How to Stay Productive Working From Home
by Daniel Parsons
Producing books and running an author business from home has always provided challenges for writers. Historically, the ones impacted most are those who have handed in their notice at a day job after seeing early success. Having gleefully adopted full-time status, they expect their output to triple. Only without limits and managers, rather than obliterating their wordcount targets and raising the bar they find themselves procrastinating and craving human contact. Up close, that fuzzy dream they have always coveted on the horizon reveals itself to be a dangerous nightmare.
Recently, faced with lockdown, many of us have taken a similar red pill and discovered the truth; that in reality, boundless freedom doesn’t always lead to a perfect lifestyle. It’s true for all but the most disciplined among us. Relieved of our usual responsibilities and given more time than we’re used to having, many of us lose the sense of urgency that normally drives us to cram work into our mornings, work commutes and precious weekends. This blog post will address this issue, offering guidance on how to return some normality and structure to your day so that you can make the most of your freedom.
SET SMART GOALS
We have discussed the merits of setting SMART goals many times in this blog because they work so well. For the purpose of this post, all you need to know is that SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. You will need to set goals that fit these criteria if you want them to be as effective as possible, particularly now that you have more freedom to spend your time in ways that are anything but smart.
The beauty of them is that they keep you accountable to yourself and constantly aware of where you should be on your project timeline. Not only that, they also help you to chunk your work into manageable action points, which makes them less likely to overwhelm you. Equally useful for writing and marketing, this process is psychological rocket fuel for human motivation, meaning that you will be more likely to overcome tricky obstacles and keep the end in sight even without a manager keeping you on track.
CREATE A SLEEP ROUTINE
One of the major complaints authors note when working from home is an erratic sleeping pattern. With no official office hours, nor a need for a morning alarm, they find themselves staying up late at night and struggling to get up in the morning. True to Parkinson’s Law, they have more hours to write or market so they don’t feel the need to structure their day and, as a result, end up procrastinating. Creating a sleep routine that gives your waking life the structure you need to stay productive is a good way to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Start by setting an alarm. It’s a simple strategy but committing to waking up at the same time every day provides you with a strong foundation upon which you can build habits that affect the rest of your day. Say, for example, you begin writing every day after breakfast at 8:00 am. Your brain will associate finishing breakfast with opening your laptop to write. Get up at 11:00 am one day and skip breakfast and you trigger a knock-on effect that removes your mental cue. Combine your consistent wake-up call with a bed time to keep you alert, plus compulsory work hours, and you maximise your chance of making progress. Your sleep schedule doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be consistent enough to maintain your useful habits.
WEAR A UNIFORM
Pyjamas and bunny slippers might be your idea of a dream uniform but wearing leisure clothes every day can exacerbate a lazy mindset in some cases. That’s because many people associate their PJs with relaxation; groggy mornings and “switching off” after a hard day of work. So if you’re experiencing a downward productivity spiral at home, your clothes might not be helping. It’s possible to change this association by gradually upscaling your workload in your PJs, but breaking unwanted habits and forming fresh neural pathways isn’t a quick or easy process.
For more immediate results, you could break your rut by putting on more formal clothes in the morning as if you’re getting ready for work. That’s because, according to Dr Karen Pine, a fashion psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire who was quoted in Forbes, different clothing “primes the brain” to behave in a way that is consistent with the characteristics associated with the garment. Indeed, studies report that those wearing lab coats during a learning session feel more attentive than those who wear overalls. Admittedly, the studies rely heavily on anecdotal evidence. Plus, factors such as age, race and gender also impact the results. However, wearing more formal clothes does trigger a productive mindset in some people.
Knowing this possibility, you could test this strategy the next time you slump. If you are receptive to changing your mindset by changing your clothes then doing so could be an easy way to give yourself the edge you need.
USE AN OFFICE
Another difficulty many creative entrepreneurs face when working from home is the inability to separate their work and home lives because they work and relax in the same spot. In this case, the need for a separate office isn’t just psychological. There are other issues to consider. For a start, children don’t always regard or understand boundaries. Significant others can be equally demanding. Pets, friends and neighbours, too, can struggle to see why you need to lock yourself away for portions of your day when you’re “not at work” and they want to talk to you.
If you’re reading this post outside lockdown then you can remedy this issue by leaving your home and heading to a local café or library. With those facilities currently closed, though, you may need to empower yourself with a more DIY approach.
First, you should establish boundaries with people who routinely break your flow. The conversation doesn’t have to be confrontational. It just needs to clarify where and when you can’t be disturbed and why it’s important. You can still offer moments throughout the day where you can be contacted so you’re not making unreasonable demands. Just be sure they respect that you need to wall off your core office hours.
Once you’ve done that you should establish an office space or, at the very least, a home workspace and indicate with headphones when you can’t be disturbed. An audio track of coffee shop sounds, white noise or storms also helps to block out distractions and replicate the focus experienced in a real office environment.
WRITE OFF THE DAY
For some people, working from home doesn’t slump their motivation. Instead it supercharges it, causing them to work an unhealthy amount because they feel guilty whenever they stop working to watch Netflix or go for a walk with friends. Indeed, if this sounds familiar, you might lack work-life boundaries. Yes, it’s wise to push hard in the early stages of your career to build momentum, particularly if you’re relying on your royalties to pay the bills. But working every waking moment long term is neither healthy nor necessarily productive.
What writers who fall into this cycle find is that they can never truly unwind, because they see every minute they relax as a wasted opportunity. When they do work, their sessions aren’t as intense as they could be because they know their working hours are near limitless and so they procrastinate. In the end, they are always “switched on” but never working to their potential. Eventually, this unsustainable lifestyle usually results in unhappiness or burnout.
Committing to a time at which you “write off” the day can lead to a better work-life balance. Whether you choose to impose non-working hours during the morning or night is up to you. All that matters is that you impose rigid limits on your workday so that you can relax and play during downtime without feeling guilty. In short, this tip will help you set yourself psychological boundaries that will help you work fewer hours but enjoy heightened productivity when you do choose to work, meaning you can relax to your fullest capacity.
Follow the strategies mapped out in this blog post to see which ones work best for you. Executed well, not only will they provide you with a robust framework for writing and managing your author business from home in the short term but also in the post-lockdown world.
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