Many eight-to-fivers look with envy at freelancers. When they see them typing away on their laptops in coffee shops or get emails from their home offices, they see freelancers as some sort of career gods who have managed to become production machines outside the constraints of the typical workplace. But ask any freelancer and they will tell you that it's not always easy to stay focused while working from home. If that's true in your case, then this article will give you some valuable tips to be more productive when working outside of a traditional office.
Distractions - those enticing little timewasters that drag us away from the desk for 'just a moment', seem to be everywhere for a freelancer. Checking emails, updating social media profiles, running errands, making phone calls, looking after children, grabbing a drink or a snack - even housework can be a procrastination technique if it starts to eat into your working hours. Distractions are far more prevalent when working at home, and far more likely to result in wasted work time. In order to reduce the amount of time you spend unnecessarily distracted, you will need to learn how to organize your workload and minimize potential disruption
Be Your Own Boss
Part of the problem when working from home is a lack of self-discipline. At work we know we are being observed, and if we sat about in our pajamas playing video games all day we'd be fired. Not so when working at home, which is, of course, part of the appeal. But the fact that no one is standing over your shoulder watching your every move doesn't mean you should allow yourself to do these things. At home you must be your own boss, setting your hours and sticking to them. Remove the distractions you know you are most susceptible to (for example, by working in a separate room from the TV) and try to be strict with yourself when it comes to the less avoidable distractions.
Let's look at the big one first - the internet. If you work from home, chances are you're online or at least working at the computer, for most of the day. How do you escape the lure of the vast, shiny internet when trying to be productive? Well, the simplest answer, provided you don't need to be connected to the internet for work, is simply to turn it off. If you don't need it, don't allow yourself access to the World Wide Web until outside of working hours. Or if simply flicking a switch isn't enough of a deterrent, go and work in a café, the park, or somewhere else without Wi-Fi for a while and see how much more productive it makes you. If you genuinely can't help yourself and you are up against a tough deadline, ask a family or friend to change your internet password for the day so you really can't be tempted.
If, however, you rely on an internet connection for your work, you'll need to be a little stronger. Below are some simple ways to reduce the procrastination temptation of the internet - even small obstacles help to reduce the time you spend surfing the internet, directing you back to the work at hand instead:
- Remove quick links to timewasting websites from your toolbar or bookmark list.
- Assign a specific browser to work and ensure it is not logged in to any of the distracting websites that you visit most often.
- If you find yourself browsing, set an alarm for five or ten minutes - once the alarm goes, you must return to your work.
- Try to keep your social/internet time outside of your work hours. If this seems impossible then consider blocking yourself from certain websites using downloadable software or internet tools.
- If you know you're going to be working offline for a while, for example writing up a document or using a program that doesn't need an internet connection, then make a point of turning off the internet until you need it again. You'll be surprised at how the simple hurdle of having to get up to switch it back on again will deter you from distraction.
- Don't use the internet as a reward. Saying: "I'll work for an hour and then I can surf the internet for five minutes" never works because, let's face it, you're likely to get ambushed by the procrastination monster and end up spending much longer than those five little minutes online. Instead, reward yourself with something that's going to give you a boost: a coffee break, a magazine, or a walk round the block, for example.
Other practical challenges we often face when we work from home include detachment from the main work force, a lack of direct communication and interaction with colleagues and team members, and reduced access to data and information. When you work from home, it's even more important for you to ensure that you are checking in with clients and peers each week in order to maintain an adequate level of connection. Most difficulties arise when there is a lack of clear communication, causing confusion, wasted time, and mismanagement of workloads. You must learn to manage your role and responsibilities when working from home to make sure you are not left at a disadvantage compared to your colleagues in the workplace.
Taking control of the main distractions in your home office helps to steer you away from bad habits which can eventually take a real toll on your productivity. To identify the worst distracting culprits, make a note of everything you do during your work hours for a week, including breaks, making food, doing housework, and playing with your kids. Tally it up at the end of the week and see how much each of these distractions eats into your working hours. You'll then be able to clearly see your biggest challenges and can start to take steps to adjust your working practice to avoid them.