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Whether telecommuting or freelancing, more and more professionals are trading in the cubicle for the home office. We hear all about the perks of the work from home lifestyle — no long commutes, more time with family, conference calls in pajamas, etc. But what about the challenges? It’s not always easy to stay productive in the face of countless distractions.
If you’re working from home, chances are you’re a freelancer, consultant, or small business owner. This means your ability to get paid is directly tied to how productive you are. As a freelancer, wasting time equals wasting money.
Here are some tips on how to stay focused as you move through the workday, while still enjoying all the unique benefits of working at home.
1. Respect Your Own Time
When you work at an office, family and friends seem to naturally respect your schedule. But when you’re working from home, you’ll inevitably get calls at 11:00 a.m. or be expected to handle the daily errands. I’m not saying you shouldn’t wait for the cable appointment or chat on the phone, but be mindful of how easy it is to have time ripped from your workday.
It’s important to set boundaries, if needed. People will respect your schedule, only if you respect it first.
2. Impose Time Limits on Specific Tasks
It’s easy to become distracted, particularly when dealing with a task that’s challenging or a bit dull. If you find yourself losing focus, tell yourself to dedicate just 15 more minutes to the task on hand. Knowing there’s an end in sight might inject new energy into the project. And if not, move on to something else and return to it when you’re in a better mindset.
3. Set Strict Deadlines
Ever wonder why you’re ultra productive when facing a tight deadline, while a simple task can take hours to complete? You might chalk this up to working well under pressure, but it could also be Parkinsons Law, which basically states that a task will expand to fill the time you can give it. Combat this phenomenon by imposing your own deadlines for specific tasks. These can be as complicated as finishing a proposal or as simple as responding to a client email.
4. Log Off for “Power Productivity” Hours
Digital distractions aren’t just limited to Facebook and YouTube. For most, the daily barrage of emails and IMs from friends and colleagues ends up being the day’s biggest time sink. If you’re stuck in your inbox, dedicate chunks of the day when you unplug from your phone and email to get work done. You can log back on afterward and power through the necessary responses.
5. Delineate Your Workspace
Ideally you can have an area dedicated as your office (and preferably with a door so you can shut out unwanted distractions). Creating boundaries not only helps you be more productive "at work," but also helps you decompress during your personal time.
6. Slowing Down? Change Your Environment
If you find yourself stuck (and you’ve already tried the “just 15 more minutes” tactic), change your environment. Go work at the café for an hour, or brainstorm at the park. A change in scenery can spark new ideas and give you newfound focus.
7. Conduct a Time Audit
Ever finish up the day and wonder where your time went? If you’re self-employed, it’s important to understand exactly how you’re using your time. Every so often, conduct a detailed audit of your day and keep track of what you did and how long it took. These audits can reveal great insights into your daily workflow and can help you make adjustments where needed — whether it’s getting help for your bookkeeping, dropping an overly demanding client, or condensing multiple trips to the grocery store.
8. Create Task Lists
I tend to have multiple lists running at any given time. One list keeps track of longer term goals (for example, the projects I need to complete by the end of the week or month). Then each morning I also create a focused outline for the day’s tasks. Try to keep your daily list as realistic and uncluttered as possible. Nothing can sap your motivation like staring at an overly ambitious list full of items you can’t possibly complete.
9. Make Your Breaks Count
Whether you’re working at home or in the office, it’s not possible to stay focused for hours on end. Breaks are an integral part of the workday, but make sure your free time counts. Have you ever denied yourself a trip to the gym or lunch with a friend “because you’re too busy?”
Chances are that on that very same day, you spent well over an hour browsing eBay, watching TV, looking at Facebook, checking your online bank account, or organizing your medicine cabinet. Busy work doesn’t accomplish anything and won’t recharge your batteries. So take your dog for a hike, take an actual lunch, or do whatever you enjoy. You’ll not only end up being happier, but more productive as well.