The following is a guest post from Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists:
More and more of us are enjoying the freedom and flexibility of working from home. But, working from home also comes with it’s own set of challenges. Distractions abound when you mix your two worlds.
Here are my Top Five tips to make your time working from home as productive as possible.
1. Be disciplined about your schedule
Each day before you begin, use your notebook or calendar to set a schedule for the day, in the same way you would if you were working at an office. This is more than a To Do List, this is a rough “sketching out” of the actual hours of your day.
The thing is, when you work from home, “working hours” can easily become a slippery slope. It’s crucial to maintain time boundaries and decide what hours you’ll work each day. Once you’ve worked those hours, stop. (Yes, I know it’s hard. Do it anyway.) By maintaining these time boundaries, you honor your own mental health and your relationships with your significant other and your children. Resist the urge to let work seep into your every waking hour.
2. Build in breaks and take advantage of being at home
Come on! Working from home is awesome. It has tremendous upsides. Let’s take advantage of them, but responsibly.
Each day, I make two To Do Lists, one for work and one for home-related items. During the day, after I work for 90-120 minutes, I need to get up and move around or various parts of me will fall asleep. I use that break time to do a quick chore from my home list. Then, when I return to work at my desk, I’m smugly satisfied that I’ve been productive during my short time away.
In a long phone meeting? Put on your headset and do a (silent and) mindless chore like folding laundry. This is, of course, if you’re contributing to the meeting while doing so, and often, this is totally possible. For some sick reason, I get a kick out of folding clothes while talking to high-level executives. Seriously, if you knew who I’ve spoken to while folding underwear, you’d laugh.
3. Define your workspace
A great temptation when working from home can be to work in a makeshift space. Perched on the side of the kitchen cabinet, legs facing one direction and your body another? Leaning over your computer on your bed? You know who you are. Don’t risk your physical health by working in ways that are tough on your body. That’ll just make you cranky later. Make sure you’re comfortable and working in an ergonomically-correct form.
Honor your work by having all the tools you need to do your job, plus some pretty office supplies that inspire you. Reduce the clutter around you, which includes “visual clutter” (close your closet door!), so you can concentrate.
4. Vary where you work
Another huge advantage of working from home is that you aren’t stuck in your cubicle. Use this as a opportunity to vary where you work throughout the day. If you have a laptop, you might choose to spend the mornings at your desk and your afternoons outside at the patio table. Varying your work surroundings will keep your mind and body fresh.
I purchased this fantastic laptop desk, giving me the ability to work part of my day from my favorite living room chair without hurting my neck and shoulders. (Bonus: this “desk” even has a little drawer, perfect for sticky notes and pens. Or candy bars you don’t want your husband to find.)
You might also consider having a space you always move to when you have long phone meetings, one where you won’t be tempted to answer emails or browse the web while you’re supposed to be listening. Folding laundry is one thing, but composing email messages while you’re supposed to be listening is another.
5. Turn off the TV and home phone
It’s tempting to have “Law & Order” or “The View” on in the background of your work (I’m a huge offender here) and sometimes it’s fine, depending on the kind of task you’re working on at that moment. Sometimes, though, the background noise can be unconsciously draining.
Try starting your day off with a scheduled 90-minute period of time where you work in silence on your highest priority items. No TV, no music, home phone line turned off. Most importantly, and this is really tough: don’t check your email. (Yes, I said it.) You’ll be surprised how much you’ll get accomplished in that short period of time. And because that work is concentrated on your most important tasks, that feeling of productivity will carry you through the rest of the day.
Working from home should be a blessing to our productivity, not a curse. I think that, with some strategies and discipline, you can have the best of both your work and home worlds.
Do you work at home? How do you make sure your time is productive?
Working from her home office in the San Francisco Bay Area, Meredith Schwartz is the Founder and Editor of Penelope Loves Lists, an organization inspiration blog. Meredith and her fellow readers make no apologies for their love of lists, notebooks, pretty office supplies and all manner of cool organizational tools. Are you a Penelope?