There are so many people who believe that working from home is a “dream” situation. The reality is that while working from home does offer you some flexibility and freedoms you can’t get in a traditional office, there are challenges that could turn working remotely into a nightmare situation. At the top of this list is, “How do you stay productive without the discipline of an office setting – especially when so many distractions are right at your fingertips?”
I’ve been working from a home office for over 25 years. Here are some tips I’ve learned from that experience:
1. Create a consistent schedule – and stick to it.
Consistency in your daily work routine helps you feel organized and increases productivity. Start at the same time each day. Plan your day to include your work responsibilities and deadlines as well as recurring and one-time personal commitments. Prepare for meetings and telephone calls just as you would in an office. Edit your written work carefully. And as you finish your day, prepare a ‘to do’ list for tomorrow.
Then just stop. Avoid the temptation to drag a few minor items to your living room to work on while you relax in the evening. Remember, you are working from home – not living in your office.
2. Block out a specific space to work – and protect it.
Block out your work space. This is your home office and it should be treated as a place reserved for business. Piling personal bills, mail, shopping lists, and your child’s school science project on your work desk is a recipe for distraction and inefficiency. In short, block out your time; block out your space.
3. Prioritize your tasks based on when you’re most effective.
Are you a morning person like me? If so, schedule your most important and creative tasks in the morning. Perhaps you operate better after lunch. If so, plan your most demanding tasks to be completed in the afternoon. There are likely going to be other, less-demanding tasks that you can accomplish during your “less effective” time periods. But it’s important to understand when you do your best work and which tasks are your priorities so you know when you can give them your fullest attention.
4. Keep focused on what you need to accomplish.
Be ever mindful of the pull of the ‘distraction box’ – also known as computers, tablets and handhelds. Never forget that just because you are alone, you are still working. Limit the amount of browser tabs you have open, and keep instant messaging services turned off. If music or television will distract you, leave them off. Focus your time, your energy and your attention. My favorite practice is limiting what’s on my desk to what I have to do right now. EVERYTHING else get put in a place where it can’t catch my eye until the task at hand is completed.
5. Turn off your email.
That’s right. I said it! The big heresy of business.
Consider starting your day by checking your email and limiting your start-of-day time to the most important messages that demand a response right now. Then turn it off for a few hours and focus on other important tasks that have to be done today. Check messages again before lunch, and then again at the end of the day.
Brendon Burchard – one of my favorite business coaches – refers to email as a wonderful system for other people to interrupt what you need to get done. Be respectful of the needs of others, but limit how much of your day you let get consumed responding to their email needs.
Try this trick. Plan the last hour of your day to respond to email. You’ll be amazed how efficient you can be when you are trying to shut-down and enjoy your evening.
Working from home can be great, but you really need to work at the way you manage your time for it to be the dream scenario that you want it to be. Common sense is pretty much all that’s needed to make it work. But as in so many areas of our personal and business lives, common sense seems to be in short supply.
Make common sense common practice, and if you’re like me you’ll love the flexibility of working from home.
John J. Hall, CPA
John J. Hall, CPA, is an author, speaker and results expert who presents around the world at conventions, corporate meetings and association events.
Throughout his 35-year career as a business consultant, corporate executive and professional speaker, John has helped organizations and individuals achieve measurable results. He inspires audience members in corporations, not-for-profit organizations and professional associations to step up, take action and “do what you can.”