There are two things folks typically say when you tell them that you work from home. The first is: You’re so lucky. You get to be in your pajamas all day and wake up whenever you want! Uh, sure. And the second is something along the lines of, I wouldn’t get anything done and probably end up on Facebook/watching Walking Dead/snacking all day.
Actually, talk to any honest work-at-home parent and they’ll probably say, “Same, man. Same.” The truth is, it’s a regular challenge for us WAHs too. Trying to stay on task and not get lured away by social media, binge streaming and sweet-salty pantry offerings takes work.
But the best news is this: Being productive isn’t a secret science. Getting a lot of things accomplished from a home office (or home living room or home dining room table) is totally doable. And it starts with adopting some smart habits. So, because many of us here are WAH types ourselves, we thought we’d look at the best tips from research, experts and the real lives of the work-at-home parents we talk to and work with every day, here are 8 tried-and-true tips to help you do your best when you’re working in a less conventional setting.
(Get It Done printable office artwork: Grafik Shop on Etsy)
1. Clean the Clutter
We all probably know the benefits of decluttering and organizing our homes and overall lives, even if we don’t quite get there. (Best laid plans and all.) However, in order to have room for anything fresh and new, the essence is that you have to get rid of all the stacks of stuff cluttering up your space first. There are even desks designed specifically to help you eliminate the clutter of cords and tech devices, and a great docking station can help too.
This suggestion is actually backed by neuroscience research which has shown that your brain always notices the disorder around you — the small mountain of random papers on your desk, the 80 open tabs on your laptop, the days-old, half-empty coffee mugs on your desk — and messes with your ability to properly focus on the real task at hand. So, tidy up that workspace, friends! Your brain and your workload will thank you for it.
2. Name Your Tasks for the Day
One way to avoid wasting time and spinning your wheels is to be clear about what you’re going to work on when you get to your workspace. Complete these three specific tasks. Tackle these 12 starred emails. Finish the financials section of the proposal. Whatever it is, write it down.
You can use a productivity tool like the Todoist app (above) or go old school with pen and paper to draw out a clear plan about what you’re going to tackle when you sit down to work. Or, just put a sticky note Whatever works for you.
Otherwise you may find yourself off on tangents, digging through internet rabbit holes or distracted by non-essentials projects like cleaning out the kitchen utility drawer. (Because I head from a friend that this can happen.)
3. Turn Off All Notifications
You don’t need to know who “hearts” your fall leaves pic on Instagram or who retweeted your quip about the new Star Wars trailer on Twitter. It’s so distracting! Our editor Liz swears by this tip to help keep her productive: Simply turn off notifications. She talked about this on an early episode of the Spawned podcast and it’s amazing how many listeners found this small trick super helpful.
The truth is, it’s not only distracting to get those little pings, but switching back and forth between social media messages and whatever you’re working actually slows you down even longer than the time it takes to read a quick status update, because your brain needs more time to refocus on your current task. So turn off all pings, whistles and chimes, and be ruthless about it. Square off a block of hours and label them your notifications-free zone — you may actually find you can live without them all the time.
Now, if you can’t live without certain notifications, follow Liz’s suggestion and limit them to some very select people only, like a DM from your partner or a text from your babysitter. So you don’t miss the key stuff, she suggests you can use IFTTT (above) to set an alert for specific updates, like when your teen posts an Instagram photo or your boss adds IMPORTANT to an email subject line.
4. Eat. (Really.)
This work-at-home productivity tip is so 101 it almost feels like a non-tip. But it’s such a common misstep for the home office set. It’s so easy to find yourself in the weeds with work then you look up and it’s 2 p.m. and you haven’t eaten a thing — or even had a sip of water. Not good. That’s how you can end up in Zombie Zone. You know, it’s that thing where you so hungry (hangry, even) and operating on fumes that you mindlessly gobble down anything and then drag through the rest of the workday.
