If you are a freelancer or home-based business owner, home office productivity is a challenge. It’s likely that you came to freelancing from an office job and when you were daydreaming of freelancing, you may not have considered the productivity benefits of working for someone else. You worked to a schedule, were organized and accountable, because you had to be. The biggest rewards of working from home may be freedom and independence, but those enticements also have a downside: disorganization and haphazard productivity. One thing I’ve learned in my freelancing career is that you need discipline. Home office productivity, and, some might even say your business’s success, depend on discipline.
Let’s tease this apart. Definitions are always good place to start. What, exactly, do we mean by “discipline”? Two definitions that best fit the context of this discussion about productivity are:
Discipline: a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity; orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior – “discipline” at Merriam-Webster.
Rules, systems, and conduct are vital ingredients for productivity. Rules govern behavior, systems provide a framework for procedures (getting stuff done), and conduct is the behavior that responds to the rules and systems. While this may sound like a paragraph torn from the pages of a military academy textbook, it’s not. Discipline is how people succeed at anything.
Keep these definitions in mind when you read through this list of tips for increasing home office productivity.
1) Create a Distraction-Free Work Space
Whether you work in a home office, a bedroom, spare room or on the couch, your space should be as distraction free as possible. Several distractions that disrupt productivity are: noise, interruptions and bad lighting. A dedicated office is best because you have more control over the environment, but regardless of where you are working, there are a few things you can do to keep distraction to a minimum.
- Reduce noise: Work in area of your home that is most secluded. If you don’t have a home office, that may mean a bedroom or den, but whichever room you choose, it should have no or little “foot traffic” from other humans. Working in the kitchen or living room may seem like a good idea if you don’t have a dedicated office, but those two places are usually hubs of activity if others are in the home, and, they have other “built-in” distractions, like TVs.
- Close the door: Closing the door works wonders. It reduces noise from other rooms (or from other suites in an apartment building) and makes you feel like you are in “work mode”. A closed door also minimizes “pop ins” from spouses, partners or flat mates. A “Do Not Disturb” sign, simple tech that it is, will also help.
- Wear headphones: Noise cancelling headphones can help tune out distracting sounds like chit-chat, a TV, radio, or street traffic. Try wearing headphones without listening to music – just wear them. According the Wall Street Journal article “At Work, Do Headphones Really Help“, results of several studies showed lower concentration test scores when subjects listen to music with lyrics. If you do listen to music, consider choosing music that doesn’t have lyrics. If you are one those people that feels they can concentrate while listening to music with lyrics, go for it, but be aware that it could become a distraction in and of itself.
- Tame your landline: It’s likely that you use your cellular phone and don’t often use the landline. So, turn on voicemail and lower the ringer volume. Listen to messages later. Ringers are a distracting nuisance when you are working. If you don’t have voicemail but use an answering machine, having volume up means listening to a person’s voice message as they leave it – an annoying distraction you can do something about right now. It’s probably a telemarketer anyway!
- Turn off the TV or keep it to a low volume
- Tame your email: do you really have to immediately answer every message in your inbox? No. Prioritize your email responses. Some people start their day by dealing with their inbox and have an “answer immediately” policy. While the expectation these days is that you respond fairly quickly (within a few hours or that day) you don’t have to respond immediately to everything. Sometimes a quick phone call is more appropriate than an email response. One phone call can save a lot of time in back-and-forth emails.
2) Make a Schedule
A schedule is a must for organization. Some freelancers find it difficult to schedule predetermined blocks of time for each job or task because they have to remain flexible, but you can schedule your work day. Pick a start and stop time, time for breaks and lunch. By starting and stopping at the same time each day you are creating an organized system to work within. A disciplined routine that helps you get things done. If you start and stop work “whenever” you’ll probably be less organized and may find it more difficult to get down to work. Once you’ve established a schedule, you’ll be better able to organize tasks for the day and week. Scheduling breaks and lunch will ensure you are getting nourishment and time away from your desk. If you work at a computer, remember to give your eyes a break, too. To avoid eye strain, use the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Try the eyeCare extension for Chrome to schedule 20-20-20 breaks.
3) Organize Your Desktop or Laptop Folders and Files
If you are spending too much time searching for folders and files on your computer, you may need to organize them.
Here are some quick tips:
- Clear your computer desktop: while your desktop is a good temporary weigh station, it can easily become a dumping ground. Clear your desktop items and move them into folders regularly. Better yet, as soon as you create a file, save it to a folder.
- Create shortcuts to frequently used folders: in Windows 10, you can easily pin any folder to the start menu or file explorer’s quick access menu. To do so, select the folder in Windows file explorer, then right-click and select either “Pin to Start” or “Pin to quick access”.
- Cull old folders and files: every few months, spend an hour culling old folders and files. When you are absolutely certain you won’t need a folder or file, delete it. When you are fairly certain, but a little hesitant, move it into an “Archived folders” folder.
Read “Creating Order from Chaos: 9 Great Ideas for Managing Your Computer Files” for other folder and file management tips.
4) Use Lists
Whether you use a list app, recycled paper, or a notebook, lists are great for organization. Get into the habit of starting each week or each day with a to-do list. Tick completed items. If you can’t complete an item in the week or on the day you assigned it, move it to the next week or day. Lists help us remember, create order and relieve stress. Here are a few more reasons we love lists.
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5) Use Time Management & Productivity Apps
We all need help managing time and productivity. From doing bookkeeping for your small business to managing projects or time, apps can help you stay organized, save time and even save you money.
- Read “31 of the Best Cloud-Based Apps for Micro-Businesses and Freelancers“.
- Read “Time Management for Freelancers” (see the links to time management and project management apps).
Do you work from home or work in a home-based business? How do you increase productivity? Let us know in the comments below.