Freelancing, solopreneurship, outsourcing, and stay-at-home employees are on a dramatic rise. In fact, according to Silicon Republic, “remote working will rival fixed office locations by 2025.” If you have recently joined, or are looking to join, those of us who go to work in our sweatpants, you’ll need to make sure your productivity doesn’t slack. (Especially on casual Fridays — that’s boxer brief day in my office.)
Here are seven ways to maximize your time in the new home headquarters.
Designate an office
A lot of people who choose to work from home already have a room that acts as an office — repurposed guest rooms, dens, even garages. I think that’s important, nay, necessary for productivity. It’s a sanctuary, a safe space, somewhere you can go for work and work alone. However, as I mentioned in 5 Things You Should Do Before Becoming A Freelancer, an office doesn’t have to be an office. You just need a space. A consistent, designated work area.
I also recommend having a different place in your home designated to not working. If you work out of your den, watch TV in your living room. If you work from a desk, don’t sit there to read Harry Potter. I have two recliners in my office — one is for pleasure reading and meditating; the other is for anything work related. It could be as simple as switching seats at your kitchen table.
Create a routine
After I left an office setting for a home setting, this is what helped me adapt. When you are beholden to a building, you have a routine — getting showered, eating breakfast, commuting, etc. When you have the option to wake up and wing it, you probably will.
This is where you have to find what works for you. When are you most productive? When are your clients expecting you to be available? When does your family need you to be available? Consistency is key.
As with the home office, it’s nice to set a time to not work. In a workplace setting, that’s lunch. In London they have tea. In Spain they take a siesta. (In reality, Americans spend way more time working than most of the world, but that’s a different post.)
To maximize productivity, sometimes you need to step away and not be productive. If you do best to crank yourself full of a stimulant and grind it out for eight straight hours, go for it. But then stop and go on a walk (see below). If your day is drastically improved by taking a nap at two o’clock… hell, take a siesta!
It’s fantastic not being beholden to an 8-to-5 schedule; however, (and I’m the last one who wants to admit it) humans need structure. And part of maintaining that structure means you need to…
When you have a schedule you need to stick to it. Your family wouldn’t just show up at your office building and want to go shopping, would they? (I’d hope not, or your boundary issues need more work than a blog post can offer.)
Another example: I don’t let my dog in my office. When she needs to go out I let her out, but otherwise I don’t need to be worrying about wether or not I’ll find dookie on my dope carpet.
While I don’t think he’s the originator of this strategy, I’m stealing the following from Tim Ferriss. Boundaries also pertain to clients and your employer. This may take some finagling and some candor, but it is possible to train people when and how to ask things from you. If you work best from 3 a.m. to noon, let everyone know they better contact you in the morning or they’ll be waiting until the following day. (Obviously this varies depending on your company and/or line of work, but give it a shot. You may be surprised.)
Which leads me to…
“Batching” is grouping together tasks with the intention of doing them all at once. This, as you can imagine, pertains mainly to email. (I’d also add in phone calls depending on your industry.)
While I’ll admit to this being a “do as I say, not as I do” pointer, I think checking email twice a day is a valid strategy. As I said, training people to not expect an immediate response is possible. And if they demand it because they are too impatient and self-important… reevaluate your relationship to them, not to email.
But what if it is super urgent?
It probably isn’t. Unless you work for the Department of Defense, chances are that nothing is ever life-and-death. (And if they are, you should probably be at the Pentagon, not at home.)
Turn off distractions
And “turn off” is the key phrase, because we all know what “distractions” are. Email, yes. Phones, probably (depends on your job I suppose, but you can batch calls by utilizing airplane mode). Social media, absolutely. Distraction is everywhere, and its sole job is to kill productivity.
In my line of work, I can design while watching TV or listening to a podcast. (Separate parts of the brain and all that sciencey stuff.) But I can’t design and respond to email simultaneously, and chances are at least one of those emails will pertain to some other design I’m also working on. On the other hand, if I’m writing I need to be in total seclusion. On really good days I can get distracted and hop right back in, but typically if I turn my focus away from my thought pattern… squirrel.
This includes distractions from other people. I have a friend who turns off his doorbell. Some pets are distractions too, although I wouldn’t dare suggest that any puppy-obsessed millennial not bring Princess Peaches into work with them at the risk of a pitch fork-toting mob show up at my door.
I’ll add one more distraction: the news. Today’s news cycle is… well, it’s batshit insane, sad, and scary for the most part. So unless you need up-to-the-minute info on current events (which you probably don’t), give yourself permission to not have that madness rolling around in your head while trying to get things done.
Take a walk
Exercise helps productivity, and just a small amount can increase brain function, energy, motivation, problem solving, and so on. Take a lap around your house, around your building, around the block. You don’t need to worry about any high intensity interval crap either. As it turns out when it comes to productivity, low to moderate exertion seems to provide the most benefit. So a walk around the block should be all you need for a reset of that afternoon slump!
It also gets you out of your house if only for a few minutes. Working from home, especially when you’re slammed with work, can lead to cabin fever. I always try to make exercise some part of my routine, although admittedly, daily consistency isn’t my strong suit here, even when I’m on a health kick.
Finally, something that will help with all of the above…
The Pareto (80/20) Principle
The Pareto principle states that, for the most part, 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. 80% of your business’ revenues come from 20% of your customers. 80% of your marketing ROI is from 20% of your marketing spend. Statistically, 80% of this blog’s readers are only interested in 20% of what I’m saying. (You know… statistically.)
I stole a lot of this from Ferriss again. He, a master ninja of productivity, applies this to everything, and the lesson is simple: Do the 20% of your work that leads to 80% of your results. The rest — automate, delegate, or eliminate.
For freelancers and solopreneurs especially, locate the 20% of your customers who drive 80% of your profits. Or, if money isn’t the biggest priority, figure out which 20% of your clients provide 80% of the work you actually enjoy. Some clients suck… and I hereby give you permission to get rid of them!
If you don’t work from home, you’re beholden to the rules and regulations of your workplace. In many cases, it’s as though they manage productivity for you… and they tend to suck at it. Your boss may tell you which accounts you need to focus on. The chain of command may not allow you to automate or delegate. And if you do manage to drastically cut the time it takes you to garner the same return, you may get promoted… or you may just be bored for 3/4 of the day.
Now go forth! Wake up at 10 a.m., throw on some sweatpants, head to your safe space, turn of the news, fire a shitty client, and start being productive!