Maintaining Productivity in a Home Office

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(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.

23 Responses to “Maintaining Productivity in a Home Office”

  1. Boris Said says:

    These are some great tips for maintaining productivity. I do have to agree with exercise though. Although at the beginning it may seem like it is hindering you, but in the long run it will boost your performance.

    Boris Said’s last blog post..Boris Said Daytona 500

  2. Triphow Ling says:

    Nice article, Jon. And glad to see you’re still on the earth, Theda. I thought you moved to Mars a couple of months back. :)

    Maintaining discipline is the hardest thing when you’re working from home. You tend to slack off, and it creeps up on you real slow. Only way to guard against that is to fix a schedule and stick to it.

    • Theda K. says:

      Hi Ling! I know, I know. I did drop off for far too long. I think about Crayon Writer everyday, and I even write posts in my head, but then I don’t do it later. I’ll write an update soon…but for a quick update, I got a job! Yay for my pocketbook! I’m just getting adjusted to a routine, though.

      Email me whenever you get concerned, though. Or Friend me on Facebook.

  3. Mikael says:

    Well even though there is nothing new to this list it is always a good thing to get a reminder. You can never hear a good thing to often and as many coaches say: Repetition is the mother of all skills :)

  4. Chelle says:

    I’ve been working mostly only from home the past year now and you really do have some great tips. Exercising is probably one of the best because it clears your mind so well and lets you focus and be more productive when you work.

    Chelle’s last blog post..Valentine Poems: Writing From the Heart

  5. Eren Mckay says:

    Great tips- definitely going to implement most of them. The only one that I can’t guarantee doing is the whole dressing up thing. I love being in my pajamas that’s the real fun part of working at home-LOL
    Kidding aside- the tip about music is awesome. I started doing this a few months ago. I only put very calm instrumental music and it helps calm me down and get the inspiration going.
    Thanks again,
    Eren Mckay

    Eren Mckay’s last blog post..Fresh Homemade Lemonade Recipe: How to Make Lemonade So Great that No One Stops On the First Glass

  6. derl says:

    those are all good tips, but the main one for me is i always get distracted with different websites and blogs and hours go by without getting anything done

  7. hi Theda and Jon,
    Great suggestions!
    I think the best idea is making a list, and then crossing things off as you get them done.
    I can’t agree on the music as I work best when it is quiet, and my concentration suffers when there is music… but that’s just me.
    I think the hardest thing is that I have to spend a fair amount of time on the computer for work – and the internet is only one click away. :)
    ~ Steve, the trade show guru

  8. angelawd says:

    Great ideas – although I find that I can’t concentrate as well with music, unless I’m writing a fiction piece in which the music adds the mood.

  9. Matt McGuire says:

    Great suggestions. I worked from home for about two years and it was tough. The pearks were great, but I found that never got out of my PJs and I ended up working more hours.

  10. Penny says:

    Good tips to be productive even if you don’t work from home.

  11. Great tips. I work at home too and there are just days where I want to stay in my PJ’s to work but I know that I have to get dressed otherwise I know that it’ll just go down hill and soon I won’t even know day from night.

    Sally @ Fast flat sale’s last blog post..Sell your Flat fast with Fast Flat Sale

  12. zaposlovanje says:

    Thank for the tips. I’ve seen some of these tips already, but one can never get too reminded about stuff like that. Especially me right now, when i’m just planing on writing my degree..

  13. This was a pretty interesting post. Just working from home for a day has always been difficult for me, which is why I’ve never really considered doing it full time.

    “Getting dressed” is an interesting point, and one I never really considered. I guess if you “look” like you’re at work it would certainly affect your mindset.

    Thanks for the great post, I may try some of these in the future when I’m working from the couch.

  14. That’s a really good set of tips, it’s so easy to start work, get distracted and think that it’s OK because you can make it up later… then you end up working until midnight!

    Kat The Picture Framer’s last blog post..The Biggest Picture Framing Mistakes

  15. 0845 number says:

    Thanks for this article. There are definitely tips in here that I will use. I find I’m never very self-motivated but I will let you know how I get on after following these tips.

    Thanks.

  16. The worst thing is when you’re not alone at home and other people can’t respect the fact that although you’re ‘at home’ you’re also ‘at work’.

  17. Great advice! My friend works from home and has a hard time focusing since his bedroom is also his office. I’ll definitely send this site to him so he can hopefully improve his routine and efficiency.

  18. it’s so easy to start work, get distracted and think that it’s OK because you can make it up later.thank u for sharing.

  19. Justin says:

    Thanks for the tips, try and use this when i work at my home during the weekends.

    Thanks again for sharing

  20. Melanie Long says:

    i always listen to instrumental music whenever i want to relax.;”.

  21. instrumental music is soothing to the ear and is quite relaxing”,’

  22. Also, you can always keep snacks and drinks handy and close by, to stop you from leaving your work area and encounter distractions