How Do I Stay On-Task When Working From Home?

Tim Hand 10.12.2015

Telecommuting is becoming increasingly popular for new generations of workers who desire freedom to work where and how they want. The ability to work from home has given employees around the world greater satisfaction with their jobs, enabling them to become more productive in the process.

So how in the world has “working at home” come to mean wearing sweatpants all day, binge-watching Netflix, and doing laundry all while on the clock?

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While a small minority take advantage of the privilege to work at home like stereotypes would have you believe, productivity problems usually stem from an inability to manage time and limit distractions. Telecommuters who can’t establish structure in their routine can often find themselves lacking in productivity.

While telecommuting can seem simple on the surface, workers need to prepare themselves with best practices and the right tools in order to become productive while working at home.

Set benchmarks (and reward yourself)

When you view the work day as hours to fill rather than as a series of goals to accomplish, you’re more likely to fall behind in productivity. So, try to establish specific benchmarks you intend to reach each day between breaks. One of the most time-tested ways to psychologically condition yourself is by rewarding yourself after accomplishing a task.

Whether you’re going by assignments completed, words written, or e-mails sent, benchmarks can be a foundation to how you schedule out the day, and scheduling in breaks between those goals can motivate you to focus on reaching them.

By holding yourself accountable for those goals before treating yourself to a break as a reward, you’ll train yourself to avoid off-task behavior. (And as an added bonus, you may actually find yourself looking forward to doing housework while away from the computer.)

coffee break

Track your time

Make sure you’re staying on top of benchmarks and working productively by tracking your time. With time tracking software like DeskTime, it’s easy for you to see how much time you’re actually spending on productive tasks, and you can adjust your benchmarks and schedule accordingly.

Tracking time is also useful for managers with remote staff. You and your team can stay on task by seeing how much time is spent on which project, who is working on what, and who might not be pulling their weight. Time tracking isn’t the only way to keep remote teams in touch – there is a wide range of options for tools and software that do just that.

Eliminate distractions

Always being connected is what allows us to work remotely in the first place, but it can also be a huge source of distraction. Between endless notifications on social media, incoming e-mails, and all of the distractions unique to life at home, it is important that teleworkers are able to prioritize their work goals first.

If you’re finding it difficult to cut through the noise, try closing any inessential programs and notifications not directly related to your work. While workers at home need to be responsive to coworkers and their manager, staying connected shouldn’t mean being distracted.

One specific method to keep distractions at bay is to create a separate to-do list to note distractions as they come up, a concept which LifeHacker terms the “procrastination pad.” By keeping potential distracting thoughts aside on a separate list, a procrastination pad helps compartmentalize the little impulses that can lead to productivity meltdowns.

Another trick to cut off distractions is to create a space in your house exclusively for working, such as a home office. Dividing your work space not only physically removes you from distraction, but it can also help you adjust your frame of mind for success – much like how dressing up for mock interviews can help in preparation for job interviews. (And lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have a space for video conferencing with your team or clients that isn’t filled with unfolded laundry, screaming children, etc.).

Be your own manager

In a way, virtual workers need to become their own manager by identifying their strengths and weaknesses, leveraging tools and methods to boost their productivity, and holding themselves accountable for their goals. But despite all of the challenges associated with teleworking, the needs of an increasingly globalized workforce mean that there will be plenty of virtual work available for talent who can muster productive independence.


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