Working from home can be incredibly convenient. You get to skip the long commute and rush-hour traffic. Your schedule is flexible, and can bend and bow to fit whatever you need to do (like picking up your kids from school and actually getting to the bank before it closes).
But working from home isn’t without its challenges. For instance, distractions are aplenty: dishes in the sink, piles of laundry, and interruptions from everyone from your kids to UPS to your next-door neighbor.
It’s also hard not to let your work bleed into your personal and family time, especially if you tend to be a workaholic as it is.
For writer and editor Kate Rope the biggest challenge in working from home is focusing when she doesn’t have impending deadlines. Sometimes, what helps her is an app called Focus Keeper, which involves working for 25-minute chunks and taking 5-minute breaks. Other times, Rope goes to her favorite coffee shop, where she can “just put my nose down,” and blast through her writing.
Below, you’ll find a variety of helpful hacks for being productive when working from home.
Address your exact challenges. Everyone is different. Some people have no problem working while there’s lots of things to do at home, while others are the opposite, and can barely concentrate. The key is to name your biggest challenges—the obstacles that obstruct your productivity. Then channel your creativity to find helpful solutions for each one. For instance, if you’re a writer and motivation is a problem, it might help to create and hang up a collage with inspiring quotes and images from your favorite authors and journalists. If unfinished chores siphon your concentration, create a cleaning schedule and color-coded chart for the whole family.
Designate a specific work area. Rope suggested dedicating a specific area in your home as your office, which “tells your mind, ‘it’s working time,’ when you sit down there.” This might be an entire room or the corner of the living room. If you’re very limited on space, you might even put a small desk inside a closet. Again, creativity (and comfort) is critical.
Commute to your home office. According to journalist Emily Price in her book Productivity Hacks: 500+ Easy Ways to Accomplish More Work—That Actually Work! including a commute where you leave the house for a few minutes helps you refocus and get into work mode. “The commute can be something as simple as leaving the house for a walk around the block or heading down the street to grab a cup of coffee.”
Identify your peak productivity. When are you most productive, energized, focused and creative? During those times, try to work on bigger projects, Price writes. Work on less demanding tasks, such as responding to email, when you tend to be less productive.
Batch your errands. Rope, author of the book Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Healthy, Happy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood, also “clusters doctor’s appointments or errands on one or two days out of the week or month so that I don’t interrupt my work days.” Might running all your errands in one day boost your productivity, too?
Have an accountability partner. As Price writes, “when you’re working in an office, there’s likely to be a number of people around who will notice if you’ve been watching online videos when you should be finishing a report.” At home, however, that accountability is gone. And before you know it, you’re on your fifth cat video, and you went down the Facebook rabbit hole. This is why Price suggests working alongside a friend who also works from home. If that’s not possible, she recommends checking out virtual options at Focusmate.com, and GetMotivatedBuddies.com.
Use a different browser for work. “Having a dedicated browser enables you to install browser plug-ins for a specific use and create a work-specific bookmarks bar that doesn’t get in your way when you’re surfing the web at work,” Price writes. Plus, you can block distracting sites while you work.
Tame tiny problems. It’s tough to focus when you’re frustrated. And there can be all sorts of frustrations at home, such as leaky faucets, broken appliances and cracked tiles. Make a list of things that are bothering you, Price writes, and try to get them fixed ASAP.
End the workday with organization. Disorganization can crush productivity. Which is why taking a few minutes at the end of your workday to tidy up and organize can set you up for success the following day. Price gives these examples in Productivity Hacks: Confirm that you’ve added any new tasks or commitments to your calendar; restock office supplies; recycle empty water bottles and toss any trash; jot down a to-do list for the next morning; and set up any alarms or reminders.
Working from home comes with all kinds of pros and cons—which will vary for each person. The key is to identify the cons, and find ways to work around them, so you can make working from home work best for you.