When you decided to work from home, it’s likely you were drawn to the flexibility and the independence it provides.
You can set your own schedule, perhaps working nights and weekends for a big project one week and then sleeping in the next day or two. You can take a break when you want, allowing you to be there for your kids’ recitals or to take advantage of a perfect afternoon of sunshine.
However, the downside to this freedom is that you can hit some pretty hefty productivity slumps if you’re not careful. Without a manager or a colleague looking over your shoulder, you can become easily distracted by the very things that prompted you to work from home in the first place.
Household chores can beckon from the kitchen. Kids on a day off from school can blow up your workflow. And that perfect afternoon of sunshine pouring in through your window can be oh, so tempting.
How can you keep your business productivity high in the face of all these work-from-home distractions? Here are five steps to follow.
Find Your Most Productive Rhythm
As an independent professional, your time is your money. Therefore, it is crucial that you learn how to make the best use of your time.
Determine what time of day you are most productive. Is your creative energy at its best in the morning? Then plan to get going on those projects early. If you are an early riser, you may find you can get a lot of work done before the rest of your household is even awake. This practice not only allows you to work when you are at your best, but it limits your distractions as well.
Do you tend to have a mid-afternoon energy slump? Save correspondence and billing tasks that don’t take as much mental energy for the afternoon.
Plan Your Day the Night Before
Now that you know when you are at your mental peak, it’s time to fit your work around that time.
Don’t waste time planning your day when you could be working. Instead, set a schedule for the next workday the night before.
Having a schedule does not mean you are going back to the rigidity of an office job. Depending on your personality and your line of work, the schedule can be broad or fine-tuned. Be sure to build in some down time around your deadlines and appointments.
For example, you can schedule time for a run or a hike and allow for work-related tasks that may take longer than expected in your daily or weekly calendar.
Creating a schedule is like having a framework for your day. It helps keep you focused and on track. For instance, I keep a to-do list by my computer, and I find it very motivating to cross things off that list as I complete them. Crossing off the list helps me realize I am meeting my goals, and – this can be very important – it allows me to step away when I am done for the day instead of adding in one more project and wearing myself out.
Get Rid of Distractions
Social media can be a big boost for your business, but it also can be a huge time waster. Have you ever stopped to check your LinkedIn or Facebook page “for just a few minutes” only to come up for air an hour later? Don’t fall into this trap.
Silence your phone while you are working as well as any other alerts of social media messages. Close all applications that you do not need for the task you are doing at the moment.
One of the easiest ways to get off track as a freelancer is by checking your email several times a day. If you see a new message from a client, it is so tempting to click into it and then feel the need to respond right away. However, you can lose considerable momentum by stopping and then re-starting a project. In fact, you can get so accustomed to switching from one thing to another that you never really get anything accomplished!
Avoid this common pitfall by scheduling an off-peak time to run through your messages and to respond to them. You really only need to do this task once or twice a day to keep in touch with your clients.
If you are expecting a timely message, you can always make special arrangements, such as asking that client to call you.
Say No More Often
When people hear you work at home, they may try to take advantage of your time. Other parents may ask you to chauffeur their kids, or family members may call to chat or stop by to visit.
It’s nice to be flexible, but if you find that these situations are pulling you away from your work, get used to saying something like, “I would like to do that, but I am working then.” Then set up a better time to get together.
If you work with local clients, use discretion in setting up face-to-face meetings. What with transportation to and from the office and, let’s face it– getting dressed in professional clothes, a 45-minute meeting can shoot an entire afternoon for a freelancer. That’s work – and money – down the drain.
Yes, you may need to meet with clients occasionally to maintain a good working relationship, but learn to identify which meetings are necessary and which ones are better suited to a video chat or a conference call.
Take Care of Yourself
One of the drawbacks of a flexible schedule is the blurring of the lines between working and non-working hours. Just because you can work at any time does not mean you should work at any time. Yes, it is good that you are able work well into the evening to finish that project, but be sure to reward yourself with some time off after you are done.
Another way you can take care of yourself is by taking brief breaks from your work throughout the day. This practice is especially important if you sit at a computer screen.
Try setting a timer for about 45 minutes. Work on an assignment for that entire time. When the timer goes off, take a short break. It can be as simple as getting a glass of water from the kitchen or stepping outside for some fresh air. Then get back to work.
If you are sitting for much of the day, look for opportunities to get up. Stand while you make a phone call. Adjust your posture as you work and stretch your legs, back and neck.
The right desk chair, computer screen and keyboard can help keep you comfortable as you work. Aim to have your computer screen at eye level. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor. See that your elbows are at a right angle while you are typing at your keyboard.
It’s nice not to have to join the commuter rush, but it is unhealthy to stay indoors all the time. Add some sunshine into your life by placing your desk near a window and by getting outside every day. Reward yourself with a walk or a bike ride after you finish a project.
You’ll find that by exposing yourself to fresh air and the Vitamin D of the sun’s rays, you will have a clearer head and a healthier perspective for your assignments. It’s a great way to work exercise into your busy day as well.
Working at home is not for everyone, but many of us who have tasted the freedom it offers would not trade it for anything else. By following these suggestions, you can help keep your productivity high, while maintaining a lower stress level.