Sunday, July 22, 2007 at 11:00pm by Site Administrator
Working at home, whether for a salaried job or your own business, brings all kinds of distractions and puts your productivity at risk. A few tweaks to your schedule and work habits can increase your productivity. Here are a few suggestions.
These are general suggestions for your work day and frame of mind.
- Get up earlier.
If you can get up 30-60 minutes earlier each day than usual, that’s at least 2.5-5 hrs of extra time per week that you can use for work, research, personal tasks or even play. Not everyone needs 8-10 hours of sleep per day. For a really radical variation on sleeping, consider polyphasic sleep, where you take 20-30 minute naps every four hours – or some similar variation. The net result is more waking hours without fatigue, though the schedule is not always conducive to a normal social life.
- Get well soon.
If you push yourself to the breaking point, the longer you stay sick, obviously the less you’re like to get done. This is when less is more: take a break so that you can recover sooner. Consider getting an emergency work assistant.
- Dress for work.
Just because you can work naked or in jammies doesn’t mean you should. Any sort of casual clothing tells your subconcious that what you’re doing is also casual. What you wear at home is important and can help put you in a productive mindset. It’ll also help you follow work hours mentally (see below).
- Have a comfortable work environment.
Just because you should wear work clothes does not mean you can’t be comfortable. A good chair that supports good posture pays off in the long run.
- Apply the 80/20 or 70/30 rule.
Whichever variation you follow, the general principle is that X% (80 or 70) of your return/ revenue comes from Y% (20 or 30) of your effort/ customers. So drop troublesome clients that just waste your time with their complaints.
- Don’t eat at your computer.
Not eating at your computer has nothing to do with keeping your keyboard clean. It has to do with separating work and non-work states of mind. Eating at your computer puts you in the negative frame of mind that you are always working. Resentment is a terrible detractor to productivity. Your mind needs a rest from a work frame of mind. So step away for meals and snacks.
- Minimize distractions.
This is a general suggestion to minimize all non-work-related distractions. Make sure friends and family know when you’re working and that they respect this time. Don’t answer the phone or the door if you don’t feel like it. It sounds easy, but we’re brought up to respond. To ease guilt, schedule time with family.
These tips focus primarily on task management.
- Take breaks.
If you are not feeling productive, staring at your computer does nothing to help this. Step away, go for a walk, watch a bit of TV, listen to the radio, take a nap, read something, mow the lawn, or even do any paper work at different desk or table. Taking a break relaxes your mind – a state that often brings breakthroughs in problem-solving as well as creative ideas. Not taking a break inevitably results in mental and physical stress, after which no amount of overtime hours will make a difference in helping you complete work.
- Define work hours.
I know. You didn’t decide to work at home only to enforce work hours on yourself. However, not doing so might lead you into the state of mind where you feel you’re working all day long. Some people who work at home split the day up into two or three periods. This allows prime time for personal tasks or even enjoyable activities such as golf or cycling.
- Make time for necessary tasks.
Even when working at home there’ll be those tasks you’d really rather not do. If you don’t have a (virtual) assistant, then obviously you will have to do them sometime. It may not be billable work but it needs doing. Mark off time on your work calendar for these tasks. Pick times when you are least creative and/or have no billable work. Save your creative time for billable work. If you need a bit of help scheduling, trying using a free web-based calendaring tool such as Google Calendar or 30Boxes.
- Review your to-do lists.
What good is a to-do list if you don’t review it at the end of the day? If you’re constantly shifting incomplete tasks to be done the next day, then you’re either not working productively or you’re expecting too much in a given day. That’s something you’ll need to resolve on your own.
- Leverage your productive time.
If you’re feeling productive today, put in extra time to get more work done now. That way, when you’re under the weather, feeling creatively unproductive, or simply “blocked”, you don’t have to feel guilty or stressed, and can even spend some personal time by yourself, with family members or friends. We all go through cycles of creativity, and you probably know when your “highs” are. Take advantage of them. Relax on the low days guilt-free by utilizing your high productivity days.
- Leverage your research.
If your work requires a lot of regular research, leverage your efforts. Say you do twenty hours of research for something but it only results in a few dollars of earnings. You’ve obviously made poor use of your time. Is there any way that you use the same effort to earn additional revenue? Can you spend another hour or two to produce additional billable work from that research effort?
- Maximize your work ROI.
You may have several contracts to choose from, but the best ones are not necessarily the highest paying ones. You have to think long-term. Are you accepting a short-term contract at the risk of losing a long-term one that will pay more overall? Or are you accepting high per-project fees for work that actually results in a lower per hour wage? The wrong choice can affect your overall productivity and drastically reduce your earnings.
- Optimize multi-tasking.
Not everyone can pull of efficient multi-tasking, though if you can, it’s amazing how much work you can get done in a day.
Technology is your friend if you know how to use it efficiently.
- Minimize email checking.
Checking your email multiple times per day serves only to distract you from work, fragmenting your concentration. If you’re doing it because you don’t feel productive, then take a break or work on another project. As for how often to check your mail, some people prefer twice a day, others at the beginning of each hour. Any more than that is obsessive. Just make sure that people you normally communicate with regularly know you’re reducing response frequency.
- Utilize web technology.
Use soft VoIP such as Skype instead of a telephone. Use text/ VoIM chat (AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Google Talk) instead of VoIP. Use email instead of text chat. Text chat allows you to optimize your multi-tasking without offending the other party, since you can juggle a couple of on-computer tasks more easily than if you use a phone or even soft VoIP. Remember to set IM office hours, else you may find people trying to talk to you all day long – which is a sure way to guarantee not getting any work done.
- Aggregate and source out tasks.
If there are tasks you do regularly that you feel are wasting your time keeping you from more productive work, consider hiring a part- or full-time virtual assistant, aka remote professional or online business manager. Similarly, if there’s work that needs doing around the house and taking the time to do it means losing billable work time, outsource it someone who’ll do it for less than what you estimate your services are worth. That’s provided you don’t enjoy doing the work yourself. No doubt some great ideas have come during household or yard chores.
- Use automated invoicing.
Automated invoicing of your clients can save you a bit of time each week/ month which can be put to good use elsewhere. There are numerous online finance tools available, many free or set at a low monthly rate. This includes Wesabe, which is both a money manager and automated invoicer. As well, it can actually interact with your bank accounts and credit card. If you need to customize your use of Wesabe, there’s an API (Application Programming Interface). Alternately, you can use PayPal to setup monthly “subscriptions” that automatically collect money from clients’ PayPal accounts, or manage collections by manually sending invoices that stay active until paid.
- Work online and keep a portable office.
Use web software, webware. Why? Because web applications are integrated into the whole online world. Hyperlinks in a web document take you to the appropriate webpage. Information gathering tends to be more efficient when you can work from a single web browser with multiple tabs.
- Use wikis.
If you’re working with a virtual team, instead of explaining something over and over by email, phone, text chat, or VoIP, use a wiki or a private weblog. Write it once, publish, then point teammates to the content.
- Structure your planning.
If you manage a lot of projects and/or work with teammates remotely, consider applying project management principles as well as using mindmapping. Mindmapping allows you to brainstorm ideas and to do simple management of to-do lists and projects. Project management, in a nutshell, requires more structure in ensuring that related tasks don’t create project bottlenecks if they’re not completed on time.
For a more detailed look at prepping yourself for productivity, check out Steve Pavlina’s article How to create a personal productivity scaffold. For those of you doing creative work at home, you may find certain hours of the day more conducive to your effort. There’s good and bad in each slice of the day. Here’s a diagram to represent this.
Diagram inspired by David Armano.
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