My apartment is stifling my productivity!
February 17, 2013 10:02 PM   Subscribe

When I am drinking coffee at (insert random coffee shop name here), I get SO. MUCH. DONE. And feel great afterwards. I cannot get anything productive done in my apartment. Please help me trick my brain into thinking that it is in a cafe.

I love my apartment. It's swell. It's comfortable. But I have the hardest time doing work when I am at home.

I don't know why, but when I am having a drink at say, Starbucks, I am motivated to work maybe even on a subconscious level due to the atmosphere/fact that everyone else is engrossed in doing productive stuff. When I am alone in my apartment (or if my girlfriend is over), I tend to let my ADD - which I have been diagnosed with - run rampant. (Games in one part of the room! A piano in the other! I'm like a moth to a flame).

I know this is all in my head. I know that if I really wanted to do work at home I could, and I keep telling myself this. Going to a cafe almost-daily is a waste of money. But my mindset seems to be completely different at home, and I tend to do things (like ask questions about productivity on metafilter!) which take my mind off of the looming prospect of work-doing.

So my question directed to metafites who have had problems staying at task at home: How do will yourself to do so? Are there any tricks you employ? Any advice would be much appreciated!
posted by Kamelot123 to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
1. Go to a coffee shop.
2. Record hours worth of sound.
3. When home, play back that sound (background noise and soft jazz inclusive).

Bonus points for finding a friend who can act as a peppy/depressed barista.

More legitimately helpfully, I think one enjoys the ritual associated with a coffee shop. So when you wake up in the morning, think to yourself, "Man, I'm looking forward to this cup of coffee made just the way I like it". Then set up a dedicated working space in your house, where you only go when you're trying to focus. Use that space as your own personal coffee shop.
posted by mcav at 10:08 PM on February 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

There was no coffeeshop convenient to me when I was writing my thesis, so I used to go to the local public library and work in one of the study carols. Food was mostly verboten, but sippy coffee cups were ok (so I would make some at home and bring it).

This doesn't really answer your question about how to get work done at home, but it will save you money versus Starbucks. THere was also a lot more power outlets available for the laptop. YMMV, but the internet at my library was sufficient for looking stuff up on wikipedia and pubmed but couldn't keep up with "Words with Friends" or whatever FB flash game threatened to distract me....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:16 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have the same problem, and it sucks! In fact, I should be reading right now, but I'm lazing around in bed playing on the internet. If I were at my favourite coffeeshop, though, I'd totally be getting work done.

There are a couple of things I've found that sort-of work for me (though not perfectly). The first is to move to a different area of the apartment, one where I don't tend to spend much time playing on the internet, and either turn my computer off or switch to a dedicated work account. This is purely psychological, of course, and it might not work for you, but I can normally trick myself for a couple hours this way.

Secondly, I've recently started using productivity apps (mainly Wunderlist, but I've also had some success with the Pomodoro techniques) and essentially challenging myself to get as much done as possible. This works best, I find, for when I have lots of small tasks rather than one big one (I get to tick things off! it's exhilarating!) but if nothing else, it helps me focus.
posted by littlegreen at 10:17 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is your brain interpreting the act of packing a bag and traveling to the coffeeshop as a message that it is time to do work now? Then engineer a way to send that message without the trip.
posted by deathpanels at 10:23 PM on February 17, 2013

I totally understand--there's so many other cool things to do at home! Whereas at the coffee shop you are limited and can't just go play a game or whatever else. This is why I can't meditate indoors--meditating is boring AND there's a billion other things I can do instead...

I would second the library suggestion, because making your house less fun is...difficult. Maybe if you set up a room/corner of the house that isn't so much fun and close the door and lock yourself in, that might help?
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:55 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

possibly relevant.
posted by mecran01 at 10:55 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am exactly the same as you. EXACTLY. It's always been this way for me. I never got any studying done in my room at university, and I never get any work done at home either. It's because to me home is where I relax. I also need people to be around to bounce off, and I don't have that at home. At university, I never worked at home; I was at the library till closing time. It really worked for me and so my initial response would be that if you really can't associate home with productivity there's no point trying to force it, if you have access to a library or some other space that will allow you to plug in your laptop and be productive.

But if you really have no alternative to working at home, I've found that waking up at 7am, being showered and fully dressed by 8, with a cup of coffee, and the windows open and the light coming in, does a fair bit to jump start my productivity and make my flat seem less of a cozy sleep-space and more of a place for daytime activity.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:29 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

think of how you learn a new habit - you specifically, the things that you know work for you.

Off the top of my head, the most useful thing for me is to use a timer. I agree with the suggestions to get up and shower and get fully dressed like you're going out, and set up at a table or a desk, and set a timer; work for 15 minutes at a time, then GET UP and move away for a 5 minute break.

What you want to do is re-train your brain to associate sitting there with working. If you want to fool around on the internet, take the laptop and do it in a different location.

