How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: How Do You Stay Productive Working from Home?

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Roughly 20% of the global workforce telecommutes on a permanent or part-time basis; if you’re one of the many laptop-toting and home-office working telecommuters we want to hear all about how you stay productive outside the walls of a traditional office.

Whether you have a dedicated home office or an attache that unfolds into a mobile workstation, we want to hear your tips, tricks, and productivity-focusing methods for getting things done when you’re working from home. Sound off in the comments with your tips and then check back in on Friday for the What You Said Roundup.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/28/12

Comments (37)

  1. Cody

    I know this is a dumb answer, but I don’t work from home. I have the option, but I rarely choose to use it because I am just not comfortable with working from home.

  2. Austin

    I actually brought the idea of working at home one day a week when I moved to far a way from my job.

    Honestly, I do get interruptions from my family but I actually do a lot more work then spending hours on my commute. In fact, my home computer is a lot faster than work computer.

    I love it!

  3. Carol Sager

    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.

  4. Tammy

    I do most of my work early in the morning before the phone starts ringing. I know what I have to do that day and just do it. I have to admit, when it’s nice outside, sometimes it is harder to get my work done. All my pets hang out with me in my home office and it’s really quiet for the most part so I can be pretty productive.

    I have a white board in my home office and make a lot of lists. This does help keep me organized. I love working from home and think it would be very difficult to go back to the corporate rat race.

  5. HudsonValleyJeff

    I’ve worked home exclusively since 1999. Every third week I would travel on business, which was a welcome break from my growing family.

    Recently I suffered an injury that forced me to be on my stomach in bed. With my WIFI reaching the bedroom, I have my laptop running Avaya IP phone software & Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking software, both sharing a USB headset.

    There’s really nothing that I can’t do, from a work perspective, while laying nearly facedown in bed for five weeks!

  6. Sergio

    I start working as soon as my kids left to school.
    When they come back, if i still have lot of work to do, i close the door and continue working.

    I keep my personal computer turned off, i only work from the laptop provided by my office

  7. Howie

    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.

  8. Arston

    A tip for you smartphone users: You could use Tasker (or another software with similar capabilities for the job) to set up a Work profile which can restrict calls from certain – or all – numbers, or silence them, and all sorts of other thinks.

    Tasker is a paid app (best money I’ve spent on google play), but I’m sure there are other free apps that can restrict calls, just look for them in your application store.

  9. Gilberto

    I use the Pomodoro Technique. It works wonders.

  10. Sushant Taneja

    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 :)

  11. Kim

    I am a software engineer of 20+ years and I have had the opportunity throughout my career to work at home. I am fortunate that I have a room in my house as an office. Because of this, I have been very effective at working at home. In fact, I prefer it because I can focus more on my work than at the office. I realize that there is a need to be at the office to have face-to-face meetings but there have been many days that that is not needed.

    It really depends upon the work environment, other than whether the employer allows it. Remote access really makes a big difference.

  12. John McMeen

    I am more productive at home because it is quiet. I just can’t program at work because we don’t have offices and everyone is a loud ass.

    cout << "SHUT UP" <<endl;

  13. Corinna

    I work from home almost exclusively and I love it. I get so much more work done as I am not constantly interrupted by coworkers. Now if someone needs me, they send me an email and I can prioritize my tasks. Because I don’t have to spend almost 2 hours getting ready for work and commuting, that time is now spent with my family or taking care of household chores. I am more productive all around.

    Overall, I am more productive, less stressed, avoid traffic, and spend more time with my family. All adds up to a very happy employee.

  14. Patty

    I have worked at home for almost three years. I love it am and am incredibly productive. No one is poking their head in my office to chat, I am not wasting time talking to people when I get coffee or supplies, just solid work product from 8:30 until I stop. I don’t lose time or money commuting and have saved a fortune on gas and lunches. While I will occasionally throw in a load of laundry, I rarely do household chores. When I do have to work in the office, which is rarely, I cannot believe the drop in my productivity. I recommend working at home to anyone whose employer offers this option.

