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How to Be Productive When You Work from Home

This is a guest post by Brie Weiler Reynolds, Director of Content and Community at FlexJobs.

Before I started working from home, I dreamed of the day when I could throw on my favorite pair of jeans and an old t-shirt, commute all 10 feet to my home office, and be more productive than I ever imagined. Three years after starting to work from home full-time, I’ve definitely experienced those days. But I’ve also experienced days where I can’t seem to get a single thing done, no matter how hard I try. Through trial and error, I’ve discovered some tried-and-true methods for being as productive as possible when working from home.

For anyone looking to have more productive days while working from home, here are four tips:

1) Know your natural energy and rhythms.

Not to get all touchy-feely, but every one of us has times of the day when we are most and least productive. Some people are alert, focused, and productive in the mornings, while others like afternoons, and still others like evenings or late nights. Know when you are most productive and clear those hours to focus on your work.

2) Make it clear that you really DO work.

When friends, family, and neighbors hear that I work from home, I can almost see their gut reaction in a word bubble above their heads: “Sure, you work from home.” Though it’s unfounded, lots of people assume that working from home is code for slacking off or taking a mental health day. From the get-go, set boundaries for when you’re available and not available – don’t accept every lunch invitation, don’t agree to house-sit for out-of-town neighbors, and don’t offer to babysit your friends’ kids during the workday. Talk a lot about your busy schedule, your overflowing workload, and how excited you are for all the work that is coming your way so people get the point. Working from home IS working.

3) Treat technology like your secretary.

A really good secretary knows how to stop people from interrupting his or her boss. They don’t let the phone ring, they don’t let people barge into their office, and they don’t schedule meetings at the last minute. Use technology as a secretarial barrier between you and distraction. Turn off email alerts, set your phone to go straight to voicemail or create an auto-response to text messages you receive that says something like, “In the middle of something; will get back to you later.” Block chunks of time on your calendar as “busy.” Unless your job involves life-or-death situations, everyone will manage just fine for the few hours when you’re off the grid.

4) Eliminate distractions.

A study conducted by the University of California Irvine found that office workers are only able to focus on any single task for an average three minutes and five seconds before they’re distracted. 44 percent of those distractions are internal — hunger, boredom, stress, sleep deprivation. The good news is that internal distractions are the only kind we can truly control. Know your patterns for hunger, boredom, stress, and sleepiness and plan ahead. Keep snacks at your desk so you’re not getting up and going to the kitchen every hour, mix up your to-do list by interspersing boring and interesting tasks, or take advantage of working from home and take a quick nap.

Studies by Stanford University and the University of Michigan have proven that working from home, in general, makes employees more productive than if they work in an office. But your personal productivity levels are up to you to maintain. By tapping into your daily energy high-points, letting people know that working from home is really work, using technology to your advantage, and eliminating distractions as much as possible, you’ll join the ranks of the productive at-home worker.

How do you stay productive when you work from home?

About the Author

Brie Weiler Reynolds is the Director of Content and Community at FlexJobs, the award-winning site for telecommuting and flexible job listings, and a former career advisor. At FlexJobs, Brie offers job seekers career and work-life balance advice through the FlexJobs Blog and social media. Learn more at www.FlexJobs.com.

  • http://www.privateerdigital.com Ashleigh

    On days I work from home, it can be difficult to get “in the zone” from time to time. I have found that if I wake up and immediately get ready as if I am headed to the office it really helps. The days that I wear my favorite sweat pants or fail to put on makeup, those are the days I feel least productive.

  • http://www.itsarockandrollworld.info John

    Working from home became a necessary evil when I was laid off back in October. It is not easy to stay focused when working from home (especially when you have a dog), but I usually work in my basement with the door shut and the dog in her cage. My basement is a fully-functional office and I work as I would normally, with a break for lunch and break in the middle of the afternoon for coffee. NO TV!!!!!!!!