One stumbling block remote workers and freelancers often come across is how to be productive at home.
It’s a tricky — and sometimes unexpected — problem. Often people dream of working at home for years before they make it happen. Yet freelancers and remote workers often struggle to prioritize important tasks and make the best use of their work hours.
The good news is there are heaps of ways to organize your time to become more productive at home.
Everyone’s situation is different, so there’s no single ‘best way’ to manage your work time and accomplish the work-life balance you’ve been craving. With that in mind, we’ve put together 31 of HomeWorkingClub’s best tips to help you create a set of routines — practices that gel with your personality and circumstances.
So, let’s get you on track with some sensible, realistic advice that’ll have your work time and free time sorted in no time.
- General Tips on How to be Productive at Home
- 1. Ignore All the Advice!
- 2. Find your OWN Rhythm
- 3. Keep your Home Clean and Fresh
- 4. “Time-Trial” Yourself
- 5. Find a Time Management Practice That Works For You
- 6. Take Short Breaks
- 7. Ration Social Media Use
- 8. Plan For Tomorrow Before You Switch Off
- 9. Use ONE Master Calendar
- 10. Mute Your Notifications
- Juggling Children and Work
- Communicating with Bosses and Clients
- Keeping your Mind, Body and Spirit Healthy
- Making the Most of your Time
- 29. Start a Creative Online Project
- While You’re Here
General Tips on How to be Productive at Home
1. Ignore All the Advice!
Yes, I know, it’s a bit of a curveball offering advice and telling you to ignore it. What I really mean is, ignore all those dull, generic home working productivity articles that aren’t rooted in reality.
What use is it telling you to dress for the office if it’s more important to protect your work laptop from your toddler’s milkshake? How are you supposed to “stick to set hours” when you never know what will happen next?
Those identikit articles never were any good, so ignore them. They’ll just make you feel you’re somehow getting it all wrong.
2. Find your OWN Rhythm
So, with all that in mind, think about how your household works. What does each member need to achieve? What personal needs do they have? Are there particular concerns about anybody’s physical or mental health that you have to allow for?
Note that I’ve not mentioned work yet. That’s intentional because all of this other stuff is the foundation that will – hopefully – provide a solid base for your work to rest on.
No two households have the same rhythm: Different personalities, different kids, different stresses, different commitments.
What you do as a household and when you do it is about what works for YOU – not about what’s considered conventional or “normal.“
3. Keep your Home Clean and Fresh
Here’s another thing to do before you start fixating on work: Get your house clean, fresh and tidy.
This has so many benefits: The whole “tidy house, tidy mind” thing is more than just a trite saying, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned over many years of being a home working family, there are very compelling reasons to put keeping things clean and tidy at the top of your priority list.
The important thing is to sort out a daily routine that works for you and your family.
Some ideas include:
- First, get everyone on board to help. Get family members or flatmates together and organize a cleaning and cooking roster. People can claim the tasks they like doing best, then roster the unpleasant ones so that everyone takes a turn.
- If kids are reluctant to help (and they probably will be, to start with), build rewards into the program. Set the ground rules for everyone from the start, and your daily routine will soon fall into place.
- Take advice from the declutter experts and keep everything in its place. “Don’t put it down, put it away,” is a great mantra that saves you heaps of tidying-up time in the long run.
- In his popular book, “Atomic Habits,” James Clear has some good advice about building new routines or adopting new habits. E.g., try bundling them with things you already do. For example, pair opening the laptop with cleaning the screen and keyboard (then add wiping your phone, mouse and worktop to boot.)
4. “Time-Trial” Yourself
OK, this is about how to be productive at home, so let’s move more onto a tip that will help you get more done:
This idea is similar to the Pomodoro technique. You dedicate chunks of time to just one activity and take short breaks between activities to recharge.
Instead, why not make it more of a game? If you’re juggling things at home, see just how much of a task you can achieve in an hour – then the next day, refine, improve, and try to do better. You may find efficiencies and shortcuts you didn’t know existed.
5. Find a Time Management Practice That Works For You
There’s plenty of advice out there regarding time management, but what works for other people won’t necessarily work for you. So here are some ideas to help you find those efficiencies and shortcuts we mentioned above.
- Eat the frog — stop procrastinating over the tasks you don’t want to do. Get them out of the way first thing.
