Unproductive at Home? 4 Steps to Make Your Home Office Work for You

Completely separating work from home sounds nice in theory, doesn’t it? When you’re at home, you can relax. When you’re at your chosen work space, wherever that may be, you get shit done.

But the main problem here is that when you rely on an external place to do your work, you’re also at the mercy of external factors. Here are a few things that can throw you off:

  • There are people sitting where you usually sit.
  • There are no other available seats either.
  • You can’t sit where you normally sit for a completely unpredictable reason that’s outside your control, such as the entire area being closed off because they’re attempting to install a gigantic carousel in the middle of the room. (True story.)
  • There are too many people around and they’re distracting you.
  • You’ve run into someone you know, and they want to talk to you. (Bastards.)
  • The music that’s playing is awful. AWFUL.

And countless other reasons you don’t expect and can’t control. What you need is an environment you control completely. Then there are no excuses. Except the ones you tell yourself, like ‘I can’t work when I’m at home.’

Fortunately, I have a 4-step plan to help you become productive at home again:

1. Change Things Around

The mind gets set in its ways pretty quickly. New habits form fast, and once they’re there, they’re hard to shift. If you’ve got into the habit of sitting at your desk and refreshing Facebook over and over, or of not even sitting at your desk in the first place, try moving things around. It’s much easier to form new habits in a fresh environment, and moving your desk to a different part of the room, or even to a different room altogether, could help zap your brain into action.

If moving your desk isn’t an option, how else could you change your environment? Maybe there are things in the room that distract you. Can you move those instead? Or maybe you could move your chair to the other side of the desk, or get a completely new chair. Just something that signifies to your brain that this is a different environment.

You need to retrain your brain to understand that this is the place where you do work. It’s the same thing that happens when you go to your external work place, but without the hassle of having to put on grownup clothes (aka not sweatpants) or brush your teeth. (Of course, once you’ve moved things around, it’s important – especially in the first few weeks – that you are vigilant about doing your work and not falling back into old habits. Otherwise your brain will be all, ‘Hey! I like this new place where we get to watch YouTube.’)

2. Set Yourself Up for Success

Humans are lazy by nature. We want convenience. Gretchen Rubin talks about this in her book about habits, Better Than Before:

One thing that continually astonishes me is the degree to which we’re influenced by sheer convenience. The amount of effort, time, or decision making required by an action has a huge influence on habit formation. To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.

Since you’re already moving things around, you might as well do it in a way that benefits you, right? How can you change your environment to support the good work habits you want to form? How can you make it easier for yourself to sit down at your desk each day and be productive?

One of the key things to focus on is reducing the number of steps between you and your work. Is your desk currently shoved away in a room at the far side of the house? Or do you work at your kitchen table, but can’t begin until you’ve cleared all the breakfast stuff away?

Or maybe it’s something as simple as not leaving your laptop set up to begin working on the next day. I’m looking at you, people who take your laptops to bed to binge-watch shows on Netflix. If you’re in the habit of taking your laptop to bed with you, not only do you waste time getting everything set up in the morning, you’re also far more likely to crack your laptop open as soon as you wake up and start pissing the day away on Facebook.

3. Make It a Pleasant Place to Work

Alongside removing any barriers to beginning work, you can also add things to encourage you to work. An important factor here is making sure your desk setup is comfortable. You should definitely think about whether you’re in any pain – even just a tiny little niggle – when you sit at your desk, because it’s really hard to work when you’re uncomfortable. If you’re suffering, invest in ergonomic equipment that alleviates the pain. (Out of everything I’ve mentioned today, this is probably the most important thing you can do. Pain is a debilitating fucker.)

4. Decide Your Priorities

The final step in making your home office a productive space is getting your priorities straight. Maybe my laptop-in-bed comments struck a nerve. ‘But I really love watching an episode of something before I go to sleep! It’s how I unwind.’ Or maybe you’re of the ‘It takes two seconds to plug my laptop back in at my desk’ ilk. Excuses, excuses. What’s really your priority? Zoning out to the latest Game of Thrones ep in the minutes before sleep? (Speaking of, how badass was Dany last week? That chick be crazy, but I love her.) Or knuckling down in the mornings and feeling great about yourself because you got so much good work done? It’s your choice which one you prioritise, but realise that it is a choice – and that one impacts the other.

And it’s the same with everything in this list: it’s all in your control. It’s a choice to set yourself up for success – or to keep plodding along as you are. Which will you choose?