We asked people who work from home, from co-working spaces, in coffee shops, on the road and in offices to share their secrets for a productive day no matter where they’re working. The following are the highlights of their collective advice.
Joel Ohman, the founder of Domain Superstar, uses three monitors to maximize his productivity at home.
Home workers reduce their commuting time to zero, aren’t distracted by coworkers, and can work on whatever schedule fits their style. On the other hand, their work often competes with their children, errands, and other distracting comforts. Here are their tips for staying focused, keeping a schedule, and reducing distractions.
- Have a work space that has a door that can be closed. It’s hard to be productive with kids screaming in the background or the TV on. It also gives a bad impression to clients. — Rohan Hall, Founder and CEO of rSitez, Inc
- Even if you’re the only one in the house, try listening to music on headphones while you work. It will help you forget your surroundings and focus on the task at hand. — Emily Widle, E-Commerce Marketing Specialist at Pegasus Associates Lighting
- Put together a box of toys, games, and books that your children are only allowed to use when you are on the phone. Make sure these ideas are saved for “special” times (when you’re on the phone, or can’t give your child your full attention). Also, load up on popsicles. It always keeps them quiet for a few minutes for an important phone call. — Deb Walker, Project Manager for Contemporary-VA
- Even if you work at-home, get dressed for the office, go through your typical morning routine and tackle your day like you’re clocking in at 9. — BJ Cook, CEO of Digital Operative Inc.
- Don’t eat lunch in your office. Use this time to regroup and take a break. Why? Because if you do it right, working out of the house is constant work – no water cooler/cubicle talk, no walking across the building to the copier, etc. So you have to re-energize by getting out of the chair and out of that room. — Roger Grant, Founder of RG2 Solutions
- Be honest with regard to when you are productive. For example, I am far more productive at night. I get more done between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. than I ever do before noon (when I have the luxury to choose). When I was in a situation where I had that flexibility, I would go to the gym in the morning because that requires no thought and do the hard stuff in the afternoon, evening and night. — Jeff Bogensberger Co-Founder and CEO of SOCO Games
- To the extent possible, chain yourself to the desk. There are plenty of non-work distractions at home. Spend as much time working at home as you work in the office. — Jon Gelberg, Chief Content Officer at Blue Fountain Media
- Three monitors is the productivity “sweet spot” for most people. I love using my three 30″ monitors and my “Geek Desk” that is fully hydraulic and accommodates working from a seated or a standing position. — Joel J. Ohman, President of Domain Superstar
From the Office
Most offices are designed with efficiency in mind, and some workers focus better if they have a set schedule and a dedicated workspace. On the other hand, a work day is a huge chunk of time to stay focused, and organizing it productively can be daunting. To avoid getting stuck in water cooler talk, organize the workday, and maximize productivity, read these tips.
- Do NOT check your e-mail for the first 45 minutes that you are in the office in the morning. Don’t even open it. There are never meetings at that time and most people are settling in and reading their e-mails, so it’s a mellow time (not too much talking, few drive-bys, hallway conversations and urgent requests rarely happen). — Amanda Feifer O’Brien, Marketing Manager at Firmenich Inc.
- Take the first 30 minutes to plan the rest of your day. By plan, I mean make a list of the important tasks that you need to have done today and stay focused on these items. If you start working without first organizing your day, it’s very easy to spend the first 4 hours just reading and responding to e-mails. Most of these e-mails are distractions from the more important tasks that you need to do. Make a list of the things that you want to achieve that day and work from that list until it’s completed. — Rohan Hall, Founder and CEO of rSitez, Inc
- I stumbled across an application called Freedom. It is actually pretty pathetic that somebody would need to purchase something like this, but it was the best $10 I have spent! The app simply locks you away from the Internet (). It removed nearly every distraction possible. — Erick Bzovi, Founder of HealPay.com
- Block [the] like-minded tasks together. Set aside time to make outbound calls, and make one right after the other. Plan times during the day to check your e-mail, Twitter () and social media to avoid a huge time trap. — Lorraine Bosse-Smith, President of Concept One
- A few years ago I did not change the time on my alarm clock back to winter time. So I got used to getting up an hour earlier than the “rest of the world.” It is probably my most productive hour of the day as the world is still asleep, no phones ringing, etc. — Ann Castro, Investment Banker and Author.
