The Way We Work

Recently I took a look at the importance of fitting a real weekend into your week. But for a lot of us, our efforts need to be equally (if not more) focused on actually having productive workdays. So many things get in the way of our productivity when working from home — from the distraction of household chores to plain old forgetfulness. But don’t give up, every day is a new opportunity to practice productivity.

Here are some practical tips I’ve learned over the years that can help you take back your workdays:

1. Be realistic with yourself. I recently (perhaps as recently as yesterday?) had to come to terms with the fact that I’ve reached an age where I am creatively tapped out in the evenings. I can edit manuscripts until the sun comes up, but I can’t create new writing work after dinner. What about you? When was the last time you looked honestly at what you can accomplish in a day and what time of day you should be doing it?

2. Set work hours. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: it doesn’t matter when they are, as long as you have them, keep them, and keep your employers informed about them.

3. Stop scheduling appointments during work hours. Just because you CAN have that dentist appointment in the middle of your usual workday, doesn’t mean you should. Live like the rest of the world: get your hair done, your tonsils checked, and your child’s cavity filled during hours that you don’t ordinarily work.

4. Don’t take calls that aren’t work related during work hours. Ever notice how a call from your mom leads to a call to your sister, which leads to a call to your counselor? (Me too.) Friends, this is the beauty of caller ID. Just don’t pick up unless it’s work related.

5. Keep a to-do list. Get organized so that when you are working you know what needs to get done. There are a variety of tech options for setting up daily or weekly tasks, or go the old-fashioned route with a pen and paper. The point is to keep careful track, so you can make the most of your working hours and stay on top of deadlines.

6. Got kids? Consider childcare. The ease of working from home with young children is somewhat of a myth. It takes great dedication and discipline to pull it off well. If you aren’t getting it right, rethink how you’re doing it. (Are you really a hands-on stay-at-home parent if you’re telling your child every five minutes to please just keep watching Elmo a little bit longer so Daddy can work?) Consider raising your rates so you can afford proper childcare — both you and your child deserve it.

7. Eliminate distractions. It seems so simple, and yet it can be one of the hardest things to do. Shut the door to the laundry room, so you don’t see the pile waiting there. Turn your back on the household mess. Turn off the television. Resist the urge to check your personal emails. (They’ll still be there later, I promise.) Focused time is productive time, and you’ll be surprised at how much better your work turns out when it has your undivided attention.

All in all, these things are easier said than done, but they are good steps that will take your workdays out of toxic sluggishness and back into productive mode.

What has your experience been with taking charge of your workdays? Share the lessons you’ve learned in the comments below.


Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.