Working from home is a fantastic.
Whether you are a corporate professional able to work remotely on a regular basis, or a home office entrepreneur running your own business, avoiding the commute and having the luxury of stumbling from your morning coffee to your work zone in your pajamas is something to be envied….
Or so it seems to those that don’t do it.
As all work from home dads come to understand, if you don’t have the right mixture of self discipline and support of your family, you can kiss your levels of productivity goodbye.
Working from home is a potential minefield of distractions and life errands designed to trip you up and drag you away from what you should be doing at every single turn.
From your own unfathomable urge to rearrange your man drawer, to your wife asking if you wouldn’t mind looking after the little one for half an hour, if you are unable to create a robust level of structure for your working day, things will turn south pretty damn quick.
But…. It is not all doom and gloom.
I love working from home and it is very possible to achieve the best work life balance once you get used to the juggle and the fact the onus is on you.
I’ve been doing it now for several years and there is one thing I can say resolutely – I would never go back to the office 9 to 5.
The freedom to work from home really is life changing. You just have to do it right.
It’s taken some trial and error, but I’ve learned a lot about stay at home levels of productivity and the best practices to follow in order to stay on top.
If you want to succeed as a work at home dad, this is what you have to do.
1. Create a morning routine and stick to it
In my opinion, (and I am not alone in thinking this) the most important ingredient of a productive morning is your routine.
Read any book or blog written by productivity experts and you will come across the same thing; you need to create a morning routine and stick to it.
Furthermore, what your routine looks like is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way; the main issue is that you have one.
Claire Diaz Ortiz, productivity expert and author of Design Your Day, suggests that the way you start your day anchors you and ensures you stay focused on what is most important.
I am a great believer of this.
Before I even turn on the laptop I have a set structure to my morning routine that not only helps prepare me for the day ahead but is also peppered with small tasks that make me feel like I have achieved something productive by 8.30am.
I do this Monday to Friday with very little deviation.
Those small tasks: preparing my daughter for nursery, dropping her off, the shower and being properly groomed all help set my metal state to one of getting things done.
It is also very pleasurable (unless my daughter is in a funk), I am spending quality time with the people I love.
Add that to the cycle ride and swim during the summer and I have managed some exercise to get the blood fully pumped too.
The sit down breakfast means my energy levels are good to go; and the fact I have shared that with my wife means I have no life surprises to get in the way of work that day, (for the most part; things can change of course).
The key take away here is the subject of routine and stress free planning for the day ahead. I am also taking time to appreciate what’s important: my family.
Remember: your routine does not have to resemble this in anyway. What you do each morning is entirely up to you.
It just has to be consistent.
15 Things Highly Successful People Do Before Breakfast
I recently did an experiment where I followed the morning routines of some highly successful people. The results were interesting. During my research I also discovered 15 common things that the top 1% do before breakfast....
2. Know your habits and when you like to work
In my morning routine example above you can see that I like to start work at 9am after enjoying a bit of family life first.
That is what works for me.
You might be completely different however.
9am could feel like the middle of the day to you. That’s not a problem. If you like to get up at 5am and jump to work straight away for several hours of uninterrupted bliss; sweet, you should definitely do that.
If, however, you only begin to feel human after 11am (and 3 espresso shots) hitting the desk later is okay too.
That is assuming your morning is free of obligations, and your home life means you can work in the evening.
As with adding a routine to your morning, the time you decide to start work is a decision that has to be made by you.
According to Sleep.org, your body intrinsically knows what it should be doing and when.
If you are a night owl that finds it difficult to fall asleep before midnight, you clearly shouldn’t be joining the 5am club and expect results.
The priority should be on having enough sleep so that you wake when your body is ready. That is the recipe for higher levels of productivity.
However, outside circumstances will often get in the way.
Though you should aim to fall into a sleep pattern that works for you, if you have screaming toddlers waking up throughout the night as I do, or colleagues that need you on the end of the line at the start of the day, you will have to adjust accordingly.
Essentially, whatever your preferred start time, you should make it part of your daily schedule and create a routine that fits.
It sounds boring, and maybe not what you expect from the ‘freedom’ of working from home, but consistency is key.
