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How to Actually be Productive When Working from Home

Falling into the hole of wearing pajamas until noon is far too easy when you work at home

Depending on your personality, working from home can be a dream or a nightmare. There are pros and cons to both: You can work in your pajamas, but then you also may not speak out loud for hours and often forget to shower.

As someone who has not worked in an office for over five years, first as a hotel inspector who was always on the go and now as someone who started their own business, I’ve realized that, as a vast generalization, there are two basic types of people: One) Those who need a structure from within which they can operate. These are the people who enjoy going into an office, having a routine and then excel within that set-up. Second) People who feel stifled in that setting and want to create their own schedule.

While neither is better than the other, I’m going to address this second group (which I’m part of). Once I tasted that sweet, sweet freedom that comes from making my own schedule, it felt nearly impossible to return to the confines of an office: What do you mean I can’t just go to a yoga class in the middle of the day or run an errand when I feel like I’m not being productive?

I liken it to being in school. You have work you have to get done, but it’s on you when you do it. I loved being in school, so it’s not surprising that I like a freelance schedule. With that said, there is a certain amount of fear that a lack of structure will impose on you unless you become vigilant and disciplined about a schedule. (This New Yorker story accurately describes the dark side of working from home.) And, this is all to say that you need to be a self motivator because no one is going to be on you to get it done.

Here, some quick tips on how to organize your time. Take what works and ditch the rest.

Get a Whiteboard or Chalkboard

As a writer working on a book and someone who recently launched a lifestyle brand with a digital guide arm and a consulting service arm, I’m working on a lot of different things so that it’s easy for me to feel scattered if I don’t stay organized. A white board provides a place to organize my thoughts, write a weekly schedule or reminders of what I need to do that week. It’s also great for creative brainstorming and outlining.

Make a Weekly Schedule

At the start of each week, create a working visual calendar. I use a whiteboard but a word doc or old-fashioned piece of paper also works. Separate whatever you view as your working days, then, by chunks of time, write out what you’ll work on during that time. You can schedule in calls, lunch meetings, work-out classes, naps, whatever, but make sure it’s on the schedule so that you stay organized and don’t feel like you’re falling behind. Keep it realistic.

For example, here’s what a recent Tuesday schedule looked like for me:

9 am to 10:30 yoga

11:30 to 1:30 Write and edit book chapters

1:30 Post on Instagram and Twitter

2 to 3:30 Outreach and email follow-up for consulting services; Adjust wording slides for pitch deck

3:30 to 5:30 Write London’s best Indian food story; Edit granola post and photos for LokaPack website

5:30 to 6:30 Finish weekly newsletter for tomorrow

Keep Your Workspace Clean

Clean home, clear mind. Or something to that extent is what one of my yoga teachers once said to me. It makes sense to keep your working space clean and clutter free. I’m someone who abides by the rules of “organized chaos.” I know where everything is, but it might look like a huge mess to you. When I was a food editor, I used to get sent tons and tons of cookbooks that would pile high next to and on my desk. But I knew where each one was located, even if it was a bit of an eye sore for everyone else.

Working at home, I am a clean person, but I’m also the kind of person who walks into a room and leaves a trail behind me as I unload my bags, clothes, keys, headphones, etc. When I take those few minutes to put things away, I find that I feel more calm sitting down to write and think.

Do One Thing at a Time

If you’re making coffee, then make coffee. Don’t let your mind wander to the five hundred other things you need to do that day. If you need to write, then go to a coffee shop that doesn’t have Wi-Fi, put your phone on airplane mode and write. Trying to do too many things at once can leave you feeling scatterbrained.

Make Sure to Interact with Other Freelancers

Set up a co-working date with a fellow freelancer in a coffee shop, find a co-working space that isn’t going to distract you or something similar to that so you can engage with other people. Working for yourself or at home can be really lonely if you don’t get out of the house.

Do What Keeps You Sane

This is different for each person. For me, it’s yoga and meditation. It’s doing breathing exercises when I start to feel stressed and panicky and other ways of stopping the fear from spinning out of control. Starting a business or working for yourself is really hard, and I have to remind myself to keep putting one foot in front of another and keep going instead of sitting there and overthinking it.

Be Okay with Change

When you’re building a business or working with other people, sometimes you can’t control all aspects of your schedule, and that’s okay. Being flexible is part of this and then making sure it doesn’t stress you out. For me, having a schedule and clearing those tasks off of my checklist makes me feel good. If I have things that need to be done, but they aren’t an immediate priority, I keep them on the side of the board, so I can get to them if I have extra time.

Need to procrastinate? Plan a vacation with one of LokaPack’s travel guides aka what I get done when I’m not procrastinating. 

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