But sometimes work rolls out in way that you can’t take a proper lunch break. So we suggest keeping healthy snacks — almonds, dried apricots, or a protein bar — on hand to munch on until you can grab a real meal. Borrow ideas from the kids’ menu and try these 5 healthy, make-ahead snacks that we featured on Cool Mom Eats. I can vouch for the Five-Ingredient Granola Bars from Minimalist Baker (above). So good. And so easy to keep just an arm’s reach away.
5. Apply the 80-20 Rule
(Photo: Nicole Blades)
In getting ready to promote my upcoming novel (cough-cough THE THUNDER BENEATH US, out November 2016), I’ve been reading a lot of tips from book marketing whiz Tim Grahl. On the subject of productivity, the man has plenty of wisdom to share. One interesting practice of his that I like (picked up from a productivity coach) is carving out 90 minutes from your busy workday — or 20 percent of an eight-hour day — to devote it to the most important tasks.
In other words, even if you squander the other 80 percent of the day on Pinterest or mindlessly scrolling through email, you can still bank on those 90 minutes to focus on your top goals or priorities and get something important done that makes you feel satisfied at the end of the day.
6. Rethink Your Divison of Household Labor
(Photo: Hey Paul Studios via Flickr)
For work-at-home parents, there’s the work that happens in the home office and then there’s the other work in the house — laundry, dishes, cleaning, paying bills, answering the door … I hardly have to tell you about all the other tasks that call to you when you’re trying to do your other work. And I know that trying to keep the two things separate can be tricky. In a moment of work procrastination, you might think, Oh, I’ll just fold this basket of laundry and get it out of the way. Cut to you doing a full organizational Konmari style overhaul of every closet in the house for the next three hours.
Stop doing this. It’s a trap! Just because you are officially home, doesn’t necessarily mean you are on home duty. And that’s whether other people (little and big ones) are home while you’re home working or not.
Instead, talk with your partner and family about the division of labor and see who else can be doing more. Maybe you delegate house cleaning chores — if you can afford it, we’re all for hiring a housekeeper if only once a month. Make sure all dishes from breakfast are away before everyone else leaves the house. Also, I’d recommend charting out specific laundry days and times and posting it for all to see.
The point is, everyone in the house — especially you — needs to have total clarity about your office hours and respect that they are, in fact, dedicated to office work. Not grocery store runs or cleaning the sinks.
7. Make Sure Everyone Knows Working Means Working
(Evil genius at work mug: Farizula Designs)
Along the same lines, a lot of us at Cool Mom Tech realize that when we’re working at home, it helps to hang an I’M WORKING sign of some sort on your closed bedroom or office door. Visual reinforcement helps your family create some (hopefully) division between one side of the door and the other. Even when we have the grandparents or a full-time sitter around with the kids, they still want our attention when we’re working and we can’t blame them. But you know, when you’re trying to do real work and real parenting at the same time, you tend not to do either very well. That’s why a sign is a small thing that can be a big help.
You can also set a timer or even an alarm on a tablet or other device so the kids know that in exactly 56 minutes, when your conference call is over, they’re allowed to knock on the door again and start asking for things that they could probably get themselves.
8. Forgive Yourself.
(Photo adapted from GQ.com)
Idris Elba forgives me. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when things are getting tough.
I’d suggest you figure out just who forgives you, print it out (or just use this one which works for me), and tape it up next to your laptop or computer.
But even if you simply forgive your own self, this may be the most important tip of all. When you are juggling a lot, there’s bound to be a ball-drop moment (or three) at least once a week. Things will slip through the cracks, some to-dos on the list might not get done, and you’ll probably make a few mistakes.
Here’s the big secret of successful work-at-home pros: It’s OK!
Perfectionism is a losing game. Best thing is to accept from the gate that you won’t be able to do it all, and forgive yourself. This way you stop beating yourself up, take a deep breath and just move on to the next thing. We believe in you!