Productivity (ugh) hacks?
September 11, 2014 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Hello AskMe! What is your most effective hack (ugh, I know!) for productivity working at home/on the road/otherwise outside a day job?

Basically, what are your little tips and strategies for being productive/getting shit done at home, at the coffee shop, etc?

Some reference points for the kinds of things I'm looking for:

--Headphones + music, preferably low- or no-singing or singing in a language you don't speak;
--Working at home is distracting; set a timer for 25/5 breaks and save "home" stuff—putting laundry in the dryer or whater—for the breaks
--Don't sprawl on the couch, sit at a proper chair and desk;
--Get up, take a shower, and walk to the coffee shop to get a paper and some caffeine before starting your day; create a separation between "home" and "work;
--Use DropBox and offline office apps rather than Google Docs so you can work without an internet connection;
--High-speed trains in the US tend to have more outlets per carriage than local trains do.

Etc. etc.

What makes working in a non-standard environment doable for you? If it helps, I have a day job (and office) that I work very well in; I'm looking for ways to work as effectively on personal projects in environments that aren't as quiet and focused or when traveling.
posted by peachfuzz to Work & Money (9 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
When I'm working from home or doing homework, I always use the Self Control app on my laptop to keep me off of "fun" websites.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:20 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

For working at home:

Set a block of time that is designated "work time" and a space that is your "work space." Don't clutter your workspace with anything that is not work-related. That might mean put your phone away, make a designated lunch or dinner break, have a proper desk if possible. Maybe moving to an isolated area of your home, again if possible. Stretch breaks, bathroom breaks, coffee-brewing breaks, but that's it. No random one-hour breaks. Well.. maybe smoke breaks. But you need a block of time and a place that is especially designated for work. All those temptations you get to do chores or random things or even fun things at home, instead of work? You can't get up and do them. You have to treat it like work. Does your boss let you go home to do chores or watch TV whenever you feel like it? Then you can't let yourself do it either. (I'm not saying you watch TV instead of working btw)

When I started working from home the hardest-- near-impossible-- part was actually working and not goofing off all day. Let alone working a full day. Because you're home, and home is where you go to relax and get away from work. If you actually need or want to get some work done, you need to separate yourself from the fact that you are home. For x hours today, I am at work. It might take you a while to build up to working the amount that you want to be working. Eventually, it'll be a habit.

Do you remember the first time you got a full-time job, and how pretty soon every day felt like an eternity? And maybe you wondered "how does everyone do this every day of their lives for 40-50 years"? Working at home can feel like that.

One of the things that helped me, surprisingly enough, was waking up and getting started on work early. Apparently, I refuse to do shit after noon has passed. Huh. Maybe you are more productive during certain hours? Maybe you're totally unproductive after working a full day at your day-job (and who can blame you if that's the case). Maybe your ideal time might be early in the morning for a couple of hours on weekends? Whatever it may be.

By the way, I cannot agree with you more on the importance of coffee. It might be from years of drinking coffee at my non-work-from-home jobs, but if coffee is something you need to make your environment more work-like or to motivate you, by all means, make it a priority for it to be readily available.

Also, if you're using a computer or laptop, you can try to install a separate operating system for work with a separate log-in, and have no games or other potentially distracting stuff that might otherwise kill time on that part of your computer.

I hope some of that helps.
posted by atinna at 2:28 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, definitely separate your workspace from your funspaces. In other words -- don't work in places that your mind has associated with leisure. So I don't sit at the kitchen table and work on my laptop, because that's where I've sat and surfed the web in the past. I don't sit on the couch or in my room and work on my laptop, because that's where I've sat and watched Netflix/Prime on my computer, read Mefi, etc. Basically, the one place I haven't sat and surfed the web at is at my desk downstairs, so this is where I work (and only work!) -- if I want to take a break and watch videos, I'll move up to the kitchen and eat a snack while doing so, etc.

This was a lot easier when I was in college -- my dorm room was for using my laptop for leisure, while in the common room I only studied and did work.

What this does for me is help me stay focused while working. Because I've associated that location in my house/space with concentration and work, I am much better at keeping on track and focused.