  15. Lantiis

    I don’t work from full-time but am unfortunately required to part-time. I use a laptop, so I am always tempted to game or chill on the couch in front of the TV when working. BUT THAT NEVER WORKS! I just end up gaming, sleeping or watching TV.

    So, to maintain productivity, I hook up everything in the office (no TV in there), face away from the window (and usually have to close the blinds – so distracting!), lock the dogs and cats out of the room (also distracting and very cute), and then I work in shifts like I would at my full-time job. I work for about two hours and then take a 15 to 30 minute break. I do that until I am done or get to a stopping point.

    Distractions are the bane of working from home for me. I just don’t know how people do it full-time but more power to them! Sometimes, if I just can’t get over all the distractions that being at home causes me, I just grab my laptop and head to a cafe with free wi-fi or go to my office at my full-time job and work there.

  16. Steve Devereux CEng

    There are three keys to successful working from home. Managing your time, managing interruptions and managing your relationships with colleagues.

    I sometimes wake early in the morning (not on purpose, need a bathroom break) and sometimes I find it hard to get back to sleep. So I can get up and do some work and have a snooze after lunch. Also I can do school runs if need be – it’s valuable time with the offspring – and make up the time later.

    Overall it’s easy to put in a full day and you save the time you would have spent on commuting. I have a well set up home office but can work well on the move. Last time I replaced my notebook I got a Dell Alienware with a 17″ screen so when away from my office I have a powerful machine with a big screen. At home I plug in a 2nd screen so have more real estate to work with.

    The family must understand that when the door is closed, you can’t be disturbed except if it’s something really urgent that cannot wait. My office isn’t a thoroughfare to anywhere else so there shouldn’t normally be any reason to come in when I’m working.

    The hardest time is during the school holidays!

    Overall I much prefer it.

  17. Rhonda

    I have been working from home for 7+ years. I wear many hats with my employer… Computer maintenance & repair, graphic advertising, web design etc….

    From time to time I have to work on site, however there are so many interruptions while on site. As soon as I walk in the door people are bombarding me to fix every little issue, so my employer & I realized working from home is much more productive for me.

    I try to treat it just like any other job….
    Upon waking I get my own chores done, by 8am I’m on the computer working, take an hour break around 12 or 1pm, done around 5pm.

    The ONLY issue I have is….. after super is done & my late afternoon chores finished, I’m usually back on the computer & sometimes work till 10pm. So there are many days I put in 12 hours or more. It took many years, but just this past year that I have trained myself to take the weekends off & not do any work for my employer.

  18. ARR

    The key to working from home is focus:
    1 find a noc away from the main stream of your family.
    2. let them know you are at work and only interupt you if it is really important.
    3. Make a list last thing at the end of the day for what you need / want to get done tomorrow- or make this list first thing in the morning.
    4. Alot certain times for checking e-mail and be careful about internet discovery- the bread crumb surfing trail will kill your time.
    5. Treat it like a job- I have friend that think because you work from home that you do not really have a job and your time is not dedicated.
    6. Of all the tips and rules above THE LIST is probably the most important- getting to the end of the day and not knowing what you accomplished is a depressing thing- If you can look down at all the items you crossed off on your list it makes you feel much better! I recommend a spiral bound notebook so you can easily look back at what you got done yesterday and what still needs doing.

  19. J.B. Goode

    I try to stay off “How-to Geek” during business hours. As you CA. see that doesn’t always work so well.

  20. John K

    I try and work from home as often as I can. Like most above I like not having the commute/office distractions/politics when I go to the office…It is also nice to know that I can let the dogs out and not find any smelly presents when I get home.
    I have a home office that has no TV in it. I have an internet radio that I can listen to. I take breaks to let the dogs out and make lunch. I usually work from the time I would normally leave for work and stop when I would get home so I am definitely getting more done. I just wish I could do it more often…Ideally I would go into work 1-2 days per week just to have contact with people.

