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Anyone who ever tells people they work from home will often hear, “Wow! I could never do that.” And it’s true, it takes discipline to get up, log in to your computer, and work when nobody is standing over your shoulder and directing you. Distractions attempt to grab you from every direction.
The La-Z-Boy recliner you thought would be awesome to type your weekly reports from becomes a sink hole for your productivity.
And once word gets out that you’re home all the time, friends and family start to ask if you “could do them a favor in the middle of the day.”
Which is why, if you want to successfully work from home and maintain a healthy work-life balance, you need to declare war on distractions.
In this section, I want to talk about the 4 skills you need to consistently produce great work no matter what industry you’re in.
Working from home means that nobody is looking over your shoulder anymore. You don’t have to pull up a random Excel spreadsheet whenever someone walks by to make it look like you’re working and not checking Facebook.
As long as you get your work done, you can free up time to tend to other things. Heck, my team can walk their dogs and pick their kids up from school without asking anyone for permission. Because I know they’re on top of their work.
The best way to be productive is to work in short sprints — not long, drawn-out marathon sessions.
My friend Chris Yeh is a Harvard MBA. He works a demanding full-time job, teaches at Stanford, writes for various publications, advises startups, and still manages to make time for his family.
Did you get tired just from reading that? Watch and learn how he pulls it off with the Pomodoro Technique.
According to my friend and bestselling author Tim Ferriss:
“Most people fail at new year resolutions because there is no consequence. If you don’t go to work, you’ll lose your job. But if you don’t stick to your diet, there’s no consequence — other than staying fat.”
The solution to finish everything you start?
Hold yourself accountable.
Tim’s favorite way of doing this is by using a website called stickK.
Once you sign up, you can make a commitment contract: “I will nail the project deadline.” Then, if you don’t, stickK will take your money and donate it to a charity you despise.
You can also invite friends or coworkers to referee your progress and make things more fun.
This is a great way to stay on track for work projects when the living room recliner is calling your name for nap time.
It’s much harder to shut down for the day when your “office” is where you live. There’s no night-time cleaning crew that comes to empty out the trash to signal that you’ve been burning the midnight oil.
You have to decide when to call it quits for the day. Because sooner or later, trying to jam in another task at the end of the day can rob you of your sanity.
Which is why it’s important to make stepping away from your desk a regular habit. Whether it’s a short walk, a trip to the gym, or taking an afternoon yoga class, exercise can help keep your mind sharp when you work from home. It also helps you strike the perfect work-life balance.
Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, built a healthy eating habit while working for The New York Times. His approach was unconventional in that it started with chocolate.
Yes, you read that correctly. Chocolate triggers reward centers in your brain and makes you want to do things you normally procrastinate on.
And you can use the same exact principle to make exercise a habit. Watch the video below to see how you can put it into action as you work from home.
Email is a great tool. But it can suck up the most productive hours of your day if you’re not careful. And once you start working from home, you’ll get more and more messages since people can’t stop by your desk to ask questions.
Some of them will be urgent and important, most of them won’t be. It’s your job to make the call. Luckily, since I get thousands of emails a day — and yes, I read all of them — I can give you some advice.
My goal is to not answer emails. Instead, I think of email as a tool.
This is where so many Inbox Zero people go wrong. The goal is not zero emails in your inbox — it’s actually getting the right things done.
I don’t give a damn if I end the day with zero unread emails or 350. I only care about getting the right things done.
One of the ways I do that is to stop waiting on responses, and instead systematize follow-ups so I don’t have to remember to do them.
For example, if I send an email about a project but I can’t proceed until I get a response from somebody else, I need to make sure I stay on top of it.
So I use SaneBox to automatically remind when I need to send a follow-up email.
It looks like this:
I also use it to automatically elevate important emails to the top of my inbox. Others get de-emphasized and I can read them later.
Talking on the phone to set up meetings only takes a few seconds. But if you use that same conversation framework on email, you’ll create a long thread of messages, waste time, and be a nuisance for everyone involved.
There’s a better way.
I like to have canned scripts for the most common situations I’ll encounter. That way, I can read an email, mentally categorize it, and reach into my vault of scripts to select the best response.
Here’s one I use to set up meetings that saves me hours of back and forth every year.
My name is Ramit and I’m an analyst at Acme Co. I’ll be in town next week and was wondering if you wanted to meet over coffee to discuss the latest project.
Sam Jones and Josephina Young actually suggested that I get in touch. Our work has a lot of overlap so it’d be great to go over everything.
How does next Thursday, 7/8 or Friday, 7/9 work? I’m free all day, especially in the afternoon, and can meet wherever is convenient for you.
Following the steps laid out in this section will make you more productive and keep your sanity in check. But if you’re interested in even more material on this, I’ve put together a free video called How to Stop Procrastinating and Finish What You Start.
Just enter your name and email below for instant access.