- Batch your tasks — group similar jobs together and focus on them in one time period. It works because multitasking is a time-waster. So, instead of jumping around all over the place, it makes sense to group that content or office work and allocate it to a specific period in your day or week.
- Make a to-do list that works for you — write it in your diary, on a reminders whiteboard or find some software. It’s so satisfying to tick off the tasks at the end of the day.
6. Take Short Breaks
Whatever time management techniques work for you, do take short breaks between tasks.
It’s so easy to get lost in what you’re doing that hours can flash by. Then, suddenly, you get up to grab a coffee and find that you can hardly move. Especially if you’re working at your kitchen table or don’t have ergonomically designed furniture in your home office.
So, set a timer and make sure you move regularly. Those short breaks can be a great way to combine some of the other tips in this list, too. Knock off one of your assigned household chores (tip 3) while you’re moving. Join in your kids’ games (tip 12), pop into the kitchen to prep dinner, or make a healthy snack (see tip 18.)
7. Ration Social Media Use
Social media is a tricky one for home workers. Our founder recently spoke out about how stepping away from social media improved his life.
It’s undeniable that social media can be a massive lifeline for freelancers and remote workers who sometimes feel isolated. But stay alert to its adverse effects. Too much unsubstantiated news can feed into anxiety, and too many opinions can become draining. And it’s becoming more and more apparent that too much scrolling does nobody any good.
8. Plan For Tomorrow Before You Switch Off
Get into the habit of planning tomorrow’s tasks before your work day ends and home life starts. You’ll de-stress and relax more quickly if you know that anything you missed today is on the list for tomorrow.
It’s also a great way to be productive right from the start of your morning. Your thinking and planning have already happened, and your brain can kick straight into work mode without having the chance to procrastinate.
9. Use ONE Master Calendar
It’s all too easy to find yourself with heaps of apps, calendars and notebooks on the go. Unfortunately, that can easily lead to missed appointments and deadlines.
So, choose one calendar that works for you and write everything on it.
We do mean everything. Zoom calls, deadlines, hair appointments, your partner’s birthday, children’s playdates… the works!
When you write every appointment on one calendar, you’re far less likely to miss a deadline or double-book yourself, saving yourself the hassle of rescheduling.
Mac users might enjoy an app like Busy Cal. If you’re a Microsoft Office fan, you might prefer Outlook’s Calendar, and if you’d rather use pen-and-paper, hang up a wall calendar and write everything there.
10. Mute Your Notifications
You’d be amazed how much time you waste by checking your texts or emails every time you hear them arrive.
Turn off the sound on your notifications while you work, and schedule some time to check your phone and emails during the day instead.
Give yourself permission to use social media AFTER work and use a blocker if Facebook, Twitter or TikTok tempt you away from being productive.
Juggling Children and Work
11. Communicate with your Partner
Whether you’ve chosen to freelance or you’re one of the new crop of remote workers, being at home can be hard work.
It can be somewhat fraught if you’re both working from home, especially if you’re not used to being in each others’ pockets.
Communication is everything here: You don’t need one person seething because they feel they’re doing an unfair share of anything. But at the same time, the distribution of work, health and other commitments is rarely 50/50 either.
Talk. Talk a LOT. Make time for it. Make plans. Agree on things. Reach a consensus on big decisions. Don’t let resentments build.
12. Get Time by Yourself
It doesn’t matter how much you love your spouse, kids, your parents; you’re going to have moments when you want them all to JUST. GO. AWAY.
Time by yourself can mean a walk around the neighborhood, a long bath, or simply some time doing your own thing in your own room.
It’s also good for your home life and relationship to spend time together. Sometimes, making a home-cooked meal and sitting down to it with your partner and a bottle of wine once the children are asleep can be key to keeping you sane.
But nights when one of you has a bath while the other one does some gaming or – let’s be honest – gets some work done – are equally important. Everybody needs their space.
13. Make Use of Tasks and Reminders
It may seem odd to send Outlook meeting requests to your spouse or use software to remind you what to do and when. But when you’re keeping many balls in the air, it’s incredibly helpful.
If you have a business video call planned that absolutely cannot be interrupted, you need to BOOK IT IN! Get organized, set expectations, avoid arguments!
14. Play “Schools”
When you’re a parent working from home, there will always be times when the kids are home, too. They’re not at school or daycare 24/7.
So, we’ll include a few kids activities in this list. You’ll find tons of great articles on kid activity ideas on the web too.
