Working from home is awesome ... right up until the cat throws up on your computer. And your neighbor -- who you can only assume is building a time machine -- starts firing up all sorts of power tools and noisy machinery across the street.
For many modern professionals, working from home every once in a while is a luxury that our respective companies afford us. But which environment actually allows us to be more productive: the home office or the office office?
In the office office, your coworkers often pose the greatest threat to keeping you from getting some real, heads-down work done. They drop by your desk. They engage you in conversation. They invite you to lunch. I mean, jeez, the nerve of these people.
At the home office, however, I find that it's easy for you to become your own worst enemy. Because when you're not surrounded by coworkers, you're free to drop those pesky inhibitions. At the home office, no one's watching. You don't necessarily feel that same peer pressure or communal obligation to get stuff done. (Also: You don't have to wear pants.)
Below, I've compiled a bunch of great work-at-home tips and tricks from some of my awesome coworkers.
How to Work From Home and Still Be Productive: 20 Tips
1) Get started early.
When I work from home, I wake up, put on a pot of coffee, and start working immediately -- much earlier normal working hours. I only start making breakfast once I've hit a wall or need a break. I'm a morning person and find I can get a ton done in the early morning hours, so this works really well for me. "
2) Pretend like you are going into the office.
Get fully ready for the day and pretend you're actually going to work. Otherwise, you might find yourself back in bed."
3) Structure your day like you would in the office.
Are mornings for writing while you're in the office? Use the same schedule at home. While you probably will get tasks done faster at home than at work, this structure will help keep you focused and productive."
4) Choose a dedicated work space.
Have a place you go specifically to work. It could be a certain table, chair, local coffee shop -- some place that's consistently your 'work space.' It helps you get into the right frame of mind."
5) Don't stay at home.
I get out of my home to work, and go to a Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, or other WiFi enabled establishment with actual tables, chairs, and people. It helps simulate the work environment for me -- white noise, chatter, that kind of thing -- that usually helps me work better than utter silence. It also removes the distractions I typically have at home like the urge to finally actually clean my room, do laundry, or watch TV.
I also refuse to play into the trope of being some jerk sitting at Starbucks not doing any real work, so I feel motivated not to mess around on Facebook all day to show there are still people who actually get stuff done at a coffee shop!"
6) Make it harder for yourself to mess around on social media.
I remove all social networks from my toolbar bookmarks. Even if I don't mean to browse them, some uncontrollable impulse subconsciously clicks on them when I experience downtime. You can get sucked in without knowing it (or even intending to), so eliminating the gateway to those networks keeps me on track."
7) Commit to doing more.
Our team has a daily standup meeting each morning where we share what we're working on for the day. On days I'm working from home, I tend to slightly overcommit on what I'll deliver that day. It helps keep me honest, so even if I get the urge to go do something else, I know I've already committed a certain amount of work to my team."
8) Work when you're at your most productive.
For me, the most productive times of the day are usually early in the morning or late at night. I recognize this and try to plan my day accordingly. Also, music that really pumps me up doesn't hurt."
9) Save calls for the afternoon.
Take advantage of morning hours to crank through meaty projects without distractions, and save any calls or virtual meetings for the afternoon."
10) Find a distraction ... like a baby!
When I work from home, my 20-month-old daughter is home with me, too. It seems counterintuitive, but because I have to manage taking care of her and keeping her happy and entertained while still getting my work done, the pressure helps to keep me focused. When she's napping or entertaining herself, I go into super-productive work mode.
It's the same idea for why some people work better when they have very busy schedules -- you learn how to manage your time VERY efficiently. The 'distraction' of my daughter (I mean that in the most loving way possible) means I can't possibly succumb to some of the other common distractions of home -- putting in a load of laundry, turning on the TV, doing other household chores -- or else I'd never get any actual work done."
11) Plan out what you'll be working on ahead of time.
If I'm planning on working from home on a certain day, I'll make sure to get any work done ahead of time that requires me to be in the office -- for example, if I'm working on a task that would be infinitely easier to complete with access to my large monitor screen, or need to schedule meetings with coworkers that are best had in person. Plan out your week in advance to optimize for the environments you'll be in."
12) Use technology to stay connected.
Part of what enables us to work from home so much more often now is the array of apps and tools designed to help remove distance as a barrier between team members. Finding the right tools to keep you and your team connected is important for staying productive at home.
At HubSpot, we use Slack to keep conversations going remotely, Trello to keep us organized around priorities, and Google Hangouts plus Webex to make remote meetings more productive. Getting the right stack of support tools to fit your work style makes a big difference."
13) Match your music to the task at hand.
Find different playlists to match your different energy levels/required work throughout the day -- and only use them when you're doing those tasks. For example, when I'm powering through my inbox, I need some intense and catchy rap/R&B (like Nicki Minaj or Miley Cyrus) blasting through my headphones, but when I'm writing, Tom Petty is the trick. Finding what music motivates and focuses me for different tasks (and then sticking to those playlists for those tasks) has completely changed my WFH productivity."
14) Use laundry as a work timer.
I usually do laundry when I work from home and I set mini-deadlines for myself corresponding to when I have to go downstairs to switch loads. If I'm working on an article, I tell myself I'll get to a certain point before the wash cycle ends. Then I set another goal for the dryer."
15) Communicate expectations with anyone who will be home with you.
If anyone else is going to be at home when you're working, they just have to be clear that when you're in your 'office' (in my case, my signal to the family is having headphones on), you're working -- even if it looks like and feels like you're hanging out at home. It's easy to get distracted by the many things that have to be done around the house during the day."
16) Take clear breaks.
Breaks, like making and eating lunch, can recharge you to do better work. Don't assume you need to be working 100% of the time while you're home to be more productive."
17) Interact with other humans.
Go outside and find a human to interact with -- ordering your coffee, running an errand, whatever. It keeps you sane."
18) Prepare your meals the night before.
When you're in your own home, it can be tempting to spend time preparing a really nice breakfast and lunch for yourself, chopping and cooking included. But that's time you wouldn't have spent meal prepping if you'd been in the office that day, and I find the minutes can really add up in the end. To mitigate that, I try to cook and prep my meals the night before, just like I would for a day at the office."
19) Pick a definitive finishing time each day.
If you work from home full-time (or on a regular basis), it’s really easy to let your work life bleed into your personal life. Maintaining a boundary is important for both halves of the equation."
20) Keep the TV on in the background.
I spent my first two years out of college working from home as a freelance writer. Of all the tips, tricks, and secrets I've uncovered for being more productive at home, one stands out above the rest: Putting on the History Channel. No joke. Just keep the History Channel running in the background at a low volume, and I swear, you'll get stuff done. (I'm not exactly sure why this trick works, but I can only assume it has something to do with ancient aliens.)"
- Me (Erik Devaney)
What tips do you have for being productive while working from home? Share with us in the comments.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.