How to be productive working from home: Easy tips and free tools

Six easy tips for being productive while working from home

Easy tips for productivity working from home

If you’ve recently found yourself working remotely, you are of course one of many people now doing so. And if you’re like most of those people, you’ve found it difficult to be productive from the comfort of home. With stay-at-home habits still encouraged in most cities, it looks like working from home is the new norm for a lot of people. If you still struggle with at-home productivity, it’s time to get used to it and get work done. If you are already accustomed to working from home and consider yourself good at it, remember that there is always room for improvement. Take a look at these easy tips and free tools for productivity, and you’ll surely find something helpful to try at home.

Have a dedicated workspace

If you already have a home office, you know how crucial that private space can be for productivity. If you’re like most people suddenly working from home, you don’t have a separate room that’s just for work. But you can still make do with what you have, and any amount of differentiation between your work space and regular living space can make a big difference.

If you can establish one seat at the table or one corner of the room that’s just for work and nothing else, do that. If not, make a smaller but noticeable change, like adding a desk lamp to the kitchen table when it’s time for work, and taking it away when it’s not. These changes in environment, even if they’re small, can do a lot to turn the “work mode” of your brain on and off effectively.

Stick to a routine and plan each day

If you’re used to commuting to work, then you’re used to a daily routine. Even if the routine seems like a drain, it’s actually helpful for your brain to have that regularity of tasks and the intervals between them. You should set a similar routine at home and stick to it. Try to wake up at the same time, make breakfast, and change into “work clothes” each day. These clothes can be casual and comfortable, but shouldn’t be something you’d sleep in.

The rest of your day should be fairly regimented as well, with planned start and stop times to your work and breaks in between. On your breaks, do something simple but productive that doesn’t require much brain power: make tea, do sit ups, take a walk around the block, or start your laundry. Do not start a TV show or video game that will suck you in.

Set your own goals and deadlines

Your job may already dictate certain goals and deadlines for you, but there’s probably less oversight than you would have at the office. Accountability is helpful for productivity though, so you need to hold yourself accountable. Just as you should set a daily routine for your workday, you should set daily, weekly, and monthly schedules for what you’ll get done and when. A little extra time spent in organization and planning will pay off big time in the long run.

Do all you can to avoid interruptions

When you get interrupted from your work mode, it usually takes longer to get back into that mode than the time directly taken by the interruption. Because of this fact, even a number of small interruptions during the workday can really cut into your productivity. Maybe you felt like interruptions were already constant at the office, and now home is relatively quiet. You’re lucky if that’s the case, because most homes are full of distractions and interruptions.

Try wearing headphones and listening to relaxing, instrumental music to stay focused and muffle distracting noises. If you live with other people, you should make them aware of the work schedule you’ve set for yourself, and ask them to respect that. You probably can’t convince the dog or cat to go along with it, but both you and the furry housemates will benefit if you build pet time into your routine as well.

Put your phone away!

The technology that allows working from home can also be the cause of endless interruptions. Unless you constantly need your phone for work (and do you really need it?), you should keep it on ‘do not disturb’ and out of reach. You probably have to work on the internet, but that’s full of distractions as well. Consider using software to block certain sites, or to only allow certain sites during your work times. Some good options are listed with the other free tools below.

Stay active if you can

Exercise is good for the body and for the brain. One major advantage of working from home is the relative ease of staying active while you work. You can sit on an exercise ball, convert your desk to a standing desk, do pushups every half hour, or run laps around the house when you can’t stand to stare at the screen anymore. Just make sure your activity time is scheduled into your allotted breaks from work, so that you don’t get too involved with one or the other throughout the day.

Free productivity tools for working from home

For avoiding distractions

  • Cold Turkey Blocker: Block yourself from any websites, as well as applications on your computer, and customize further with built-in work and break timers.
  • LeechBlock: An extension for Chrome and Firefox that can block up to 30 sites you choose, and allow you to set time limits for when they are blocked or allowed.
  • SelfControl: A simple app for Mac that allows you to block any sites for custom periods of time.
  • StayFocusd: Chrome extension that allows access to sites only for a certain amount of time that you set. Once you’ve spent all your allotted time on the websites you’ve limited, you’ll be blocked for the rest of the day.
  • Forest: A creative angle on a productivity app, this one grows a tree in a virtual forest in 30-minute time increments on your computer or your phone, but if you interrupt its growth by moving off task, the tree will wither and your forest will suffer. The company also donates money to grow real-life trees based on use of the app.

For task management

  • Be Focused: App for Mac that times out work blocks and breaks that you can set, and tracks the progress of your to-do list. You have limited options for the interval times in the free version, and greater control in the paid version. Find it in the Mac App Store.
  • Pomodoro Tracker: One of many online work timers that are simple to use and don’t require an account, this one lets you set any work and break intervals you want, and also create a to-do list to keep track of.
  • Google Tasks: A no-frills to-do list app that easily integrates with Gmail and Google Calendar, so it’s best for people who already use those a lot. Find it in Play Store and App Store.
  • Todoist: A to-do list and then some, Todoist makes it easy to organize tasks in lists, by due dates, and more.
  • TickTick: Handily combines to-do lists, calendars, and work timers without being too complicated.
  • Evernote: If research and note taking is a big part of your job, try Evernote if you haven’t already. This app makes it easy to glean and save information from the web, and also includes to-do list features.
  • Trello: A project management app with a simple interface but a lot of capabilities. Even the free version is designed for team collaboration, so it’s more than sufficient for personal use.
  • Asana: A more robust project management app, with more features than you probably need as an individual, even in the free version. If you like versatility in the way you view and organize tasks, this could be for you.

Jesse Weber

owner and creative director of Unweary Media