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When it comes to working from home or working remotely people seem to generally be in one of two camps. They either can’t focus with the distractions of home, or they thrive with the freedom working from home brings. As a home-based business owner I am of course in the latter group, and today I want to talk about a few ways I have found that help me handle the pressures of working from home.

Plan your day

This first one is the one that I struggle with the most, and I have found that when I don’t follow this rule I have a hard time being productive. Planning your day is incredibly helpful in accomplishing your work. This can be as simple as putting together a list of tasks that you hope to accomplish or as complex as scheduling set times for every moment of your day. You can plan the night before or weeks in advance. So long as you have a plan, your day will be more productive.

Personally, I like to leave as much leeway in my day as possible, so I am a task list planner. (As I mentioned I do struggle with this, and I often fall off the wagon when it comes to planning my days.) I typically create a list before I go to bed at night. I make the list as long and specific as possible, including all of my daily routines and chores, any errands I need to run, and any projects I need to work on. Including all of these small details lets you check off the list and builds a sense of what you have truly accomplished in your day.

Routine

Piggybacking off of planning, having a general routine will help your days move more smoothly. Typically, I start each day the same way. I wake up and see my wife off to work. Then I will get in the shower, get dressed, and take the dog for a walk. One of the things I hear most often from people who don't think they could work from home is that they don't think they would get out of bed in the morning (yes, I did that for a while too!). A morning routine or even something that requires you to leave the house will allow you to be more productive and achieve more of your daily goals.

For me it’s walking the dog. For you, it might be going for a run, going for a walk, walking your kids to the bus stop in the morning, going to a coffee shop or cafe for breakfast: anything that will get you up and moving in the morning.

Choose Distractions

Second to “I wouldn't get out of bed,” the thing I most often hear people say is, “There are too many distractions for me to work from home.” Well, there are things you can do to limit your distractions, like setting aside a designated space in your house from which to work. A side benefit to my daily dog walk in the morning is that the dog is typically tired and quiet afterwards, reducing the level of distraction he poses. But even more than reducing distractions, I find that there are often benefits in the availability of certain distractions.

For example, if I am working on product development I am typically working in CAD creating component designs. It is a fairly repetitive process which involves creativity, analytics, and logic. I find that in a silent atmosphere my brain is a little too free to wander and I end up off-task. However, if i introduce a background distraction my mind is less likely to wander off of the work I am doing and my productivity actually increases.

Conversely, if I am trying to write something I need near-silence. If someone is talking to me, a song is playing, or there are people talking on TV or the radio, I simply cannot write anything.

So in my opinion eliminating distraction is not the answer; instead, choosing the proper distractions is key. Use all of the tools at your disposal to find the best combination to improve your efficiency.

Change it up

This next tip might not apply to everyone, but if you can make it work it is very useful. I will often find that I become stuck in a project. I have hit a wall and I am slammed up against it spinning my wheels. In times like these, you will waste a lot more time and cause yourself a lot more stress trying to force your way to a solution. It is best to recognize when you have hit that wall and take a step back. Change your focus to another task and move to a different part of your daily plan. No, you aren’t giving up. You're taking a break. You are letting your mind focus on something else so you can go back at the problem with a fresh approach.

Right now, I have another article in the works, but I don't know how to continue with it. So, instead of sitting here trying to trudge through writing that article, I did the dishes. While I was doing the dishes, I came up with the idea for this article, and look how nicely this one has formed. Now I know that this won’t always work, but it will give your mind a rest, reduce your stress, and gives you time to think while accomplishing another part of your plan.

Conclusion

While, I admit, I have trouble following these rules myself from time to time, they are four of the best ways I have found to improve productivity when working from home. I encourage those of you who are reluctant to trust yourself to work remotely to explore these methods and find the way that you work most efficiently. You may be surprised to find that the way you achieve your best work is not always what you expected.

Chris is a Mechanical Engineer and Designer. He is one of four owners of Design Build Consulting LLC, an independent design firm in Raleigh NC. www.designbuildconsulting.net