With TED Talks dismissing the productivity of office environments, more companies allowing flexible work-from-home schedules, and contractor positions on the rise, the 9-to-5 cubicle landscape of the workplace has drastically changed—and will only continue. According to the Intuit Report, by 2020, more than 40% of American employees will be freelancers—that’s 60 million and counting.
With a growing opportunity of having a thriving freelance career, it’s important to know what it takes to discipline yourself outside of an office environment. While there won’t be anyone to stop you from staying in your PJs all day, there are a few ways to keep yourself from distraction. For the secret routines that every successful freelancer does, read on.
Now that it’s the new norm to start checking emails on your phone from bed (before you’re even fully awake), it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to plunge into your day’s work without taking the time to get dressed—or leaving your bed. You’ll be surprised by how easy it is to get sucked into emails and conference calls to find yourself still in your pajamas come 3 p.m. Make a conscious effort to leave your phone untouched until you’ve completed your morning routine (make the bed, wash your face, brush your teeth) and changed into clothes you didn’t sleep in.
When diving into a less-than-exciting excel sheet, any and all distractions are welcome. Though you might make an effort to shut off unnecessary screens, working from your home can be a distraction in itself. We’re talking about the overflowing laundry basket, the crumbs on the counter, and the shoe shelf you’ve been hoping to organize for over a year. All of these mundane household chores become a bit more appealing when you’re facing work. The key is to remind yourself that work hours should be dedicated to work duties—even when you’re at home.
Recent studies have proven that a sedentary lifestyle can increase your risk of disease and even premature death, even if you regularly exercise. To counteract these effects, stand up from your desk every 30 minutes to stretch your legs and increase blood flow. Along with short standing breaks every half hour, set your alarm for a midday stretch and dedicate 10 minute to stretching. Try taking a walk for lunch instead of ordering in as a built-in reminder to move your limbs. Create a makeshift standing desk by using a tall dresser or countertop periodically throughout the day. Not only will making time to move help you stay healthy, but these breaks will also help boost your productivity by stimulating blood flow and giving your mind a few minutes to reset between tasks.
It’s much easier to be productive if you have all the tools you’ll need to do your job effectively. First, set up a designated working space, which serves as your private office—even if it’s not technically private. Invest in a comfortable chair, a desk with enough space for your work needs, and your everyday office supplies like pens and a drawer for important papers. Make it a comfortable environment that you want to stay in, by setting up next to natural light, lighting a fragrant candle for ambience, and keeping a framed picture of your loved ones nearby. If you set up your home office the way you would your space at a company’s headquarters, you’ll create a professional working environment that is separate from the rest of your home.
Since you won’t have co-workers bugging you (at least not verbally) about details and deadlines, you’ll have to be your own boss. Hold yourself accountable by creating daily to-do lists outlining your goals for the day. There’s nothing more satisfying than crossing a big (or even small) task off the list, which serves as your motivation to get things done. Lists are also an efficient way to prioritize and map out your day, so you can visualize how much time you’ll need to set aside for each task.
It’s inevitable that you’ll run into unpredictable obstacles from time to time (construction, maintenance, internet outages), and you’ll have to change plans to accommodate work on the fly. Make it easier to adapt by establishing an alternative place of work in advance. By scouting out the best go-to coffee shops or internet cafes with the strongest Wi-Fi or the least amount of distractions, you won’t be at a disadvantage if your home office is unavailable for the day.
Your career is important, but you and your health should always come first. Make time to work out every day (which is proven to promote productivity), shut off your smartphone and laptop so that you get a full night’s rest, and splurge on a monitor so that you don’t crouch at your desk or strain your eyes peering at a small laptop. Investing in your health can also mean setting aside time on a Sunday to stock your fridge with healthy food to serve as snacks and healthy lunches for the week.
As much as we all love Seamless and Postmates, the convenience of delivery can keep you cooped up inside all day long. As important as it is to stretch and move periodically throughout the day, it’s equally essential to get outside and see natural light and breathe in fresh air. Whether it’s walking for your morning cup of coffee or taking a stroll after dinner to help with digestion, be sure to give yourself a chance to get outside. It’s a great way to clear your mind and give your eyes a rest from the screen.
With a deadline looming, it’s easy to lose track of time and find yourself in the dark at your desk. While it’s important to stay on task and accomplish your goals for the day, it’s just as imperative to create a schedule and stick to it. As you would at any other office job, hold yourself to normal hours by starting the day at a certain time and ending the same way. If you don’t respect a routine, you’ll find yourself burning out sooner than later. By following all of the aforementioned steps like creating to-do lists, creating boundaries with work and free time, and setting alarms to signal your start and end time, you’ll ensure a healthy working environment, which will help prevent burnout.
There are plenty of challenges that come with working from home, but there are a lot of upsides, too. Working remotely allows you to manage your own time according to what best suits you and your schedule. Avoid an overcrowded gym by working out during off-hours, take a stroll around the block when you have a headache, get a head start on prepping dinner by running to the store during a break in the day. As long as you are able to hold yourself accountable and respect the time you need to get your work done successfully, you can enjoy the aspect of creating your own schedule—one that works best for you.
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Do you work remotely? Will you use these tips to help boost productivity when working from home?