Whether you’re a freelance designer or you work from home as part of a creative agency team, distractions are a fact of life. There’s dinner to cook, kids or pets begging for attention, and well-meaning friends popping by unexpectedly for a coffee and chat.
How do you stay productive with all these distractions? I’ve been working from home for three years now, and I’ve discovered a few tricks that definitely help (and many, such as drinking too much coffee, that definitely don’t!). Here’s how I keep productive at home:
Eat a Good Breakfast
I know, I know. Your Mom’s been telling you this for years. But she’s right: breakfast really does fuel you up for the day. It boosts your metabolism and gives you the energy you need to do your best design work. Eating a good, healthy breakfast is even more important when you work from home, as you don’t have the energy of a bustling office environment to draw from. So make a bowl of oatmeal, have a feast of yoghurt and muesli, or even whip up a couple of slices of French toast.
Utilize Cloud Technology
The cloud is pretty much designed with telecommuters and freelancers in mind. With the cloud, you can run your whole business – and collaborate with clients or colleagues – from any device, anywhere in the world. It’s also a cost-effective way to access professional technology, and forms the basis of any robust disaster recovery system. I run my business solely on the cloud, and use a variety of tools:
Xero accounting – Hands down, the best accounting software for freelancers and small business owners – intuitive, simple and great for those of us who don’t really like numbers.
WorkflowMax – This workflow management system integrates with Xero, and basically handles all my project management tasks – from invoicing and reporting to collaboration with clients and contractors, task folders and time tracking. My business wouldn’t exist without Xero and WorkflowMax.
Trello – a free and simple collaboration tool. For me, it doesn’t have the functionality of WorkflowMax, but it’s great for simple jobs.
Evernote – bookmark websites, images and URLs, write and edit notes, and create a searchable database of things you need. One of the most useful free cloud-based tools out there.
Track Your Time
The difference between a designer who’s succeeding and one who’s struggling might be a simple case of time tracking. If you know how much time a job takes to complete, you know how much you should charge for it. Designers who track their time not only work more productively (as they’re more aware of the cost of distractions) but also have an accurate picture of cashflow and costings for jobs.
WorkflowMax have a nifty little Adobe Time Tracking Extension that allows me to track my time from within the creative suite. Super easy to use and doesn’t break my creative flow.
One of the nasty habits of telecommuters and freelancers is that it’s easy to get into the habit of rolling out of bed and booting up the computer. The problem is, your mind gets stuck in the mentality that you’re “on holiday” and you don’t have to do these things. I find that when I bum around in my pajamas at home, I do less work than if I treat my home hours as another day at the office. If you show up at your desk at a specific time every morning, dressed for the job, with your hair done and your teeth brushed, then you’re setting yourself up for a successful day.
Create a comfortable space
It’s hard to work effectively if you’re squinting at the computer screen or are wincing at a pain in your lower back. When you work from home you have the added bonus of complete freedom in setting up your workspace – use this freedom to your advantage to create a space that’s comfortable, invigorating and tailored to your needs. Think about:
Temperature. Is your space too hot or too cold?
Lighting. Do you have access to natural light? Is your task lighting appropriate for the job you’re doing?
Posture / Ergonomics. Are your chair, desk, screen, and keyboard placed in the right positions and at the correct heights? Are you experiencing any pain or discomfort from sitting at your desk?
Distractions. Are you able to shut the door and block out distraction in other parts of your house? Do you sit at your desk and feel as though you’re at work?
Inspiration. I like to surround my desk with images and quotes that inspire creativity. Is there something in your workspace that inspires you?
Keep Lists to a Minimum
Every morning when I sit down at my desk, I write a list of what I need to do that day. I used to write down fifteen or twenty different items, but then realized I felt like every day was a failure when I couldn’t complete them all. Now, I write a list of Three Important Things (TITs). I list my three most vital tasks for the day, and only three. The TITs list helps me to prioritize the most urgent and important work, as well as teaching me to set realistic goals for the day.
Use Micro-Goals to eliminate distractions
I admit it, my mind is prone to wander throughout the workday, and I often find myself migrating to Facebook or discussion forums instead of sticking to the task at hand. This is a bad habit to get into, as research shows that flicking between different activities (working and arguing with Internet trolls) causes our brains to tire more easily, meaning we don’t perform either activity at our best. Multitasking can cut productivity by as much as 40%.
I combat this problem by setting a timer for myself and establishing a mini-goal. It could be an hour to complete one stage of the project, or 30 minutes on answering email. When the timer goes off, if I’ve completed the goal, I allow myself 5 minutes or so checking status updates or reading my favorite blogs.
Sitting all day at a desk isn’t what the human body is designed to do. It’s even more important to be active if your job involves sitting down or hunching over all day. At least once an hour, get up, walk around the room, and stretch your muscles. Set aside 30-60 minutes a day for exercise – go for a walk or run around the neighborhood at lunchtime or play with your kids in the backyard when they come home. Taking the time for exercise will help you stay energized and focused throughout the day.
Keep Business Hours
When you’re home during the day, it can be easy for family and friends to forget you’re supposed to be working. It’s not long before your spouse leaves you a list of chores to finish every morning, or your out-of-work friends are popping over for coffee every second day.
One way to curb these chores and visits is to set yourself regular office hours: a time each day when you’re in front of the computer working. During those hours, you don’t answer your phone, you don’t do chores, you don’t take the dog to the vet.
Setting work hours (and being clear about them to your clients) also helps halt those frantic calls for proofs at 8pm and “could you just whip this up for me this evening?”
Do What’s Best for You
Every designer is different. What works for me in my home office may not be right for you. The only way to figure out what helps you work better is to experiment with different techniques and equipment, and keep what works for you. Good luck!
How do you stay productive and minimize distractions when working from home?
Tags: freelance, home office, workspace