How to stay productive when you work from home

It’s easy to stay motivated and focused when you start working remotely. Escaping the office to start your own business is probably all the fuel you need. But that can fade after weeks, months and years, so it’s important to understand how to stay productive when you work from home.

The struggles you might face will differ depending on your personality, living situation, and how well your business is doing. But a lot of the advice will help whether you’re living alone and trying to find your first client, or surrounded by family and juggling the demands of a growing business.

Invest in yourself when things are going well

It’s easy to assume good times will last forever when things are going well. But it’s important to set aside some time and money to prepare for the future, whether that’s to cope with future growth or any drops in demand for your products or services.

Along with saving into a ‘rainy day’ fund for emergencies, budgeting for new equipment and upgrading your workspace, new software and training, or your physical and mental wellbeing will pay dividends in the future.

And even if you’re struggling, there are inexpensive or free ways to boost your mood, productivity, and ability to turn things around.

Establish good working and resting routines

Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, it’s important to establish a regular schedule which helps you plan your tasks and workload effectively. Working from home offers you freedom and flexibility, but having a regular routine will help you get into ‘work mode’ at the right time, and also make it easier to switch off when it’s time to rest.

Be realistic about the hours available, and don’t be tempted to aim for 12 hours of uninterrupted work every day unless you’re aiming for disappointment and burnout. It’s better to set a sustainable routine of 6 hours of focused work each day which you can reliably maintain, saving the all-nighters for emergency deadlines. Or setting up a four-day week, with time for business admin and other pursuits on the fifth day.

And if you do prefer to work late into the night, you’ll often have to balance this with the more typical routines of clients, and plan to deliver work the evening before it’s due, rather than delivering it after the day has ended.

You may find that a walk, getting dressed in work clothes, or other routines can help you start the working day. And having similar routines at the end of work will help you switch off, especially if you don’t have a separate home office. It’s also a great idea to list your tasks for the following day to avoid thinking about them all evening.

Take regular breaks and be realistic about your habits

Whatever hours you’ve scheduled to work each day, you need to include regular breaks to eat, hydrate and move around. Not only will this help you minimise aches and pains from being sat in the same place all day, but it also helps you be productive for the whole day.

There are various techniques for time management, for example the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks your day into 25-minute intervals with five-minute breaks, and a longer rest after four Pomodoros have been completed. But whatever approach you use, it’s a good idea to think about your breaks occasionally.

It’s easy to grab unhealthy snacks and drinks when you have free access to the kitchen with no-one around. And there’s nothing wrong with watching TV or playing a videogame during longer pauses from work. But if you know you struggle to stop and get back to your tasks, or you hit a mid-afternoon slump in energy, then it’s worth trying some alternatives when you’re taking a break.

Build up an effective workspace

Not everyone will want a full-kitted out home office to work from. For some people, working from their bed or the kitchen table might actually be preferable. But whatever location you choose, it’s important to invest in your comfort and effectiveness. And that doesn’t have to be expensive.

Try to pick somewhere with space and a good source of natural light. If you struggle with distractions, then a separate room makes things easier. But good noise-cancelling headphones can also be effective.

A good quality desk and chair doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you look for second hand deals. And they’ll make a big difference to your comfort and focus, especially if you take a little time to set everything up ergonomically. A monitor arm or riser can lift your screen, but a pile of books can also work, while adjustable desks and footrests can make a big difference to your posture.

Keeping your workspace clean and relatively uncluttered will often help you focus on work. Try to have all your essential work tools and documents organised and close to hand. And cleaning your computer, keyboard and mouse regularly will help them last longer, and make them more pleasant to use.

You can also create a more inspirational workspace with some plants, art, or other features around the room. Which also makes a more interesting backdrop when you’re on video conferences and Zoom calls.

Stay connected with other people

Being productive doesn’t mean you need to shut yourself off from the rest of the world. Freelancing and working from home gives you more choice how you connect and socialise with other people, in the way that works best for you.

This can mean asking clients to email rather than call, or blocking time to check emails rather than responding to alerts at random times throughout the day. And choosing whether to meet with clients in-person or virtually. While it may seem more productive to conduct everything through video calls and meetings, sometimes going to a client location can be much more educational, and inspirational.

For some freelancers, being around other people helps them to be more productive. You can try co-working events and spaces for some of the week. And ADHD or neurodivergent people can find body doubling really helpful, having someone else around even if they’re doing something completely different.

Virtual co-working has also become increasingly popular, either through groups of friends or dedicated websites.

And rather than socialising with colleagues and at work events, as a freelancer you’re able to choose who, how, and when you get together with other people. That could be at work-related meetups in your area, or around your hobbies, sports, or other interests. You can often get great ideas and inspiration from chatting about things completely unrelated to your industry.