More Americans are working from home than ever before. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 50 percent of the American workforce has a job that allows at least occasional telework. Technological advances have made it possible to hold meetings, collaborate with team members and complete tasks in real time without ever setting foot in an office.
That’s great news for workers, but is it great news for productivity? With a roaming supervisor replaced by a friendly TV, it can be hard to stay on task. How do you ensure you actually work from home?
Related: The Truth About Working From Home
ABODO is a young tech company, and we’ve fully embraced telecommuting. Several team members live hundreds of miles away from our Madison, Wisconsin, headquarters, and even those who do live in town have the option to work from home—an especially nice perk during the state’s snowy winters.
Here are four tips for home office productivity that we’ve found useful:
1. Get dressed in the morning.
Near the beginning of his career, Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning writer John Cheever had an intriguing writing ritual: Each day he would get up, shower, dress in a suit and leave his apartment with a briefcase in hand. He’d take the elevator with the rest of the building’s businessmen, and when they got off on the first floor, he’d continue down to the basement. There, he’d remove his suit, hang it on the back of his chair and write until 5 p.m., at which point he’d put the suit back on and ride the elevator to his apartment.
For Cheever, writing fiction was a job, and it deserved to be treated like one. And although you don’t have to go full suit and tie for your home office, getting dressed can help you concentrate and accord your work the respect it deserves. Taking a shower, combing your hair, brushing your teeth and wearing an outfit at least one level up from pajamas can make a huge difference in how you view your work. Plus, if you have any video calls, you don’t have to disable your camera.
2. Close the door.
One of the biggest enemies of productivity when you’re working from home is distraction. But it doesn’t always take the form you might think: a droning television or a close-at-hand video game console. Often, working from home falls victim to multitasking. It’s tempting to try to do everything at once—to write that report while you wash your clothes and cook a delicious meal in your crockpot, so you’ll just have to pop into the store for a couple ingredients. And wait, have you paid your electricity bill yet?
Proximity to all your domestic tasks can make it hard to focus on the work at hand. That’s why it’s important to have a space dedicated only to the work they pay you for. A home office, or at least a corner of the room where you won’t be tempted to try your hand at baking a pie, can help separate your home life from your work life. If you have an office, close the door. If you don’t, find some way to physically separate yourself from your immediate surroundings. Noise-canceling headphones work wonders.
Related: How to Survive Working From Home
3. Sit at a real desk.
Your couch will call to you. Your easy chair will call to you. Your bed will call to you. Do not listen to them.
Sitting up improves focus, circulation and—according to a 2009 study—meta-cognition, or “thought-confidence”: the belief that what you’re thinking is sophisticated and sound. Sitting at a desk is a subtle reminder to your wandering eye that you are, in fact, working, even though you’re at home. And the more vertical you are, the less likely you are to accidentally sleep through your 4:30 p.m. conference call.
4. Set a timer.
In an office, the rhythms of a workday are set by outside forces. You get to work at the agreed-upon hour, you have meetings at set times, you leave when it’s time to clock out. It’s easy to plan your tasks around these regular occurrences.
But things are a little looser when you work from home. Time can seem limitless, expanding to the horizon of your day. It’s easy to think that you’ll have plenty of time to do everything you need to do… later. And when 5:00 p.m. hits, you realize you haven’t finished anything.
That’s why a timer or an alarm clock is a good idea. You can break your day into discrete parts and budget your time accordingly. Maybe you only want to spend 15 minutes on email, but you need a longer chunk to brainstorm strategy for a team project. Setting alarms will make you proactive about reaching small, attainable goals—and the constant threat of the ding (or buzz) of the alarm is also a spur to productivity.