WORKPLACE / JUN. 02, 2014
version 4, draft 4

Eight Ways to be More Productive Working from Home

kanban board

In the ten or so years that I’ve worked from home, the biggest obstacle I’ve had to face has been distraction. First it was the kids, but now that they’re at school most of the day, I’m tempted by the siren song of the internet, video games, walks in the park across the road and even daytime TV. Over the years, I’ve developed some strategies for dealing with distraction in the home office, and I’m sure they can help you.

1. Try the Pomodoro Technique

This innovative strategy from author and developer Francesco Cirillo came to him in college. He used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (pomodoro is the Italian word from tomato) to test how which periods of time were most productive for him. After much study, he found that if he worked in 25-minute stretches with five-minute breaks in between, he could get more done than if he worked any other way. Although everybody has different physiognomies and attention spans, the 25 plus five technique seems to work for just about everyone.

2. Use a kanban board

This deceptively simple tool can help you stay organized and motivated. A kanban board is just a simple table that tracks the progress of your work. By visually representing what stage each project is in, it lets you know at a glance what you need to do next, and what can wait. It’s also an excellent motivational tool because it shows you what needs to be done before you’re finished.

3. Limit your phone’s access to you

This is a hard one, because much of your necessary communication will come in on your phone. But so will most of your distraction, too. Consider turning the phone’s ringer off, and checking it every hour or so. Better yet, silence the rings of any contact not directly related to your work. You can always get back to them later.

4. Employ the two-minute rule

This is a good one because it doesn’t require any app or training or anything you don’t already have. It’s a technique developed by author David Allen, and it’s ridiculously simple. If you have an idea you like, no matter what it is, and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it immediately. Even if it doesn’t amount to much, you’ve accomplished something (which is good for your confidence) and you haven’t spent any significant amount of time. But if you don’t do it, you’ll waste more time thinking about it, and wondering if it will work or not.

5. Learn how to say good-bye

It can take up to 15 minutes to recover from an interruption, and the longer the interruption, the longer the recovery time. So it's important to be able to cut short anything that gets in the way of work. If it's people who want to talk, Joy Baldridge of Badridge Seminars International suggest the ++— (plus-plus-dash) method. If you really need to get out of a conversation, say two nice things to the person (the plusses), then dash. It leaves everyone feeling good, and shortens what could have been a long interruption. 

6. Clean off your desk

The enemy of motivation is the fear of having too much to do. Psychologically speaking, your work brain sees everything around it as a task to be performed. If there's a ton of clutter on your desk, it interferes with what you really need to do and can tell your brain that there's much more work to be done than there really is. Take all non-essential clutter off your desk, and give yourself a more accurate view of the tasks at hand.

7. Respond right away

When you get a request via email, the person on the other side is probably in a hurry. By responding as quickly as you can, you're not only making them happy, you're helping yourself. By cutting down the time in between read and response, you're saving yourself time and stress because if you wait and respond later, you're actually doing the job twice and having it weight upon you in the interim.

8. Reward yourself

While it seems like an obvious psychological trick, it actually works to give yourself small incentives to finish specific tasks. Got a complaint call to answer? Give yourself a cookie when you're done. Not only will such rewards motivate you to get things done, it'll keep you creative as you strive to figure out more and better rewards for yourself.

I can’t guarantee that these eight tips will keep you from being distracted, but they will help you get the most productivity out of working at home.

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