(Also -- natural light is soooooo important. I like to position my workspaces in front of really big windows.)
posted by krakus at 2:40 PM on September 11, 2014

I'm a pomodoro style productivity person and I break my work time down into 15 minute chunks (I use this simple timer) figuring I can mostly focus for that long. So if I have an hour of work, I split it up into four chunks and five minutes in between of screwing around and I'm done in about 75 minutes instead of the way I usually work where this would take me four hours because I am terrible. So for that 15 minutes, no other work but work. If I think of other ideas they go on a notepad and I do not do them. I have a selection of no-english-words radio stations that I listen to, depending on what I need to get done.

- African Classics is upbeat
- soma-fm's secret agent is bouncy and helps me focus
- sleepbot environmental broadcast for just ambient stuff

Keep IM off, keep email closed, put the phone in another room. Some of this depends on what your failure mode is. Mine is that I am chatty so I am forever sending people little notes on twitter or facebook and then get sucked in to reading stuff.

The other thing isn't really a hack but more of a mindset. If I am calculating how long it takes me to do a thing, I have two numbers

1. the actual time it would take me to do the thing if I just did it
2. the time it takes me in real life to get the fucking thing done including stupid procrastination and other general drag-assery

And I define a project from start to finish including clean-up time (or invoicing time or whatever the tail ends of things are) so while cooking dinner might be a nice 30 minute affair and eating is another 30 minutes if it takes me two days to get the dishes done, that's a 48 hour meal. So stupid! So I try to keep that in mind when I am screwing around not getting a basic thing done. Why does it take a week to pay bills? No reason. If it's a thing I don't like doing, I'm being kindest to myself if I get it over with, not if I keep it on my plate forever. I also end every day with reading which means i sleep better and wind down better. I don't do work after about 8-9 pm most nights. I start most days with doing quick email stuff (anything requiring a quick reply gets out of my inbox before lunch) which means I can spend the day waiting to hear from people and not dragassing on writing.

And yeah, seconding having a window. It's easy to turn into some pale office gnome if you're not engaging with and remembering that you are a part of the natural world. In fact, I;m going for a walk right now. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 2:56 PM on September 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

When working from home I have found Coffitivity to be helpful. The coffee shop sounds are particularly helpful when I am writing prose. When I am writing code I shift to ambient or electronica music. Having different kinds of music or background noise for different types of activities also ends up training my brain so that it's easier to get in the right activity mode listening to the music.

When I get stuck on something it's very tempting to just randomly websurf or check out social networking sites. I try to make myself take a short walk around the block, or pedal on an exercise bike a bit, or just go check out the plants in my garden. This usually ends up taking a shorter time than websurfng would, and the little burst of activity energizes me and also helps me get unstuck.
posted by research monkey at 3:29 PM on September 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get started early, if at all possible. Will power drains over the course of the day.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:42 PM on September 11, 2014

I've found that 'commuting' to work helps. If I'm going to be working at home on a day that I don't actually go in to my actual office, I will still go through my normal 'go to work' routine when I get up and then go take a long walk around my neighborhood (I also walk to work normally, so this is right in line for my normal work day - but I think it'd help even if I rode a bike or whatever). I usually stop and buy some coffee at a local bakery or even some snacks for lunch and then I go home and I've 'arrived' at the 'office', ready to work.

When I don't do this, I usually faff around for a couple of hours before I actually start anything.
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:36 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding atinna's advice to treat it like work. Give yourself a set block of work time, and only do work things during that block.

When I was doing the home-work thing, I was also maintaining the household for a partner with an office job, so it made sense for me to have an early work block (8-11-ish), a mid-day household block (11-2ish for shopping, cleaning, etc), and another block for work (3ish-6).

Having a routine and making it a habit takes a lot of the hassle out of finding motivation. Don't be afraid to set a (relatively early) weekday alarm, then going through a regular go-to-work routine: shower, dress, eat, make coffee, go to workplace. Just like ursus-comiter, I also took a "walk to work" before sitting down at the PC. Having a little "commute" like that helped me to get my head right.

Good luck in getting your system together.
posted by Tara-dactyl at 4:43 AM on September 15, 2014

I find it helpful to dress/groom the same as if I were going into the office. I could wear a t-shirt and jeans, or even a bathrobe, when I work at home, but since I dress business casual when I work in the office, I find it helps get me in the right mindset to dress business casual when I'm working at home. Likewise, I shave on days I'm working in the office, so I shave on days I'm working from home.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:53 PM on September 29, 2014

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