Two years ago, I left my career in commercial property management to become an independent contractor. I loved the people I worked with, but when the nonprofit I was volunteering for offered me a contract position, I jumped at the chance. Working from home has been great, but it’s also had its drawbacks.
I love the flexibility and not having to commute in the winter, but I also miss group lunches and office collaboration. I’ve also found that it’s easier to get distracted and lose my focus when I’m at home. It’s a real struggle for me, but luckily I’ve found a few ways to keep my productivity level up, which can help prevent me from having to cram in hours at the end of the month to meet my contracted hours (and get paid my full monthly amount).
Having a Designated Office Area
Photo Credit: Arianna P.
The first thing I did was create an office area. My apartment is pretty big, so I was able to dedicate an entire corner to be my little office space. I purchased a reasonably priced standing desk from IKEA and stocked up on office supplies, a printer and other essentials (make sure you save those receipts for the tax write-off).
Having an official work space helps me be more productive because I feel like I’m actually at work—even if I have two dogs staring at me and begging for a treat. I’ve tried working from my sofa, but found that it either made me go into lounge mode or I found it too tempting to turn on my TV. When I’m in my little office, it’s much easier for me to concentrate and check things off my list.
I live alone so I don’t have to worry about distractions from other people, but there are plenty of other things like laundry, cleaning, or checking out what’s going on outside that can take my level of productivity from ten to zero in a matter of seconds. And once I’m distracted, it usually takes me a good hour or so to get back into productive mode.
To help keep myself on task, I keep the TV off and only listen to the radio. I mostly listen to NPR, but on days where I need some upbeat music to keep myself going I listen to Spotify. I also silence all notifications on my phone, which prevents me from getting distracted by text messages or social media alerts. I do keep the ring volume up though, because my cell doubles as my business phone and I don’t want to miss any calls.
Helping Yourself Stay on Task
I’m paid an hourly contract rate, so I need to prove to my client that I’m actually doing the work they pay me to do. In the beginning I would use a timer on my phone and enter the information into a spreadsheet, but that was a pain. Then I discovered Harvest, a software program that allows you to create projects and track hours without worry. It changed my life! It’s only $12 a month for a single user, and I can use the software to create invoices and time reports for my client each month.
It also keeps me on task. If I walk away to get a snack or take my dogs on a walk, I put the timer on pause, meaning I’m only clocking actual hours worked. It’s a great way for me to track how productive (or unproductive) I’m being throughout the day, and see how much time I’ve spent working on a particular project or task.
If you don’t have to worry about tracking hour hours, or you don’t want to invest in a monthly software program, you can use a simple “to do” list or a the bullet journal method to keep track of which tasks you’ve accomplished each day.
Taking Breaks to Clear Your Mind
Breaks are necessary, but don’t overdo it. One of the bonuses of working from home is that you can take a few small breaks instead of a long lunch—you just need to make sure you get all of your work done on time.
I have two dogs, so I usually end up taking them on a short, 15-minute walk around my complex about 3-4 times a day. It’s a great way for me to clear my head and enjoy a bit of sunshine. But it also eats up time, so I usually work while I eat my lunch. If you don’t have dogs to walk, take breaks throughout the day to stretch and walk around. It’s amazing how such a simple thing can help you feel re-energized.
I’ve also heard great things about the Pomodoro Technique, a time management method where you work for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break; after four “rounds” you take a 15- 30-minute break. I tried it a while back, but I personally found it too distracting to remind myself to take a break every 25 minutes, especially if I’m working on research or in the midst of writing. But I do use a similar technique when I’m working on something that requires attention to detail, like entering data in a spreadsheet or proofreading a document.
Again, there are benefits to working from home but it’s important to treat your work hours the same way you would if you were in an office setting. By doing so, you’ll prevent extra stress and help yourself be more productive.