Twenty Ways to Stay Productive When Working at Home

Work At Home

How do you stay productive when you are working at home by yourself? Although many people working from home enjoy the freedom and convenience, it is much easier to be lazy outside of a work environment. The flexibility of working at home gives you the potential to be far more productive, but it can be a huge waste of time if you aren’t smart about it.

With running this blog and various other projects I usually end up working at least 20-30 hours per week at home. That means answering hundreds of weekly e-mails, writing at least 3000 words per day, in addition to networking, research and various support tasks. Less than some, but enough to keep me busy in addition to work and school.

Here are some strategies I’ve found effective for ensuring productivity when working at home. These apply whether you are working a paid job, freelancing, running a home business or you simply want to make headway on a personal project.

  1. Build a Work Ethic – Workplaces enforce discipline. Without a system of rules and supervisors breathing down your neck, you might find it hard to stick to your schedule. Make a mental note of your productivity and work ethic and set goals to improve it. If you only got 4 hours worth of work done yesterday, aim for 4.5 today.
  2. Don’t Overestimate Your Productivity – This is one of the lies people commit when they start working at home. You have eight hours to work, so you assume you will get eight hours of work done. Becoming really productive is possible, but it requires building a work-ethic. Start small and build up.
  3. Don’t Count the Low-Value Tasks – Determine what is most important and count that first. I’ve heard from home entrepreneurs that they work 10-12 hour days. But then I manage to see them making forum posts and lengthy e-mails. It makes you wonder what they consider work. Only count time from your extremely important and difficult tasks. Spending one hour writing a blog article or finishing several pages of my book is worth a dozen hours of answering e-mails.
  4. Cut Out Distractions – Put yourself in a vacuum. Shut down every distraction possible. I always keep my door shut and locked if possible and I don’t use the internet unless I need to research a quote or image. Twitter, chat, e-mail and RSS are also definite no’s. I can understand the appeal, but you can get work done twice as fast without multitasking which will save you a few minutes to use those programs later.
  5. Start Early – Waking up early and start working right in the morning is a good idea. This doesn’t give you a chance to procrastinate. Plus it feels great to know you’ve finished eight hours of work at 2:00 or 3:00.
  6. Know Thy Energy – Know when you are feeling drained and tired. My rule is simple. When I notice that my energy is slumped and I’m barely keeping my lids open I go for another ten minutes (sometimes lethargy is just a creativity block). If that doesn’t fix it, I take a short 5-10 minute break. Finally if that doesn’t work a longer breather might be necessary.
  7. Learn to Say No – When you are working at home and have flexibility, this is the perfect opportunity for friends, family and associates to rip time away from you. Sometimes they will guilt you into doing things because, “they [unlike you] HAVE to work.” Be firm and don’t give them an inch. Don’t let people disrespect your time and learn to say, “No,” without an explanation.
  8. Set Daily Goals – I don’t schedule tasks that don’t need to be. But I do write down exactly what I want to have accomplished by the end of the day tomorrow. Setting daily goals keeps you from feeling you need to do everything by splitting your workload into a manageable chunk.
  9. Use Parkinsons LawParkinsons Law basically states that a task will expand to the time you give it. Crunch your workload by giving yourself only a few minutes to finish tasks where completion is more important than perfection.
  10. Learn to Churn – What happens when you get writers/programmers/designers block? Learn to churn out content. This means that once you run out of ideas, you tell yourself that your goal is volume not quality. Tell yourself that you will redo it later if it is too horrible. The truth is, usually the quality is decent and you get back to normal after a few minutes of churning.
  11. Create a Professional Space – Your environment should make you feel like working. If it doesn’t, it’s time to redecorate. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but if working at home only makes you feel like playing computer games, you need a change of scenery.
  12. Set Work Hours – Don’t confuse work with life. Set your working hours to maximize your productivity when working and to keep work where it belongs. I have frequently set vague limits on my work time which only served to make me an unproductive workaholic.
  13. What’s Your MIT? – Always know what your Most Important Task is. Leo at ZenHabits recommends putting your MIT first so you won’t procrastinate. Even if the rest of the day is unproductive, your day was still valuable if you get that task done.
  14. Have a Social Life – Working from home often eliminates a lot of your social life. Join groups and activities like Toastmasters to meet people more easily and reclaim a social network that may have been entirely located in the office. Without people, your energy is shot. I’ve managed to work through some bouts of isolation, but I don’t consider it the ideal.
  15. Vary Your Tasks – If you went to the gym, could you just do pushups for an hour straight? Probably not. So if you are a writer or programmer, is your ideal method to write or code for ten hours straight? I like to split up different tasks throughout the day so I can use different mental “muscles.” This keeps me fresh and productive without the need for long breaks.
  16. Boredom before Quitting – When I don’t like any of the ideas I’ve saved up in my notepad to write about I frequently go through a period of doing nothing for five or ten minutes until I get a new idea. If this happens to you, resist the temptation to go online or do something else. Even if you could postpone your work hours, stick it through another ten or fifteen minutes.
  17. Get Outside Perspectives – When you are isolated, you can often get stuck in one perspective that makes it hard to solve problems. Build up a network (particularly online) of people you can contact when you hit a road-block. I know several people that I can bounce ideas off when my own solutions come short.
  18. Give Yourself Overtime – If you are really involved in a project, working an extra hour to finish a section before wrapping up for the day is fine. Compensate yourself the next day with a reduced workload so you don’t start letting your workday expand to fill all your waking moments.
  19. The Extra 15 – When you get stuck or feel a strong urge to quit, just commit to do an extra fifteen minutes of work. Usually this is enough to carry you out of the slump and move forward. If it isn’t then you probably need a break.
  20. Utilize Your Flexibility – Take advantage of your extra flexibility. This can mean making adjustments in your work schedule to take on new opportunities or fitting work around your life. When good opportunities come up, take them and commit to compensate later. This requires a bit more discipline, but it is one of the best advantages of working from home.