Play music that's pleasant but not distracting, and probably don't watch tv. It helps me to get moving on the short breaks. Once you do this for a while you'll find yourself turning off the timer to keep going on something you're working on and the work periods will be easy to lengthen.
posted by lemniskate at 5:05 AM on February 18, 2013

There were some interesting bits of advice in the book The Willpower Instinct. One of them was that if you set aside short chunks in which to get work done in the very beginning of your plan (this can apply to exercise, cleaning your house, etc. etc.), you're essentially setting yourself up for success because you're making goals that are easy to achieve and your brain gets a dopamine bump whenever you meet your goal. E.g. If you commit to studying for fifteen minutes today, then you're guaranteed to at least open up the book and will probably end up studying more than that. If you commit yourself to studying for 5 hours, then it's easy to procrastinate because you know you've got this dreadful road ahead of you.

Another interesting piece of advice she had was to steal the secret that Hallmark stores (and other shopping/public venues) have known all along, which is to make the environs appealing on a subconscious level. She basically says if you really want to do a particularly onerous task, light up a Christmas candle and put on a record of "There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays" and you'll get a verve of that same killer instinct and drive that people approach their Christmas shopping with in Walmart. Worth a try.
posted by mermily at 5:08 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This was mentioned here once before, and though it sounds silly, it works: make sure you are fully dressed and most importantly, wearing shoes. I don't know why, but having shoes on makes a big difference in productivity for me, and apparently for other people, too.

Additionally, can you set up a corner of your house to replicate a coffee shop? A small cafe table and chairs, maybe some wall art related to coffee, perhaps a plant. Isolate it in a corner of your apartment and sit in the chair facing so that you can't see the rest of your apartment. Visually removing distractions may trick your brain into getting down to business.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:17 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is similar to why it's recommended that people who have trouble falling asleep should do nothing in their bedroom but sleeping and *ahem* other bedroom activities. No reading, watching TV, working out, etc.

If you've got the space, designate an area as your "home office" where you do nothing in that space other than work or study. Try to get it as separate from other places as you can to limit distractions.

Alternately, you could try to find similar environments outside of your home that are free to hang out in - libraries, food courts, hotel lobbies, etc.

Or, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, try drinking cheaper beverages. You can get 3-4 cups of brewed coffee for the price of one of the fancier ones and nurse them along for hours without the staff getting too irritated at you.
posted by Gev at 5:26 AM on February 18, 2013

The only thing that works for me is to move my laptop (or whatever else I'm working on) into a physically different part of the apartment and ONLY do work there. For a while, this meant sitting at the kitchen island; right now, I'm at the dining room table. There have been weeks where I took my laptop down to the basement of our building and sat at a table in the common room.

The big thing is to ONLY use that space for work, so when you sit down you're physically entering a "work only" zone. It's helped me when I'm having a rough time!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:00 AM on February 18, 2013

Do you have other friends that freelance, work from home, or are students? I am super motivated by people doing work around me, and you mention that's part of what drives you at the coffee shop. You may consider scheduling productivity hang-outs with your creative and productive friends.

Another option, while one that wouldn't save you money, is to consider renting a desk from a co-working space. Only you can say if the productivity boost from that would be worth the investment.
posted by misskaz at 7:21 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the reason that you can't go to the cafe every day is a money issue, consider going to your local library to get work done instead.

Make your desk at home a place where you ONLY do work. Sitting down at your desk means that you are in work mode. Maybe give yourself a small routine beforehand, check your email, make a cup of coffee, sit down, work.

I can't work at home without watching TV--specifically shows that are a little boring and I've downloaded so there are no commercials. It sounds weird, but I have ADD as well and having some background noise to tune out helps keep me on task. It also serves as a way for me to estimate time. You might want to try timing yourself when you work, and if you stop working, you have to stop the timer.
posted by inertia at 7:41 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I get a bottomless cup of coffee at my local cafe for $3 when I really need to get studying done. In my apartment, I run into the shiny distractions of not being watched.

If I really can't get out of the house, Ii try to play the kind of music I hear at the coffeeshop, and enforce breaks as well as actually getting whatever task done I've set out to do.
posted by RainyJay at 8:16 AM on February 18, 2013

If you can afford it, its not a waste of money.
Reverse the way you think about it. For less than $10/day, you have found a way to double your productivity. Genius! All employers would like to learn a secret like that.

It is way cheaper than renting office space, if you spend 10 a day 5 days a week, that is still only 200/month.

Would you rather pocket the money? Sure.
But sometimes it is better to just accept things about yourself and your habits than to try to change them and make yourself miserable in the process.
posted by rmless at 8:17 AM on February 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

> I don't know why, but when I am having a drink at say, Starbucks, I am motivated to work maybe even on a subconscious level due to the atmosphere/fact that everyone else is engrossed in doing productive stuff

I wonder if some of that is a fear that somebody will look over your shoulder and see if you're on Facebook or whatever your distraction of choice is, and silently judge you, and you will be filled with shame. And if so, if there's some way to get the same feeling of shame at home. Any way for a friend to get a notification if you're wasting time on silly websites? Yay, shame!
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:13 AM on February 18, 2013

I go to a local coffee/cigar shop for the same reason, nearly every weekend - plus: my dog can come along. He's practically the store mascot at this point, and I'm always happier with him around.

