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What You Said: Staying Productive While Working from home

Earlier this week we asked you to share your telecommuting/work-from-home productivity tips. Now we’re back with a tips and tricks roundup; read on to see how your fellow readers stay focused at home.

By far and away the most common technique deployed as carefully isolating work from home life. Carol writes:

I love working from home and have done so for 6 years now. I have a routine just as if I was going to an office, except my commute is 12 steps. I get ready for work, grab my purse and smart phone and go to up the steps to my office. I maintain a separate phone line and voice mail for work that I cannot answer from anywhere but my work desk. I use call forwarding when I travel so only my office phone number is published. I have VOIP phone service so I can forward calls from the internet if I forget, or need to change where the phone is forwarded. I do have a wired and wireless head set so I can go get a cold drink if on one of those long boring conference calls.

I plan my ‘get off from work’ time and try to stick to it, as with any job some days I am late getting off, but it all works out. I make sure my office is for work only, any other computer play time is in a different part of the house on different computer. My office has laptop, dock, couple of monitors, multipurpose printer, fax, scanner, file cabinets – just like the office at a company. I just also happen to have a couple of golden retrievers that come to work with me and usually lay quietly until 5, and yes they know it is 5pm sometimes before I do.

For me, one of the biggest concerns when working from home is not being unproductive, but the danger of never stopping work. You could keep going and going because let’s face it – the company will let you do it, so I set myself up to prevent that and maintain a separateness.

Carol’s last point–that you can fail to find a stopping point for work–certainly resonates with me. I just recently moved my home office from an open area off the kitchen to a remote upstairs bedroom and can’t believe what a difference having an out-of-sight office makes in terms of being able to successfully unplug at the end of the day.

Routines and a work-profile on his computer play a big part in Howie’s work-from-home setup:

I have the ability to work from home but only do it on occasion. The apartment we live in is very small and my desk is in the living room with the TV which is also connected to the kitchen. I also end up having to use my personal computer instead of my work computer.

I do a couple of different things to help keep me on task while I’m working from home. One thing that I do is I setup a chrome profile specifically for work. That way none of my personal book marks are available in the window I’m working in.

I also make sure that the TV stays off. I know for sure that I would get distracted if I turned it on at all. Instead I made a playlist of songs that help me to focus on my work at hand. Whenever I hear those songs, I immediately go into work mode and get things done.

I try to make my morning routine as similar to when I’m going to work as possible. That means getting fully-dressed and not working in my PJ’s. One thing I’ve heard of but haven’t tried yet is leaving the home before coming back to it to work. This could be something like going and getting a coffee from Starbuck’s or a breakfast sandwich from McDonald’s. By doing that you can mentally walk into your office instead of your house. I haven’t tried this yet but I plan to next time I stay home from work.

Sushant also silos his work and play:

For the past 8 months I have been working from home. First thing I did, was to disconnect my mobile from the internet during my working hours. So, no notifications, no distractions.
My personal and work computer are same, and being a web developer I work in the browser. So social networking sites prove to be a major distraction. This is where Chrome’s multiple profile options comes in handy. Whenever I work, I open Chrome with my work profile in which I open only work related sites and accounts and nothing else.

For tracking my project, I use Asana and for managing meetings I use Google Calendar.

Last but not the least music and coffee keeps me going :)

For more home/mobile office productivity tips, check out the full comment thread here.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/30/12

Comments (3)

  1. bobro

    there is clearly too many distractions at home, i would prefer to be going to a place of work instead of staying home.. that way i can be late but i wont get distracted by anything, well except the web, HTG is probably the worst for distracting me. I have to have my phone on and connected all the time for work reasons, and obviously my Facebook feeds… miles more productive…

  2. Bruce

    I have multiple offices I use, not just my home office. I’ll camp out at Starbucks, Panera, Atlanta Bread Company, the gym, the library, Expresso Royale, etc. Anyplace that has free wifi (free coffee at the gym) is a candidate 2nd office. I’ll take conference calls (or give presentations from) at home but I’ll schedule myself for a meeting (work meeting with myself!) and head out to one of my “other” offices to get focused work done. This adds commute time (and cost) to my day, but makes it more productive.

  3. Kent

    I’ve been working from home for a year now and one thing that helps me stay productive is to take a regular break that allows me to relax a bit and regain sanity. What I do is play games, do some stretching and sometimes I even take a nap or visit facebook. There are lots of things to do that could help you stay productive while working from home, it depends on what’s best for you. Another way that helps me stay productive is by using a time management tool Time Doctor. Using this tool I set an estimated amount of time when working on each task, which helps me stay focus on tasks and get things done.

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