How to Productively Work From Home

1. Start

Congratulations! You’re working from home. But are you actually working? Or just finding ways not to? Procrastination is your enemy now, and it can be found everywhere. Be at your desk at a certain time, and do an hour’s solid work first thing. This will set you up for the rest of the day.

2. Stay away from housework

Not unless you want to discover the sad fact that housework is, basically, endless. It’s also way more satisfying than sitting at a computer, because at the end of it, stuff in the actual physical universe gets done.

©Flickr/Jennifer Miller

Do not be fooled. Not everything that takes place during work hours is, by definition, work. Housework is not work, and neither, for that matter, are home improvement projects. They are distractions, plain and simple. It’s my belief that the Sistine Chapel Ceiling came about as a result of Michelangelo being commissioned by Pope Julius II to write a 500-word list article called “Renaissance Painting Dos and Don’ts”.

With this in mind, however…

3. Don’t completely give up on housework

Especially if you have a significant other who works in an office all day. Nothing will piss them off faster than coming through the door at 6:45 p.m. to see the washing-up undone, the breakfast things still littering the kitchen, and you still in your pajamas. Or not even in your pajamas. Do the housework that needs to be done to keep the place tidy and running smoothly, and no more.

4. Make plans to socialize

More than one freelancer I’ve met, myself included, has gone far too long without human contact and experienced the “Poltergeist delusion.” Basically, this is the point of self-imposed hermitude when you start to suspect that, rather than being someone who works alone at home, a more logical explanation for what’s happening to you might be that you are, in fact, a poltergeist, haunting the home that used to be yours and mindlessly performing work-like actions for all eternity. Of course, it sounds ridiculous now, but come and talk to me after six weeks of working from home, alone, and then we’ll talk about what’s ridiculous, hm?

If you get to the poltergeist stage, the point at which you should have made an appointment to see friends was “roughly two weeks ago.” For the love of God, get out and see people.

With this in mind, however…

5. Try not to do favors

By this I mean, don’t agree to wait in for other people’s parcels, walk other people’s dogs or look after other people’s kids, for no other reason than you “happen to be at home.” You’re working. It always amazes me how many people think that, just because I don’t work in an office, I am therefore free to meet their relatives at the airport or whatnot. Make it very clear that you’re busy. Exceptions can of course be made, but before you commit, ask yourself this: Would this person ask me to do this if I was working in an office?

©flickr/raul lieberwirth

6. Use the Internet carefully

So: the sum total of information in the human realm, versus you. Who do you think will win? Damn right. Looking up anything on the Internet is to get sucked into a wormhole of nonsense, whereby 35 minutes have suddenly elapsed and you’re on some random Wikipedia page with no recollection whatsoever as to how you got there.

I call this the “Richard Marx” syndrome, after a protracted Internet search for God Knows What left me, for reasons lost to history, reading all—all—of the Wikipedia page for the 1991 hit “Hazard” by Richard Marx. At three in the morning.

7. Have a routine

This cuts against the grain of received wisdom that says working from home will be inspiringly free-form and semi-improvisational, a bit like the early work of Pink Floyd. This is a lie. Unless you impose structure and form to your day, it will be a meandering disappointment, a bit like the later work of Pink Floyd. Rising, exercising, undertaking fixed work sessions, having coffee and lunch, and ceasing work should be almost ritualistic, and take place at set times each day. Routine is good. Humans like routine. They impose it wherever they go, for the simple reason that it works.

8. Make lists of things to do

Dead simple—so simple, in fact, that some people think it’s beneath them. These people are wrong. At the start of your day, make a list of six things you need to do—any more will be overwhelming. Assign each one a priority. Then work though them in that order until they are done. That way, a guaranteed minimum of six things get done every day—on average, I would wager, two or three more than you’d get done in an office.

©flickr/purple slog

But, having said that…

9. Do not compare your new work routine to your old office routine

It’s not helpful. Despite having similarities, each and every office has its own pace, its own methods and process. You are working, yes, but in an entirely new situation. You are answerable only to yourself. Explore the possibilities of your new position.

10. Stop

Absolutely essential. Most people I know who work from home work long hours, and this is understandable as Oh God, the Guilt. But there has to come a point in the day—mine is 6 p.m.—after which no work gets done and the day is over. I am not exaggerating when I say that the down-tools moment is essential. If you don’t switch off—if there’s no clear boundary between work and not-work—these two zones of your life will start to contaminate each other. Set boundaries to prevent this from happening.

And one final thing: Enjoy it. It’s a huge responsibility, sure, but it’s also an adventure. You’ll learn more about yourself than you ever did working in an office.

Cover photo: jeremy levine/flickr