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5 Tips for Working At-Home More Efficiently

working from homeA few years ago a quote began floating around the Internet, where I found it on Pinterest. It stated, “You have the same 24 hours a day as Beyoncé.” While this statement is technically true, as a freelance writer I fall woefully short of her estimated net worth of $265 million. And it’s that income that allows her to employ an army of people to help her maximize those precious 24 hours. So, how do those of us who have chosen a creative path and don’t have the hefty bank account and personal assistants aspire to work more efficiently? Is there a way for us to be more focused without stifling our creativity? The answer is, ‘Yes!’ and it’s not as hard as you may think.

Here are five tips to help you focus and have a more productive work day:

  1. Create a ritual – People with 9-to-5 jobs are shocked when I tell them I get out of bed before noon each day. “But you work from home!” they cry. I do work from home and love it, but I still need to get certain objectives accomplished each day, which won’t happen if I’m rolling out of bed at 2 p.m. And then of course there are those pesky deadlines clients seem to insist I meet. So, I try to get up each morning around 7:30 a.m. so that I have time to turn on Good Morning America to find out what happened while I was sleeping and then walk to get my coffee. This is my ritual. The walk (and most importantly the coffee) gives me a chance to engage my senses and start working out ideas that I may be able to use in my writing. Rituals should be personal, so don’t try to follow what someone else if doing; instead figure out that works for you. For some, it may be reading the newspaper or listening to a podcast, while others might want to meditate or get some form of exercise in before sitting down. Try out a few different rituals and see what ‘clicks’ for you.  
  2. Set-up your space – Just as we all have different rituals, how we have our workspace arranged varies as well. It also plays a vital role in helping us focus better throughout the day. I tend to be visual, so on the wall in front of my desk, I have important reminders, a calendar to see my deadlines and other need-to-remember dates, and inspiring quotes for when I want to bang my head on my desk. Everything is color coordinated in my brand colors to subtly reinforce my goals, and I try to have what I need within easy reach so I’m not wasting time searching for a Post-it, file, etc. How you choose to design your workspace is up to you, but it should reflect your personality and be functional enough for you to get your work done. And while your workspace doesn’t need to be in a huge office, it would probably be a good idea if it isn’t on your couch or in front of the television.
  3. Measure your time – Once I was bemoaning to a friend that I sometimes sit too long because I’m trying to get a project done, while at the same time feeling frustrated at the end of the day because it didn’t feel like I was getting anything done. I would tell myself, “Just a few more words… another sentence and then I’ll take a break. Her response not only changed the way I worked, but reduced my stress levels, too. You know what her sage advice was? Start using a timer. Wait. What? She explained to me that when she was working on a task she would set a plain old kitchen timer. When it went off, she was done with whatever she was working on. I couldn’t do that—could I? I was skeptical it would work, but I started using a timer in one hour increments. When It went off, I stopped, stood up for a bit or went to get a snack and then came back to work another hour. Sometimes if I was on a roll I would set it for another half hour before taking a break. It worked so well, I started using a timer in other areas of my life (namely household chores) and felt so much more productive. For those who desire even more structure, try the Pomodoro Technique®, which is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo where you work in 25-minute intervals, separated by short breaks. The breaks vary in length depending on how many 25-minute intervals you’ve completed.
  4. Acknowledge your time sucks – This is a double-edged sword for me because my time suck is social media. Over my career, certain projects have required me to be on social media, but it can be a slippery slope if I’m not paying attention. Now that I think about it, this could be another great opportunity for me to use my timer so that I can get a set amount of social media browsing time in without losing my whole day to it. Another time suck for freelancers is email. Obviously it’s something you need to check, but you shouldn’t be refreshing the page every five minutes. Try checking it once every hour. If you’re expecting an important answer or client direction, then try every half hour.
  5. Set boundaries – I may work from home, but I’m not on call 24/7. Knowing when to call it a day is as vital as the routine you establish at the start of your day. If you worked in an office, your workday would end at a specific time. The same should hold true as you work from home. From time-to-time there will may be special circumstances which require you to log in a few extra hours, but it should be the exception and not the norm. It should also be something you get paid to do. Your time is just as valuable as someone who works in a traditional setting. Be polite, but stand your ground when you ‘punch out’ for the day. This holds especially true when a friend asks a ‘favor,’ that will take away from the paying work you need to finish.

Obviously, there are many other tips out there to help you focus and work more efficiently, but the five I mentioned above are a good jumping off point. If you’re curious to learn how famous creatives design their day, check out Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.

What are some your favorite tips on how to stay focused while working from home?

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