Keeping motivated and inspired are two of the biggest challenges that working from home offers, so how do you sustain momentum over time? We’ve put together some practical tips and advice for working effectively and creating a healthy work/life balance.
How to bypass procrastination and distractions
There are always tasks which you’ll put off because you just don’t want to do them. Set a timer, alarm, or visual alert of some kind, get your head down and do as much as you can in the time. This works best for short tasks of around 20 minutes or less and is suited to admin or repetitive elements. Make sure you set a realistic amount of time – too much and it’s not a challenge, too little and your attention will waver.
You know what your distractions and weaknesses are, so remove them. Put your game disks away, turn off the TV, close Facebook and Twitter and just get on with it. If you’re working in Photoshop or doing other offline work for considerable periods of time, turn off your wireless. But don’t deprive yourself all the time, because it’s unsustainable. Set aside a specific time for Twitter and other Internet-related distractions – half an hour, or an hour or so per working day. A common trap is to just think, ‘Well, it only takes me a few seconds to check’, because it will eat up a significant chunk of your day in small blocks unless you limit yourself to one fairly short block of time.
Another easy way to avoid distractions is to keep your professional email account professional. Don’t have Facebook notifications, newsletters and other online subscriptions go to your work account, and don’t open your personal email account in your working hours. If you have a desktop client for Twitter, close it, or at the very least turn off any distracting notifications of new messages. Same goes for any Instant Messaging clients.
Create a schedule which motivates you
Since you have the flexibility of working from home, don’t feel the need to shoehorn yourself in to a 9-5 schedule if you don’t have to; work during the hours you feel most awake and creative. A regular, consistent timeframe for working does help though, as does showering, getting dressed for the day and eating ‘breakfast’ before you settle down to work. Avoid the temptation to work from your bed or sofa as sitting at a desk will mentally put you in work mode, and keep work and play separate where possible by not working in your bedroom or in front of the TV.
If you find it impossible to work to a regular schedule, then set yourself strict deadlines and work to those instead. Use your time wisely, and reap the benefits of flexibility rather than wasting them. Sitepoint’s article on 10 Goal Setting and Motivational Tools is invaluable, GTimeLog is a great tool for seeing how you use your time, and Remember the Milk is a comprehensive list-making website. For a quick, inspirational productivity hit, try Productivity 501.
Get into work mode
Ensure you have everything you need within easy reach, and make your environment as comfortable as possible. Invest in a good chair, work with effective lighting and keep tidy. As well as keeping you organised, this will help to minimise distractions and displacement activities such as cleaning up. If you’re working from your laptop, use a stand to keep the top of the screen at eye level, and have a full size keyboard on your desk for comfort. Don’t underestimate the value of varying your surroundings though; even something as simple as working in a library or coffee shop occasionally can stimulate your mind and provide welcome inspiration.
Set specific, consistent breaks to get away from your screen and stop yourself falling into the trap of taking a few minutes here and there and losing momentum. Don’t use your lunch break as an excuse to surf the net, but instead get out of the house to clear your mind – this will also help you to avoid the ‘just five more minutes’ mentality.
Know when to stop – don’t sit at your desk twiddling your thumbs and waiting for an idea, and don’t try to force creativity. Keep pen and paper to hand for doodling whilst you think, but if you’re getting frustrated or going round in circles then take a break so you don’t put pressure on yourself. Setting up a separate Delicious account with work-themed inspirational links can prove invaluable, but resist following links all over the web as a distraction.
As a last resort, if you can’t be productive, then be semi-productive! If you need tools to help you be effective check out this article: Business Tools for Improving Freelancer Efficiency. Sometime working effectively also requires collaboration and managing others… 35 Very Useful Online Tools for Improving your Project Management and Team Collaboration
Maximise your efficiency
Increase your efficiency by setting realistic boundaries and aims. Balance your workload to work a similar amount of time each day, and try to avoid extremes of too much or too little work. If your problem is working too much, then choose a cut-off time and don’t return to your computer after you’ve officially finished for the day. If it’s still an issue, then chances are you’re taking on too much – don’t be afraid to compromise with clients or say no.
If there are other people in the house whilst you’re working, then create clear boundaries and avoid family distractions by sticking to a separate room where possible and making it clear that you’re working. This also goes for personal calls, requests, and so on. Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean you have all day free to buy groceries, tidy the house, mow the lawn etc.
Alongside defining boundaries, define aims. What do you want to achieve? What’s the best use of your time? Making a list at the end of the day for the following day can help, and has the added bonus of helping you maintain day-to-day efficiency and stop you forgetting smaller tasks.
No matter how driven and efficient you are, you’re always going to have bad days, so don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go as well as you planned. Just draw a line under it and try to avoid thinking about work after you’ve finished for the day.