work from home productivity

The Pragmatic Guide To Being Productive When You Work From Home

Working in your pajamas.

The ultimate lifestyle. The ultimate dream of working from home.

The magic unicorn that does not exist.

OK, let me rephrase that. It is possible and you can, in fact, work in your PJs all the day long, but few people ever do (at least not the ones that want to be productive, as you’ll see later on).

A traditional setting is pretty straightforward: you are at the office, you work (or at least that is what you are supposed to do), when at home, you relax. When home and office are the same space, the line between them gets really fuzzy. How do you differentiate between work and relax, between office and home, when you stay in the same room all day long? Not as easy as one would think.

Working from home is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Like anything else in life, it comes with some major benefits, but also with it’s own unique set of challenges. It can be hard at first and it takes some getting used to, but it can lead to major productivity boosts. Studies have shown that people who work from home are on average 13% more productive than their office counterparts.

Unfortunately, this increased productivity does not come just because you stay at home more (I wish). You need to have a specific mindset and follow a set of true and battle-tested best practices.

Let’s dig into them.

1. Have a work schedule

I know, I know, the desire of not having a strict schedule is one of the major reasons you want to work from home. I get it. But a schedule of some kind is still needed if you want to get things done.

People who work in an office have a start and an end time. To stay productive at home, you should have one too. Of course, be more flexible with it (what is the point of working from home otherwise), but still have a start and an end time.

This will help you develop a productive working routine. The line between work and doing some other activity is very blurry. Having a schedule will help you make it more clear. If it is 9 AM on a Tuesday morning, even though you are just feet away from your bed, you know you should be working and not watching TV. The place does not change, so you need to introduce another change so you can tell your brain it is time to work. The easiest change you can implement (and most productive one) is to go according to time (aka, having a schedule).

2. Have an office space

If you have an entire room to call a home office, awesome. If not, dedicate a specific space in your house that you will affectionately call “the office” from now on. It can be a separate desk, your favorite chair, a spot on the couch, whatever works best for you. Pick it, stick with it and don’t use it for any other activity.

Having a dedicated office space at home will make it easier for you to switch to work mode. Once you get accustomed to doing work in your “office”, your brain will make the right associations. In the same way you associate a bed with sleeping and relaxing because that is what you usually do there, it is important to have a space that is associated with work and being productive.

3. Dress to impress (yourself at least)

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Everyone who is trying to sell you online on the work-from-home lifestyle will tell you that you can work in your pajamas or boxers. Not a good idea.

Putting on your “work” clothes is just like dedicating a space to call an “office”: a mind trick that makes it easier to switch between work and everything else. You don’t have to wear a suit or uncomfortable shoes, not at all. You can work in your sweatpants or something comfortable, as long as you choose an outfit, call it “work clothes” and don’t use it for anything else.

It is all a matter of associations.

When you are about to head out on a Friday evening for a night on the town, you put on specific clothes. Even though you are still at home and nothing has really changed, you have not experienced anything different yet, as soon as you dress up you feel different. More energetic, more excited. It is all because unconsciously your brain has associated being in these clothes with a good time so it is giving you a little taste of it, even before the good time hasn’t actually started. If you were to wear the same clothes to a funeral, the same clothes would have a different meaning, even though they are exactly the same.

Dressing up with a specific set of clothes when you work will cause your brain to form the right association with them and make the transition between go time and no-go time much easier.

4. Limit distractions

home distractionsEach interruption costs you 21 minutes of lost focus, regardless of your place of work. The major difference between an office and your home, is the quantity of distractions.

When you work in a traditional setting, other people around you are generally there for the same reason, to work. Everyone is busy with their own tasks so people don’t interfere with one another, at least not too much.

At home is a different story. You are surrounded by family, roommates and even pets, and they can be a major, never-ending source of distractions. For most of them it is hard to grasp the concept that you are working, especially if they do that in an office. For the majority of people, work and home don’t mix so unconsciously they don’t fully understand that this is not that case for you.

You need to clearly communicate to everyone around you that you are working and what that means to your interaction with them during those times. Setting the clear expectation that it is best for you not to be interrupted while “at work” will minimize a lot of the distractions. Tell everyone, family and friends, to pretend you simply aren’t there, unless it’s a dire emergency.

Create a Do Not Disturb (DND) sign of some kind. Something that clearly indicates you are in the middle of something. A closed door, putting on headphones, even putting up a physical sign are all good examples. Come up with something that works best for you, explain to everyone at home what it means and start using it.

Of course, not all distractions come from people. You need to handle all other sources such as your phone, your computer and even outside noise. Here is how to do it. And it distractions do occur (and you know they will), here is the best way to recover from them quickly and easily.

5. Keep your home organized (all of it)

When your home is your place of work it is important to keep it clear and organized, even the areas that are outside your “office”. If you have unwashed dishes in the sink, you might see them during one of your short breaks and decide to extend the break so you can take care of them. While a noble and innocent deed at a first glance, it can be a productivity killer. Would you wash the dishes at an actual office in the middle of the day? Certainly not. Use the same logic at home as well. If it’s something you would not consider doing in an office, don’t do it during your work hours at home.

