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About half of my decade-long career in the communications field has been in the freelance or work-from-home realm. I figured out pretty early that working the kind of job where you’re tethered to an office chair under fluorescent lighting for a minimum of eight hours a day wasn’t for me. I’ve purposefully sought out opportunities, most recently here at TeamSnap (where 75 percent of employees work remote), to ensure that I don’t have to commit to that lifestyle.
When I tell people this, one of the most common questions is “How do you stay motivated and productive working from home?” In fact, I’ve found in recent years that I’m actually more productive in a work-from-home environment than in a formal office environment. That might be surprising to some.
Sure, it might seem like if you’re obligated to spend the majority of daylight hours in a place dedicated only to doing work that you would … well, work. However, most of us know that’s not true. After all, the internet and all its distractions exist everywhere.
So how do I stay motivated and productive? It’s actually a lot simpler than you might think.
1. I work when I’m feeling most creative.
Possibly my No. 1 rule to staying productive is to work when creativity strikes and not to force it when it’s just not there. At TeamSnap, we have a very forward-thinking flex time policy that basically says, “Creativity doesn’t only happen from 9 to 5.” That means you work when you can get the job done as good as you possibly can. If that’s between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., great; so be it. If it’s Saturday morning, also great. If it’s Tuesday at 3 a.m., that’s great too.
To me, this policy makes perfect sense. Of course, there are always deadlines to consider, but shouldn’t the most important thing be that a job is done well, not that it’s done during traditional “working hours?” Coming from a journalism background, I’m deadline focused, so I always have my work done by the time it needs to be done. But how or when I work in order to meet that deadline is up to me. This allows me to manage my work around my energy and creativity instead of vice versa, which helps me get more done and keeps me in a positive state of mind.
2. I’m evaluated by my output.
With a traditional office job, half the battle is simply showing up. You’re putting in the face (or seat) time and so, by default, you’re “working.” What happens when nobody can tell if you’re late or taking a long lunch or showing up at all, though? Well, it turns out it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you get done.
Nothing motivates you more than being judged on how much and what you produce instead of what time you show up and how long you stay. My coworkers might not know how every hour of my day is spent, but they can sure tell when the areas and projects I’m responsible for are slacking. I want to succeed, and to succeed, I have to do good work, regardless of how little or how much time it takes.
3. I am organized.
Independent working can be a double-edged sword. You don’t typically have someone breathing down your neck, but if you actually need or thrive under that kind of “encouragement,” working from home probably isn’t going to be for you. One of the ways I ensure productivity without the help of this kind of outside stimulus (to put it nicely) is by staying organized.
My team uses Asana to track progress on projects and to just generally keep each other aware of what we’re all working on. I make sure everything I have to work on is included in Asana (even the stuff that doesn’t affect anybody else) and include due dates. Then, I use the “My Tasks” tab, sort by date and voila, I have a “to do” list. At the end of each week, I make sure I’ve finished each task I set for myself for that week, and I make sure I know what’s coming for the following week.
4. I stay connected to my coworkers.
At TeamSnap, we use a variety of communication methods to deliver information, both useful and playful. We use Slack as an instant message/chat tool and have channels segmented out by projects but also have a “Random” channel, where kitten and puppy pictures are welcome. We also use Skype, Google Hangouts, Github, Asana and, of course, the old reliable email and telephone.
In addition to regular, planned meetings, we also check in with each other on a regular basis about projects we’re working on. Understanding how my coworkers are spending their time helps me stay motivated. For example, if a good portion of my team is working on the TeamSnap Live! launch, learning about what they’re doing gets me excited and motivates me to do all I can for that project. And of course, looking at adorable pictures of baby animals improves everyone’s productivity.
5. I take a lot of breaks.
Yes, that’s right, I’m telling you that a key to my productivity is taking breaks. If your attitude toward working from home is to make sure your butt is glued to a chair for eight hours a day, why even bother working from home? Taking breaks to accomplish the personal tasks I have on any given day motivates me because instead of thinking about them while I’m trying to write or during a meeting, I simply get them done. Then I get back to work.
At least one study says that by taking small breaks and moving around, you actually clear your head, which increases your productivity. For me, that can mean taking a break to go change the laundry, taking a slightly longer break to clean the kitchen, or taking a much longer break to run errands, go to the gym or go for a walk.
For many, the idea of working from home is daunting. It could be hard to motivate, it could be easy to get distracted. Self-accountability is a hard quality to develop. However, once you figure out what really works for you, working from home can be freeing. And contrary to the beliefs of office work traditionalists, it can also be highly productive.
Stephanie Myers is the Content Manager for TeamSnap, managing such content as this blog, the TeamSnap newsletter and much more. When she’s not being the boss of content, you can find Stephanie playing beer-league softball or competitive skee-ball in Austin, Texas.