Studies shows that people who work from home are 15 to 55 percent more productive than those who work in the office, but for many telecommuters, it sometimes doesn’t feel that way.
Staying on task despite all the distractions of home—the dog, the fridge, the phone calls and errands—is one of the harder aspects. Here are seven tactics to stay productive.
1. Impose your own deadlines. Some days you work like a dog and finish up a huge amount of work, but then you blow it the next day by not getting much done at all. Experts suggest creating self-imposed deadlines on every task so you have a sense of how long you expect each task to take. It’s natural to have a project fill the time you allot to it, so start out with tight deadlines and see how you do.
2. Make a daily to-do list. Make a new list every day (or some prefer to do it the night before) with a realistic rundown of what you can get done in one day. Some people (my hand raised here) make one list for the week and loosely follow it, but you’re probably less productive with the longer deadlines. Harold Taylor, a time management expert, recommends breaking down projects into 90 minutes segments. After you’ve worked for 90 minutes, take a break.
3. Take restorative breaks. Since there are fewer reasons to move from your at-home desk than if you worked in an office, try to build in breaks where you have to get out of your chair. Every 90 minutes, get up and stretch or do a quick household chore, like the morning dishes or watering the plants. Or, you can take a quick walk around the block, do a few sit-ups or push-ups to turn it into a calorie-burning break.
4. Establish a routine. Most effective work-at-homers have created routines for themselves to provide a self-imposed structure. Some may get dressed, get a cup of coffee and sit down to work right away, while others do a few hours of early morning work in their pajamas, then break for a shower. What’s important is establishing a routine that works for you, one that keeps you from procrastinating. Try to plan in a lunch break (or exercise break), and schedule in a limited time to run errands if you need to do these during your work day.
5. Time audit yourself. Painful, I know. But if you take one or two days to track how you spend your time, it may be eye-opening, not only about how much time you may waste on Facebook or surfing the web, but also about how long your projects or tasks are actually taking.
6. Don’t multitask. Our ability to focus is under attack by multitasking—checking email, websites and instant messaging. Studies show that people don’t perform as well when they’re multitasking, and some experts believe it’s eating into our ability to concentrate. You can help strengthen your attention by controlling your technology, such as having set times to check email or send text messages, Taylor says. You can also strengthen your executive skills by practicing self discipline in small ways not directly related to your work, like saying no to dessert, choosing water instead of a soda and choosing to exercise rather than watch TV, Taylor says.
7. Protect your work time. One of the biggest productivity sappers is other people taking up your time. Don’t give others so much power. Learn how to be assertive with your time. Get used to saying,”I’ve got to go. I’ve got a deadline,” or setting periods of time when you don’t answer your phone or respond to emails, says Paula Eder, a time management expert and author of the Timefinder.com blog. The challenge is setting and maintaining boundaries so you can get your work done.
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She has authored several health books, including "Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility." Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.