Working from home has been an absolute blessing in my life for a lot of reasons, but no reason bigger than simply having flexibility.    

Flexibility affords balance and that elusive work-life balance that everyone talks about, but few actually have, can actually be a reality.

To put in a good day’s worth of hard work and also have the ability to take care of the things I need to take care outside of work, whenever I need to, is such a great feeling.

But of course, this whole “work from home” thing only works if you can be productive at home.  And in order to make sure that happens, you need to be mindful of the challenges of working from home, otherwise you will quickly find yourself actually getting less stuff done.

The Challenges of Working at Home

It boils down to one simple fact: you need more discipline at home than at the office because there are a million distractions and temptations that could take you away from what you should be doing – work.

1.  Distractions

At the office, you might get a tap or two on the shoulder.  At home, it could be pets, kids, delivery workers, door to door sales people, random background noises, and a dozen other things that could come up that are beyond your control.

2.  Temptations

It’s already hard enough to stay focused with the sheer number of distractions that stand squarely in the way of productivity.  Temptations are even more plentiful, diverse, and powerful.  Let’s see, there’s the TV, video games, bed, couch, refrigerator, that chore you didn’t want to do an hour ago, your smartphone (and the infinite number of apps/games to play with), sports scores, Youtube, Reddit, etc, and the list goes on and on.

In the office, the presence of other people, your boss and the very office environment creates a different dynamic that forces you to be more disciplined.

You can’t just sit there and watch Youtube.  At home, you can and not have anyone breathing down your neck – before it’s too late.

The end result is a significant decrease in productivity and all of a sudden, you no longer have any flexibility because of all the work you haven’t done.  Life is more unbalanced than ever and all the perks of working from home gets tossed out the window.  This is the very last thing you want happening.

The key is to get more done at home than in the office for the following reasons:

    1. The more you get done, the more time you’ll have.
    1. The more time you have, the more you can spend it with the people and things you care about.
  1. Show your boss and company that you are better at home.  Eventually they will trust you more, pay you more, and wonder why they didn’t let you work remotely sooner. 😉

You need to create the perfect working environment for yourself  because now, you can.  With the right system, you’ll be able to eliminate all the distractions and temptations, get in the zone quickly, and maximize your productivity.

For those lucky enough to [find a work from home job], here are my top tips to be at your best, while working from home:

1.  Draw boundaries

First and foremost, create some physical boundaries between your living space and working space.  If your couch or bed is in the same room as your desk, it’s going to be harder to stay focused and a nap is only a few steps away.  Don’t bring your work to your living space either, unless you absolutely have to.  It’s way too fun and easy to bring our laptops into bed and stay there for a good 2-3 hours.  From the laptop radiating on your lap, the poor posture and subsequently strain on your neck, back, shoulders, arms, and wrists, let’s just say it’s a losing situation.

2.  Put your phone on Do Not Disturb

When it’s time to get some work done, the next thing you should do is put your smartphone on Do Not Disturb.  This has been single-handedly, one of the most important productivity tips that I’ve implemented in my life over the past few years.  Our phones are like crack.  We have no chance with the infinite amount of dopamine just a few taps away.

3.  Focus on being focused

At the end of the day, a few hours of super focused work will trump 8 hours of lazy, shallow, and scattered work.  Try your absolute best to keep your mind laser focused on the task at hand.  Time-boxing is a useful technique that could help with this, along with the popular Pomodoro Technique, your choice of music, and anything else that helps YOU get in the zone.  Take some time to reflect on when you are at your best.

4.  Wake up and start your day early

We’ve all heard this one before and it’s even more true for anyone that works from home.  If you get a jump start on your day and can knock out all your key tasks by lunch,  you’re going to have more time to invest in yourself, see the people you love, take care of your health, and pretty much anything else in the “life” bucket that makes the work-life balance equation work.

5.  Define a daily routine

Close your eyes and imagine your most productive day ever.  What does that look like? From the moment you get up to the moment you go to sleep.  Try to envision how it would go down and use that as a basis for your daily routine.  Ask yourself these questions

    • What time would you wake up?
    • How many hours of good work will you put in?
    • What would you eat for your healthy meals?
    • How much exercise would you get?
    • How much reading can you get in?
  • How would you express your creativity?

[Take a look at what mine would look like]

It’s not realistic to have a perfect day, every day, but it’s a great starting point when trying to figure out your daily routine.

6.  Invest in your set-up

Getting a proper set-up at home isn’t exactly cheap, but it doesn’t have to be expensive either.  There are so many options and choices out there now that even the most modest budgets could get you a sweet set-up.  If you are working remotely for another company, don’t be shy in asking for reimbursements either.  Trust me, they want you to be comfortable so you can get more stuff done and provide more value.

It’s certainly a fun aspect about working from home, partly because I’m just a nerd and mainly because you get full control over what your set-up looks and feels like.  In an office, you pretty much get what you see, but at home, it’s essentially an open slate.  You get to choose, decide, and design the workplace for yourself.

This list varies from person to person and profession to profession, but I think the following categories are essential to a work from home set-up:

    • Laptop
    • Monitor
    • Smartphone
    • Software/Apps/Cloud
    • Desk
    • Lighting
  • Ergonomics

7.  Embrace collaboration tools

Those who resist technological change will quickly get left in the dust by those who embrace them.  This should be crystal clear to every working professional in today’s competitive environment.  For a remote worker, the importance of using the best collaboration tools is going to increase every single year as more and more companies realize the power of a distributed operation.

The downside of working remotely is that you aren’t physically there with the other person to collaborate.  You can get pretty darn close though with the fast-growing, suite of online productivity tools that have become the standard.  In a lot of ways, if a company isn’t using Slack, Trello/Asana, Zoom/Google Hangouts/Skype, and Google Docs/Sheets, what are they doing?

Embrace the core tools, be open to new ones, and urge your company to consider adopting them too.

8.  Use your flexibility

Work from home is a beautiful thing and part of the reason why it’s so beautiful is because of the flexibility.  I think we’ve talked about this already 😉

While flexibility is fun to talk about, but it’s worthless if you don’t actually take advantage of it.  Remember, you are trying to be as productive as possible at home so you can free up more time to do other stuff.  Go work out.  See some real people.  Schedule a few walks around the block or at the party to get some fresh air.  Run that personal errand that’s been on your list for a few weeks.

If you can be consistent with this part, I guarantee you’ll feel better at work and in life.

9.  Optimize your productivity system

Fifteen years ago, I read Getting Things Done by David Allen and it taught me a lot about productivity, with the biggest lesson being to keep pursuing a higher level of productivity.  For a good portion of my life, I thought I was already pretty productive as is, but I didn’t start trying to figure out the perfect productivity system for myself until that book.

Even though I don’t use the GTD system as it was designed, bits and pieces of it stuck with me and I took bits from other productivity systems to form my own.

It’s absolutely critical to spend the time and energy to figure out what works best for you because what’s going to enable me to perform my best is going to be different than what works for you.  It’s should be a life long pursuit and you best get started now.

10.  Claim your second home office

If I had it my way, I’d like to work at home 4 days a week and go into the office on day a week just to switch it up once in a while.  Most of us don’t have that luxury so it’s important to claim your second home office.  Find a nice coffee shop, city library, tech center, book store or any place that’s comfortable, connected, and not distracting.

As great as working from home is, doing it every single day, just like anything else in life, will get you in a routine that can get a bit bland over time.  Switching it up and pounding out some work at another spot of your choice will keep things fresh and interesting on the day to day.

Ready to kick some ass?