If you do not create a set daily pattern for yourself, your productivity will undoubtedly suffer.
Likewise, if you do not get enough sleep you cannot expect to run at 100%.
It is a fine balance and just one of the many examples of self-discipline you must master when working from home.
3. Allocate a work space
This is essential and straight from the pages of work from home 101.
You need to have a room in the house where you can go to work and be separate from your family. This is your designated work space.
In an ideal world this would be a home office.
If space is an issue it can be a desk in the spare room or bedroom, (or even a shed as long as you’re comfortable).
The most important issue is that it has to be somewhere you will not be disturbed.
Again, consistency is key. When it is time to work your work space is where you go.
Don’t drift around the house with your laptop, and certainly avoid lounging on the sofa with your screen propped on your chest.
That’s not how you get good work done.
I have experienced enough freestyling in the past to realize it doesn’t aid your productivity.
4. Structure your working hours as you would in the office
The first few hours at the desk are where you should tackle the most demanding jobs of the day.
This is where your concentration will be at its peak and you will be better equipped to take on the tasks that you would you probably prefer not to do.
It’s a simple issue of facing procrastination head on.
For me the start of the day is where my voice of productivity is loudest. It is the time I am most likely to come out on top of the battle with little miss ‘do it later’.
And while it is tempting to ‘ease yourself’ into the day with more menial tasks first, that tactic has never really worked for me.
Before you know it, those smaller tasks will have taken you to lunch time and you will rarely have sufficient mental energy to tackle that big job in the latter part of your working day.
Brian Tracy, author of “Eat the Frog,” has an entertaining view on this.
His work based philosophy stems from a quote by Mark Twain:
It is clear when talking about the frog, he is referring to that important task you would rather not tackle.
By creating the routine (you might also call it habit) of completing your biggest task first you can also benefit from a huge boost of accomplishment.
I often find I get caught up in the momentum of that achievement, (you might also call it relief) and am able to surge forward on the rest of the tasks I have set for that day.
To contradict my opinion that you should avoid smaller tasks before grappling the big one, a study of creative work inside businesses, researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer found that making incremental progress leads to more productivity in the long run.
In other words, it can be all too easy to procrastinate when faced with the big job. Their research found that clearing away a few small tasks can give you the momentum to tackle the ‘frog’ later on.
I’m all in with Mark Twain. The guy was a literary genius after all.
However, whether you work better by eating the frog straight after breakfast, or require the boost of a few small tadpoles first, the important issue is to find that pattern that works for you, and get the damn job done.
5. Eliminate distractions
Ah the seemingly infinite number of distractions that are the bane of the father that works from home.
Whether your kids are preschoolers, (dribbling and screaming) or teenagers (bitching and moaning), you have your work cut out in keeping them from disturbing your flow.
And while we will look into creating boundaries with family members later on, there’s also the many self-inflicted methods of distraction that loom almost constantly.
From the urge to clear out the garage loft space for the first time in 6 years, to the simple act of checking your Facebook (and consequently spending 45 minutes scrolling through the wedding pictures of some idiot you haven’t seen since high school); avoiding those distractions will require momentous levels of self-discipline each and every day.
So, to keep this simple, here’s my 5-point action plan to ensure your productivity does not falter:
Step 1: Remove all forms of non work related entertainment
Do not work in a room furnished with a TV connected to Netflix or an 8th generation console.
Step 2: Step away from the Social Media
If you are a sucker for social media, eliminate the gateway to these productivity vacuums by removing the relevant tabs from your favorites bar.
In extreme cases install a site block app on your laptop such as Self Control (Mac).
This allows you to block certain sites for a set period of time. Resetting your computer or disabling the app will do nothing until that period has passed.
Step 3: Keep your phone at a distance
Leave your phone attached to its charger out of arms reach. If your self-control really is that of a 5-year-old, think about removing some of the more troubling apps from your phone.
Alternatively, you could try installing the Freedom app to schedule recurring “freedom sessions” where certain apps and sites can be blocked.
Also (if you are fortunate enough to have the choice), turn your phone on to silent and non-vibrate and place it screen down so there’s no chance of being disturbed.