One that does earn a mention is playing “schools” with younger children. For those who have homework to do, it’s a time to have them concentrate on it, and even two-year-olds love getting involved and feeling grown-up.
Best of all, you can set a timer, during which everybody settles down quietly to their work – and that can include you! It may only buy you 30-60 minutes per day, but they can be valuable minutes.
15. Relax About “Screen Time”
I know! We all start off thinking we’ll ration screen time — and it’s certainly vital to set boundaries there.
But, sometimes, when your work hours overlap with time when your kids are at home, you have to be pragmatic. Kindle Fire Kids Tablets can be a good option for young children at home.
Just make sure that you balance that by turning off your own screen at the end of the day and spending quality time with your family, too.
16. Try a Treasure Hunt
OK, one more activity: It’s a simple one, but children love it, and it’s really easy to implement. If your children are the right age, it can also be a time where they’re stimulated and diverted with relatively little effort on your part.
What do you do with that time? I’d suggest supervising and joining in a bit while doing a simple task like clearing down your growing email inbox!
Communicating with Bosses and Clients
17. Be Honest and Realistic
When things get busy, you ARE allowed to ask for time to think and plan.
Freelancers have very distinct challenges from those who ordinarily work remotely and those doing so unexpectedly for the first time.
But the same basic rules apply. Tell the relevant people if you need time to sort out your childcare rhythm. If a deadline has become untenable, tell your client as soon as possible and tell them what you can achieve.
We’re all human, and we all face similar dilemmas and challenges. Most people will understand so long as you’re up-front about what’s happening.
18. Do All you can to Meet your Commitments
There is a flip-side to the tip above. The reason to be honest, open and realistic is so that you can properly plan, reschedule and re-prioritize.
But once you’ve done that, it’s time to make sure you meet your commitments wherever possible. Agree on a new deadline or a new shift pattern, yes – but try to stick to the new plan. Clarity is extremely helpful for your employers and clients, and it helps keep you on task and productive.
19. Consider Dropping Some Work
If you work for yourself, you may have small regular jobs that don’t pay very much. Or you may have business tasks that you’d really like to do, but that could wait.
In the latter case, I have a clear suggestion: Ditch them. Drag them months down your “to do” list. If you don’t, you’ll keep moving them forward every week, feel like you’re failing, and make yourself unhappy. Now is a time to do what matters.
The “Eisenhower Principle” aka Stephen Covey’s time management matrix, is one technique that can help you decide if these are essential tasks or ones to shelve for now.
The 4×4 matrix lets you sort projects into four categories:
|Urgent & Important||Important but Not Urgent|
|Urgent but Not important||Neither urgent nor important|
Obviously, when it comes to deciding not to do paid work, it’s far more complicated. It’s a delicate equation that has to factor in your sanity, your relationships, the uninterrupted time your children need to spend with you, and – of course – the bills you have to pay.
But sometimes something has to give. Ditching a minor contract and becoming comfortable with having a little less money could have huge benefits for your home life and your family.
Keeping your Mind, Body and Spirit Healthy
20. Take a Lunch Break
It’s so tempting to work non-stop, especially when the kids are out of the house. But, believe me, you’ll work much more productively if you take regular breaks.
So, instead of snacking while you work, turn off the laptop for an hour. Use that time to eat a healthy lunch and to connect with other people or non-working parts of your life.
21. Go Easy on Yourself
Mental health awareness is incredibly important for freelancers and remote workers at home because we’re isolated for much of the time. We each need to understand what works for our mental health and to insist on a good work-life balance whenever possible.
It’s OK to feel unfocused, anxious, depressed, lost, angry, confused. There’s a list of global resources here for days when things don’t go to plan.
In this section, we include some tips to help you look after your mental health and balance out the depressing days with some excellent ones, too.
22. Use your Kitchen
One great thing about being at home is the ability to cook for yourself whenever you like. And if cooking’s not your forté, perhaps it’s time to learn?
Eating well and regularly is good for your physical and mental health, and bringing the family together around the table is a very important anchor.
23. Try Some Online Yoga – or a Dance Party
Many people have reacted to how the world is changing in inventive ways in the past few years. DJs, yoga instructors, personal trainers, and others have decided to host free online events, including online dance parties.
