Frank's Guide to Working From Home Productively -

Work Smarter,
Not Harder

Working From Home Is Hard

Depending on how your day is going, working from home can feel like the best (or the worst) decision you’ve ever made. People often complain about getting distracted or sidetracked by household chores when working from home, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

We’ve put together this guide and list of resources to help you successfully work from home.

Table of Contents:

Start your day off right by setting up your home office space and seating for success.

Our favorite articles and books on productivity.

Learn about these three popular and simple productivity concepts to get you on track.

Check out these lifehacks and resources to keep getting better.

We've collected a bunch of great resources to solve common productivity problems.

Common productivity problems:

- Using The Pomodoro Method
- Eliminating Distractions
- Task-Management Tools
- Time-Tracking Tools
- Group Communication Tools
- Connecting Your Apps Together
- Music That Won't Distract You

Setting Up Your Home Office

One of the biggest differences between a home office and another business workplace is the furniture. Not everyone has an entire home office with a standard desk and fluorescent lighting. Make the most out of your environment by finding unique and ergonomic options just for you.

Get The Lighting Right:

Your goal with office lighting is to make sure it’s natural and ambient. The team at Buffer has put together an excellent guide on The Science of How Temperature and Lighting Impact Our Productivity that is a must read when setting up your home office lighting.

Their key takeaways?

  1. Being exposed to dim light or too much artificial light makes you both sleepy and also more stressed.
  2. Workers in a room that was too cold (68 degrees Fahrenheit) made 44% more mistakes than workers in a room at optimal room temperature (around 77 degrees Fahrenheit). (Source: Cornell Study [PDF])

If possible, locate your workstation near a good source of natural lighting. If your living space doesn’t allow, then make sure there is ambient lighting around to prevent you from sitting in a tiny dark corner with only a desk lamp.

Beyond that, you also need to avoid too much lighting. Lighting that is too intense can create glare on your computer screen leading to Computer Vision Syndrome which can cause symptoms like headache and blurry vision. In addition to getting the right lighting, avoid eyestrain with helpful ideas like cleaning your monitor frequently, taking frequent work breaks, or getting computer glasses.

Choosing Your Desk and Chair:

Alternative desk options like standing desks are all the rage these days, but that isn't the only way to create a productive workspace.

Dr. Joan Vernikos, former NASA researcher and author of the book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, suggests that it’s more beneficial to stand up and move around once every 30-60 minutes throughout the day than it is to spend 15 minutes on cardiovascular activity once per day.

Regardless of what type of desk you choose, take a look at OSHA’s workstation guidelines, which has suggestions for 4 “neutral position” standing and sitting desk arrangements and how to position your body, chair, and desk relative to one another:

Upright Sitting Posture

Standing Posture

Reclined Sitting Posture

Declined Sitting Posture

Affordable Desk Options:

For those heading the traditional desk route, there are plenty of decent options - just make sure your desk height and chair are balanced well.

With standing desks easily reaching the $1000-3000 range, the Plummers Sit and Stand Desk is a relatively affordable option that allows you to adjust your table height to your mood, and stay comfortable the entire time you are working. If you’re on a really tight budget and want to try the standing desk route, take a look at Colin Nederkoorn’s $22 standing desk created from Ikea parts.

Selecting A Chair:

Choosing the right chair to match your office is a matter of both budget and personal taste. We wouldn’t want to choose for you, but take a look at Gear Patrol’s guide on things to consider while chair shopping.

Selecting A Keyboard:

By now everyone is familiar with carpal tunnel and the myriad of symptoms that can be caused by spending all day at a keyboard. The key to preventing wrist and arm issues is proper typing position. Try getting ergonomic hardware like the Kinesis Advantage keyboard designed for PC or Mac. This split keyboard puts emphasis on the thumbs. Sunken key wells promote proper arm position and help prevent tendonitis.

Another helpful option is a padded support like a wrist rest. This beaded rest produced by HandStands is offered on Amazon starting at $10.96. Friendly beads massage your wrists while you type and it’s compatible with most keyboards. There are also multiple options available in gel and foam materials, so you may want to visit your local office store to find the right feel for you.

Our Favorite Productivity Techniques

An important part of being productive is staying on task. Without a supervisor looking over your shoulder, you can easily look up to realize you just spent the past 20 minutes updating your Facebook status. Try these ideas to keep you motivated.

Popular Productivity Methods:

Here are the 3 most effective productivity methods we know:

The Pomodoro Method

The timing system based off of a tomato, the Pomodoro method is based on setting a timer (the original being an Italian tomato) and working for short bursts followed by a break.

