Digital Mums  How to be productive when working from home

How to be productive when working from home

When you start working at home it sometimes takes a while to adapt and enjoy the awesome perks which come with it.  Lisa, one of our incredible graduates, shares her top tips on how to work from home and be productive. This post originally appeared on Terrier Social

Having my own business and working from home was something I dreamt of obsessively during my 3,841 hours of commuting on the central line, so when I finally achieved it I thought that my working woes were over. Initially they were, but then I found myself struggling a little. At home in my office I was becoming distracted, tasks were taking longer than they should and I was suffering from a mild dose of cabin fever. I started to worry that I wasn’t cut out for working from home and called on The Collective for help.

For the uninitiated, The Collective is a closed Facebook group of Digital Mums graduates and is truly a magical thing. The shared knowledge of this group is a force to be reckoned with and soon the support came flooding in. I was reassured that it wasn’t just me; others had felt the same and there were steps I could take to get back on track. It would be selfish to keep all of this wisdom to myself, so here are some of The Collective’s expert strategies for you to utilise the next time you are having a WFH wobble.

Be Systematic

Although working from home comes with massive benefits, there are challenges that come with the freedom to manage your own day. With no-one to report to but yourself, it can be easy to get distracted and fall down a rabbit hole with certain tasks. Organisation routines are there to keep you on the straight and narrow in the office and it is much harder to create your own routines, but you must. To keep yourself on track you need to find and refine a working system that motivates you:

Embrace The List

It is not worth making a huge list of jobs to do if you avoid looking at it because it is too daunting. Great alternatives to the ‘never ending to-do list from hell’ are:

  • Start each day with a list of 3 ‘must dos’. This will help you feel like you have done something constructive by the end of the day.

  • Make your list the night before, so you know what you need to tackle as soon as you start work.

  • Be realistic about what you put on your daily list, or you’ll set yourself up to fail.

Top Tip: The Eat The Frog technique (™Alison Hjul). Tackle the most unappetising task first so it’s not hanging over your head - the rest of the day will seem pleasant in comparison!

 The Default Diary

For some, segmenting the day into tasks can help with motivation and focus:

  • Work out how many hours you have to work and timetable in specific tasks over specific days.

  • Breaking your day up into segments for each client and work strand can also be helpful.

  • Set daily ‘winning tasks’ that make you feel good when you complete them.

  • Set up calendar alerts to remind you to move on to the next thing.

  • Allow 15-30 mins max for the ‘house stuff’ that can take over your day if you are not careful.

  • Factor in the dog walk / gym / lunch (or whatever keeps your head straight) as these things need to be done too!

 Top Tip - Be realistic about the actual time you allocate to each task. It’s ok to overrun a little at the end of day if you can pick it up in the evening, but you don’t want to start the next day feeling behind.

Get a Room!

Or an Ikea desk in the living room, or a section of the kitchen table. It doesn’t matter where/what as long as you are in an ‘at work’  mindset when you work there:

  • If possible create a proper working environment where there are few distractions. For me a pile of dishes or laundry quickly becomes a distraction from the job in hand.

  • A dedicated workspace means that you don’t have to ‘set up-camp’ each morning, which can help you be more productive.

 Top Tip - Respect your workspace. Your desk needs needs to be somewhere that you want to spend significant amounts of your day. You wouldn’t accept an uncomfortable office environment, so don’t accept it when working at home.

Step Away From The Building

You might find out very quickly that WFH is not for you (symptoms include lethargy, headaches and a need to run away). Don’t stress if this is the case, as there are a few tweaks you can make to your routine to get you back on track:

  • Relocate to a well-known chain of coffee shops for a few hours once or twice a week. Just being with other people can kick start the motivation.

  • Hire a hot-desk at your local business centre. Yes, there is a cost to this (although some centres offer half day sessions for as little as £6), but if it makes you super proactive then it is worth it - it can also be great for networking too!

  • Chat to your client to see if they can offer you a workspace once or twice a week.

  • If exercise is your thing then block off time for it. It can clear your head- you can often find the solution to a tricky problem when you are running / walking / partaking in a spot of parkour.

  • Get out and meet other humans once or twice a week, even if just for a cuppa or a walk.

  • Leave the phone at home. It can be liberating to be uncontactable for an hour or so.

  • Guilt can prevent you from getting away from your desk, so schedule in time in the evening to make up for it.

 Top Tip - Make time for yourself. There will never be enough hours in the day to get everything done anyway, so it's good to break up that time and do a little something for yourself. Some people find that they are more productive the less time they have!

Time Marches On

Ah, time. One moment you have a deliciously productive day planned, and the next you have been sidelined by a vampire task that has sucked the hours out of your day. It is easy to make procrastination into an art form; especially when there is always a massive list of life to get through. To help get more out of your day:

  • Use time trackers such as Toggl or Timely to track how many hours you are spending on a task / client. This will help you highlight the ‘vampire tasks’ and become more efficient with your time.

  • Focus on a task and don't deviate until the task is complete! This takes practice but otherwise you end up working in circles and achieve relatively little.

  • Don't check Facebook (or whatever other procrastination you follow!) until you have achieved the main tasks of the day.

  • It's very easy to let the work expand to fill the time available, so using a time management method such as The Pomodoro Technique can really help you strive to finish a task within an allotted time. Be aware, you can’t use it all the time as it’s too exhausting!

  • Use the ‘deal with it once' technique for with emails and messages. Open them and act on them straight away, rather than mulling over them for too long.

 Top Tip - Remember your worth. Think about how much you devalue your day/hourly rate by working too long on a task. Going over time on a job is the same as working for free, and that is just not good.

Get A Little Respect

This can be tricky, but the most important thing about working from home is that you, and others, respect your work time:

  • If you were working in an office you wouldn't be late because stopped for coffee before coming to work, so don’t be tempted because you are WFH (taking a lunch break or a breather is a different matter entirely!)

  • Don’t try to squeeze in lots of household chores during working hours as they will eventually take over your day.

  • Make friends and family aware that this is a proper job you are doing and that you are actually working, and therefore are not the automatic go to taxi service / emergency present buyer / sick child nurse.

 So my advice is to give working from home time. It can take a good year to crack and you may need to try a few different things in order to fine tune a system that works well for you.  Oh, and don’t forget to treat yourself to nice new shiny stationery - that always helps!

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