Everybody’s talking about how to be productive at home right now. But given it’s a topic HomeWorkingClub has always written about, we’re certainly not just jumping on the bandwagon.
In fact, this article sets out to be different from the rest.
I’m writing this at an unprecedented time. A moment in history when many people are working from home for the first time. Lots of us are being compelled to isolate ourselves, and some face the challenge of how to be productive at home whilst looking after children – but still needing to pay the bills.
In the face of current events, a lot of the productivity advice out there is – let’s face it – total nonsense. This isn’t the time to regurgitate all that “have a dedicated workspace” and “dress for the office” stuff. This is new territory, and it requires sensible, realistic advice.
And that’s what we try to give here. So let’s get on with it.
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 refer to are the many home working productivity articles out there that are dull, generic, and not 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 really supposed to “stick to set hours?” Perhaps the only way you’re going to earn over the coming months is to fire off emails during baby’s nap times, or when you’re not worrying yourself stupid about a partner or relative…
Those identikit articles never were any good. They’re even less helpful nowadays, 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 do each of the members of the household 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.
And obviously not everybody gets to choose the hours they work, so fixed shifts for one or more people in the house may be an immovable factor. Beyond that though, 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. Make Avoiding Burnout your Top Priority
Over the coming weeks and months, millions of people are going to try to do it all: meet every deadline, eat enough portions of fruit and veg, achieve enough daily exercise, be the perfect parent – and I could go on.
They’ll also try to do this whilst enduring – with no exaggeration – the most globally anxious and uncertain times in living memory.
It can’t be done – certainly not over the long term. As the experts keep telling us, dealing with these scary world events is a marathon, not a sprint. Achieving some superhuman level of “hustle” for a few weeks is no good if it leads you to a point where you’re depleted of energy for your work AND for the people around you.
4. 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 – well – right now there are certainly some very compelling reasons to put hygiene at the top of your priority list.
5. “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, where you dedicate chunks of time to just one activity. 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 short-cuts you didn’t know existed.
6. Ration Social Media
Social media is a tricky one at the moment. While I’ve recently spoken out about how much stepping away from social media improved my life, it’s undeniable that it will be a huge lifeline for many people feeling alone and isolated.
So I’ll say only this: Stay alert to its negative effects. Too much unsubstantiated news can feed into anxiety, too many opinions can become very draining, and too much scrolling does nobody any good.
Juggling Children and Work
7. Communicate with your Partner
Being at home can be hard work, especially if it’s not entirely through choice. If you’re in a relationship where you’re not used to living “in each others’ pockets,” things can get really complicated.
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 things. Reach a consensus on big decisions. Don’t let resentments build.
This could all be going on for a long time.
8. Get Time by Yourself
It doesn’t matter how much you love your spouse, your kids, your parents. If you spend days on end in confined quarters, you’re going to have moments when you want them all to JUST. GO. AWAY.
Time by yourself can mean a walk round the neighbourhood, a long bath, or simply some time doing your own thing in your own room.
As a personal example, I do most of the cooking in our household. Since the world started going nuts a few weeks ago, making a home-cooked meal, and sitting down to it with my wife and a bottle of wine once the children are asleep has been key to keeping us 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.
9. Make Use of Tasks and Reminders
It may seem odd to send Outlook meeting requests to your husband or wife, or use software to remind you what to do and when. But when you’re keeping a lot of balls in the air, it’s incredibly helpful.
If you have a business video call planned that absolutely cannot be interrupted by children, you need to BOOK IT IN! Get organised, set expectations, avoid arguments!
10. Play “Schools”
I’m only including a few kids “activities” in this list. How to be productive at home is my main focus, and there are tons of great articles out there full of ideas, one of which is here.
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 our two-year-old loves 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.
11. Relax About “Screen Time”
The last thing I want to do here is get into a debate about the pros and cons of screen time for young children. But I’ve just ordered Kindle Fire Kids Tablets for our two children.
The same goes for excess time in front of the TV. Obviously it’s best to focus on educational programs rather than endless superheroes and Horrid Henry. But I’m not going to feel like a failing parent if keeping a business and a household afloat during a crisis means my boys spend a little more time in front of a screen.
12. Try a Treasure Hunt
OK, another 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 period of 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, whilst doing a simple task like clearing down your growing email inbox!
13. Don’t Set Superhuman Expectations of Yourself
You can’t be a professional-level teacher, a perfect parent, a devoted spouse, a top-flight worker and a domestic God(ess) all day every day.
