Wait. What? You always thought that to work from home would be a dream come true?
That was until some of us were forced to do it because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was then that we discovered that cats like to sit on laptops and kids constantly need feeding.
Working from home requires a great deal of self-discipline. Over the years, I’ve only worked when I felt motivated. But there’s a fatal flaw with that method – motivation comes and goes like the wind. I was left subject to outside circumstances, mental health fluctuations and other people’s moods.
So now I advocate discipline over motivation. Every day.
Get your work done whatever your motivation levels are.
Some days will be easy.
Some days will be difficult.
If you want to work from home, work through your list whether you feel like it or not.
Just get it done and you will be rewarded. I promise.
Disclosure: Please be aware that some of the links below are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission should you end up purchasing one of their services or products. I only recommend services and products that I have used and/or continue to use myself. If you do use one of my affiliate links, the company reimburses me for recommending them. This helps keep the content of my blog free to read.
Plan your day ahead
Before you go to bed at night, take ten or twenty minutes to create a list of the things that you want to achieve the next day.
I usually spend weekends planning my entire week (Monday-Friday) ahead and although my life is susceptible to the usual last-minute dramas and upheavals, I still like coming back to my desk, knowing where I’d left off and what’s left to achieve.
In terms of planning, I like to start off with one large goal and break it down into smaller, manageable pieces. These pieces then form part of my daily routine without leaving me feeling overwhelmed. I know that whatever I’m doing, as boring as it may be, I’m working towards a bigger goal.
Having a list also gives your day a sense of direction and a sense of achievement when you start ticking things off.
Structure your day
I understand that this can be difficult, especially if you have kids or life isn’t straightforward. Even if this is the case, aim to have some sort of structure if you want to work from home effectively.
I use a productivity tool called Monday.com to plan both my week and my days. I’ve created a structure for each day of the week so that I know that I have my basics covered. I can then add things if I need to and also it allows me to see where I’m up to at any given time.
There are other productivity tools out there such as Trello but I’ve found that Monday suits my needs better. Monday offer a free trial and their premium packages are reasonably priced. For the price you pay, the feeling of being organised is priceless.
Start your day early
I often get up at 5 or 6am, long before anyone else in my house even stirs. Grab a coffee and fire up your PC or Mac. I wake up pretty quickly and often feel worse if I wake up at 8 or 9. I’m then cursing the free hours I missed.
Do the things you least want to do first. Get them out of the way or you’ll spend your entire day thinking about them and having that horrible pit-of-the-stomach feeling all day. I’ve found that I’m hugely productive between the hours of 5am and 10am, which is when my dog comes in and asks for his daily walk. I tend to flag after that so make sure I do less creative stuff later on in the day.
If you’re more of a night owl, dedicate your hours of work towards the end of the day instead but try giving an early morning shift a go and see how it works for you.
Ultimately, you know yourself better than anyone else so get in tune with your body and mind and work when you’re at your most positive and productive.
Dedicate workspace to work from home
One of the things many people working from home struggle with is a dedicated workspace. If you want to work from home, you’re going to need your own space. Not all of us have the luxury of our own office (I’ve converted a spare bedroom into one by sticking a desk in it). I have colleagues who send their kids to school and then set up camp at the kitchen table, packing it all away when the kids come back. This obviously only gives them a few hours in the day to get their work done.
Try and avoid working from bed if you can (I tried it and it did my back in!). Give yourself as much space as you can, whether that’s on a table or a desk. It’ll help practically but also mentally.
If you do have a spare room and can afford a desk, get one. You will need to think about internet connections and electricity cables but you’ll feel a whole lot better.
If you can afford a decent chair, invest in one of those too. It’ll save your back in the long run. To work from home well, look after yourself when it comes to well-being. Don’t skimp or your mental and physical health can suffer.
Turn off all notifications and social media
We all love a bit of social media now and then but one thing that’s guaranteed to hammer your productivity is notifications and social media.
Social media in particular is a real clock-sucker (yes, I said clock-sucker). How many times have you gone to check a notification, only to surface 30 minutes later, having watched cute puppy videos and commented on your friend’s new selfie.
Only deal with emergency type situations if you need to. You owe it yourself. You’re only doing yourself a disservice if you allow yourself to be distracted by pings, emails and sneaky peeks at Facebook or Twitter.
