Categories: Workplace

How To Be More Productive When Working From Home

by Saikat Basu originally posted at

No, Marissa Mayer hasn’t blown the whistle at me yet. I am still perfectly well ensconced in my own chair, in my own room, and drinking coffee in my own mug. The second reason is that I don’t work for Yahoo. I work for and like our legion of readers, we authors are also spread around the world. But that’s not to say I don’t know what life is like on the other side of the “Iron Curtain”. 10 years of copious sweat has flowed in corporate cubicles.

Is working from home (or to use the term – telecommuting) more productive than working from an office? The debate was re-ignited after Marissa Mayer’s clarion call to all Yahoo employees. Just like all blah-blahs, this one too has two sides to it. But for me the question is not important. The answer to how can working from home be made more productive is more vital. The answer is weightier than the question because this is the digital age and there’s a substantial demographic that is working from home. That’s nearly 10% in the U.S. alone and rising.

To get back to our question and its solutions, let’s hash over these points and make working from home a more productive job.

Set Your Clock

Isn’t the fact that you don’t have to stick to a specific time schedule the biggest perk of working from home? Well, it is but if you let the clock get the better of you, it is a recipe for unproductivity. Working from home also means that you have to be self-disciplined and that means taming the clock.

Possible solutions:

  • Understand the time of the day when you work optimally. For some it could be late nights too.
  • Set up a daily start time and (more importantly) a daily stop time. Routines will help with discipline and productive use of time.
  • Track time with the apps like RescueTime and others. Capture missing time and account for it in your routines.

Get Out Of Your Pajamas, Shave, & Get Ready For “Office”

Even though you don’t have to dress up to go to work in an actual office, it is important that “feel” as if you have to. You don’t have to put on a suit; a bath and a shave are good enough. Oh yes, try and get out of your pajamas. It will make you feel a bit more professional. Pajamas give a feeling of leisure. Ditch that. Just like using time, dressing up is also part of a routine. It also won’t feel uncomfortable if you need to go out for a meeting once in a while or if you plan to join the workforce later. Also, it’s important to look good if you plan to useSkype for a video-conference.

Possible solutions:

  • Personal story: I finish my breakfast and other daily chores before I sit for work.
  • Create a personal dress code for working from home. It could be a comfy tracksuit too.
  • The act of dressing up alone could help trigger your brain to switch to work mode.

Productivity = Daily To Dos

One of the hidden dangers of working from home is procrastination. It creeps in unobtrusively because we telecommuters think that we have all the time in the world. If I don’t do it in the morning, I can always snatch an hour for it in the evening…and there you go and blow the time schedules you had set. The answer lies in writing and maintaining daily to-dos. Getting things done in the right time is the yardstick for productivity.

Possible solutions:

  • Plan out your day the night before.
  • Use the many GTD apps available for free out there.
  • Alternatively, just use pen and paper but have your plans written down.
  • Do at least one productive long-term goal oriented task every day.

Put up A Do Not Disturb Sign on the Door

There’s one major problem of working from home – distractions. It will come from family and friends who carry the impression that you are available 24×7…just because you work from home. Believe me; even those who love you to bits do think that you are just a knock or a call away. And then you could have kids who need your attention. How gingerly you tread around such sensitive toes will determine your productivity quotient.

Possible solutions:

  • Set ground rules for both friends and family.
  • Have a home office separate from your residence.
  • Use an answering machine or set up Google Voice (Google Voice is not available in all countries).
  • Don’t get frustrated. Accept that distractions are pitfalls of working from home.

Design Your Workspace

Your workspace is your sanctuary for all the 10-12 hours you plan to spend there. A neat and well-organized workspace adds to your productivity. Don’t believe me – try it out. A workplace is not only about ergonomic comforts. It is also a lot about creating the right kind of mood for the work you do.

Possible solutions:

  • Keep your computer organized.
  • Keep the television out of this room.
  • Declutter your cable clutter under your desk.
  • Get some office plants for your home office. Plants are soothing.
  • Consider a standing desk. A good idea not only for health benefits of standing while working, but also for focus.
  • Use the right kind of sounds and music to drown out the noise and stay focused.

 Change Your Workspace…Once In A While

It’s also a good idea to walk away from the comforts of your home office and work in other settings like coffee shops. Most coffee shops these days advertise Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s a good idea for some actual human contact and using your surroundings for inspiration. Get away once in a while. Tina, a fellow author and friend has used couchsurfing to move around the world and still stay connected for work. Can you imagine anything that beats that!

Possible solutions:

  • Coworking and shared offices are great for human interactivity and work.
  • One of my favorite areas to work is a public library. It is noiseless by default.

Stay Tethered To Your Colleagues

One of the complaints against working from home is the disconnect with others. If you are telecommuting for a company with a physical address, it is important that you maintain regular contact. Your bosses, colleagues, and clients need to be constantly updated with your whereabouts and the status of any project you are working on. Even if you are your own boss, you probably have clients. Not only professionally, it helps to occasionally chit-chat with others so that you don’t feel isolated from the world.

Possible solutions:

  • Just pick up the phone and give a call.
  • Use Skype or Google Hangouts for impromptu video chats and face time.
  • For kinship visit your office once or twice a week. To keep credibility interact in the real world with clients.
  • Proactively schedule meal-meetings because face-to-face conversations are more open.

Don’t Lock the Doors – Socialize

Cut yourself some slack. Following the aforementioned point, it has to be said that you have to give equal some time to family and friends. Being in control of your time also means that we tend to use it at our whim, and that often cuts into quality time we should be spending with friends and family. Social isolation is a clear and present danger when you are working from home.

Possible solutions:

  • Join a gym or a club. Get into community service.
  • Set up joint ventures with others who have similar interests.
  • Get a physical hobby that forces you to walk out of the front door.
  • If you run a blog or an online business interact with your readers or customers face to face.
  • Take working vacations if need be. Always on connectivity ensures that you can work from anywhere while having some fun.
  • Try not to work during the weekends. This is the time when the rest of the world is also free and available for some back-fence talk.

Set Up Your Own 80/20 Google Styled Innovation Rule

Insulated from the outside world, it is very easy to fall into a routine and then fall headlong into a rut. Google has this fantastic policy of giving their employees 20% of company time to run with their own ideas and create something that can benefit the company. When you are working alone, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and your long-term goals. To keep your motivation going, set up your own 80/20 projects. I have often found that personal productivity can be the trampoline for work productivity.

P.S: Folklore has it that it was Hewlett Packard that started the practice. Companies like Google and 3M simply popularized it.

Use Downtime to Do Household Chores

This is a personal little thing I put into practice. I create “downtime” and work on the little things around the house. These personal downtimes are like mini-breaks between two work-related tasks which allow me to walk away from the computer. I get some household chores done and also manage to walk away from the computer, only to come back refreshed. I personally use the Pomodoro technique to break down larger tasks into smaller parts. Maybe, you can consider this productivity boosting method.

After working on both sides of the wall, I can safely say that working from home has its perks. The lower stress factors if you are lucky and the absence of daily commutes are definitely on top of the list. But there’s also the danger of looking at the gift horse in the mouth. Evils like social isolation and procrastination can be managed wi th some discipline. Yes, at the end of the day telecommuting isn’t for everyone and for every profession. But if you are among the percentage that does work from home, take it as a blessing (in disguise). The bottom line: it gives you a lot of time to be your own man and woman.

Reprinted with permission.  All rights reserved.

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