These things tick so many boxes: exercise, a bit of social interaction, a way to entertain the children – what’s not to like? There’s also the rather exciting fact that many of these things never happened before 2020.
Now that the cat’s out of the bag, the online social world is likely to go from strength to strength.
24. Get Out – Even if it’s Only Around the Block
Exactly how much you can get out and about will depend on your circumstances and where you live. It could be hard to get into totally natural surroundings if you live in the city. Nevertheless, get out, you must.
One thing that’s key to how to be productive at home is having a clear head and – ideally – some exposure to sunlight and nature. So, if you’re city-bound, head to your local park and wander around the gardens. Take a picnic lunch and sit under a tree on a hot day.
But, even if you only have time to walk, jog or cycle around the block, do make getting some fresh air part of your daily routine.
25. Avoid Desk Belly (yes, that’s a real thing!)
You probably know that sitting (or even standing) at a desk isn’t great for your fitness levels. And, as your fitness and stamina drop, your productivity declines too.
We were lucky enough to interview Steve Hoyles, a freelancer and personal fitness trainer, on the HWC podcast. We asked him for tips on keeping the desk belly at bay. You can listen to the whole episode or go straight to Steve’s Fitness tips for freelancers at 31:15.
26. Grow Something
Even if you don’t have a garden, you can grow something on the smallest of window ledges. Perhaps you could go for a chili plant or a couple of herbs that could flavor your cooking.
Seeing something evolve and grow is good for you and your mental health. The experts say so.
27. Forgive Yourself
There are going to be some days when you get it wrong. Maybe you’ll lose your temper with a family member, make a mistake with your work, or simply reach the point when you have to have a “duvet day” to cling on to sanity.
Forgive yourself when that happens. Apologize if you were in the wrong, and enjoy that duvet day when it comes.
After all, you’re only human.
Making the Most of your Time
28. Learn Something New
Part of being productive at home is NOT working 24/7.
It’s important for remote workers and freelancers to learn new things and have some personal projects going, too. You’ll be a better employee or contractor when you’re meeting your emotional, mental and recreational needs.
Now is the time to learn that language, start that blog, or record that seminal album.
A few ideas:
- Take a look at Coursera, particularly the new Coursera Plus subscription that gives you unlimited access to many courses.
- Why not finally learn how people make passive income from affiliate marketing. (Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing Course review here).
- Browse through Udemy’s catalogue, and find a budget course for less than $20.
- Learn about new programming techniques from this book on Python programming and machine learning.
29. Start a Creative Online Project
I’ve already touched on starting a blog. This blogging tips article is a great starting point, and from a very small investment you could create something that makes your money for years to come.
But there are plenty of other options: As regular readers will surely know, HomeWorkingClub experimented by launching a podcast, something that put us a little out of our comfort zone, but turned out to be lots of fun.
Blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels: All easy, all accessible, all cheap, all with ways to involve the children, to build some more family time into your creativity.
30. Work the Side Gigs
One topic I mention a lot is side gigs.
I suggest starting with this article. In it, I talk about many different side jobs. Some aren’t particularly glamorous but can reliably bring in a little extra money while you’re relaxing in front of the TV or waiting for a Zoom meeting to start.
There’s nothing better than feeling that you’re being productive even in your downtime moments.
31. Celebrate and Reflect
Sometimes it’s easy to forget about celebrating the small wins. Once we’re used to working from home, we get focused on our big goals and tend to take the day-to-day successes in our stride.
However, it’s much better for your mental health and well-being to pat yourself on the back when things go well. It’s even better to involve your family — after all, if you’ve implemented many of the tips in this article, they’ve helped too.
Have a glass of wine, a trip to the cinema, a walk along the beach, a game with the kids or anything that says “reward” to you. Take the chance to relax, celebrate and feel proud before you turn your attention to the next task on your list.
So, there you have it—our 31 thoughts on how to be productive at home when you’re a remote worker or freelancer.
Hopefully, we’ve given you food for thought. Now, it’s over to you.
While You’re Here
Procrastination can be a real problem when you’re working at home. It’s so easy to put things off till the last minute. If procrastinating is one of your big bugbears, our advice on how to conquer procrastination can help.
And if our tips on time management struck a chord, then you’ll find a whole load more here.
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben has worked freelance for nearly 20 years. As well as being a freelance writer and blogger, he is also a technical consultant with Microsoft and Apple certifications. He loves supporting new home workers but is prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.