- I give myself three must-complete tasks each day (usually fairly large tasks) and take short breaks between each one to give my mind a break and switch gears. — Britt Reints, author of miss-britt.com
- Show up to meetings on time. How many times have you had to get late arriving people up to speed on what was covered in the first five minutes, then again when someone comes in 10 minutes late? That’s a huge waste of time. — Chad Otis, Executive Creative Director of Smashing Ideas
- Carve out transition time. Devote the final hours of your workday to some of your least-pressured tasks. I like listening to music on grooveshark.com and doing paperwork. You will feel a sense of accomplishment by completing at least one thing before day end. — Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., Author of Working in The Smart Zone
From a Coworking Space
Workers get down to business at New Work City, a coworking space in Manhattan (courtesy of Alex Hotz)
Coworking solves the lonely independent worker problem, and coworking spaces can be great environments for collaborating and finding feedback on your work. But even though coworkers leave the distractions of their homes, there are other distractions at a coworking space — mainly, other enthusiastic people working on interesting projects that you want to know more about. Read these tips for staying focused.
- I like to pretend all the people around me are potential clients judging my work habits. Is it a little weird and unorthodox? Sure. But competition and putting yourself “in the spotlight” will always make you work harder. — Eric Fulwiler, Partner at ZAC
- If the work you’re doing requires some skills that are outside your immediate field, see if your coworkers might be interested in working with you on the project. Or they might know someone in their network of friends who would be perfect for it. Word of mouth referrals from someone you know is still the best way to find good help. — Jay Catalan, Co-Founder of The Network Hub
- Rather than standing up from behind your wall of monitors and shouting “Can you all shut up?!” you may want to consider, what I call “The Cone of Silence.” It really works! All you need are a nice pair of headphones, (not earbuds), a wave file that plays “white noise,” and Windows Media Player set to “auto-repeat.” — Paul Preibisch of B3D Multitech
- Surround yourself with the right people. Coworking spaces can be a huge asset or a huge liability, depending almost entirely upon who I’m surrounded by. You want to surround yourself with smart people who have similar work styles as you. For instance, if you’re a loose, fun worker, then being surrounded by just computer programmers hacking away at keyboards all day will cramp your style. The opposite obviously applies if you’re a “get down to work and work long and hard” type of person. — Jesse Davis, Co-founder of Entrustet.com
- Pretend like you are in third grade again, and return to the same desk everyday. While technically ‘open’ space does not mean you have rights to that same spot, it’s amazing how inherent social etiquette brings us to respect the spots that are regularly staked out. Having a space you return to every day will make you feel like you have an office, and people with offices must be productive because they pay a higher rent, right? — Melissa Pickering, Managing Co-Founder of iCreate to Educate
- When someone is in your cube space and they keep talking beyond what you consider acceptable, just stand up like you are about to leave to get coffee or go to the bathroom. It’s like magic with some people — they wrap up what they are saying and head out. — Kenneth Carlson, Owner of Authentic Development
- Plan on wasting time. Instead of keeping unnecessary windows open (chats, blogs, twitter, etc.) all day long, work intently with no distractions for a given time, then give yourself (significantly shorter) blocks of time to be unapologetically unproductive. — Matthew Hall, Jr. Consultant at Mutual Mobile
- Engage. The whole point of working in public spaces is to be out in public. So, engage the people around you. Ask their perspective on a topic of debate amongst your team. Did you overhear them mention something of interest to your business? Offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for fifteen minutes of their expertise. Or, offer them a few minutes of your expertise on their problem – sometimes, stepping outside your immediate task can be refreshing and re-motivating. Get a stranger’s feedback on your product, website, blog post, etc. You’d be surprised how often you are standing too close to the problem to see the obvious solution, and a newcomer’s point of view can prove invaluable. Your environm ent should be an asset to your work, even in less traditional workspaces, so take advantage of the opportunity to connect with the people around you. — Erica Benton, Marketing Communications Manager at oDesk.com
- Bring headphones to a co-working space as an indicator of busyness. Wearing them signals to others that “I can’t be disturbed right now.” — Jonathan Wegener, Founder of Adopt a Hacker
From a Coffee Shop
For many people, coffee and working go together. The coffee shop itself, however, can be a b
it of a challenge. Although it provides a temporary office and free Wi-Fi, it also provides an excell
ent people watching venue and a wide variety of sugary desserts. Getting down to business undisturbed can be tricky, but these tips can help.
