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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

7 Tried-and-True Secrets for a Productive Home Office

home office setup with laptop, lamp, notebook, pens, and plant

The jury is still out on whether employees who work from home or work from an office are more productive, but research from a recent Harvard Business Review article suggests that people who work their same office schedule from home get more done per day. The employees’ explanation? The quiet environment helped their productivity.

What’s more, working from home gives you the freedom to create the space you need to do the work you need to do. At home, you can control (at least most of) the features of your surroundings, while in an office, you’ve pretty much just got your desk to design.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the workspaces and work habits of seven DIY, design, and home improvement bloggers. Not only do they work from home, but thanks to their expertise, they know how to create their perfect, concentration-boosting space.

Here are their best productivity tips, which you can replicate and try out in your own workspace. (And, hey, some of this advice might even work at a “real” office!)

1. Think Like a Mouse

...And find the quietest corner of your house. While some people need some background noise to work, others find any noise at all (a barking dog, a noisy air vent, children playing) incredibly disturbing.

For Our Home from Scratch blogger John Gerard, a busy room is the worst place to work. “I’m much more efficient in a quiet, distraction-free space,” he says. “Our home office is far enough away from the television and the play area that, with the doors closed, I can easily work in peace.”

If you feel the same way, make sure that your workspace doesn’t coincide with anyone’s play space. Or, at the very least, choose a room with a door.

2. Declutter Your Desk

It’s pretty obvious that swimming through extra papers and pens delays your progress, but what exactly should you have on your desk? According to Engineer Your Space blogger Isabelle LaRue, not much. “I usually have a couple of folders on the left-hand side housing my current projects and since I have a bad sticky note habit, there’s always a few of those lying around on any given day.”

While sticky notes can be a helpful tool, extra books, piles of paper, or cups half full of lukewarm coffee will strongly detract from your productivity, not to mention your concentration. You don’t want your desk to be empty—don’t stow away your pen if you’ll be picking it up again today—but giving yourself space to work allows you to have space to think as well.

3. And the Rest of the House

According to Melissa George from Polished Habitat, it might take a bit more than clearing your desk to focus your mind. “I’ve actually noticed that my concentration goes up when the entire house is straightened up,” she explains. “Even though I can’t see the kitchen island from the office, I work better when it is free from mail and the other things that tend to pile up on it.”

In other words, as much as you want to ignore your messy living room, shutting your office door might not be enough to convince you that your mess has disappeared. Spend a couple minutes each night tidying up, so that the next morning you’re ready for business.

4. Bring in Some Green

Though you probably shouldn’t set up shop in your garden, you can definitely bring some of the outdoors in. A desk or floor plant is a great way to add a breath of fresh air to your workspace and create some visual variety when your eyes need a break from the screen. “I always have fresh flowers beside the computer on my desk,” says Daune Pitman, blogger at Cottage in the Oaks.

If you don’t trust your black thumb to keep that plant going for more than a week, try something resilient, like a small cactus or succulent, or at least arrange your desk so that you can see the outdoors. “My desk faces two large glass doors and windows,” says Daune, “so I can always have a view outside.”

5. Try a Scent

For some, including Organizing Made Fun blogger Becky Barnfather, a good scent can make a big difference.

Beyond adding a pleasant smell to your workspace, certain essential oils have proven effects that could help you get your work done. Peppermint, for example, can give you an energy boost, while rosemary can help you concentrate and get tasks done faster and more accurately. And sweet orange can help with anxiety. (Just make sure you look up how to use each kind properly and safely!)

6. Use a Smaller To-Do List

Before you begin tackling the day’s tasks, spend 10 minutes creating a detailed checklist. Then, spend another five making an even shorter checklist of tasks you absolutely know will get done in the next couple of hours.

This idea is from Donna Williams, home decor and design blogger at Funky Junk Interiors. “If the tasks are too many for the day,” she explains, “there's no way it'll get done.” This trick not only helps you remember and plan for each chore, but also breaks your day down into small, actionable tasks. Plus, once you check off or cross out your finished work, those visible accomplishments will spur your productivity!

7. Take Meaningful Breaks

When it’s time to take a break, most of us default to clicking over to social media for a while. But for a more productive way to recharge your batteries, try reading relevant articles to give you some inspiration, learning about new innovations in your field, or even taking a walk around your block. The Cutting Cafe blogger Regina Easter works in paper crafts and designs, so when she hits an unproductive slump, she’ll spend some time on Pinterest, getting some inspiration and motivation to keep working.

As long as you’re timing your breaks, you’ll be back to work shortly and your brain will feel a bit more refreshed. Choose an increment of time that works better for your schedule and work habits. Just be careful not to make it so short that it interrupts you when you’re finally in the zone, or so long that it is ineffective.

With a quiet, beautiful space and some strategic habits, even the 3 PM work slump won’t know what hit it! To check out more productive workspaces and home offices, browse the Home Office page on Hometalk.

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