A common breakdown is 25 minutes work, 5 minute break, 25 minutes work.

Eliminate Distractions

Seek out and destroy all distractions around you. It’s important to understand what exactly is keeping you from work, and find a way to eliminate that barrier to productivity. For some people it's noises, others it's visual distractions. There are multiple apps and helpers available once you figure out what you need.

The Seinfeld Method

Do something every day. When Jerry Seinfeld was busy writing stand up, he used to have a giant wall calendar. He wrote every day and kept track of it by marking a big red ‘X’ through each completed entry, motivating himself to “keep the chain going.”

The most important part of The Seinfeld Method? Don't break the chain!


Learn more about The Pomodoro Method.

Learn more about great ways to eliminate distractions.

Learn more about The Seinfeld Method.

Tools To Help Solve Specific Productivity Problems:

Apps to Get Started With The Pomodoro Method:

In true Pomodoro style, our favorite software also involves timing and tomatoes. Tomato Timer follows the standard Pomodoro setup, currently only available in Chrome. Beautiful for its simplicity, you don’t need to waste more time setting it up. If you are looking for a more advanced take try the Marinara Timer. Self-described as “like the Pomodoro technique, just a little more fluid.” If your working habits don’t fit into a rigid 25/5 frame, this timer lets you customize your work periods for a little more or less to suit.

Tools to Eliminate Distractions:

A quiet office is important if you want to have a productive work day. Not only does quiet eliminate distractions, it also promotes creativity. The number one habit of highly creative people involves the ability to work in quiet and solitude, and there is ample evidence to back this up. Create a quiet environment by eliminating noises from the street and machinery.

No software can eliminate street noise or needy roommates (we recommend noise cancelling headphones), but there is software to help eliminate on-computer distraction. Concentrate is a product reminiscent of study hall. Just like a teacher looking over your shoulder, Concentrate offers verbal reminders and notifications to keep you on task. The customizable display settings will also keep you focused and avoid attention sucking apps and windows popping up. FocusWriter is a great solution for writers looking for distraction-free writing options.

If you have the ability to go high tech with computer hardware, you might like Cooling Copper created by a German team. This copper foam is meant to replace your computer’s noisy cooling fan. It dissipates heat so effectively that no fans are required and enters the market in 2015.

Task-Management Tools:

The ability to mark things complete is a great motivator for productivity. Wunderlist files, tracks, and check things off. All your to-do lists are available at the click of a button. Use it to create public or private lists that sync across devices.

If Wunderlist isn't the solution for you, take a look through other popular mobile apps like Things, Todo7, Todoist,, or fun variations like HabitRPG and Carrot. Most of these apps have web-based versions as well, keeping you on task at your desk or on the go.

Time-Tracking Tools:

Some of us just like analytics. An app like Rescue Time is a great choice for Quantified Self enthusiasts and fans of the Fitbit or Jawbone. This little app will track everything you do. Find out when and where you are wasting your time online, so that you can make informed decisions to change your work habits.

If you prefer self-recording, try one of the more popular time-tracking applications like Toggl, Harvest, Freshbooks, or Timely. You can set up accounts and bill accordingly. This app lets you record only the time you want, so it’s easy to go off the clock for lunch or running errands.

Group Communication Tools:

A 2010 survey by LexisNexis found that the average worker spent “slightly more than half (51%) of their work day receiving and managing information, rather than actually using information to do their jobs.

We all feel overwhelmed with the amount of incoming and outgoing information required to do our jobs, but putting a better communication process into place with your team or clients can greatly reduce the amount of time you spend on communication. For those with less formal collaboration needs, Ringya specializes in this kind of communication. Described as the “WhatsApp for larger and more diverse communication.”

Other popular up-and-coming tools for collaborative group sharing of tasks and messaging include Slack, Asana, SmartSheet, LiquidPlanner, and Wrike.

For more classic one-on-one collaboration options, stick with the classics: Skype and Google Hangouts should cover most of your business contacts.

Connecting Your Apps Together:

While productivity apps are great, sometime it takes enormous effort to get them to play nicely. One of the best ways to solve this issue is with proven app-connectivity solutions like Zapier and IFTTT. No more switching tab to tab or program to program, you can connect all your apps in one place, like Basecamp, Trello, Skype, Gmail, and Dropbox. A newer addition to productivity apps is Mitra. You can incorporate all your productivity apps together. Create a Trello card while inside Gmail and more.

A lesser known set of productivity tools comes in the Windows 8 Bundle. Most of you are familiar with Windows, but Windows 8 packages a whole new set of apps you may not know about. Unlike third party options, all of the Windows apps are designed to work together. Your contacts, calendar, and multimedia will stay in sync and it’s already included in your purchase - for free.

