Whether you're a freelancer or you work from home all or part of the time, distractions are a fact of life. There's dinner to cook, kids or pets begging for attention, and well-meaning friends popping by unexpectedly.
How do you stay productive with all these distractions? I've worked from home for three years now, and I've discovered a few tricks that definitely help (and many, such as drinking too much coffee, that definitely don't help!). Here's how I keep productive at home:
Eat a good breakfast
I know, I know. Your Mom has told you this for years. But she's right: Breakfast really does fuel you for the day. It boosts your metabolism and gives you the energy you need to do your best work.
Eating a good, healthy breakfast is even more important when you work from home, as you don't have the energy of a bustling office environment to draw from. So make a bowl of oatmeal, have a feast of yogurt and muesli or even whip up a few slices of French toast.
Utilize cloud technology
The cloud is pretty much designed with telecommuters and freelancers in mind. With the cloud, you can run your whole business – and collaborate with clients or colleagues – from any device, anywhere in the world. It's also a cost-effective way to access professional technology, and it forms the basis of any robust disaster recovery system. I run my business solely on the cloud and use a variety of tools.
Xero Accounting: Hands down, the best accounting software for freelancers and small business owners. Xero Accounting is intuitive, simple and great for those of us who don't really like numbers.
WorkflowMax: This workflow management system integrates with Xero and basically handles all of my project management tasks, from invoicing and reporting to collaboration with clients and contractors. It also helps track your time. My business wouldn't exist without Xero and WorkflowMax.
Trello: A free and simple collaboration tool. For me, it doesn't have the functionality of WorkflowMax, but Trello is great for simple jobs.
Evernote: Bookmark websites, images and URLs, write and edit notes, and create a searchable database of things you need. Evernote is one of the most useful free cloud-based tools out there.
Track your time
The difference between those who succeed and those who struggle might be a simple case of time tracking. If you know how much time a job takes to complete, you know how much you should charge for it. Those who track their time not only work more productively (as they're more aware of the cost of distractions), but they also have an accurate picture of cash flow and the price to quote clients for certain jobs.
WorkflowMax has a nifty little Adobe time tracking extension that allows me to track my time from within the creative suite. It's super easy to use and doesn't break my creative flow.
One bad habit many telecommuters and freelancers fall into is rolling out of bed and booting up the computer. The problem is, your mind gets stuck in the mentality that you're "on holiday," and you don't have to do these things. I find that when I bum around in my pajamas at home, I do less work than if I treat my home hours as another day at the office.
If you show up at your desk at a specific time each morning dressed for the job, with your hair done and your teeth brushed, then you're setting yourself up for a successful day.
Create a comfortable space
It's hard to work effectively if you're squinting at the computer screen or are wincing in pain because your lower back hurts again. When you work from home, you have the added bonus of complete freedom in setting up your workspace – use this freedom to your advantage to create a space that's comfortable, invigorating and tailored to your needs. Think about the following:
- Temperature: Is your space too hot or too cold?
- Lighting: Do you have access to natural light? Is your task lighting appropriate for the job you're doing?
- Posture/Ergonomics: Are your chair, desk, screen and keyboard placed in the right positions and at the correct height? Are you experiencing any pain or discomfort from sitting at your desk?
- Distractions: Can you shut the door and block out distractions in other parts of your house? Do you sit at your desk and feel as though you're at work?
- Inspiration: I like to surround my desk with images and quotes that inspire creativity. Is there something in your workspace that inspires you?
Keep lists to a minimum
Every morning when I sit down at my desk, I write a list of what I need to do that day. I used to write down 15 or 20 different items, but then realized I felt like every day was a failure when I couldn't complete them all. Now I write a list of three important things: These are my three most vital tasks for the day. This list helps me prioritize the most urgent and important work. In addition, it has taught me to set realistic goals for the day.
Use microgoals to eliminate distractions
I admit it: My mind is prone to wander throughout the workday, and I often find myself migrating to Facebook or discussion forums instead of sticking to the task at hand. This is a bad habit to get into, as research shows that flicking between different activities (working and then arguing with internet trolls) causes our brains to tire more easily, meaning we don't perform either activity at our best. Multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40 percent, as borne out by one study.
I combat this problem by setting a timer for myself and establishing a mini goal. It could be an hour to complete one stage of the project, or 30 minutes to answer email. When the timer goes off, if I've completed the goal, I allow myself five minutes or so checking status updates or reading my favorite blogs.
Sitting all day isn't what the human body is designed to do. It’s even more important to be active if your job involves sitting down or you're hunched over a desk all day. At least once an hour get up, walk around the room and stretch your muscles. Set aside 30 to 60 minutes each day for exercise – go for a walk or run around the neighborhood at lunchtime or play with your kids in the backyard when they come home. Taking the time for exercise will help you stay energized and focused throughout the day.
Set aside 30 to 60 minutes each day for exercise – go for a walk or run around the neighborhood at lunchtime or play with your kids in the backyard when they come home. Taking the time for exercise will help you stay energized and focused throughout the day.
Keep business hours
When you're home during the day, it can be easy for family and friends to forget you're working. It's not long before your spouse leaves you a list of chores to finish every morning, or your out-of-work friends pop over for coffee every day.
One way to curb these chores and visits is to set yourself regular office hours: a time each day when you're in front of the computer working. During those hours, you don't answer your phone, you don't do chores, you don't take the dog to the vet.
Setting work hours (and being clear about them to your clients) also helps halt those frantic calls at 8 p.m. to "please whip this up for me this evening?"
Do what's best for you
Everyone is different. What works for me in my home office may not be right for you. The only way to figure out what helps you work better is to experiment with different techniques and equipment, and keep what works for you.