I’ve worked at home on and off for several years as a journalist and copywriter.
I’ve procrastinated and accomplished nothing while working outside of the office. I’ve also enjoyed some of my most productive days while working at home.
I’m not alone.
Earlier this year, social media software company Buffer found that more than 90% of employees working outside of the office would prefer to work remotely for the remainder of their careers rather than going back to the office.
So if you’re ready to kiss goodbye to the office, you need to take the right steps to avoid distractions and become more productive.
(No, I don’t recommend working in your pyjamas)
…you must decide if working from home is right for you.
I once worked with a chatty sales manager of a large team.
He told me, “I hate working from home. I need to be beside other people. I think my ideas through by talking to others about them.”
This sales manager’s approach is the opposite of how I like to come to a decision. He’s also a classic extrovert, whereas I’m an introvert who likes to reflect internally before arriving at a decision.
I’m not saying extroverts can’t work from home, but you should know where you perform best and what your job demands before you invest in that home office.
A sales rep, for example, might find working from home a little more challenging than a copywriter. The former may rely on a face-to-face meeting to close a deal, whereas the latter can write sales copy alone.
Similarly, as a writer ask yourself if you can produce more at home or in a coffee shop or library.
Pick The Right Tools
Effective communication is always a challenge for home workers.
If you want to become more productive, get comfortable with collaboration tools like Skype, Slack or Google Docs.
You also need to go the extra distance to communicate with your team members because home workers don’t have the crutch of body language and can’t walk over to a colleague’s desk and ask, “What do you think about this?”.
The same applies if you’re working with contractors via an outsourcing, like an editor or book-cover designer.
Although learning how to use new tools can feel a little overwhelming at first, they will help you accomplish many office tasks remotely like meetings, reviews and so on.
Kill Distracting Triggers
When some people start working at home for the first time, they get distracted by the television, the internet or even the temptation of going back to bed!
If you keep getting distracted, rearrange your environment so you spend less time staring into the fridge and more time doing your work.
This might mean moving your laptop or computer to a dedicated space in where you can work in your apartment or house. Ideally, this area should be free from game consoles, a television and so on.
If the lure of social media (yes Medium counts!) is tugging on your attention, use the app Freedom to disconnect internet access or block these distracting sites for predetermined periods.
Track Your Hours Like a Boss
Rising about noon and getting to work after a late lunch is fun for a day or two, but you’ll quickly get tired of playing catch up.
New home workers should set a goal of keeping regular working hours. I also suggest tracking how you spend your day using an app like Harvest or a spreadsheet.
Self-tracking is an additional administrative task, but it’s only for the short-term. Your goal is to figure out what you’re spending your time on during the day and when you get distracted.
Then you can decide when you’re most and least productive and what you should spend more or less time on. This knowledge will help you adjust your schedule accordingly.
Mix It Up
When I work at home in one place for too long, I feel like turning into a hermit. While having a dedicated working space in your home is useful, some days it’s more productive to work elsewhere.
You could take your laptop and go to work at a nearby coffee shop, a co-working space or even a nearby park if it’s sunny outside. The trick is to find a place with a low level of background noise.
A 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research found ambient or background noise positively affects creativity and increases the chances of innovative thinking.
“Results from five experiments demonstrate that a moderate (70 dB) versus low (50 dB) level of ambient noise enhances performance on creative tasks,” Mehta, Zhu and Cheema wrote.
Being a home worker doesn’t mean you have to work where you eat and sleep.
Working from home gets lonely.
Although I’m an introvert, spending eight or 10 hours in a small room isn’t good for my mental health.
After an extended period of home working, I’ve grown my beard out like a hermit and all but forgotten what a face-to-face conversation sounds like
So now I go for a long walk at lunchtime. I also try to go for a run or go to the gym in the evening. I enjoy exercising in the company of other people because it reminds me I’m not isolated.
In other words, don’t finish up your working day by plonking yourself in front of the television after dinner.
As a homeworker, it’s all the more important that you cultivate face-to-face social relationships outside of work. You have a more flexible schedule than office workers, so use it.
After all, we are social creatures.
Set Your Own Rules
Before I started working at home, I spent almost three hours each day sitting in traffic, driving to and from the office. While it felt good to see my colleagues, five days of commuting was exhausting.
Now I can accomplish more during the working day than when I worked in the office. Plus, I don’t feel exhausted come five or six o’clock. Now I travel to the office only when it’s essential.
If you’re new to working from home, all you need is a little bit of self-discipline. Then you can safely join the 90% of homeworkers who wouldn’t look back.