  21. dragonbite

    I’m actually “on lunch” while working from home right now. We use Citrix to connect to our server through a web browser.

    The development-speicific tools are located in our individual development environment virtual machines so only designated developers have access, and our environments are mostly identical to the production environment, without having to touch production.

    We have a personal drive on the file server, as well as an open ‘share’ drive. When I am in the office I have set up FreeFileSync to keep my local files and my personal file server synchronized. The file server I have access to when I am connected remotely and my local copy is for “backup” (no network, etc.)

  22. DaveAtHome

    I think a better question is how to you remain productive in the office. Everyone there wants to show you their smartphone and all the features like they invented the thing.
    Three steps to productivity at home: 1. find a company that expects you to do the work of three people (this is the easiest step 2. convince your boss that you can get more done from home without constant cube visitors (this is the hardest step) 3. chain yourself to your laptop at home (’cause you’re doing the work of 3 people, remember?) and combine your breaks to save time (bathroom/coffee/personal call)
    I suppose if there was a phone and coffee maker in your bathroom, that would be the most productive place to work.

  23. George

    I Don’t!!!!

  24. Meathie

    I actually run my entire business from home based offices. I employ 11 and they all work from home around the globe. We have a 1300 number (voip) and a PO box for communication. Honestly i get greater productivity and team retention this way and less overheads.

  25. Lee Akers

    Working at home is like doing well at the office. You have to apply yourself. It is better because I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder, and I can maintain my own work environment. There is pressure to complete tasks, but I can set my own goals, timewise, and if I feel like getting a cup of coffee, or chatting with a friend, there is no one glaring at me. So long as I complete my tasks on time, I can do whatever I want. Probably the best incentive is, there is no dress code.

  26. Richard

    I make sure I don’t read HTG during work time.

  27. Meathie

    DaveAtHome: WiFi and laptop in the bathroom…now your talking ;-)

  28. Reuben

    I totally work from home and have done for many many years. I am a contract programmer/analyst. When I first started working from home it was difficult to stay motivated. It was too easy to down tools and watch TV or something. I have a dedicated office in my home and the office is the office! I love what I do and this vents a creative part of me. My customers over the years love the fact that they can give me an inkling of an idea and I can quickly create the program, usually totally bug free and it does what they need it to. I am not a young man and I figure I will continue what I am doing for many many years. A problem is I get very insular and don’t get to talk with people very often.

  29. David Lindberg

    I am retired and so everything that I do is done at home. I retired 4 year ago, and they have been the best 4 years of my life.

  30. Reuben

    Just thought I would add something. I stay Productive/Motivated working from home because I Totally LOVE What I Do! I take frequent short breaks, unless of course I am attempting to solve a nagging problem, this is when I can work for hours without noticing the time pass. When programming, I seem to get into a zone and working from home “Without Interruptions”, is fantastic. I saw recently that people that Sit At A Desk For Hours Have Shorter Lives. The stat’s show that one should take a two (2) Minute Break just to walk around every twenty (20) minutes or so and the whole shorter life thing is negated.

  31. Jay Gordon

    I worked from home for six years before I retired seven years ago, so it was still relatively rare in those days.

    I worked in the San Francisco Bay Area and reported to the U.S. headquarters in Miami for a European company. I was so eager prove the idea would work, I installed a phone in every room of my home, including the bathroom — in case I was ever away from my desk even for a moment.

    Of course, it helped that I loved my work, the company that employed me, and my colleagues. As a courtesy, I started work at 6 a.m. my time, conventional opening time on the East Coast. Nobody EVER waited more than one ring to reach me. (How good do you have to look to work at your computer with a great cup of coffee nearby?) Also (see previous reasons) I usually worked late, but it was great to be able to leave “early” if I wanted to for local errands. People in Miami said it was easier to reach me than some who worked in the building.

    My work was mostly creative; I lived alone in an extremely quiet place. By the end of my career, because of cutbacks, I was easily working two jobs without strain and maintained an impressive salary. I was energized and valued. It was an exhilarating way to wrap up a long, satisfying career that was perfect for me and beneficial for my company.

