk. At home, however, the transition from your pillow to your computer can be much more jarring.
Believe it or not, one way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. Simply getting a project started first thing in the morning can be the key to making progress on it gradually throughout the day. Otherwise, you'll prolong breakfast and let the morning sluggishness wear away your motivation.
"When I work from home, I wake up, put on a pot of coffee, and start working immediately -- much earlier normal working hours. I only start making breakfast once I've hit a wall or need a break. I'm a morning person and find I can get a ton done in the early morning hours, so this works really well for me."
- Lindsay Kolowich
2. Pretend like you are going into the office.
The mental association you make between work and an office can make you more productive, and there's no reason that feeling should be lost when telecommuting.
When working from home, do all the things you'd do to prepare for an office role: Set your alarm, make (or go get) coffee, and wear nice clothes. Internet browsers like Google Chrome even allow you to set up multiple accounts with different toolbars on the top -- for example, a toolbar for home and a separate toolbar for work.
"Get fully ready for the day and pretend you're actually going to work. Otherwise, you might find yourself back in bed."
- Anna Faber-Hammond
3. Structure your day like you would in the office.
When working from home, you're your own personal manager. Without things like an in-person meeting schedule to break up your day, you can be quick to lose focus or burn out.
To stay on schedule, segment what you'll do and when over the course of the day. If you have an online calendar, create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. Google Calendar makes this easy.
"Are mornings for writing while you're in the office? Use the same schedule at home. While you probably will get tasks done faster at home than at work, this structure will help keep you focused and productive."
- Ginny Mineo
4. Choose a dedicated workspace.
Just because you're not working at an office doesn't mean you can't, well, have an office. Rather than cooping yourself up in your room or on the couch -- spaces that are associated with leisure time -- dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to work.
"Have a place you go specifically to work. It could be a certain table, chair, local coffee shop -- someplace that's consistently your 'work space.' It helps you get into the right frame of mind."
- Sam Mallikarjunan
5. Make it harder for yourself to mess around on social media.
Social media is designed to make it easy for you to open and browse quickly. At work, though, this convenience can be the detriment of your productivity.
To counteract your social networks' ease of use during work hours, remove them from your browser shortcuts and, according to Fast Company, log out of every account. You might even consider working primarily in private or if you're using Chrome, an "Incognito" browser window. This ensures you stay signed out of all your accounts, and each web search you conduct doesn't autocomplete the word you're typing. It's a guarantee that you won't be tempted into taking too many social breaks during the day.
"I remove all social networks from my toolbar bookmarks. Even if I don't mean to browse them, some uncontrollable impulse subconsciously clicks on them when I experience downtime. You can get sucked in without knowing it (or even intending to), so eliminating the gateway to those networks keeps me on track."
- Alec Biedrzycki
6. Commit to doing more.
Projects always take longer than you initially think they will. For that reason, you'll frequently get done less than you set out to do. So, just as you're encouraged to overestimate how much time you'll spend doing one thing, you should also overestimate how many things you'll do during the day. Even if you come up short of your goal, you'll still come out of that day with a solid list of tasks filed under 'complete.'
"Our team has a daily standup meeting each morning where we share what we're working on for the day. On days I'm working from home, I tend to slightly overcommit on what I'll deliver that day. It helps keep me honest, so even if I get the urge to go do something else, I know I've already committed a certain amount of work to my team."
- Corey Wainwright
7. Work when you're at your most productive.
Nobody sprints through their work from morning to evening -- your motivation will naturally ebb and flow throughout the day. When you're working from home, however, it's all the more important to know when those ebbs and flows will take place and plan your schedule around it.
To capitalise on your most productive periods, save your harder tasks for when you know you'll be in the right headspace for them. Use slower points of the day to knock out the easier, logistical tasks that are also on your plate. Verily Magazine calls these tasks "small acts of success," and they can help build your momentum for the heavier projects that are waiting for you later on.
"For me, the most productive times of the day are usually early in the morning or late at night. I recognise this and try to plan my day accordingly. Also, music that really pumps me up doesn't hurt."
- Brittany Leaning
8. Save calls for the afternoon.
Sometimes, I’m so tired in the morning; I don’t even want to hear my own voice – let alone talk to others with it. You shouldn’t have to give yourself too much time to become productive in the morning, but you can give yourself some extra time before working directly with others.
If you’re struggling to come up with a reasonable work schedule for yourself as a telecommuter, start with the solitary tasks in the morning. Save phone calls, meetings, and other collaborative work for when you’ve officially “woken up.”
“Take advantage of morning hours to crank through meaty projects without distractions and save any calls or virtual meetings for the afternoon.”
- James Gilbert
9. Focus on one distraction ... like a baby!
There's an expression out there that says, "if you want something done, ask a busy person."
The bizarre but true rule of productivity is that the busier you are, the more you'll actually do. It's like Newton's law of inertia: If you're in motion, you'll stay in motion. If you're at rest, you'll stay at rest. And busy people are in fast-enough motion that they have the momentum to complete anything that comes across their desk.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find things to help you reach that level of busyness when you’re at home – your motivation can just swing so easily. HubSpot’s principal marketing manager, Pam Vaughan, suggests focusing in on something that maintains your rhythm (in her case, it’s her daughter).
“When I work from home, my 20-month-old daughter is home with me, too. It seems counterintuitive, but because I have to manage taking care of her and keeping her happy and entertained while still getting my work done, the pressure helps to keep me focused. When she’s napping or entertaining herself, I go into super-productive work mode.
It’s the same idea for why some people work better when they have very busy schedules – you learn how to manage your time VERY efficiently. The ‘distraction’ of my daughter (I mean that in the most loving way possible) means I can’t possibly succumb to some of the other common distractions of home – putting in a load of laundry, turning on the TV, doing other household chores – or else I’d never get any actual work done.”
- Pamela Vaughan
10. Plan out what you'll be working on ahead of time.
Spending time figuring out what you'll do today can take away from actually doing those things. And, you'll have planned your task list so recently that you can be tempted to change your schedule on the fly.
It's important to let your agenda change if you need it to, but it's equally as important to commit to an agenda that outlines every assignment before you begin. Try solidifying your schedule the day before, making it feel more official when you wake up the next day to get started on it.
"If I'm planning on working from home on a certain day, I'll make sure to get any work done ahead of time that requires me to be in the office -- for example, if I'm working on a task that would be infinitely easier to complete with access to my large monitor screen, or need to schedule meetings with coworkers that are best had in person. Plan out your week in advance to optimize for the environments you'll be in."
- Niti Shah
Want to find out more tips on being productive when working from home, read part two here!