These are tough and unusual times. Get some work done, try to exercise, make sure everybody eats and washes their hands. Be pleased with yourself if you only tick those basic boxes, and complement yourself when you achieve even more.
Communicating with Bosses and Clients
14. Be Honest and Realistic
When the world has been turned upside-down, you ARE allowed to ask for time to think and plan.
Obviously I know that things are very different for different people. 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. If you need a couple of days to sort yourself out and work out your childcare rhythm, tell the relevant people. If a deadline has become untenable, tell your client as soon as you can and tell them what you can achieve.
We’re all human and we all face similar dilemmas and challenges. And that’s never been clearer than it is at the time of writing this.
15. 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-prioritise.
But once you’ve done that, it’s time to make sure you meet your commitments wherever possible. Agree a new deadline or a new shift pattern, yes – but try to stick to the new plan. In a world of uncertainty, clarity is extremely helpful for your employers and clients.
16. Consider Dropping Some Work
OK, this one may seem counter-intuitive, and I apologise to those who will inevitably struggle to sympathise with those fortunate enough to contemplate turning away work.
But, once again, we’re talking about a very unusual set of circumstances. 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 case of the latter, 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.
Obviously when it comes to deciding not to do paid work, it’s far more complicated. It’s a delicate equation the 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 small contract and becoming comfortable with a little extra credit card debt could have huge benefits for your home life and your family. The number of things we can spend money on has been vastly depleted anyway.
Keeping your Mind, Body and Spirit Healthy
17. Go Easy on Yourself
These are not normal times. It’s OK to feel unfocussed, anxious, depressed, lost, angry, confused. It’s alright if days don’t go to plan.
Mental health awareness is incredibly important right now. There’s a list of global resources here.
18. Use your Kitchen
On a brighter note, one great thing about being housebound is the ability to cook for yourself. 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 round the table is a very important anchor.
19. Try Some Online Yoga – or a Dance Party
Many people have reacted to the world changing in inventive ways. DJs, yoga instructors, personal trainers and many 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 have never really happened before.
For an example, check out the forthcoming free Virtual Festival from Defected Records and the Ministry of Sound.
20. 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. But even if you’re in a country that’s “locked down” you are generally allowed out to exercise, even if not to socialise.
Make use of it: 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.
21. Grow Something
Even if you absolutely can’t leave the house, you can grow something on the smallest of window ledges. Perhaps you could go for a chilli plant, or a couple of herbs that could flavour your cooking.
Seeing something evolve and grow is good for you, and for your mental health. The experts say so.
22. 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.
You MUST forgive yourself. You are living through an incredibly unusual event in time that will one day be the subject of dozens of books, lectures and movies. It would be very strange if the enormity of that didn’t catch up with you from time to time.
Making the Most of your Time
23. Learn Something New
A prolonged period at home does have its plus points.
Now is the time to learn that language, start that blog, or record that seminal album.
I’m really not kidding. When will you find a better opportunity than when – for many of us – cinemas, theatres, restaurants, pubs, shopping malls are all off limits?
You have a choice: Come out of “quarantine” with skills that earn you money or make you proud, or with an even more in-depth knowledge of Game of Thrones or Mario Kart.
There’s certainly plenty of room (and time) for the latter, but I, for one, intend to use some of this time more valuably. I have a book on Python programming and machine learning arriving in the post. Why not?
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. (Course review here).
- Browse through Udemy’s catalogue, and find a budget course for less than $20.
24. Start a Creative Online Project
I’ve already touched on starting a blog, and now would be a great time to do so, if you have more time on your hands than usual. This 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, we recently launched a podcast. What my five-year-old son doesn’t yet know is that I plan to start one with HIM if we end up isolated at home for a long period!
I know for a fact that he’ll love doing something so grown-up in Daddy’s office 🙂 And, who knows, it could even be popular with people beyond his grandparents! It really doesn’t matter either way.
Blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels: All easy, all accessible, all cheap, all with ways to involve the children. Now is the time!
25. Work the Side Gigs
Finally, a topic I mention a lot: side gigs.
I suggest starting with this article. In it, I talk about some side jobs that aren’t particularly glamorous, but can reliably bring in a little extra money – something many people are in desperate need of right now.
My take on how to be productive at home has ended up being rather more detailed than I intended, but I really hope that it helps provide readers with some inspiration and reassurance.
These are weird, scary times, but we do have a huge blessing in the form of the internet. People make many parallels with “war time” these days. But in 1914 there were no podcasts, no online courses, and certainly no social media dance parties!
So let’s all make the most of what we’ve got, and take care of each other too.
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.