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How to Actually Get Stuff Done While Working at Home

I've been working from home since 2009, both as a federal patent examiner and as a freelance writer. While it has its benefits, it can be a challenge to get work done, especially when I'm sharing the house with three kids, several pets, and plenty of more interesting side projects.

Let's brainstorm some ways I can avoid distractions and actually get work done. I've tried most of these techniques to varying degrees of success, but maybe I can come up with some new ones while I'm at it...

    1. The Pomodoro Technique

    There are lots of free apps for this. Or you can just time it yourself. You set a timer for 25 minutes and do focused work during that time (if you get distracted, you have to reset the timer and start over). After 25 minutes, take a 5 minute break, where you get up and away from your work (go get coffee, bathroom break, or do some pushups, etc.). After every four 25 minute work sprints, take a longer break of about 30 minutes (lunch break?).

    2. Work sprints

    Kind of like the Pomodoro Technique, but less structured. Remove all distractions, set a timer for a certain amount of time, like an hour, and get as much work done as possible until the timer goes off.

    3. Schedule it

    At the beginning of the day, decide what work needs to get done. Block off time to do that work on your calendar. When it comes time to do the work, make sure you focus on doing the work. And never break an appointment with yourself. That would be a disappointment (pun intended).

    4. Accountability

    Create accountability by telling others when you will have your work completed. For example, tell your boss you'll have the report on her desk by 4pm today. Now you WILL get that report done by 4pm, or you will look really bad to your boss!

    5. Shut off internet access

    I hear this works for many people, and there are apps that will help you do it (like Freedom app), but I've never tried this because all of my work is done on the internet. However, one thing that I do sometimes is turn off my personal computer monitor and put my phone out of reach while I work.

    6. Reward yourself

    For my work, I have a docket full of cases to work on. Every time I turn in a case, I get to go on eBay and buy another baseball card for my collection (each one I buy costs about $5). It's a bit of positive reinforcement that gets me excited to complete a case.

    7. Finish the most important thing in the morning

    I got this one from Tim Ferriss. First thing in the morning, determine the one thing you can get done today that, if you do it, you will feel that the day is a success. Get that one thing done by 11am.

    8. Deprive yourself

    What's something you enjoy doing during the day? Is it snacking? Getting on social media? Writing ideas on NotePD? How about deprive yourself of that thing until your work is done?

    9. Intersperse free time throughout the day

    One thing about working at home that is both a blessing and a curse is that your work hours are not tied to 9am-5pm. Your work hours could easily go from 7am-midnight. But we all know you're not actually working the whole time in those 17 hours. So go ahead and schedule blocks of guilt-free free time throughout the work day where you can do anything EXCEPT for work. But when you're not in a free time block, make sure you're actually focusing on work.

    10. Track your work granularly

    Part of motivation is seeing progress being made towards your goal. I think it was in the book Atomic Habits that told the story of someone whose job was to make lots of phone calls. Each time that person would complete a call, they would put a paper clip into a jar. Just looking at the jar full of paper clips gave the satisfaction of completing calls, and motivation to keep the pile growing.

    What is a small thing that you have to do many times during the day as part of your job? Keep track of each time you do it so you can have the satisfaction of visually seeing your work getting done.

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