Turn off all notifications on your phone. Only open the tabs on your browser that you need. Don’t feel tempted to have Facebook, Twitter and Whataspp etc on in the background. Turn everything off apart from the thing that you are working on. You’re working from home yes but try and work as if you did have a boss looking over your shoulder.
Try it. You’ll be amazed.
Work in 45 minute blocks
Working in blocks really helps me focus. Like proper laser focus.
Decide what you’re going to work on within that 45 minutes and stick to it. It really helps motivate you to get it done as you hear the clock ticking down.
I use Toggl, an extension you can add to your browser but a timer on your phone works just as well.
Once the 45 minutes is up (some people stretch to 55 minutes but my attention span doesn’t stretch that long), walk away from your desk. Grab a coffee, a snack or take time to move away from your desk. That’s the whole point. If you need a nap, take one. If you need a quick walk around the block, do it.
You’ll find that working in blocks doesn’t fatigue you too much, and also allows you to recharge before you plough headlong into the next one.
Every block you complete means you’re close to achieving that larger goal.
Be mindful of what you are working on
Mindfulness is a great thing to practice in so many ways. It’s also a useful technique to have if you want to work from home.
In my professional work, I’m constantly aware of what I am doing. Even as I write this, my dog is barking downstairs because he wants attention. I’m aware that if I go and see what wants (usually a treat), it’s going to affect my workflow. I could come back and forget where I was, click on something else and go off on a tangent.
You may want to get some sticky notes, write down what you are working on and attach it to your screen.
If you find that you’re drifting off in thought, wandering into social media, when you realise what you’re doing, simply come back to the task at hand.
Listen to your body clock
I’m different to you and you’re different to the next person.
Personally, I find I’m more mentally productive between 5am and 11am. After that, things become a bit more of a struggle. If I start my day late and have to work into the evening, I’ll make sure I allocate that time of day to do the stuff that doesn’t require deep thinking – admin and that kind of stuff.
If you’re not in tune with your body clock just yet, keep a diary of how you feel during the day. I naturally crash after lunch so take time for a 20 minute nap. Otherwise, I have to struggle on all day.
I get very tired after I eat so I try and eat little and often, rather than huge meals. Otherwise, I’m shafted for a few hours after eating. I know some people feel more energised after eating but they are obviously some kind of mutants.
Do one thing at a time – and do it well
I’m the world’s worst for trying to do too many things at once. Yet I’m merely just a man, and with that, comes the inability to multi-task.
I’ve designed adverts for clients in the past and rushed them. I’ve sent them off for proofing and my clients have sent them straight back, pointing out my mistakes and all the things I’ve was supposed to have included.
I’ve then had to spend time fixing the cock-ups I made in the first place. I’ve wasted my time, and my client’s time.
Do things right. Do things once.
There is no point doing things half-arsed if you’re having to go back and clean up the mistakes you made first time around.
Communicate well with household members
If you’re not lucky enough to have the entire day to yourself, you’ll need to be clear and concise with others who live with you if you want to work from home. Communicate the fact that you are doing work, or going to do work. If you don’t want to be disturbed, make that clear. For many years, my wife would come wandering into my office and start talking about whatever was in her head. I got very frustrated and it led to arguments but I’m now clear in telling her that I’m working and she leaves me alone when I am.
If you have children, depending on their age, you’ll need to do something similar. This can be difficult, depending on their needs and independence levels and if you’re lucky enough to have a helpful partner, they’ll need to be aware of what’s expected from them too.
When you all know the score, things work a lot better.
I’ve found that prepping food the night before helps when it comes to lunchtime.
If I don’t, I spend 20 minutes scooting through the fridge, wondering what I can clobber together. I then spend another 30 minutes eating it and then I have to clean up the kitchen before the wife comes home because I use every plate, utensil and piece of cutlery making a simple sandwich.
Please note that the picture above is not one of my prepared meals. I’ve put it here to make it look like I’m superhealthy.
When you finish, finish
Before you shut up shop for the day, don’t forget to prep for the next day. Take 10-20 minutes, making a list of the things you’d like to achieve the next day.
When you’re done, finish off whatever it is you’re doing and pack it away. I know one couple who work together but who never mention anything to do with work after 9pm. Your brain will need to switch off from work and if you can, leave your place of work and close the door behind you. If not, you’ll find that you take your work to bed with you in your head.
When you finish, finish.