Being able to work from home is one of the awesome things about running your own business. You don’t waste time stuck in traffic on a long, frustrating commute, you can stay in your jammies all day long, and you don’t even have to physically get out of bed if you don’t want to!

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But like with everything, there’s also a downside. It can be really hard to stick to a schedule when you work from home. It’s just so tempting to take another nap, or to watch another episode of Fuller House before you get down to the next task.

Without anyone around to see how productive you are – or are not – you can procrastinate the whole day away. Plus, there’s often a lot to do at home, especially if you have small children. By the time you’ve finished cleaning up from breakfast and doing laundry, the day’s practically gone.

So how do you keep yourself focused and productive when you work from home? It’s not easy, but it’s not rocket science either. You just need a few ground rules on how to set and stick to a schedule when you work from home.

1. Create a Work Routine

We’re all creatures of habit, which is why you can’t bring yourself to throw out your ratty, comfy old fleece sweatshirt. To really ace this work from home thing, you need to turn your work hours into part of your routine.

Here’s how to make that happen.

– Set work hours

If you choose to just go with the flow and work when you feel like it, you’re not going to get much done. You need to set a fixed number of hours each week or each day for “work time.”

It doesn’t matter whether that’s “4 hours a day” or “37 hours every week;” what matters is that you’ve got a daily or weekly time frame.

– Match your work hours to your natural rhythm

The best thing about working from home is that you can choose which hours are the most convenient for you, instead of being forced into the old 9-to-5 mold.

That means that if you’re a night owl who’s brimming with energy at 11pm, you can make that your primary work time each day. Or if you’re an early bird who is firing on all cylinders at 5am, there’s nothing stopping you from packing work in while the rest of the world is still asleep.

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Take some time to think about your most and least productive times of day. Once you know when they are, you can set your schedule accordingly. This way, you can take a break at 2pm when your energy is low, and whiz through work tasks at 10am when you’re full of beans.

– Match your workflow to your natural rhythm

Creating a schedule that you can stick to involves matching it to the natural rise and fall of your own energy levels. Here’s how it works:

  • Make a list of the types of tasks you have to do on a regular basis. That includes things like replying to emails, brainstorming new business ideas, preparing marketing campaigns, checking and approving expense lists, etc.
  • Think about when you’re best suited to tackling each type of task. For example, you might prefer to start your day with creative business brainstorming tasks, because that’s when you’re freshest and have the most energy, and leave administrative tasks like replying to emails until later in the day
  • Plot out times in each day which you’ll dedicate to each task.
    You don’t have to be too precise. No one can stick to a schedule like “9:14 AM – think up new marketing slogans. 11:32 AM – reply to emails.” Just set a workflow, like “1. Reviewing marketing campaign results. 2. Complete business development tasks. 3. Deal with emails”

– Create a fixed workspace

Sticking to a schedule when you work from home isn’t just about blocking out time for work. It’s also about blocking out space for work.

You’re much more likely to get distracted if you’re working from the couch with the TV in front of you. Although working from bed is tempting, it’s also very tempting to lie back and take a nap.

Ideally, you’ll have a desk in one room of the house, and that will become your sacred office space. It means that you can keep all your work-related papers, notes, and good-luck mascots in one place, without having to clean them away whenever someone eats dinner.

It also has this crazy mystical effect on your state of mind. When you sit down at your desk, you will be At Work. That on its own is enough to make you feel more focused.

If you can’t squeeze in a desk, at least choose one corner of the kitchen table to call your own for work purposes.

– Set a time to stop working

Part of blocking off your work hours involves setting a time to stop working. This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s incredibly important. When you work from home, it’s all too easy for work to spill over into every single moment of your life. You can’t leave it at the office, because you live at the office.

It’s also important for your mental health to have non-work time when you can relax and refresh yourself for a new work day. What’s more, if you feel like your workday never ends, it’ll make you very reluctant to get started again the next day. You’ll end up putting off the moment when you start work, and that is a recipe for disaster.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t go back to work again later. A lot of people who work from home take a long break in the afternoon or evening to spend time with their family, and then go back to work again for a couple of hours late at night. The point is that you “leave the office” at some hour every day.

2. Make a To-Do List

If you’re going to work from home, you need to get organized. Even if you are the sole employee at the moment, you need to plan your work like a rock-star CEO.

You might prefer to use a physical work planner; make an Excel spreadsheet for your to-do list; or turn to project management software like Trello, Asana, or Monday. They have free versions for small businesses, and are the best way to fix your work goals, set deadlines, and break projects up into individual tasks.

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Making an itemized “to do” list stops you from feeling overwhelmed by enormous projects. Instead of “Add 3 new business lines within 1 month,” you’ll have a series of small tasks like “Research new nail art trends,” “Compare prices against 4 competitors,” and “Write a marketing email announcing our new nail art.”

Every night, review what’s waiting for the next day. Check on your progress towards project completion, and prioritize the tasks that are waiting for you. Schedule the most important and/or most unpleasant tasks for early in your work day, when you have more energy to deal with them. This way, you won’t end up overlooking the most important job and trying to complete it in a hurry at the last minute.

3. Get Dressed

Ok, I know that I said that staying in your PJs all day is a great perk of working from home, but it’s also a great way to feel like your workday never starts. Getting dressed and traveling to work helps you to leave your at-home headspace and move into work mode, so you need to find a way to recreate that a little when you work from home.

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The truth is that clothes make the wo/man, to some extent. It’s hard to feel like a killer accountant or business consultant if you’re wearing Star Wars pajamas and bunny slippers, and it’s a lot easier to power through phone calls with difficult clients if you’re in your I-mean-business pants.

A shower and a change of clothes can be the trigger that makes you feel like you’re at work now.

4. Track your time

When you work from home, you can lose your sense of how long you spend on actual work.

This can cut both ways: sometimes, you might think that you’ve been working really hard, but you only completed 1 hour of work in between laundry, dealing with a sick child, and pretending-to-work-but-really-hanging-out-on-Facebook.

Other times, you want to beat yourself up for wasting the entire work day, without realizing that you put in a lot of hours that day.

That’s why it’s so valuable to track your time. There are dozens of free apps available, like Toggl, Due, and RescueTime. Just be disciplined about stopping and starting your timer. It’ll help you spot when you lose time making a really long cup of coffee, and when you get more done than you think.

If you see that you’re putting in fewer hours than you should each week, you’ll know that you need to rethink your work from home schedule. Perhaps it’s not realistic enough, and you need to give yourself a few more breaks, or perhaps you’re not pushing yourself to dedicate enough time to your business. Either way, your time tracker will, literally, keep you on track.

5. Interact with Other people

Sitting at home all day can drive you a little crazy. Social media is all very well, but sometimes you crave the human contact that you get at the water cooler in an office. Human interaction is vital – it boosts your creativity, opens you up to new points of view, and stimulates your mind.

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There are a few ways to get the human interaction you need. You could build in breaks for a weekly class in a topic that has nothing to do with your business; go out jogging with a friend; or arrange to meet local entrepreneurs for networking and mutual support.

It’s worth remembering that when you work from home, you don’t have to be physically at home. Working from a nearby coffee shop, or finding a local co-working hub, can give you the balance you need between not having an office, and still working together with other people.

There it is! All the secret tips you need to help you to set and stick to a schedule when you work from home.

Now stop reading stuff online, and get back to work!