In the early ’90s, when I started my career, there was the occasional need to work from home. Sometimes it was to continue working on a project from my day job, while other times, I had a freelance project of my own. But because it wasn’t frequent enough, I wasn’t really concerned too much with how efficiently I was getting things done. That changed in 1999.
In 1999 I left my job at the NFL to work for myself. It was tempting to stumble out of bed whenever I woke up and just sit on the couch in front of the TV with my laptop, and launch into my day without a plan. But I knew that I needed to be focused and productive in order to make working from home sustainable (and grow my business).
Since so many people are working from now, and Brenits Creative is a 100% remote-work team, I wanted to share four things that I have been doing consistently for 20 years.
Have a simple, repeatable routine. Back in ’99, I would wake up at 7 on regular workdays, got dressed, and left the apartment. I would exit my front door and turn left, walking around the block to the deli to get a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich and a coffee. After leaving the deli, I would continue walking around the neighborhood, making left turns until I got back home. It took about 25 minutes each morning.
This, for me, replicated “going to work.” And at 5 PM, I would “leave work” by making the reverse “commute,” walking around the block to the right until I came home. I did this every day for several years, rain or shine because it helped me make the mental/emotional shift from being “at home” to being “at work.”
Have a dedicated workspace. Back then, I had a tiny one-bedroom apartment, and my desk was next to my bed in the bedroom. The desk was the only place I worked, and it created a work zone where personal and work activities rarely crossed. 18 months later, I could afford to move into a two-bedroom apartment, where I turned one of the bedrooms into a dedicated office. I even got myself a bigger desk.
Keeping these two parts of my life (work and personal) separated within the space I lived in prevented work from spilling into the rest of my home.
Keep distractions at bay. Back then, I purposefully kept the TV off, and even though there is one in my office, I rarely turn it on now that we can stream content right to our monitors. Even so, I resist the temptation to launch Netflix in my browser today. If anything, I’ll play music when I’m not on a call (Vivaldi is excellent for doing creative work, Daft Punk for repetitive production). My desk is typically clutter-free (well, clutter-lite), and work files are organized in folders. In fact, I’ve tried to go paperless as much as possible, so all of my files are organized digitally.
Work in sprints. Interruptions happen, especially when working at home. And let’s be honest, the laundry and dishes still need to get done, the dogs walked, and some chore that is nagging at you too. Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you need to work from 9 to 5. When you work from home, you get to break up your day any way you see fit, so that you are the most productive you can be.
Are you an early riser? Then wake up at 5 and get the bulk of your work done by 10 and then take a break. Come back a little later, tune out the world again, and focus on getting things done for a couple of hours more. During that break time, you can handle the dishes and laundry, walk the dog, run an errand, etc.
Besides, that downtime actually refreshes you and allows you to be more focused when you do get back to work. It’s no wonder there are studies about how much more productive people are when they work remotely.
Me, I’m a night owl. My most productive work is done when everyone else is sleeping. When do you think I wrote this piece anyway?
What works for you? These are just some of the ways I have found to be productive working from a home office, where there are plenty of distractions. I’m always looking for new ideas, though. So please let me know what your secret is for working from home.