    When early retirement packages became available, including healthcare until we were 65 and qualified for Medicare, many of us took the option, which was generous for us and also saved money for the company during difficult financial times.

    Since I worked for a progressive company they had understood the time spent commuting to an office could be productive if the employee were motivated. It worked so well there is now a significant number of employees who work from home. I hope I helped make it possible.

    When it works, it works!

  32. Atakan

    Working from home is probably the worst option. I dont know why, but I guess I just feel too comfortable. I’m just not very self disciplined at working at home. I try going out to a coffee shop or something; a bit more focused. But for some reason if I do have to work at home, setting a time limit and a reward helps. Like let me work until 10:30 then I’ll play some AC3 till noon.

  33. r

    I stay productive working from home…by doing my work

  34. Dana E

    I work from home 1 to 2 days a week and at times it can be very distracting when the family is home. Over the last several years I have found that if I have a place setup with my big monitor and keyboard to hook my laptop to, I get more done. I was at the kitchen table and that was distracting when the TV was right there and something interesting came on. In the other room, I found that I could turn some music on low to drown out any noises (other than when I’m on conference calls) and it helped. I have a 35-40 min commute one way so working from home I can start the same time I would have left to go to work to get more done. at times I don’t take a full lunch hour and I still work till 5 or after. My issue tends to be working to much. I have to make sure that I take that time out for lunch and sometimes even quit a little early to spend more quality time after school with my son. I do get alot done working from home with work and at home, since I can do laundry easily and any other little chores that don’t take to long and still have time for family in the evenings. I would love to do it more often, but I find that I do need and like to go to the office at least once or twice a week to have that face to face and camaraderie with my co-workers and for some meetings. When you are away, you loose that personal touch sometimes that being there creates.

  35. Ben S

    At my office almost everyone works 1 day/week from home, more if there’s a legit reason (eg having to be there for plumber, cable guy, etc.).

    What I like best about it is that you can take more refreshing breaks that in the end make me more productive: watch tv for 10 mins, play piano for 15 mins. Much more options than you have at the office.

  36. Sharon at home

    I am an indepdent contractor for a national call center and I work at home. I get to be my own boss, set my oun schedule, and work whenever I want. I stay motivated by reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to drive my son to school every morning, and pick him up afterward. Also, I can take time off for field trips with my son, my doctor appointments, or whatever else I need to fit in my schedule. I like that I don’t have to deal with traffic, a special wardrobe, and I save on car insurance. There’s many good reasons for working at home, and I don’t take it for granted.

  37. Jim Carnicelli

    I work almost entirely from home. I’m convinced that some people are wired to be effective and efficient at working at home, partly because of how many of my friends and colleagues admit that they can’t. Sometimes it’s because of distractions from family (I currently live alone but also telecommuted when I was married), but it seems many of them feel they need structure and regular direction from their bosses to maintain productive momentum.

    One really must be good at self-organizing and, more importantly, prioritizing, because there’s almost always more work one could do than time. A telecommuter who isn’t micromanaged needs the ability to frequently step away from the moment to moment work to consider the relative importance of the current task and line up the next one in the context of both short and long term goals.

    I’m a programmer. I’ve been evolving a “travelling light” strategy over the past few years to cope with telecommuting. I rely heavily on virtual machines that host my Windows-based work remotely. That lets me use an 11″ MacBook Air to access it from anywhere. In addition to being able to have my entire office in a purse-sized bag, it means that if that bag is stolen or my computer dies, I can go to any computer or buy a new one and get back to work almost instantly.

    Redundancy is another technical key. I work mainly from a virtual private server (VPS) hosted by a web provider. They take daily snapshots that can be restored if all the redundant aspects of the host machines fail and they have to provision a new one. I also regularly check my work into Subversion, a version management system hosted on my client’s servers. I have two laptops. I have extra mice and keyboards. I have a second development environment at my client’s site. Almost everything I work with has a backup of some form. Now if I could only get a backup brain.

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