Since last October, I’ve been working from home. My previous two “proper” jobs post-university, while very different from each other (geologist turned coffee-shop business manager), both came with established schedules and tasks assigned to me. Now that I’m working a combination of free-lance jobs (digital marketing, web design, writing), it’s been a welcomed but very challenging adjustment to manage my own time, prioritize tasks, and minimize distractions.
When I tell other people that I work from home, the reaction is usually the same – “Wow! That’s so great, I’m so jealous! Do you like, do work in your pajamas?” My answer: Yeah it is pretty great, most of the time, but only when I stick to a routine. No, I try not to work in my pajamas, otherwise I’ll never get into that routine in the first place.
The truth is, I’m an all-or-nothing personality when it comes to most things. For example, usually, Mike and I eat a really healthy diet of home-cooked meals that consist of organic meats and lots and lots of vegetables. But if someone offers me a cookie mid-afternoon, that cookie can derail the rest of my day. I already had a cookie? Why not also go out for a double bacon cheeseburger and French fries for dinner instead of cooking the grilled fish we were planning on?
Well, the same goes for my productivity while working from home. If I start off the day by ticking off items on my morning-routine, chances are I’m going to carry on being productive and have a really great day. If I press snooze on my alarm and ignore my morning-routine, it’s going to be a lot more challenging for me to accomplish everything I’m supposed to.
Here are a few of my methods to fight procrastination while working from home:
- Get up at the same time, every single day, no matter what. When I was running the coffee shop, I usually had to be there by 6AM so I started getting up at 5AM every day. And Mike, the loving husband that he is, started getting up with me so we could enjoy a cup of coffee together in the morning before I rushed off. The night before my first day of free-lance life, Mike asked what time I’d like to set our alarm for. We decided that 5AM had been working for us, so we stuck with that. Obviously I’m not suggesting that everyone get up at 5AM. We are both morning people, and love having extra time together in the morning, so 5AM works for us. But no matter if it’s 5AM or 7AM, waking up at the same time every day makes it easier to stick to a routine.
- Do not work in your pajamas, despite how tempting that is. Honestly, I spend a lot of mornings working in workout clothes. That’s usually because I try to break up my morning work hours by going for a quick run or doing yoga, and I’d rather change twice in a day than three times. But I always change from whatever I slept in into something new. The few times I’ve worked in my pajamas, I have felt sleepy and lazy.
- Make your bed and shut the door. It is also tempting (for me anyways) to do work sitting up in bed. It’s just more comfortable, I tell myself. I really will sit up and be productive, I think. Really, that productivity will only last 20 minutes and then I’ll be reading a book or napping within no time. Just say no to working in the bedroom. Period. I find that when I make our bed in the morning and then shut the door, it symbolically closes off that option for me.
- Stick to a morning routine that works for you. I have a fairly established morning routine: wake up, stretch with a few yoga poses, enjoy bullet proof coffee for breakfast while journaling, read a few articles or chat with Mike before he leaves for work. Whether you do something similar, or you figure out something completely different, sticking to the same set of habits on a work day definitely helps keep your mind on track the rest of the day.
- Perform the same tasks at the same time of day. When I first launched into free-lance life, I found it daunting to figure out when I was supposed to do things. No one was there reminding me we had a deadline, or telling me when to take my lunch break. Each day, I did things at different times, which meant I found it hard to make sure I was getting tasks done on time and would then rush to meet a deadline. Now that I’ve had months of practice, I have a fairly established work day schedule I impose on myself. When Mike leaves for work, I start my “work day”. I usually work for a solid two and a half hours, and then take a 30 minute exercise break around 10:00AM. If I’m taking a rest day, I go for a walk. I resume work until 1PM when I take a lunch break, during which I listen to a podcast or read a book. I keep working until around 4:30PM, when I do a tougher workout for around an hour if it’s on the schedule for the day. If I have a pressing deadline or too much work, I skip this break and work until it’s time to cook dinner around 6:30PM. Sticking to this relatively set schedule has helped me fight procrastination.
- Only check email and other apps at set times of day. Nowadays with our phones sewn to our palms, it’s too easy to get distracted. In fact, it’s a wonder any of us get anything done anymore. With email, texts, and social media apps constantly setting our phones ablaze with notifications, it’s nearly impossible to have a full train of thought. I recently turned off my email and social media notifications, and it’s been transformative. I now try to only check these things during my established breaks. Very, very rarely do I get an urgent email. And if someone really needs to get in touch with me, they should know how to pick up a phone. When I really need to focus, I put my phone in the other room and turn wifi off on my laptop.
- When all else fails, set a 30 minute timer on yourself. Recently, I listened to Rich Roll interview Leo Babauta of Zen Habits on his podcast. They both write for their own blogs and have written books, and were talking about writers block. Rich shared that when he’s working on something that he finds particularly challenging or when he’s in a fidgety mood, he’ll set a 30 minute timer. During that 30 minutes, he is only allowed to work on that task. If he truly cannot work on that task because of a mental block, he has to sit there and think about the task. No other activity is acceptable. I’ve tried this a few times, and it really does work.
So, these are some of the ways that I combat distraction when working from home. How do you stay focussed when you’re working on a project solo, or if you work from home, too?