It’s every cubicle drone’s dream: working from home, with no boss breathing down your neck, no annoying coworker clicking his pen every few minutes, no broken copier or traffic-laden commute.
But if you’ve made this dream a reality, you may be discovering out a common plight of the newly self-employed: it’s hard to stay focused, and that much-desired lack of oversight can result in not getting work done.
Here are five tips for staying focused on the home front:
1. Follow your clock, not theirs
Remember back in college, when “early to bed” meant being asleep before sunrise? If your night-owl-ish tendencies leave you feeling your best in the late hours of the night, don’t be afraid to time-shift your work schedule to match. Likewise, if you prefer to wake up in the wee hours and have most of your tasks done before noon, well, there’s no one stopping you.
Modern office hours were constructed as a kind of one-size-fits-all approximation of humankind, but everyone’s biological clock is wound differently. Working during the hours when your mind is at its best will make the day (or night) go faster, while improving the quality of your both mood and your work.
2. Still obey their calendar, though
Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Everyone wants to get things done well before the deadline, and yet that last-minute scramble seems perpetually unavoidable. Without a boss setting deadlines for you, you should get used to setting your own.
If you do a lot of contract work, this might be simple: include an expected completion date in the initial agreement. If you do freelance work or other tasks that aren’t as reliant on another person’s schedule, try tricking yourself into a sense of urgency. Tell a spouse or friend about what you’re working on and when you’ll be done so there’s a bit of external pressure attached to the due date. And build in a little extra time if you can. That way, if something unexpected comes up, you’ll still meet that deadline.
3. Don’t toss out the work clothes just yet
The ability to work while wearing pajamas is a commonly cited perk of the home office, but you might want to dress up anyway.
The morning routine of putting on something presentable gets your mind in gear to be productive. Slinking from your bed to your desk makes it a lot harder to make that mental jump into work mode. Extra-comfy pajamas might be a bit too comfortable to get anything done.
4. Get moving
One of the biggest advantages to setting your own schedule is that you control your breaks. And since you’re alone at home instead of at an office, your breaks can be the sweaty-sock kind.
Shifting your exercise routine to the middle of the day serves to break up your workload and give your mind time to process what you’re working on. Even better, the exercise-induced endorphin rush puts you in a great mood for the home stretch, and midday exercise has even been shown to boost energy level and productivity.
5. Don’t bring your work home with you
Just like doctors suggest never doing anything but sleeping or having (a-hem) “romantic time” in your bed if you want to fall asleep easier, keep your home workspace a workspace alone, and avoid merging it with entertainment or family activities whenever possible.
You might find you need a second computer: one for your home office, and another with all the games, messaging and other distractions you love while vegging on the couch in the living room. Programs like LeechBlock, an add-on for Mozilla Firefox, can forcibly block sites like Facebook and Twitter at certain times of the day when you need to be working and not tempted by time-sucks.
Working from home comes with its benefits and freedoms, but the skill set required to self-motivate does not come easily. The more tricks you find that work for you, the more productive you’ll become at home. Without the time-consuming commute and bureaucracy of the office, it’s easy to do more work than you ever did before—and in less time.
Dunya Carter is a writer and marketing consultant for Ochre Recruitment, a leading Australian medical recruitment agency specializing in doctor jobs. She writes articles on professional development for several websites and blogs.