As a freelancer, one of the hardest things for me to do is stay on task. When you work from home, your office is everywhere and distractions abound.
While it’s not always easy to stay on task -- even when you’re working on a deadline -- when you work from home, it’s important to find ways to focus.
If you’re struggling to stay on task, here are some tips to help you reclaim your time and be more productive:
1. Work during peak productivity
One of the best ways to stay on task when you work from home is to work during your peak productivity.
If you can mark off hours to get things done when your attention is less likely to be drawn off, you can get a lot more done in less time. It’s easier to stay on task when you aren’t already tired and worn down.
Pay attention to the patterns in your life. You can use your chronotype to get an idea of where you stand, and when your peak productivity might be.
Once you pinpoint your peak productivity, it’s time to schedule it in for work. I try to avoid scheduling interviews, answering email, or doing other mundane tasks during my peak productivity times. That way, I can devote myself to the most important items of work and I’m less likely to be distracted during that time.
2. Designate a work area
I’ll be honest. I’m writing this article from my bed. Normally, though, I don’t work from bed. Or from my couch. Too often, these areas are associated with relaxation and comfort.
They are associated with distractions as well. People coming in and out. Maybe there’s a TV on in the background. There’s a lot going on when you aren’t in a dedicated work area.
Most of the time, I try to work in my home office. I have a desk and a desktop computer in a separate room. Having that space for work helps me focus and recognize that I should be in “work mode.”
Even if you don’t have a whole room you can use as an office when you work from home, it’s possible to designate a work area. Find a place that you can feel comfortable working, and that you can associate with work. That way, you can get mentally prepared to be productive.
3. Take breaks when you need them
The idea of taking a break to stay on task when you work from home probably seems weird. However, it can actually help. Instead of trying to power through something and continually being distracted by how you’re mentally fatigued, take a break.
In general, humans don’t do well trying to push through. I know that the longer I work without a break, the more likely I am to get distracted. If you need a break, take one.
Your break should be a true break. Go for a walk. Meditate. When you have lunch, leave your work area and eat in the kitchen. Less fatigue means a better resistance to distractions.
4. Track your time
Do you know how you’re using your time? When you work from home, it’s sometimes hard to separate what you’re doing for work and when you’re using your time inefficiently.
One of the best things to do is track your time for a week. Be real about how often your “research” turns into a 30-minute trip down the YouTube rabbit hole.
You can also use tools like RescueTime to help you stay on track. I also find that it works to use a time scheduling tool like the Pomodoro Technique to help you focus for a set period of time.
5. Get dressed for the work day
It’s true: one of the perks, when you work from home, is that you can stay in your pajamas all day long.
However, that doesn’t always mean that it will make it easy for you to stay on task. Indeed, if you don’t get dressed, it can be harder to stay focused throughout the day.
One way to make sure that you are in a work frame of mind is to get dressed and ready for the day. If you find that it’s hard to get going while you’re still in your jammies, try making that separation.
Changing can ensure that you move from a sleep state of mind to a work state of mind. Sometimes that transition is an important one to make in order to move forward with your day.
6. Assign specific times for certain tasks
It’s hard to stay on task when you are constantly distracted by email and social media. Even your phone can be a distraction if it’s always buzzing at you.
In order to remain focused in the face of distractions, it helps to schedule specific times to complete various tasks. I only take care of email a couple times a day. I also relegate my time to post on Facebook to specific times.
Not only do I schedule these distractions, but I also set up a time limit. I might work on email for half an hour in the morning, 15 minutes midday and for another half hour later in the day. It’s a way for me to keep from getting too distracted by the things that keep from getting the essential tasks done.
The same is true for Facebook and Twitter. I do my best to limit the amount of time I spend on those social media outlets.
With my phone, I usually set it aside, and schedule times to check it. The main exception is that I have a specific ringtone for my son. That way, if my son needs to get a hold of me during the day, he can. Other than that, I try to stick to a schedule for checking my phone.
7. Schedule non-work items
When you work from home, it’s hard to stop working to take care of non-work items. I’ve got laundry waiting downstairs right now.
However, part of making sure you focus on your work when you’re working is to make sure you have time for the other things in your life.
I make it a point to put the work away when my son gets home from school. This is non-work time scheduled to spend with him. I also designate times to tidy up and to work out.
When you schedule these items into your day, you can focus more on work when you are doing it. You don’t have to be distracted by the fact that you need to cook dinner because you know that it’s in the schedule for later.
Having specific times set aside to take care of these other things can go a long way toward helping you feel as though you can devote the appropriate time to work when it’s time to work.
Working from home doesn’t have to distract you to the point where you don’t get anything done. Schedule your day, pay attention to when you work best and pretty soon you will be as productive as possible -- no matter where you decide to work.