Being a work from home employee for VPS.net, I often struggle at maintaining productivity. I'm human. There's distractions all around me, whether it be the TV, house work that needs done or a random errand that needs run (See Infographic: Clocking in from the Couch). These distractions -- yep, they're there for me every day. It has taken me awhile, but after recently celebrating my 2 year anniversary with the company, I've finally mastered a few techniques to stay productive.
Monitor the industry.
I firmly believe in the saying, "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." While our competitors are not at all our enemies -- in fact most of us are good friends -- it is important to monitor what is happening in the industry. There are a lot of microtrends that can go unnoticed when you're not looking for them, but if you see the market slowly moving in a direction you can quickly become the leader of it.
Whether it be a white board or an online task manager, it's a requirement that you have some sort of technique to keep track of the work that needs done. Without people in the office to consistently remind me of what project is looming over my head, I need something. I actually prefer to use a white board, as it not only allows me to write down a lists of projects that need completed, but I can also use it to draw out my thoughts. There's also a few different online task managers like todo.ly and remember the milk that receive positive reviews.
Shut down email.
Out of all the distractions in this world, email is by far the absolute worst. Others have come out and said they recommend only checking their email twice a day or set times. I don't think it's necessary to live by such rigid rules -- hopefully I can give myself a little more credit than that. Instead, I choose to simply shut down the inbox until the important task I'm working on has been completed. If it's something that tasks an extended period of time, I'll use email to "freshen the eyes" a bit. With the change in work, it allows me to re-energize and re-focus.
Go into hiding.
There are some projects where everything but what you need to be doing is a completely and total distraction. Not only are things like the TV, and email a distraction, but everything around you is. Shut it out. I carry around a mobile broadband card and will completely go into hiding. My favorite spot is right along a nearby river on a park bench. Being in the middle of the wilderness, with the running water, and the nature sounds allows me to focus like nothing else. If you're not able to leave the office, see if you're able shut down everything you can. Close the IM programs, shut down email, and get the job done!
It's almost impossible to work in an uncomfortable environment. While those of us who work from home have a little more flexibility in what surrounds us, even office-goers have the opportunity to spruce up their work environment to an at least not-so-dreary level. The most common things you can do are find the right tools for you; the right chair, monitor, mouse and keyboard are all important. Other tools that you use on a daily basis, whether it be a dictionary, or 3 hole punch are all crucial towards your continued productivity. You can further make things feel right by adding pictures of family members and friends, sports teams you closely associate or other important things in your life.
Organization is important
Being organized is a skill that few seem to master, yet it's probably the most obvious way to improve productivity (and quality of life!). When you're disorganized, nothing goes right. At best, you spend far too long looking for information. In the worst case scenario, you never find it! It's important to be organized with your documents stored offline, but also online. I've found that using a tiered folder setup for my document storage is by the best way I'm able to keep everything organized. While it does require some maintenance periodically, it makes my job much easier!
Know where and when to work.
When I tell people I work from home, typically the most common response I get is, "oh, so you work out of your bed?"
How I wish that were true! While there's nothing more that I'd love to do than spend extra time in my bed, it is required to sometimes act like an adult. As part of that, maintaining a steady job is necessary. I know that I don't work that well from my bed. I also know that working from my couch doesn't result in much work getting done. So, I've dedicated a small part of the house towards serving as an office.
Besides knowing where to work, it's also important to know when to work. Part of this requires some cooperation from your superior, however if they're letting you work from home, it's safe to assume they're likely a little more accommodating than your average boss. I know for certain activities I'm more productive at other times, than in comparison to other work. For example, it seems I'm able to best focus on my writing for the VPS.net blog closer to midnight. Things seem to just flow better. However for other tasks, such as working with spreadsheets, I work much better during the day.
Ever try to work during the middle of an anxiety attack? Yeah, you can't. Your mind runs at 1,000 miles a minute and despite all that is going on, nothing is getting done. If you find yourself panicked, stressed or frustrated, find what helps keep you calm and relaxed. Jack Johnson always seems to do the trick for me -- others have prefer a nice walk around the block. When you're relaxed, you're the most productive and ready to take on the world!
Don't procrastinate. Do Prioritize.
Don't do it tomorrow. Just do it now. If there's multiple projects that are waiting for you, make a list, and prioritize them. Then finish them! Don't wait around while the world passes you by.