How to Smash the Home-working Productivity Trap

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As well as being a social media & digital marketer, I’m also, mostly, a home-worker. In the (nearly) six months since I was made redundant and started up TidyMedia, I’ve learned a few home truths about working from home. See what I did there?

I can’t claim to be the utmost authority on the topic, but if you’ll allow me the small indulgence, I’d like to share a few top tips from my own experience that work to boost my producitivity, so probably will for you, too! 

1 Set a Routine

It doesn’t matter what that routine is, but set one. For me, I get up around 7:00, walk the dog, have a shower, and allow myself a bit of time to ease into the day before starting work around 9:00.  I’m fully prepared to work through until 17:00 (although see what I’ve got to say about that below). Just because those hours work for me, it doesn’t mean they have to for you. Work from 14:00 - 22:00 if it suits you better. The important thing is finding a rhythm and training your brain and body When it’s time for work.

Although your business isn’t going to grow itself, you don’t have to spend every waking hour tending to it. As an entrepreneur, your most valuable asset is your health. If you burn out, where will your business be without you? 

2 The Housework can Wait

I outlined my current routine above. It hasn’t always looked like that. When I first started working from home, waking up slipped to 9ish, the poor dog would have his paws crossed, it would be 11:00 before I was ready to start work. And then instead of starting the work that was vital for my start-up business, I’d find myself hoovering, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning windows. It’s all stuff that needed done, but when I stopped to think about it, I realised that I wouldn’t have that luxury back in the days when I had to drive to work. The housework would either have to be done before I left (not bloody likely) or wait until I got back. Why should it take precedence now? 
In doing all these non-work tasks, I was just delaying the start of my working day. And guess what that meant.... I’d either have to work later, or I’d get less done. I discovered I’m not very productive when my housemate is here, so I’d pack up the tools of my trade when he got home at 5. But niggling away at the back of my mind was the terrible thought that I hadn’t done as much as I’d hoped, and my business would suffer. So at bed time, when I should be reading a chapter or two before nodding off, I’d find myself doing some of the work I didn’t get done earlier in the day. Actually in bed, on my laptop or tablet, doing customer or competitor research, writing business plans, doing SEO keyword research, testing facebook ad sets... so the chances of me getting up at 7:00 were snookered for another day.

Now, I either do the housework in that little gap before I start work at 9, or more often, in the evening when my housemate is here - because it turns out I can just about manage that! Bed time has become bed time again, I can get up at 07:00, and the dog loves me once more. 

3 Make a List

I know, I know, it’s cliché. But life gets in the way, and there seems to be more of it to get in the way when you’re working from home! Start each day with a list of what you want to achieve that day. Include anything you’re carrying over from the previous day. It doesn’t have to be top of your new list, maybe it’s carried over because it’s low-priority anyway. But having that list will help you keep on track, and make sure you achieve the things that are important, rather than just filling your day doing bits and pieces that feel like work but aren’t really helping you achieve your goals and targets. 

How you prioritise your list is up to you. I used to always organise mine by the thing that was most important first, but then at a NatWest Business Accelerator event, I heard of this thing called eating the frog for breakfast. Apparently, it comes from a Mark Twain quote, along the lines of:

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

There are various articles and books on the concepts, but it basically boils down to doing the task you find least-appealing first. Get it out of the way, so that you can focus on the nicer stuff. Otherwise, guess what task is going to be carried over to the next day? And pretty soon your entire list will be made up of nothing but frogs. 

I’ve also seen another quote attributed to Twain, on the same subject: 

 “If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.”

I hope for your sake that there are some days when there are no frogs to eat! 

My final thought on this one, goes back to how Life happens. Sometimes you won’t get through your list, and that’s fine. But it can be soul destroying to work your fingers to the bone, and find out that you’ve nothing to show for it because your list is just taunting you with all the things you haven’t done! My top trick for this is to add the things that got in your way on to the list. Yep that’s right. Add them on, so you can cross them off! That way when you look back, you’ll be able to see that you have achieved something, and you can also review whether or not they were things that rightfully took priority over your planned tasks. 

4 Avoid the Social Media Rabbit Hole

Wait, what? Did I, a social media & digital marketing consultant, just suggest avoiding Social Media?  Yes, I bloody-well did! When you’re your own boss you don’t have anybody standing over your shoulder telling you to get off facebook, stop tweeting, put your hashtags away. Time goes funny when you look at social media. What feels like “only 5 minutes” turns out to be half an hour or more. All of the social media platforms have goals and objectives of their own, and guess what... every single one of them prioritises engagement and the amount of time you spend on their platform. Their success depends on sucking you in, and they’re experts at doing it! So, put your phone to the other side of the room, where you can get to it if it rings but won’t be distracted by it otherwise. If you can’t be trusted with your laptop, temporarily disable your accounts during working hours. Sounds extreme, I know.... not everybody will need to go this far, but do you?

What if, like me, your work actually involves being active on these platforms? If you’re trying to build an active community, you want to be agile in your responses, don’t you? But that doesn’t mean you have to be instantaneous in your replies. Invest in some software like Hootsuite or Buffer, and only assign yourbusiness accounts to them. Then you can check for important incoming content, and respond as necessary, without being distracted by your personal newsfeed. Many of these tools and apps have free options. You may also want to consider using Facebook Business Manager rather than “normal” facebook to minimise distractions.

5 Get Out of The House

Yes, I know I said this is for home workers, buuuuuuut.... seriously, get out once in a while and see some real people in the real world! I’ve already written about the benefits of this, but I can’t stress it enough. Check out some coworking spaces around you, or just work from a coffee shop or cafe for a couple of hours now and then. It’ll do you good, and you never know what prospective customers you may bump into!

6 Be Kind to Yourself

Although it’s great to set a routine, what happens if a client needs to call or spend time with you outside of the hours you’ve set? There’s a lot to be said for having the guts to refuse and keep your business hours clearly defined, but in reality few of us have that courage early-on. So if you find you’re taking calls or scheduling meetings outside of your planned routine, don’t fret... but do try to take the time back elsewhere.

Want to meet your friends for lunch? What’s on your list? Can any of it be rescheduled? Then go have lunch. Do you want to meet them every Wednesday for lunch? Then just make it part of your schedule. Add the time back somewhere else (maybe with that client who keeps demanding your time “out of hours”) and make sure you get that work-life balance that made you quite the rat-race in the first place!

Problems happen when you take the time without giving it back, so be sensible with it. Think of it as a bank account. You don’t want to be bankrupt, but you do deserve some of life’s little pleasures, too. Make sure there’s enough in your time-bank that you can keep the real bank topped up... it’s a virtuous cycle that pays dividends.