Tips for Working From Home

Posted by Swaroop C H on July 9, 2008 Filed under: lifehack, self-improvement, startup

Working from home full-time is a different experience than we are used to. You make or break things, there's no one asking about your progress and there are no deadlines. It's all up to you.

My productivity has varied a lot during this time and I was wondering how to make more days productive than they are as of now.

So I polled some of my friends who also work out of a home-office on how they they maintain productivity / motivation / focus, and I got some interesting replies:

  • Manish Jethani says:
    • Make a separate "office room" in your home. You could convert your old study room into your office. You go into this room only for work -- fully dressed for work (not in pyjamas!). When you get out of this room, you leave your work behind. In other words, you have a proper office located inside your home.
    • Cut out the distractions. Make your family know that this is your office. No visitors, no phone calls (except work-related), etc.
    • Follow proper timings. Work fixed hours.
    • To stay motivated while working out of your home, I think you basically have to enjoy what you do.
    • Self-discipline is the key.
    • The concept of an office, as we know it, is relatively new in our history. Throughout the ages humans have worked out of their homes. Think about it. It's the more natural way of things. Thanks to the internet, working from home is likely to become the norm in the 21st century (also because commuting might become prohibitively expensive).
  • Vinayak Hegde says:
    • I make a list of things that I want to finish by the end of the day. At the same time I figure what can be done in parallel.
    • I play light music (trance, house, country or classic rock) to keep myself focused.
    • I turn all other distractions off (IM, email clients, phone) if I want to concentrate.
    • I begin my day or end my day with some exercise (running, swimming, cycling)
    • I try to work in burst of 2-3 hours with a break. If I am in the zone then I do not realize how time passes.
    • I try to take a short afternoon nap (curl up with a book) and have regular food rather than heavy meals.
    • To break the monotony of work, I do household work (cook food, wash clothes, etc) in between so I do not get bored and diverted. I have to do these anyways since I live alone.
    • Being comfortable while working is most important. So make sure you do this right.
    • Sometimes I go and take a short walk with earphones on if I want to think about something.
    • I go to office to socialize with people and try to do as much work as possible at home where I have more control over the environment. :-)
  • Prateek and Nithya Dayal say:
    • Be Accountable and track your progress
    • Don't let the boring work bring you down
    • Have an office in home
    • Don't try to be over productive. Fix your hours.
  • Mrinal Wadhwa says:
    • Todo lists for each week and each day
    • RememberTheMilk Firefox extension that adds task module on the right side of the Gmail page
    • Deadlines are important, commit to external people and it will force you to stick to it
    • Max of 6.5 hours sleep no matter what, even if doing not-useful stuff
  • Ashok Banker says:
    • Embraces the distractions!
    • I've given this some thought and realized my personality is oriented towards over-focussing to the point of obsessing. My main problem is how to distract myself from working.
    • For example, I get so involved when I'm writing that I am capable of writing a book start-to-finish like a machine, just doing what's absolutely essential to survive. I've done this a few times, given in to it, and it leaves me dehydrated, mentally, emotionally and psychologically exhausted to the point of collapse, and completely cut off socially and personally. Over time, I've learned that what works for me is creating the maximum number of distractions constantly.
    • So I guess I'm the opposite of most people! Not sure if that's what you were looking for, but this is what works for me.

I have a list of my own as well, here are some lifehacks that work for me:

  • Do the MIT i.e. Most Important Task first thing in the morning. Don't think. What you do in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day.
  • Todo lists are important.
  • Fix working hours strictly (still hard to do)
  • Have a tag-team partner. With someone around with whom you can bounce off thoughts and ideas really helps. This works well for startups.
  • Keep switching between tasks. If you're stuck in one, switch over to the other. These has two advantages - you keep moving forward one way or another and second, it's sometimes useful to come back to a problem with a fresh mind.
  • Mrinal's concept of not sleeping beyond your decided hours is important.
  • Ambient music, like 'House' channel of
  • If you feel you're not being productive, remove the chair and work while standing. This is not an original idea, I've heard that some of those legendary coders inside Adobe USA offices do this throughout the day and in fact have the entire computer set up at the standing height level.
  • Block out all interruptions - If you can't work at all, take a walk. At least the exercise and movement will do a world of good for you and gives you space and time to think. Do NOT open twitter, techmeme or any other attention-grabber.
  • Deadlines are really important.
  • Don't try to balance everything everyday. As Tina Seelig says "Have a balanced life over the long term, not on an everyday basis."

Also, there are some good resources out there such as the one by AnyWired.

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.

-- Lin Yutang


TheCruisemaniac says:

Nice post... I agree to pretty much all the points that you've listed, especially the MIT point and @mrinalwadhwa's 6.5 Hours sleeping cycle.

I would also agree on the point of working Late nights and reeeeallly early mornings (3-4 AM types) to get maximum performance efficiency levels ;-) The rest of the day is just too noisy to work even from home, in a city like Bangalore.

Happy working & Chao...

Swaroop says:

@Kanti, @Sayamindu Nice points! I agree with the power backup for the router, I have faced that problem already.

@Varun Enjoy maaDi :)

Sayamindu says:

I tend to work at night. That gives me two advantages:
1) Most of my colleagues (except some of the European and Australian ones) are on IRC at that time, which really helps.
2) No disturbance from home (eg: people coming in, telephone calls to attend, etc)

and yes, power backup is extremely important. I tend to have my networking equipment (router, DSL modem) on a backup system, while I work from my laptop in case of a power failure.

Varun Prabhakar says:

Great tips and great timing for me personally. I was reading up a bunch of articles on the same topic so this came in as a blessing!

I especially agree on :
1. Making the MIT's list first thing in the morning.
2. Eliminating distractions
3. Switching tasks when you hit a roadblock or when bored.

One tip that might work for some:
-- Make extra morning hours count! (extra hours saved by not having to dress up for work and commute)

Kanti says:

Since i do not work full time but yes i did it once in a while.
The points to note from my side.

Make sure you have power backup ( inverter/UPS ) for at least 2 hours.
Try to be in an area of your house where you get ample natural light.
Prepare a todo list a day before if possible.The other way is to plan your work at the start of your day.
Take breaks , use an alarm if needed.

My observation is that i get more productive when working from home.


Shaon Diwakar says:

Great timing with the post, I've recently just started working from home on my startup and will definitely be trying some the tips above! I've been gradually getting better at managing distraction such as IM, email and the telephone, but the hardest part is getting in to the 'flow' zone - where I can stick through all the coding.

I try to read emails at a maximum of once an hour during the day and only IM/twitter/read blogs during the evening, when I'm tired and sleepiness starts kicking in.


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