Step 4: Lock the door
If possible, put a lock on your office door so that your crazy toddler doesn’t come screaming into the room when you least expect it.
(Check out the video below for a work from home dad experience gone horribly wrong).
Step 5: A dose of sadomasochism
Finally, for an extra level of protection, give your significant other permission to lightly slap you in the face if they see you shifting a piece of furniture, rifling through a tool box or within 5 feet of a remote control.
6. Plan out the work you will be doing in advance
I am a massive fan of to do lists.
The final task I complete before closing the laptop is the to do list for the following day.
Not only does it help me plan ahead so that I know what big jobs to undertake in the morning, I am also gifted with the pleasure of ticking off the completed tasks and basking in my advanced productive glory.
I am not alone with this method of preplanning either.
American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault ends his evenings by writing down three tasks he aims to complete the next day.
Removing major decision making from your morning, allows you hit the ground running.
The time (and mental energy) saved can be directed into getting the job done, rather than dilly-dallying on what to do.
Planning in advance is especially important if you work remotely only on certain days.
This is because you must ensure that any tasks that require you being in the office have been completed first.
This might include meetings with co-workers that should be conducted face to face, or anything that requires the resources only available at work.
In short, you need to plan out your week in advance in order to optimize for the environments you will be working in.
7. Reap the benefits of working from home: don’t stay at home
One of my favorite places to work during the warmer months here in Croatia is a local café right by the water.
My friends do not go there, (meaning no distractions) and I can always get a seat in the shade. The staff are friendly yet know that I am there to work, and they serve up some mean croissants too.
One of the major perks of working remotely or for yourself at home, is that you can decide where you want to work. You are not confined to the same, staid, corporate office each day.
And with that change of scenery, a carefully chosen alternative location can really help those productivity juices flow.
For you it could be a similar local café, or an inner city Starbucks, a hot desk facility or a local library; whatever your choice, the gentle hubbub of real people going about their lives can be the shake up that you need to get into the zone.
Just make sure you plan ahead and know what work you are going to be tackling before you arrive.
8. Match your music to the task at hand
Each of us has our particular taste in music so I am not going to recommend certain artists or genres in line with the nature of work to be done.
You will know bands that you like to listen to to get the blood pumping, and there will be others that have a more soporific affect.
If you can hone in and develop playlists to match your varying energy levels/work load throughout the day, you will find that music can be successfully used to boost your productivity.
For me its easy listening classical or non offensive music from the 30s and 40s when I am trying to concentrate hard; the sounds float in the background and really allow me to get lost in what I am doing.
Later in the day when the work load is a little less intense, I like to crank up the sounds with the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Doors or Jimmy Hendrix – rock legends basically.
These help sustain the energy levels during the post-lunch lull while keeping me in a good mood to boot.
If you’ve got a little one at home, you may want to invest in a decent pair of headphones however.
It will also help block out the crying.
9. Take clear breaks (and tick off some of the to do list)
Clear breaks throughout the day are important.
Don’t assume you need to be working 100% of the time while you’re home to be more productive.
One recommended way of ensuring you take regular breaks is the 60-10-60 rule.
Set a stop watch for one hour, knuckle down for 60 minutes and when the dong chimes get up and leave the room for 10 minutes.
Once you’re back at your desk, you set the stop watch again.
I don’t actually use this one myself, I prefer to reward myself with breaks at set times; one mid morning, a definite stop for lunch, one mid afternoon and then finish for when my daughter returns from nursery.
What I like to do on occasion however is complete something from my to do list while I take my break.
While that may sound counter intuitive just hear me out.
My daily to do list will often include minor errands around the house. These are added during the day and include things such as hanging the laundry, fixing whatever my kids might have broken, heading to the store to get baby powder and wet-ones.
These are generally easy to complete in 10 or 15 minutes and serve a number of purposes;
- the break stops me from getting bored with work;
- I have a fresh perspective upon returning;
- means I can scratch off a line on the to-do list;
- and most important of all, keeps my SO happy.
There is no underestimating the importance of that last point; (a happy wife is a happy life as some very astute married man once said).
