How to be productive when working from home

Stephanie Dickison — №4 with Leo Babauta

It’s easy, I say, when you’re your own boss — if you don’t hustle for the work, you don’t get paid. The dirt that’s been tracked in from outside all week, the dishes from last night’s dinner party and the laundry that needs to be put away, gets left behind for an interview you’ve got to do and write an article, all by 5 o’clock today.

That, on top of someone coming in to replace your bathroom faucet, and oh, two editors just emailed to say that they need major changes (read: complete rewrite) by 3 p.m. It’s only 8 a.m. and already you’re feeling overwhelmed.

But it is possible to be productive and balanced while working from home.

Here’s how:

1. Stick to your schedule

Plan out your day and follow it, just as you would in a big office. Just because you’re physically closer to the television doesn’t mean that you should plunk yourself down for a dose of “reality” shows. You may have to have a talk with family, friends and colleagues to let them know that just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean you can go out for a matinee – you are working. Of course, if you work in your pyjamas, you can see how it might be confusing…

2. Expect the unexpected

As much as you plan your day, you’re bound to deal with many unexpected events — the city digging up your sidewalk for ethernet cables, visitors (see above), couriers, etc. Knowing that each day at home will be different and accepting that will get you through most of the frenzy. That and a pair of noise cancelling headphones.

3. Eat something

Many people I know who work at home forget to eat. And though I am a restaurant critic, food writer and avid cook, I too am guilty of this. Perhaps it’s that we don’t have co-workers to ask us to lunch, or a set time like noon or 1 p.m. to get us up out of our chairs. Office workers get two 15 minute breaks and at least half an hour for lunch. Give yourself at least the same courtesy. You’ll be so much more productive. And hey, at least your sandwich won’t be all squished and soggy.

4. Get comfortable

One of the bonuses of working at home is that you can cater your space to you. Want to have a huge desk with nothing on it? Go for it! Want a cozy little rolltop? Sure thing. Candles, music – whatever puts you in the mood! The other thing to remember is that you don’t have to be a slave to your desk, afraid that your boss will wonder where you are. If you’re rocking a laptop, take it to a coffee shop, library or friend’s condo’s lush lobby. The change of scenery will do you good, as will the walk — it will boost your energy and productivity. Plus, there are people out there. Go mingle for a bit — you haven’t talked to anyone all day.

5. Choose your workday

Despite having been conditioned by the working world, nothing says that you have to work 9 to 5 like everyone else. If you like greeting the day at 5 a.m., then start early. It means that you’ll be finished early and have the rest of the day to do what you like. Many writers I know get up late and work late. They follow their body’s natural rhythms, they tell me (not playing Assassin’s Creed , ahem). Think about when you’re most energized throughout the day, organize your schedule around it and you’ll see your productivity fly. And this way, you can work AND watch all the late-night TV you want. Sweet.

6. Reward yourself

Working from home, you may find yourself getting all wound up about stuff. Maybe it’s the lack of coworkers to commiserate with or a little cabin fever (you’ve been inside working on this presentation for 3 solid days). The problem is often that because your office is at home, you can work any time and thus, you do – nights, weekends, in your “spare” time. The way to be productive and balanced is to reward yourself with something that you enjoy and isn’t work related. It helps if it’s out of the house too. Just a half an hour away from your desk can make a world of difference.

Go for a walk, visit a library, take a class, meet a friend, whatever (However: skip getting blotto at the neighborhood bar, gorging yourself on a pint of ice cream or going to a strip club. We both know there’s no work getting done after that).

Photo: Flickr / garhol CC BY-NC 2.0

Stephanie dickinson

Stephanie Dickison

Author of “The 30-Second Commute: A Non-Fiction Comedy About Writing & Working From Home” — works at the end of her bed at a little rolltop desk in her 1-bedroom apartment that she shares with her fiancé, a television writer, and their 18 pound cat. Despite all of that, she manages to write a number of articles a day, blog, tweet, interview celebrities and cook and eat for a living.

Visit Stephanie's website Follow @sdickison on Twitter