When you work from home, it feels like a novelty. A luxury, even. There’s no long commute, no annoying traffic, snacks to hand whenever you want them, and you can even stay in your PJs all day long. However, when you’re in charge of your own schedule as an entrepreneur, blogger, freelancer, or remote worker, it’s very easy to get distracted and procrastinate the day away.
Procrastination is a crime we’re all guilty of. When you’re in an office, you do it with ‘busy work’ – looking like you’re checking your emails (while actually listening to a comedy podcast), for example – but it’s much easier to get away with when you’re your own boss. Working from home provides welcome distractions from boring, challenging, or so-big-I-don’t-know-where-to-start tasks.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Before looking at how to stop procrastinating, consider WHY you’re procrastinating. What is it that you’re putting off? Why are you subconsciously, deliberately, impacting on your productivity?
For many people, procrastination when working from home comes first from the novelty (laptop on the sofa in front of Desperate Housewives on the TV while eating cereal straight from the box, as a totally-pulled-out-of-the-air-and-not-a-personal-experience example…), and then from the boredom.
You’re staring at the same walls every day. You don’t have anyone to talk to, unless you pick up the phone to call someone – which, unless you’re calling a colleague, you’ll feel guilty about the whole time. You’ve walked the dog four times already this morning, but are contemplating a fifth just to get some fresh air.
We procrastinate to distract ourselves from doing something we dread. It’s as simple as that. It just feels different when you’re working from home than when you’re in an office, because it’s like you have permission to procrastinate, to not feel guilty about wasting time, because you’re the boss of your own time so you can do what you like. Except… you can’t. If you want to get stuff done, you need to stop avoiding work.
Step One: Establish A Routine
The worst thing you can do when you’re working from home is have a lie-in. It’ll make you groggy and unmotivated for the rest of the day.
Instead, set your alarm to go off at a reasonable time every morning. (That is, whatever you deem reasonable: mine is 5.30am but then I’ve always been a lark). Get up. Have a coffee. Read the paper or your favourite blog. Shower. Please.
Do whatever it is that you need to do in order to establish a comfortable, easy, and repeatable daily routine. That routine needs to always result in you placing your backside on your chair and switching on your computer to start work. That routine does not need to include three hours of a Netflix binge before you switch on your computer (and no, turning on your laptop in order to watch three hours on Netflix first doesn’t count, either).
A routine not only helps you to avoid procrastination, but helps other people to take your job seriously, too. If people think about you, they probably have in their mind the stereotype of a freelancer who doesn’t start work until 3pm, never gets out of comfy tracksuit pants, and lounges in beer gardens on sunny afternoons instead of working.
Show them that’s not the case: turn up to your desk fully dressed, breakfasted, and ready to work just as you would for any office job. Don’t phone your clients – Skype them in all your office-get-up glory. Show them that you take yourself seriously, and they will too.
This step towards a routine and establishing your professionalism when working from home will give you a sense of pride in your work. If you’re proud, you’re confident – and your confidence will extend to motivation to complete those challenging tasks you always used to put to one side.
Step Two: Make Two Lists
First thing in the morning, while your laptop is firing up and your next coffee is still too hot to drink, write down two quick lists. Every morning. This is an essential part of your routine.
On the first list, write five things you absolutely must complete today. They can be small or big things, but make sure there are at least five and no more than ten. This’ll help you maintain focus and stop your flitting from task to task, which is a fast-track route to poor productivity. If you have a really big project to work on, break this down into discernible chunks, and allocate each section a new line on your Must Do list.
For the second list, write five things you absolutely must NOT do today. That could be not turning on the TV before 4pm, not going on Facebook for longer than 15 minutes, ignoring emails until lunchtime, or having your phone data/Wifi switched off. Write down anything that you know could be a distraction.
The second list might be the same every day. If you find that becomes the case, stick it up near your workspace. That is a list of promises you have made to yourself. Are you really going to break them?
Step Three: Start Big, Get Smaller
The biggest, nastiest, most looming task is the one you need to tackle first. If you get this out of the way, the rest of your day will run far more smoothly. By doing it at the start of the day, you’ll also have plenty of time to dedicate to the task, should it end up taking longer than expected.
Just as breaking up big projects into smaller chunks on your Daily Must Do list works to help you move through a task with more ease, getting the biggest thing out of the way first will help you to relax the rest of the day. You’ll not be distracted thinking about the huge task you should be doing – instead, you can focus on the next project in hand.
Remember To Reward Yourself (For Not Procrastinating)
At the end of your Daily Must Do list, write one thing that you WANT to do today, that isn’t work-related.
Once you’ve ticked everything off your daily list, this becomes your reward. It might be taking a jog around the local path, calling a friend for a catch-up, or cooking a three-course gourmet meal just for yourself. Whatever you feel is a reward, make sure you have something at the end of the day to work towards.
If you haven’t crossed everything off your Daily Must Do list by the end of your working day? Well, sorry, but no reward for you! (Just kidding, it’s entirely up to you – but if you reward yourself for not achieving, can you really motivate yourself when the going gets tough?).
What do you do to stop procrastination from creeping in when you work from home? Leave a comment below and join the discussion!