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Image courtesy of flickr

  • Benny

    GREAT post!! Thanks a lot! I find this very useful… even instrumental.

  • Carlos

    It did help me a lot never thought that such a short reding like this would make such an impact in my life.

  • Chris Heidel

    These tips are great. Facebook and Twitter are my biggest time sucks. I like the ideas of churning and of setting limits on the time for a task. Thanks!

  • Robert Polan

    Great work. I’ve been working from home for several years now and even with thirty years of self management in sales I sometimes find it hard to stay at my desk. Sometimes the most productive task needs to make way for the one that is more fun or rewarding.

    Make sure to have some fun along the way.

  • Heather

    I think I’ll need to bookmark this article o.o There was so much in there that I agree with and want to test out!

    Just set myself some work hours, so we’ll see how that goes. :)

  • Gabi Juns

    Great post! I’m a freelancer but I avoid working from home. It’sa amazing when you can control your time, spend 10 min with the dogs in the middle of the day etc. But it drives me crazy not to have colleagues in the same room. I can’t get rid of Skype and that makes me less productive.
    How to solve that?


  •* Chantelle

    Great ideas, I especially like and use the getting outside one. Nothing like a brisk walk or jog with my Rotti to clear out the cobwebs in my brain :)) Thanks 4 the cool post! I LUV working from home, way less time-wasters here and no office politics…Its totally the way to go!

  • Phil Michaelson

    One more: don’t bring your work email device (phone or computer) into the non professional spaces


  • Leslie Stewart-Dan

    Great ideas and validation on what happens when you have a home-based office, especially running your own biz – thanks!

    Love your points on valuing high productivity (and high revenue!) tasks first, and that an hour of writing is X10 of email upkeep at times. Our email/cyber culture often ‘sucks’ my clients, friends – and me at times! – in to massive unproductivity-mode…


  • Martin Lucas

    That’s a great list – really helpful.

