(Thank you to Jon for such a wonderful guest post!)
You’ve taken the plunge and decided to join the growing number of men and women who work at home. You’ve redesigned your work-space, updated your computer system, and put in a new phone line, and maybe a fax as well.
These are all important steps, but whether you’re a consultant, a freelancer, a student engaged in online education, or a contract worker doing something like medical billing, there are certain patterns you’ll need to set in order to remain productive when your commute is only a few feet, or a flight of stairs.
Here are some tips for staying in “work mode” during the work day, and maintaining your focus as well:
- Keep Regular Hours: “Regular” in this case does not necessarily mean 8:00 – 5:00, unless you have a spouse or child who needs to follow that sort of schedule, in which case doing so may be easier for you. It does mean keep your hours consistent. You can work from 6:00 AM – 3:00 PM or 10:30 AM – 7:30 PM, or any other set of hours that works for you, but you’ll be most productive if you figure out a schedule that works for you, and stick to it.
- Get Dressed: There’s no doubt that one of the more attractive elements of working from home is the ability to work in your pajamas, but you’ll be far better off if you actually get dressed every morning. Unless you’re meeting with clients or colleagues, you don’t have to dress in corporate drag, but you should make the effort to put on real clothing – it puts you in a “working” state of mind.
- Make Lists: Whether you keep a simple list of goals for the month, week and/or day, or plan each hour of your day, keeping a list will help you stay on task, and account for your time, which is especially necessary if you bill per hour. If you forget to make a list in the morning, do it before you stop work for the day, and include things you already accomplished, then cross them off. It will help keep you feeling productive.
- Close the Door: Even if you live alone, closing your office door when you’re working can help reinforce that “work mode” mind set, by preventing you from seeing the living room rug that needs to be vacuumed, or the big screen television that is calling you name. If you do have a spouse or children hovering, it reminds them – and you – that you mustn’t be disturbed. At the end of the day, closing your office door behind you also helps signal that you are “leaving” work, and reinforces the necessary separation we must all learn to make.
- Turn Off the Phone and Instant Messaging: Text, Twitter, IM, and even normal phone calls are all time-eaters. If you routinely have calls to return, designate “call back” hours, during which you return messages, and list those hours on your outgoing voicemail messages, so you’re not constantly answering the phone. Keeping the text and internet messaging/social messaging tools turned off also keeps you focused on work. Give yourself a limited amount of time to interact online during the work day, rather than having things open all the time.
- Music Helps: When you’re working without the buzz of water cooler chatter and other people’s conversations in your ear, the quiet can feel oppressive at times. Pop a CD in, or fire up iTunes and set it to shuffle, or even just turn on a radio. It will help you stay motivated, and also help make you feel less isolated. If music doesn’t do it for you, consider listening to podcasts, or talk radio.
- Keep things Tidy: We may joke that clean desk is the sign of a sick mind, but the reality is that tidying your workspace at the end of the day, makes things seem much less overwhelming the next morning. Coming into your office to a clear desk allows you to get right into your work each day. Make end-of-day clean-up a habit. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Exercise: A little bit of physical activity during the day helps boost energy. Whether you go to the gym before you begin working, or take your dog for a walk around the block during lunch, be sure to get some exercise in every day. This will also help you feel less antsy about being inside the rest of the time.
As we adjust to this economic downturn, many of us will be working from home, either to form our own niches, or to add secondary income streams to our existing jobs. Remembering that it’s still a job, even if the boss is you, and setting schedules and limits, will help you maximize your work hours, and minimize any stress.