So, for me the library suggestions won't work as well, :\ but still a good idea. Thanks, all.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:29 AM on February 18, 2013

When I worked with students with mental health problems this problem often came up, and frankly I've had it myself. Really, the best way I found to cope with it is to embrace it. I think it works as it's a strong signal to your mind that you're about to start doing something, and the act of deciding what to bring with you tends to take that important initial step into what you will be doing for the day rather than procrastinating. I also find it easier to stay at it when I don't physically have anything else to do.

One thing I used to use is trying to find other locations that work. Places that have worked for me or my students:
* At a friend's house (if they are working too)
* At a parent's house when they are out at work
* In the garden (but you have to properly get settled to give enough of a barrier to coming back into the house
* In a park
* Coffee shops
* Cafeterias - my university and college dining halls were always good for a couple of hours after the lunch rush
* Libraries - you always have access to more than you realise so you can chop and change
* Art galleries/museums - depends on where you live

I also managed to construct a space in my home that worked well. I only ever sat there when I was working, it didn't have any power points, wasn't near a window (but did have a skylight overhead for light), didn't have a desk so I could only take the papers I was studying right that moment. I also used to burn a scented candle while I was revising and that helped as well. Mostly it was just stubborn me against flighty procrastinating me.

Brains are funny things - you can trick yourself into things being much easier than they would otherwise be.
posted by kadia_a at 11:40 AM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

For a long time I thought I was doomed to never being able to work at home, but lately I've been able to hack it. The key for me is to give myself sensory feedback about the passage of time. This and other things that have helped me:

- Hooking my laptop up to a second monitor (I don't have a TV) and playing something that's energizing and has some flow but isn't too distracting. I prefer youtube videos of entire rock concerts. These are long (1-2 hours) so I don't have to mess with youtube to find new material and risk distracting myself, and are better than a playlist of music videos since the show flows together and kind of helps with mental flow. Plus I can sing along, something I can't do in public spaces...

- My SO sitting next to me and working. Not sitting across the table, but on the same side. Ashamed that the whole shame thing noted above is true for me too, but it is what it is. SO's motions also helps a lot with the sensing passage of time thing.

- The pomodoro technique, when it's hard to get started. I am partial to this bomb countdown timer. I set it up for 20 mins and tell myself I'm going to take a break when the bomb goes boom. Often after 20 mins I've gotten enough momentum to go without breaks.

- A mug of coffee or tea.

Still, every few days I go to a coffeeshop or library. Too many consecutive days of working at home will inevitably end in my reading all the internets.
posted by nemutdero at 12:15 PM on February 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Relevant NY Times article. The author's conclusion was that "There’s a silent social pressure to it all." We put on our best faces when we're in public; we don't burp or scratch ourselves, and we certainly don't want people to see us procrastinate. I really think that there's something to this, and I don't think that ambient background music would help much.

Perhaps instead of trying to work at home productively all day, you could wean yourself onto it: work at home for 30 minutes, then 45 minutes, etc., working at the coffee shop the rest of the time. When you notice that you can't work at home for longer than X minutes without being distracted, stay working at at that level until you can best it. Think of it as a muscle that has to be strengthened--which is essentially what willpower is.
posted by blazingunicorn at 1:42 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

What worked for me was giving myself permission to spend the money to make my home office a completely kick-ass workspace. Fancy chair, fancy keyboard, fancy monitor, fancy pens, fancy coffee. Now I say, if I go the the coffee shop, I won't get to sit in my fancy chair and look at my fancy monitor.
posted by Kwine at 1:57 PM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm hesitant to say this, as you say you are ADD diagnosed, so you are probably well aware of the stimulating effects of coffee, and the lovely caffeine contained within? Caffeine is such a lovely drug.
posted by Folk at 3:09 PM on February 18, 2013

Look into making pourover coffee at home. It immerses you in the cafe-like ritual of coffeemaking in a way that drip or Keurig doesn't; you feel like your own personal barista. Work a little for your (tasty as hell) cup of coffee, then sit with it and get down to your actual work.
posted by naju at 11:14 AM on February 19, 2013

How's your work environment at home looking?

For the first time in my academic "career" (starting my second year of grad school now after a few years in the industry), I'm actually managing to concentrate and be productive at home. The key, for me, was to create a work station - laptop on a stand, 23" monitor, external keyboard and a mouse, printer. They are all set up on a large desk, with a office chair, near the a large window. I try to keep the desk clear of any other junk. Having an espresso machine helps too.
posted by ye#ara at 2:48 AM on February 21, 2013

Part of it might be that coffee shops act as a kind of "thirdspace".
posted by spunweb at 5:26 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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