This is a guest post by Amy Boyington.
Stepping out of the cubicle and into a cozy home office is something many people only dream of, but if you're one of the lucky ones to make it happen for yourself, you probably know it's not always as enjoyable as it seems.
Sure, you get to work in your pajamas, create a schedule that works around your life, and talk to clients on the phone without getting shushed by your coworkers. But with all that flexibility comes a lot of responsibility, especially when it comes to staying focused.
It can be tempting to ditch work and do something more entertaining when you have your work at home with you every day, but the only person you can blame is yourself if you don't finish it. Being productive in your home office takes time and discipline. The steps below can help you overcome the hurdles and get back to business.
Steps for Creating a Streamlined Routine That Boosts Productivity
According to a study from Buffer, about 16% of remote workers find distractions to be one of their biggest work-related obstacles. It's no surprise, then, that finding ways to rid your workspace from distractions should help you focus better and be more productive. Here's how to do it:
Step 1: Minimize Your Work Area
When I began working from home, I set myself up with this huge, elaborate desk that housed my computer, two monitors, speakers, a printer, and had enough room for just about anything I ever needed to work with. I loved it at first until I realized how easy it was to clutter it with pens, books, and papers.
Having everything you need at your fingertips is convenient, but it's also incredibly distracting when you're trying to focus. A minimalist approach might help you forget about what's around you and focus on the task at hand.
One of the best things I ever did for myself was downsizing my desk. It's now about one-third of the size it once was, but it's big enough for the necessities, like a computer, monitor, and planner. I no longer have space to house clutter, which means there's less time needed to organize and clean my desk. Everything I don't use daily goes into a cabinet.
You might find that having a desk in a small corner of a room can help you stay more focused than having a full office space for yourself. Take a couple of months to experiment with a large and small area to see what works best for you.
Step 2: Turn Off Any Distractions
If you don't have a dedicated home office space, distractions can run rampant when you're trying to work. From the TV playing in the background to the doorbell ringing, the constant noise, even if it doesn't seem bothersome to you, is likely confusing your brain. Even in a dedicated home office, you'll need to deal with notifications popping up on your phone or computer.
The best way to avoid breaking your focus is to turn off anything that might cause you to stop what you're doing—even for a second—to check it. Think of your work just like you would if you were in a traditional office. Most likely, your boss wouldn't want you checking your phone (or even having its ringer on) throughout the day, watching TV, or browsing the web when you're on the clock. You, as your own boss, shouldn't allow that either. You should also establish a communication strategy that helps you reduce distractions.
Step 3: Set Time Blocks
The next step towards combatting attention derailment during work time is to set time blocks for everything you need to do during your workday. Again, try to treat your work time the same as you would at a traditional job. You have a set time for clocking in, working, taking breaks, and clocking out.
You have to worry about taking care of your personal stuff outside of work time. It's not as easy to separate work from personal life when your job is in the comfort of your own home, which is why it takes willpower to stay focused on work instead of mixing in errands and extra breaks.
Set up a calendar of what you'd like your workday to look like. Ideally, you'll have a short break every hour, just five to ten minutes long, that lets you detach from your computer, move around, or even get in a quick workout. Your 50 to 55-minute time blocks, then, should consist solely of work and one longer break for lunch.
Most importantly, set aside a block of time in the beginning or end of your day that's dedicated to anything that typically breaks your focus on work, like checking emails or headlines for the day. When you know you have a specific time to do that, you'll be less likely to squeeze it into other areas.
Step 4: Organize Your Work
Start every month, week, and day with a plan. Checking off tasks as you go keeps you focused and motivated to continue. Spreadsheets and planners will absolutely become your best friends when you work from home because they'll help you organize your thoughts and tasks into digestible pieces of work.
Whether you prefer digital organizers or old school paper planners, there are plenty of products out there that can help. If you go with a paper planner, look for one that has spaces for monthly, weekly, and daily notes, so you can break down tasks and reminders as much as possible. Some even break down the day further into hours or time slots, which can come in handy.
As for digital tools, Trello Review is gold for any entrepreneur, whether you work solo or collaboratively. You can organize your work tasks into boards, lists, and cards. I like to keep a board for each client, break projects for each client into lists, and then add sub-tasks for each project with a card.
If you tend to use your phone for reminders and organizing tasks, try the Any.do app. It's almost like having a personal assistant in digital form with features like a detailed calendar, reminders, and a daily planner.
Step 5: Use Productivity Tools
A wide range of productivity tools exist to make our lives easier as freelancers and entrepreneurs, so there's no reason not to use them. They come in several different forms, all with the sole purpose of organizing your life and keeping you focused:
Track how long you work on tasks to measure your productivity with simple time trackers that keep timesheets for your projects. Time-tracking is an excellent way to make sure you're not spending more time than you'd allotted for a task.
If social media, viral videos, and shopping websites tend to be too tempting to avoid during your work blocks, you can use a tool like Freedom to block specific websites on your mobile devices and computers. You can even pick time slots for Freedom to block those sites.
Sanebox assists you with decluttering your email inbox to keep the unimportant stuff away and you focused on the emails you actually need. It hooks up to Gmail, Yahoo!, and other popular email clients to track, snooze, and filter messages.
Pocket is another helpful tool that lets you save articles and files you come across throughout the day to save for later, kind of like a digital filing system for important information you need, but don't necessarily want to take time out of your work day for.
Amy Boyington is a freelance writer and blog manager for lifestyle entrepreneurs and businesses. After working a few unfulfilling 9 to 5 jobs, she took it upon herself to create a career path that meshed with her family life. She now works with clients all over the world in a flexible freelance career that helps her be both a businesswoman and mom to her two children.