Audio & Music That Won't Distract You:

Silence isn’t for everyone. If you are like many of us, a little background is good, but lyrics or talk radio can be too distracting.

Try a white noise generator like Noisli. The great thing about this program is that you can customize exactly the type of sound you want and mix and match different items like a DJ. As a bonus, it includes soothing mood lighting. Simply Noise is another option, without any distracting bells and whistles. Just select your preference for white, pink, or brown background sounds and get ready to get back to work.

If you want a little more melody, try Focus@Will. This app gives you a range of music types and tempos that can be played for 60 minute sessions, allowing you to block out noise and listen to music, without the distraction from lyrics.

Just for Fun (Hey, Boredom Is A Problem, Too!):

One of the greatest things about a home office, is that you don’t need to answer to anyone for the supplies and decor you choose. We know these ideas aren’t always practical, but they sure are entertaining. Check out our favorite must-have innovations to make office life interesting:

Productivity Books & Articles:

6 Productivity Books to Focus On:

Getting Things Done

This classic by David Allen is an action-based productivity system. This successful productivity consultant creates “six horizons” to achieve when working on a task. The idea is that you focus on doing and acting, not on remembering what should come next.

Make Your Brain Work

Amy Brann describes those situations we all experience while trying to be productive. Understand how you process information through brain science and the way to get the maximum use out of your faculties for minimum effort.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

This acclaimed resource by Stephen Covey is a lengthy read but worth it. Understand the habits of people who are successful not just at work, but in life as well, and emulate their best ideas.

Creativity on Demand

Michael Gelb will help you ignite and sustain your "fire of genius" with this title. Carefully researched, this is an inspiring read with many practical tips, and is recommended for anyone who wants more creative energy now.

The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg helps you take a serious analysis of your own personal behavior. Less of a productivity guide, than an examination of habits, routine, and triggers; Duhigg helps explain the causes and results of our actions.

The Willpower Instinct

Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal documents her popular course "The Science of Willpower," explaining to readers the science of self-control and how it can be harnessed to improve your health, happiness, and productivity.

6 Of The Best Productivity Articles Ever:

7 Tips to be Productive when Working from Home

Plan your day by realizing that you need to set both work and play time goals. Start the day out right with a great road map and these helpful suggestions.

Relax; You'll Be More Productive

A scientific look at getting more done by working less. For example, "When night shift air traffic controllers were given 40 minutes to nap — and slept an average of 19 minutes — they performed much better on tests that measured vigilance and reaction time."

Productivity Tools and Techniques to Stop Wasting Away Your Workday

Understand how to check your email without spending all day looking at your inbox. Hubspot offers some great ways to sort through and prioritize your data.

Why I Hired a Girl on Craigslist to Slap Me in the Face And How It Quadrupled My Productivity

The story examines the social component of motivation. Inspired by the ever-popular “slap bet”, a writer hires an assistant to keep him on track at all costs.

How to Create a Productive Office Space

While geared towards out-of-home offices, many of these principles apply. The article explains how to create a balanced space that allows for both quiet focus and a healthy amount of interaction with the rest of your environment. A good reminder that even when working from home, communication with others is still important.

8 Strange Rituals of Productive Writers

Sometimes a rigid and scheduled process works well, but sometimes it can create writers block. When looking to bring out your creative genius, try these strange rituals of content creation’s best.


Sometimes it's the little things in life that really add up to a mountain of work over time. There are entire blogs dedicated to little lifehacks and tips, but here are 4 favorites and some other blog posts to get you started...

A simple whiteboard can be the simplest home calendar of all. Refresh it every Sunday night to get a feel for what your week has in store for you. [source: We Have Aars]

You don't always have to buy $30 pieces of plastic to solve problems. Pick up a 10 cent cassette from the thrift shop and use it as a phone support. Retro & simple. [source: Buzzfeed]

Getting tired of unraveling your headphones every time you want to block out noise? Keep things simple with a basic 3M plastic hook on the wall.

If the hardest part of working from home is blocking out your roommates or family members, try grabbing a "Do Not Disturb" sign (they're available on Amazon - no need to steal one from a hotel!).

Looking for more life hacks? Check out these great websites:

With all of these great ideas, you have no excuse not to get started right away. Are you ready? We’ve already set our timer.

What about other ideas? Have you developed a technique for tracking tasks with a grapefruit, or maybe you wrote a workday musical score to increase typing speed?

Share your ideas, hacks, and tips with us at #BuffaloHacks.