Experiment with your own methods of taking a break. Just make sure that you have them.
10. Invest in ergonomic furniture
You spend hours hunched a computer. The least you can do for your long suffering back is treat it to a well designed ergonomic chair.
The resulting productivity boost becomes clear the moment you suffer a sustained back injury (shockingly, 31 million Americans experience low-back pain at any given time).
The down time involved if it becomes hard to sit at your desk for sustained periods could costs you dearly.
At the very least your chair should keep your back properly aligned and prevent slouching.
Positioning of your furniture is important too.
The table should be high enough so that your monitor screen is eye level. Tilting your head up and down to view your work is a quick recipe for neck strain.
And if it interests you, there is a lot to be said for the health benefits of the standing desk.
I have one of these myself.
And while I do not use it every day, (I forget that I have it rather than this being slur on its function), when I do fancy a stretch of the legs moving the laptop to the higher desk is always worthwhile.
I need to get in the habit of doing it more.
11. Use the rhythm of your home life as a work timer
It is likely you have reached this site because you are a work from home parent.
This means you may well have a child at home and could be sharing the day with a partner on leave, (or even tending to the baby yourself).
Either way, there will be action around the home that has nothing to do with your work. In most circumstances you will want to buffer yourself from those distractions as much as possible.
However, in some scenarios those rhythms can be used to your advantage, (I’m a ‘the glass is half full’ type of guy).
If you have no choice but to work between nap times, laundry loads, or nursery pick ups, you need to maximize those windows of opportunity by striving to finish tasks in the time you have available.
Call it a mental stop watch if you will. The time limits boost your productivity out of necessity.
I have it easier than some as my wife is now a stay at home mom, (that wasn’t always the case – I have experienced the solo-carer, work from home dad life too. Not easy.)
However, the fact my wife also studies part time means there is a certain amount of shared parenting throughout the day.
In short, there is a rhythm to the household that I have to play along with.
As I explained earlier; family life is the crutch of my morning routine.
I also take a regular lunch break at 1pm to be with my wife and little boy.
When I return to my desk at 2pm, I know I have 2.5hrs left of my day before I have to down tools and collect my daughter from preschool, (or look after the boy while my wife takes the car).
That rigid structure gives me the drive to complete jobs before I am forced to stop.
When both kids are at home after 4pm, I make it my business to be with them. This also gives my wife some free time to open up the text books.
12. Get some Fresh Air
Whether ticking off the to-do list, or simply taking some time away from the desk, your break is a good excuse to get outside and take a lung full of air.
Fresh air is one of the best ways to recharge before getting back to work.
Being stuck in front of the monitor all day may trick you into thinking you are being ultra productive, but certainly isn’t good for you.
As a work from home parent you should try to leave the house at least once per day. The walk will help revitalize you, and if you are the sole carer of a child, they could probably do with a break from the house too.
13. Bring mother nature inside
If its cold and raining outside, the urge to go for a walk may not be there.
That’s why having a little bit of mother nature within your work area is a great idea.
Not only should you allow for as much natural light into the room as possible, studies have also shown that office plants can boost productivity up to 15 percent!
Just opt for something low maintenance that won’t attract insects and you will be laughing.
14. Keep your work area tidy
Your work area is no place for child’s toys and feeding bottles. If there is one sacred space in the house a work from home parent needs, it is the zone where they sit to bring home the bacon.
God knows the paraphernalia involved with bringing up a child has overtaken every other spot in the house.
So on this subject you need to be vigilant. How can you expect to reach pinnacle levels of productivity if you have a Disney doll squeaking away at your feet?
And let’s face it, if you can keep the area clear of parenting crap, you should also be able to keep your own papers in order.
Which again is especially important with inquisitive toddler hands just moments away.
The same level of tidiness also applies to your computer desktop.
Having the entire display littered with icons and folders dating back to your college years will not help you stay on top of things.
You need to get organized and clear out the clutter (or at least hide it).
Here’s a screenshot of my main screen, (I have 2 screens to, you’ve guessed it, boost productivity – but we’ll get on to that more later).