  • raul_barriga

    Good reasons to work effectively from home, I´ve read the post and i see defects in my own way of work… read and think about it makes you understand what are you wasting time… Im wasting time twitting, and surfing links from another creatives….

    i try to disconnect …


  • Janet Barclay

    I’m an early riser but don’t like to start important work until I’ve finished waking up, so I usually ease into my day with tasks demanding less brain power. I’ve stopped logging into Facebook in the morning and in its place I’m visiting LinkedIn on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and smaller but also important business networking sites on the other days, and it’s working really well for me.

    This is a great article, by the way. Now following you on Twitter.

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  • Mark

    Wonderful post. I’m guilty of breaking a lot of these rules. I can see where they would all help to be productive.

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  • Larry Rivera

    Great Post, I am also guilty of breaking those rules…

  • Shailesh Mewada

    Very useful..thanks!!!

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  • Brad Hardinge

    Thanks for the tips, now to start following them…

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  • money taking surveys

    I can not agree more I have been working from home for about 2 1/2 years and most everything you stated holds true. Me personal I find the hardest thing to do is to remain focused and when the weather gets nice you can times that by 10.

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  • http://TwentyWaystoStayProductiveWhenWorkingatHome maritza

    I have been working at home for about 6 months. At the beginning I was so enthusiastic about the idea of staying home, but by the time passed I got borned, I find hundred things to do different of working, up to the point that I don’t enjoy my work anymore. Any suggestion? I will really appreciate

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  • ebusinessmom

    there are really lots of considerations in order to work freely from home. nice ideas and tips it will help lots of people

  • Mr Kleeneze

    Great list although number 5 is a little subjective. I split my day up normally as I am more productive web wise at night. This does get in the way of the day job a little. Thankfully working from home is so flexible

  • A

    So what do you do if your family completely ignores the warnings you give and bangs at your door every time they need something? You firmly say no but they laugh it out like you aren’t working at all then go to the kitchen and still make a racket?

  • Discordian Jon

    I love these posts!

    Same as with most Hollywood movies I can predict the whole thing once I’m through the intro and the 1st one on the list. it all goes like this:

    1. do stuff you can’t get yourself to do.
    2. do another one of these.
    3. ignoring the fact you’ve been fighting this habit for most of your teen to adult life, just go on and to this one too.
    18. this one will assume you, same way as me (yea right), make a living selling ebooks and writing blog, and of course looking hot while doing it
    many of these.
    19. ??????
    20. profit
    19. ???

  • Matelot

    If only my fu<king company allows WFH, sigh

  • Leon

    > Learn to Say No

    Easy one. I don’t have friends so I don’t have to say no 😛

  • azazel

    almost obvious rules

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  • Buntu Redempter

    Well done, I wish I found this blog sooner!

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  • Abinaya

    Great post!! :)
    I’m currently in university and have a month’s break before my finals begin. I returned home for the vacation & haven’t been able to get much work done.. Will try these tips and let you know if they work for me.
    Also I happen to learn things slowly. I take a day or so to complete one or two chapters! Scott, are there any tips you can provide me with to learn fast yet effectively?


  • Kyle

    Great list Scott, most of the reasons why we are losing our urge to be productive is we let time control us instead of us controlling it. There are different ways and strategies that can help us however, we should find out what is effective for us to stay productive. Have you read Tim Ferriss, the 4Hour Workweek? It is a great time management book that can also help. Another is there are also online tools that can help you to stay productive like this time management. Using this tool it can help you manage time efficiently to do more work at a short period of time. This way it can help you improve productivity. However, time management won’t be successful if you don’t have self discipline. With discipline you can ignore work distractions and follow scheduled task and finish it on time.

  • Mary Kutheis

    Very insightful. As more and more people are working from home this advice is vital to making it work while not blurring the line between personal and professional pursuits. Not that doing so is all bad. Just when people forget to have a life completely separate from work — which happens when the office is only feet away.

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  • yasmeen

    that’s very useful thanks scott