- Get to know the guy who runs the coffee shop you frequent. Learn his name, make small talk, take an interest in his business, become friends. He usually knows everyone who comes in, and if you’re a freelancer you can get some good — and importantly, varied — business introductions. — Cody Robbins, Founder of Sakuzaku
- If I feel like I need some extra motivation to work hard, I’ll leave my computer charger at home. This forces me to complete my work before my battery runs out. — Ben Nesvig, Project Manager at Fuzed Agent
- I buy a drink and give myself 45 minutes to an hour to complete an assignment. I “bribe” myself by saying that I can’t get a pastry (how I love them) or a refill until that assignment is done. So it motivates me to work faster and stay focused because I have an incentive. — Jessica Aguiar, Senior Copywriter at PostcardMania
- In coffee shops I have a few rules: Try to face a wall and never a busy street, and order a small drink to minimize bathroom breaks. — Corina Kellam, Founder of Life History Books Ltd.
- Choose a coffee shop that does NOT have Wi-Fi. You can check your email and news later. Alexander Seinfeld, Executive Director of Jewish Spiritual Literacy
- I usually check in to airports [on location networks] just to let my family know that I am traveling and getting around safely. However, the tips are what make the app priceless. For instance, I can check in to terminal B at Logan International, and I can find a tip that says, “Logan International has free Wi-Fi and if you go to the Legal Seafood bar, they have outlets for every stool at the bar.” Now that is helpful. — Andrew Lazorchak, Director at WineSoiree.com
- Keep everything electronically. If you’re working from a coffee shop or in a park, the last thing you want to be doing is shuffling papers. Become proficient in taking notes in PDF documents and get used to reading documents on your computer. It’s a challenge at first, but worth it in the end. If you must, carry one small notebook for notes and memos. — Michael Carney, Founder and President of MWC Accounting
- Assign yourself a “course” each month during your commute. One month, listen to one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, and then listen to a commentary. The next month, listen to part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, then listen to it again so you start to hear themes. Does this have anything to do with your work? No. But it definitely gets your mind in the game more than listening to drive-time shock jocks. — Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
- Get menial tasks done like organizing your My Documents folder or going through your e-mail client and deleting useless/outdated e-mails (all the stuff you always want to have time to do but just don’t ever get to do during the week). — Ashley Schwartau
Managed Mischief, Inc.
- Use the settings on your iPhone or Droid to troll for free Wi-Fi when the traditional bread company isn’t around. If you can connect to it on your phone, you’ll be good to go when you crack open your laptop and get down to work. — Tyler Sickmeyer, Director of Client Development at 5Stone Marketing
- Get a portable phone number (such as Google Voice ()) that can ring one or more phones. I am an attorney and work from my home, different office locations and on the road. Being accessible to my clients wherever I am is crucial. — Lara A. Aman, Attorney at Law
- I scanned and saved my actual signature as a graphic and insert it into Word documents as a picture. If it’s a PDF, I have the same signature saved as a Custom Stamp. I don’t have to print anything. — Peggy Duncan, Personal Productivity Expert at The Digital Breakthroughs Institute
- Make sure you can cache your e-mail. This way, you can work on planes or in areas where you do not have an Internet connection.– Blake Bookstaff, Vice President of moneymanager.com
From The Road
Taking a break from the office might not mean taking a break from your work responsibilities. But shuffling between trains, planes and automobiles without your usual workspace isn’t conducive to efficiency. Learn how to make traveling work better for you by reading these tips.