How to make writing from home more effective

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Do you lack an office? Here are nine ways to make writing from home more productive for you….

When I started working from home in 1996, my triplets were two years old. I know, I know. Crazy! And my office didn’t even have a door. It was in a loft, at the top of our house, separated from the bedroom floor by nothing more than a ladder.

My kids sometimes gathered at the foot of the ladder and hollered when they wanted my attention. (Miraculously, we had convinced them that they were incapable of climbing the rungs. Their facility with scaling the sides of their cribs suggested we had three budding rock climbers on our hands. But they avoided the ladder as if it were sheathed in hot metal.)

Of course, I’d hired a babysitter for several hours every day. But, still, they wanted mom.

Although working from home presents challenges to some people, a study done by U.S. News & World Report shows that working offsite boosts productivity and job performance.

And if you’re a freelance writer, you won’t likely have a choice. You’re stuck working from home, even if you’re not crazy about the idea. So here are nine ways to make working from home more productive:

1-Set regular office hours: You don’t have to work 9 to 5, but set specific hours when you’re not going to allow interruptions from family or friends. Friends and family sometimes equate being at home with being available to do other things. (And, particularly puzzlingly, they think mothers of school-age children have buckets of free time.) As a result, I never answer my home phone during the day — my family knows to call my office line if there’s something urgent — and I don’t go to the door, either. I always instruct couriers to leave packages on the doorstep. I do go out for lunch occasionally, but I otherwise constrain social time to evenings or weekends.

2-Dress for work: I work in my PJs only from 6 to 8 am, then I take a break for breakfast and a shower. I don’t wear fancy clothes, but I wear something better than sweats, and I always put on shoes. Putting on clean, decent clothes is a message to myself that I’m a professional person doing a professional job.

3-If you have young children, hire a babysitter: It’s unfair to the kids — and unfair to yourself — to be a distracted parent who’s always dealing with work via a smartphone at any hour of the day or night. (Fortunately, I didn’t own a cell phone until my kids were 10.) Now that I have one, I ignore email after 6 pm.

4-Create a professional space: I’m lucky to have enough space in my house for a separate office. If you can corral a room of your own, go for it. You’ll also need a desk, a chair, a computer and a phone (cell phone is fine.) Then, a filing cabinet, drawers or at least storage boxes should complete the picture. If you don’t have the luxury of an entire room, I encourage you to identify a particular place where you can set up each day. Try NOT to make this a desk in your bedroom, which brings work too close for comfort. If you need to work on a dining-room or kitchen table, however, that should be okay. Set it up so that it looks different — perhaps using a special table cloth or mat and maybe a stack of reference books. At the end of the day, sweep this material away into a box and consider your work done. 

5-Declare clear boundaries: Don’t let work leach into your personal life. When I started my business, I frequently worked seven days a week, despite having three young kids. This approach was utter madness, and I soon curtailed my writing to have more time to myself and my family. We all work better with breaks. If you’re involved in a major project however and need to spend extra time one day to wrap it up, that’s fine. Just be sure to collect that as “time in lieu” the next day or later in the week. 

6-Determine your pace: Some people are sprinters, who like to work in small, intense periods; others are marathoners, who prefer staying focused for longer stretches. Me? I’m a little bit of both. I try to reserve mornings for writing and safeguard afternoons for meetings and projects requiring more time. Either way, I use the Pomodoro method, working in 30-minute chunks. I find the sound of a ticking clock in the background helps keep me focused.

7-Eat your frogs first: Develop the habit of doing your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning. For a surprising number of writers, this may be writing! Remind yourself that dreading a particular aspect of your work is no way to live and that the sooner you get it done, the less you will have to dread it. Also, crossing a big fat frog off your list is going to make you feel great, which will likely help you become even more productive for the rest of the day. 

8-Shut down distractions: Do NOT allow your email to stream in all the time. Instead, collect it manually, no more than a couple of times a day. If you have people who might need to reach you urgently, suggest they phone or text instead. The distraction of seeing you have an unread email is an almost intolerable lure. The same goes for Facebook and Twitter. They can suck up endless hours of your time. If you have difficulty with this kind of discipline, try some apps like Freedom or iAWriter to keep you off the Internet or social networks when you want to be working.

9-Be sure to reward yourself: Many bosses aren’t particularly mindful about showing appreciation to employees. Make sure you do a good job of rewarding yourself now that you’re your own boss. You can give yourself all sorts of treats for whatever behaviours you want to encourage. Did you finish writing an article in record time? Give yourself a trip to your favourite coffee shop. Did you do a spectacular job with a recent interview? Give yourself 15 minutes on Facebook (just be sure to use a timer).  Did you eat your frog every morning this week? Buy yourself a book. (And, if you can’t afford that, go to the library.)

You certainly can’t beat the commute of working from home. But to make yourself truly productive, it’s worth taking a few extra steps to seal the deal.

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My video podcast last week described how writers can use the principle of reverse engineering.  (Or, if you prefer, see a transcript here.) Please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email,  Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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Do you work from home? What tricks do you use to maintain your productivity? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Aug. 31/17, will be put in a draw for a copy of The Email Warrior by Ann Gomez. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.