I have 4 icons. Two are the external back up drives (one for mac and windows), one folder is my Onedrive for work, the final ‘Stews Mac’ folder holds my personal files.
Opening up my one drive and I have just 3 folders – one called ‘current’; this houses everything I am currently working on. One called clients (self explanatory), the final is labeled ‘sites’.
In that third folder are folders for each of my websites, with all the relevant content and data housed within.
It is an incredibly simple filing system and it works very well for me.
A cluttered desk with files in disarray in an unnecessary drain on your resources.
The last thing I do before powering down my laptop for the evening is delete or move any wayward files from my desktop; I also empty the hard-drive trash.
There’s something immensely satisfying to me about seeing a clean wallpaper image and the basket icon empty.
Any papers around my desk are put away (my 3-year-old can sniff them a mile off) and coffee cups removed.
It is a simple 30 second routine that I do out of habit now. It means that come morning my work area is primed for me to start work.
Do the same and reap the benefits of greater productivity as a result.
15. Pick a definitive finishing time each day
So what time should you finish? How many hours each day should you work?
This again is entirely up to you and your circumstances.
For me, family time begins proper at 4.30pm. My little girl has to be picked up from nursery and whether I do the driving or I stop to look after my little boy, the end result is that I have downed tools for the day.
It’s a good time for me to stop anyway.
I’m pretty much burned out by then, and as studies show our optimum concentration fades after 4 hours.
Getting the balance right means that I use the time after 4.30pm to enjoy being with my friends and family. I have no other agenda and I try as far as possible to not think about work.
I will very rarely deviate from that schedule.
If I have important work that needs to be finished I will head back to my desk after the children have gone to bed.
The same applies if I was forced to stop work for large parts of the day due to some life arrangement, (visits from in laws, meetings with my bank manager, two hours with the baby because my partner was busy), if I have outstanding tasks to complete, I will put in the extra hours to do it.
For the most part however, 9am to 4.30pm with an hour for lunch is my working day. I do everything that I can to make sure that happens.
I also never work weekends.
16. Exercise in the middle of the day
Sometimes a short break won’t be enough to charge the batteries.
There will also be times where the post lunch lull is too much and the nodding dog routine takes over. When working from home it is way to tempting to use that as an excuse to take a quick nap.
And if your work area is in the bedroom that big, fluffy pillow is just a few feet away.
How do you resist that?
For me the best way is jump on my bike. I am surrounded by coastal paths and cycle lanes close to my house; whenever I feel too sleepy to work I do some exercise to get the blood pumping and air in the lungs.
For you it could be a treadmill in the corner of the room, a jog around the park or hitting the gym.
You may need to be flexible in your day if you are going to take too much time on this, however, when you return to your desk (preferably after a shower) it will seem like the start of the day again.
You will be energized and feel far more productive. The energy boost will easily see you through the rest of the afternoon.
17. Form supporting habits to assist your main tasks
This one is relatively self explanatory and it is a technique that has helped my productivity no end.
We all have main tasks that form part of our jobs. I have to do a lot of content writing, research and publishing for instance.
And while the getting into the regular habit of tackling the large task (in my case writing a long article such as this), can be difficult. Assisting the process by nurturing a supporting habit can be very beneficial indeed.
In the case of article writing, I use my afternoons to create article outlines ready for the following day. This supporting habit makes it easier to execute the main habit; daily writing.
The notion of mastering supporting habits can be used for almost anything.
Want to get into the main habit of going to the gym each morning? Then get into the supporting habit of packing your gym bag and leaving it near the door each night.
Want to follow my morning routine by making sure you are showered and dressed smartly each day? Get in the habit of choosing your clothes the night before and have them in the bathroom next to your towel.
With supporting habits you will find your daily work will become easier; which in turn of course aids your productivity.
18. Keep yourself well hydrated
I was a lawyer before I quit it all for this work from anywhere, strive for the balance adventure. That meant looong hours in the office. It is sad to say but during that time the water cooler was one of my best friends.
I always had a glass of fresh water on my desk and as soon as it got low I would return to the cooler.
Not only did this keep me very well hydrated, it also gave me regular short breaks from my screen to refill my glass and visit the bathroom.