This is all made easier if you are not faced with the choice at all by doing the dishes the night before or before you start work. Keeping your home clean, neat and organized will minimize distraction and help you concentrate on your actual work.

6. Prevent social isolation

Working from home is very fun, but it can get lonely at times. In an office setting you get to interact with people because you are surrounded by them. While at home, typically, your best friend is a computer screen and that can lead to feelings of isolation that are not good for your focus and productivity.

People are social creatures. We like to talk, see and interact with other people. It even leads to energy boosts. When you work from home, those interactions don’t come naturally so you need to schedule them. Here’s how:

  • Schedule meetings outside (you cannot really invite people to your office anyhow), preferably in a place with lots of other people such as a restaurant or a coffee shop.
  • Hit the gym – it is much easier and time-efficient to exercise at home, but consider switching that for a gym membership. This way you get your physical activity done surrounded by other people.
  • Take your longer breaks outside – when you take breaks, consider going for a walk. The fresh air will do you a world of good and you will be exposed to other people, even if they are complete strangers
  • Do as much as you can outside of home – when you work where you live, you tend to get used to staying there. You get comfortable and it might feel like a waste of time to get out for certain things that you can do at home. Don’t. Do as much as you can away from home. Instead of watching a movie on Netflix, go to the movies. Take out your spouse to a dinner in a restaurant every few days. It does not have to be a fancy one, it can be the local joint around the corner. As long as it gets you outside, anything goes. Look for, and take any opportunity to get outside. This will help you fight getting comfortable with doing everything at home which eventually leads to a feeling of loneliness and isolation which are major productivity killers.

7. Know when to stop

When people leave the office, they typically stop working. Same applies when you work from home. When you are done, you are done for the day. You might be tempted to check your email or sneak in a small task before dinner just because you can, but it is not a good idea. Fight that urge and stick to your schedule.

Always ask yourself the following question: “Is this important? If I had to physically drive to the office right now to accomplish this task, would I do it?”. If the answer is “no” (and it will be most of the times), leave that thing for tomorrow, when you are actually working.

Of course, some days will require you to stay late, skip dinner, pull an all-nighter even and that is OK. It is good that you can do it from the comfort of your home. Just don’t make it a habit. Once you are done, let yourself be done… for the day. No peeking at your email or computer, just because it is right there.

8. Get the right equipment

Working from home means you are the IT guy/gal in the office so make sure you are up to the task.

Familiarize yourself with the basics of maintaining a good healthy IT environment. You don’t have to geek out completely (unless you want to), but you need to know enough so little technical difficulties such as your internet connection going down or your printer not wanting to print don’t completely kill your day. There are plenty of free and inexpensive courses you can find online. Almost any issue you face can be easily resolved with a Google search so don’t sweat the tech too much beyond the basics.

Check the speed of your internet connection. Most tasks require internet so you need to make sure you have a fast connection or you risk spending a good portion of your day waiting for pages to load. If you have anything less than 10 mbps, consider upgrading it to something faster. Check with your internet service provider for small business plans and you might find yourself a good deal.

Get a printer, even if you think you don’t need one. Long gone are the days when printers were only found in an office because their price tag was in the 5 digit range. Today, you can find a printer-scanner-copier for less than $100 on Amazon (with free delivery). You might not use it every day, but you will use it on a regular basis. Having one at home will save you from having to make trips to Staples for just one page that you need to print for a meeting.

9. Have fun with it

Being productive when you work from home is mostly about trying to create a work routine and keep the experience as close to a real office as possible. But that means missing out on the biggest benefit of working from home – the freedom and ability to be random and do what you want, when you want. Have fun with it. Be random from time to time. You deserve a little fun. Watch an episode of your favorite show on Monday at 8 AM. Go out and treat yourself to a nice lunch at 3 PM on a Thursday. Make a surprise visit to your spouse or a close friend at his/her place of work.

Why? Just because you can.

Productivity is tightly related to your mental and physical state so making yourself happy will make you more productive even though it might not be practical.

10. A bonus tip – keep it professional

It is not really a productivity booster, but I wanted to mention it because it is important and unfortunately, often overlooked. Working from home is still “working” so you need to maintain a professional image. Hearing the TV in the background on a webinar or hearing the dog barking when talking to a client does not boost your credibility.

People judge, you know they do, so don’t give them ammunition. A simple task as lowering the volume of the TV (or not having it on at the first place) can save you a lot of lost credibility.

Over to you know

Working from home can be a challenge from a productivity standpoint, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be getting things done like never before. Create a work routine and stick to it. Same goes for a space that you can call “office” and an outfit that can serve as work clothes. Keep your environment in check by minimizing distractions. Last, but not least, enjoy the freedoms that come with this lifestyle, be spontaneous, random and do things that make your happy… just because you can.

What are some other productivity tips for work-at-home people that you can share? Write your comment in the section below: