Being your own boss means being able to choose exactly when and where you work. That’s pretty awesome, right?
Working flexibly can be a huge help with achieving work/life balance and is practical from both a logistical and financial point of view. For example, you can join in the parents’ race at school sports day without taking a whole day off and save cash on office overhead and travel costs.
However, working outside of an office can be difficult at times. Home distractions can mean that you get less work done and procrastination may mean that even getting started is difficult.
So how can you ‘work smarter’, i.e. stop procrastinating and achieve more?
Well, it’s simply a question of creating structure and discipline for your work day. Once you get into your groove, you’ll wonder why you ever struggled with staying on-track.
Read on for our 7 top tips to stay in control, keeping you productive and motivated, wherever and whenever you choose to work.
1. Get Up, Get Dressed & Get To Work!
Of course, you don’t have to get up at 6am (the benefit of having no commute is that you can have a little more sleep), however that doesn’t mean you can lie in until noon every day.
Decide your working hours, then set a daily alarm that will give you enough time to get up, shower, dress, and make yourself a cuppa before you begin your working day. Some people find it helps to ‘dress’ for work (i.e. wear smart/’office’ clothes). I find I can concentrate better in comfortable joggers and a T shirt, but I do always change out of my pyjamas to switch into a ‘work’ mindset. Find what works for you but make sure you do something that signals your brain to be prepared for work.
2. Choose The Most Productive Work Space For You
Some people can work effectively from their sofa or kitchen table, others need a proper desk in a home office. You may choose to escape home distractions by working from your local library, or you might prefer the buzz of a nearby coffee shop. Experiment with different work spaces and decide what works best for you. Be aware that this might change, depending on what you want to achieve. For example, completing your tax return may require solitude and calm, whereas design inspiration might be enhanced by some fresh air (garden office, anyone?).
3. Prioritise Your Tasks
At the start of your day (or perhaps the night before!), make a list of what you want to achieve. Order this list with the most critical task first and make this your priority. By working on your most important (and challenging) task first, you’re more likely to complete it and then feel motivated to continue with the less onerous ones!
This time management technique of starting with your biggest, most important task is advocated by Brian Tracey
He dubs it ‘Eat That Frog’, which stems from a Mark Twain quote:
“If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”
4. Minimise Distractions
You’ve already decided what is important and chosen to focus on that today, so don’t allow your phone, news sites, social media, chores, pets or anything else to distract you from that. This may mean closing the door to your workspace, complete with a large ‘do not disturb’ sign, switching your phone to silent, turning off social media alerts, or using a website blocker to help you stay focused.
5. Manage Your Time To Maximise Productivity
These tips will help you get even more done in less time:
Email can be a huge distraction (and the more you send, the more you receive!), so turn off email alerts, set time aside to check it and stick to that. For example, you might check email only first thing in the morning and again after lunch.
If you find yourself writing a lengthy missive to someone via email, consider giving them a call or send a voice note instead.
‘Chunk’ your time to boost your productivity. You’ve already decided WHEN to check email, so go one step further and decide HOW LONG to spend on it. When this time runs out, STOP and go onto your next task. Do this with every task on your to do list. Breaking down your tasks into timed ‘chunks’ creates a sense of urgency and translates tasks into a series of ‘appointments’. And by limiting your time spent on each task, you naturally focus on the most urgent first.
Try the ‘pomodoro’ time management technique. Essentially this means that you work on a specific task for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. After 4 of these 25 minute blocks, you take a longer break of 15-20 minutes (you might use a timer app to help you with this). Pomodoro works well with time chunking. You can ‘chunk’ each task according to how many 25 minute blocks you want to dedicate to it.
This technique forces you to focus on a task for a specific time, but the regular breaks prevent you from feeling stressed.
6. Take Breaks
Regular breaks actually increase your productivity and help you stay motivated. Think of them as a mini reward for avoiding procrastination! So, when that timer goes off to tell you that it’s break time, how do you spend it?
Here’s a few ideas, but I’m sure you have others!
· Read a book or magazine
· Do some yoga
· Go for a walk around the block
· Make a cuppa
· Give your fur babies some love (is that just me?!)
Remember to get back to work once break time is over!
7. Stay Away From Lunchtime Drinking!
You wouldn’t drink in the office at lunchtime (unless you work in an advertising agency from the 1960s *ahem* Don Draper), but when you’re working from home it might be tempting to have a glass of wine with your lunch. That glass of wine might be a large one. And you might be tempted to top it up…
That’s a recipe for a fruitless afternoon. Avoiding alcohol during your working day will make those Friday night G&Ts all the more enjoyable!