I was regularly drinking over 3 litres of water everyday. (The recommended daily amount is around eight 8-ounce glasses of water, or 1.8 litres).
I can honestly say that I never felt more healthy and alert; there’s nothing like having a near constant full bladder to keep you on your toes. My skin looked pretty good too.
All that in a job which was far more stressful than what I do now.
Drinking sufficient liquids is important. The average adult is made up of 60% water. Make a conscious effort to hydrate yourself throughout the day and you will definitely feel better for it.
19. Leverage technology – apps, hardware and plugins
As the technology improves so does the efficiency of working from home.
From Skype to cloud storage, work sharing platforms such as Google docs and time tracking software for freelancers; the array of apps, tools, browser plugins and actual hardware designed to make working remotely easier is wide.
Choosing the right ones for you clearly depends on the type of work you are doing and the level of collaboration required.
However, the correct tools will certainly aid your productivity.
Regarding hardware, the best thing you can do is make sure your main work computer is fast, bug free and has adequate anti-virus software installed.
Your productivity will only suffer if you’re having to close spam pop ups every 5 minutes, or worse still, periodically restart your computer because it has inexplicably crashed.
Those wasted minutes dealing with technical glitches adds up.
Do not keep calm and carry on as the British like to do. Get your hardware sorted now.
And finally, there is a lot to be said for 2 (or even more) screens.
You do not have to be a Wall Street trader to benefit from a 180-degree bank of displays.
I certainly enjoy the extra real-estate of a multi-screen set up.
2 x 32 inch screens side by side looks damn cool for a start.
From a practical sense, having a series of documents open at once is great when working with researched materials.
From writing articles, to conducting Skype meetings, having easy access to my emails or viewing my Spotify tracklists; the extra screen has aided my productivity in ways I did not think possible.
If you have the space, I urge you to take the leap, no matter the nature of your work.
20. Communicate expectations to your family
As a work from home dad one of the most important issues to deal with is the expectation of your family.
Sometimes it can be hard for significant others and kids to realize you’re in work mode when you’re at home.
The fact that ‘Daddies Here’, can be a massive distraction to your children if you work remotely only occasionally. They naturally seek your attention and want to play.
This involves communicating exactly when you’ll be working, and if necessary making your work area off limits for that set amount of time.
A locked door, or headphones on can be a way of signifying you are unavailable too.
Balance this however.
When you take your breaks, involve them. Have your lunch with your family and finish work when you say you are going to finish.
Expectations also have to be resolved with your significant other.
The dream in their head of you working from home is very different from the reality: You’re not helping much with the kids, errands or even making yourself available for a stroll around the park.
Whether its feelings of envy, (‘he’s up there listening to music while I deal with this screaming gremlin all day); resentment (‘why can’t you take 10 minutes to look after him – I haven’t showered in 3 days for Christ’s sake!) or simple exhaustion (I’m having a nap, you deal with it) – you being in the house all day clearly impacts your SO too.
The only way to deal with this is through communication.
That’s exactly why my morning routine involves breakfast with my wife. We go through the day’s plans so that expectations can be met.
That’s also why I have regular start and finish times; why I attempt small house errands during breaks, why I join them for lunch and why where necessary we both make compromises.
Your most important ally as a work from home dad is your significant other. If the set up is going to work, you both have to be on the same page.
If not, you’re fucked.
21. Be ready to compromise
Finally, despite all of what I have said over the last 6000 plus words about structure, communication, plan making and routines there will be times when working from home that you simply have to compromise.
That could mean stopping what you are doing with no hope of getting back to the grind for the rest of the day.
The important issue when outside circumstances pull you out of the zone is to try to be as relaxed as possible.
There is no point sweating over it. It is what it is.
If your working day has to alter because of unforeseen circumstances, ride it out and catch up later when you can.
The work from home life is difficult to master. However, with these tips and a bit of tenacity you should be able to achieve the balance that works for you.
It is more than worth the effort; get it right and not only will you see your productivity soar (and hopefully the bank balance to match), you will also see more of your kids growing up.
And nothing can put a price on that.