So you don’t end up working during your free time.
When you work from home, there will be a million different things vying for your attention—the television, Facebook, your kids, your pets, the dirty laundry, the dishes in the sink that haven’t been washed since yesterday, Facebook, the nice weather, Zoom sessions with co-workers you haven’t seen in a while.
Oh, and did I mention Facebook?
So how do you get all your work done productively, efficiently, and without distractions while also ensuring that you don’t become an overworked loner? Here are 61 of the best ways I know.
1. Have a separate working space. Even if it’s not a dedicated office set-up, it needs to be something that’s yours and used for work only.
2. Don’t have a television blaring in the background. Find a comfortable workspace where you have the peace and quiet to think and make important decisions.
3. Set fixed office hours. This could be 9 am to 5 pm or 1 am to 1 pm, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you work those fixed hours every day and don’t deviate from them ad hoc.
4. Determine your best creative times and create a work schedule around those times.
5. When working on something important, hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door. Make sure your family understands that you’re not to be disturbed when that sign is on the door. Don’t use it too often.
6. Get dressed every morning. Wear something comfortable, but not so comfortable that it makes you want to jump back into bed.
7. Stock up on office supplies and make sure you replace them regularly so that you don’t have to stop in the middle of a busy workday to buy post-its.
8. If you have noisy children in the house, buy noise-canceling headphones.
9. Make sure you have your technology and equipment set up before an emergency need comes up for it. Better yet, set up your equipment when you first start working from home and then check it on a set day each month to make sure it’s functioning correctly.
10. If you have children, paying for childcare can be an excellent investment. Grandparents, by the way, come free. (If you’re working from home with a partner, consider creating a schedule so that one of you has the kids while the other works.)
11. Take the weekends off.
12. Take an hour for lunch every day. If your family is at home, spend that hour with them.
13. Get out of the house every single day, if you can. A quick walk around the block every morning can be the key to good mental health, especially if you’re locked in at home all day long.
14. Take the time to get on Zoom meetings with like-minded people and people who work in the same or similar businesses. It not only helps improve your efficiency and productivity, but can also be a source of ideas and commiseration.
15. Get organized. Have systems in place that increase your workflow and reduce the time you spend checking things and following up with people.
16. Track your time. The sooner you figure out how much time you’re spending on each task, the sooner you can minimize the inefficiencies.
17. Don’t be a slave to email. Reply to all non-urgent emails once in the morning after you start work and once in the evening before you finish.
18. Don’t take on too much. You don’t want to overwork yourself to a point where it becomes counterproductive.
19. Don’t take on too little. Many people who work from home have the tendency to slack off when there’s no boss telling them what to do and giving directions on how to do it. Try not to fall into that trap too often.
20. Celebrate all your big and small victories. You don’t get promotions or pats on the back when you work for yourself, so remember to reward yourself for a job well done.
21. Learn to say “no” to non-work requests in the middle of a workday.
22. Set daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly goals.
23. Delegate and outsource as much of the grunt work as you can so that you have the time and space for creative thinking.
24. Don’t eat at the computer.
25. Stay connected with friends, co-workers, and other professionals through social media and text messaging.
26. Designate certain days of the week for certain kinds of work.
27. Batch similar activities.
28. Every once in a while, try working from an unfamiliar environment, like a library or a coffee shop.
29. Before starting work for the day, make a list of what needs to get done, in what priority. Have that to-do list ready before you begin.
30. If you don’t feel like working and your deadline schedule allows it, take a day off. Watch a movie. Bake a cake with your kids. Have an at-home yoga session.
31. Get a good night’s sleep.
32. Reduce web clutter. Don’t open thirty window tabs when you’re doing research and don’t save every single thing on your desktop. Organize your computer so you can find the things you need without cluttering up the machine.
33. Allot a set quota for social media each day. When you’re done, you’re done.
34. If you use social media for work, use apps like Buffer to schedule your tweets and FB posts in advance.
35. Find an accountability partner in the same industry as you who can keep you goal-oriented and motivated and for whom you do the same.
36. When facing work-related problems, don’t struggle with them alone. Get different perspectives from people who’ve been there and done that. These days, help is only an email away.
37. Automate whatever you can.
38. Don’t schedule personal tasks, such as bill paying and grocery shopping, during your workday.
39. Have a day each month dedicated to running work-related errands, like sending out brochures or meeting the accountant.
40. Impose a time limit on every task you’re meant to do. This helps you stay focused and on target.
41. Set strict deadlines that are always a couple of days in advance of actual client deadlines. This gives you a bit of cushion for the inevitable week (or month!) when things go very, very wrong.
42. Set aside one day every couple of weeks when you have no to-do lists and no goals. Just go where inspiration takes you.
43. Lose the habit of comparing yourself to other people. Nothing good can ever come of it.
44. Do the task you most dread first thing in the morning. Or as Mark Twain would say, “Eat that frog.”
45. Vary your day with different tasks. An hour of writing, an hour of designing, an hour of taking client phone calls will keep you much happier, saner, and more productive than eight hours of straight-up writing.
46. Don’t multitask. I repeat: Do not multitask.
47. Don’t get sucked into unnecessary client meetings that do nothing to help you achieve your goals and do your work.
48. Co-working apps are great, but if you can’t afford the cost, team up with another writer and do Zoom co-working sessions. Invite other solopreneurs over whenever you can. It’s great for productivity, but it’s great for networking, too.
49. Try, fail, try again. Be willing to experiment and see which routine, which productivity tips, and what types of jobs suit you best. Don’t be afraid to change things when they stop working.
50. Keep your skills sharpened by taking trainings or courses that will help you grow professionally. This will give you a break from the everyday humdrum, but also get you motivated to do more and achieve more, which leads to more productivity.
51. Use the Pomodoro Technique, which is to work for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, work another 25 minutes, another 5-minute break, etc. It’s great for keeping your mind focused and sharp.
52. If you like background noise but find music distracting, search for rain sounds or ocean sounds on Google and have them play in the background while you work.
53. Have separate business and home phones, if you can afford to.
54. Figure out your weak spots and actively work towards fixing them instead of simply ignoring them. Similarly, figure out your strengths and actively work towards honing them.
55. Optimize your technology. Sync your various gadgets so you can work from anywhere. Check off easy or simple items while you’re at the park or waiting in line for the Covid test.
56. Keep essential phone numbers and addresses handy. You want to know where to go when your computer breaks before it breaks and who to call when your Internet goes down before it goes down.
57. Break projects down into manageable pieces and then attack them one by one. Give yourself a small reward for each task that you complete.
58. Do something productive first thing in the morning and it’ll set the tone for the rest of the day.
59. Every day for an hour, do one thing that makes you happy. One project that you’re doing for the fun and the joy of doing it, not because of the money.
60. Mix things up when it gets stale and boring. Keep yourself inspired by playing with a new productivity app or tool, going to an online conference, or Zooming with a new client instead of just talking over the phone.
61. Figure out what works best for you.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Publisher, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more.
She is the publisher of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators.
Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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