Many people would love to work from home. You can wake up whenever you want. You can spend the day in your PJs. You can work from the couch. And your schedule can be as wide open as you like.
While it’s true that working from home has its advantages — flexibility being a big one — it’s not the paradise you might think it is.
Distractions abound, especially when family members are home — or others call or come over, thinking that you’re simply not that busy. (Unfortunately, many people don’t take working from home very seriously.) There’s always a household chore that needs to be done. And you don’t get paid for resting, so you’re often working longer hours.
Here are seven tips that take these concerns into account and truly work.
1. Understand that productivity isn’t one-size-fits-all. “People need to develop systems and strategies that fit with how they work,” said Leslie Truex, author of The Work-At-Home Success Bible and owner of WorkAtHomeSuccess.com.
For example, Truex is a visual person, so filing and storing items isn’t helpful for her. “I have to have tools and strategies that keep things where I can see them without clutter,” she said. She also prefers web-based tools, like an e-calendar, which she can access from her phone when she’s out and about.
2. Give yourself structure. Working from home means that you’re mixing personal items with professional ones. “If there are no homes for things, then it’s likely items will end up landing where they don’t belong,” according to Sara Caputo, MA, productivity coach, consultant and author of the e-book The Productivity Puzzle. That’s why it’s important to have a separate, organized area for your work. Creating a sense of structure includes everything from your filing system to your calendar.
3. Set a clear schedule every day. “Making sure you have a well-functioning road map for your day is what I consider a key to success in business and life,” Caputo said. This is especially helpful when you get distracted, because you know exactly where to pick up or the next thing you need to work on.
4. Rank your priorities. When there’s a long list of to-dos, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. What do you tackle first? Second? Or third?
Truex employs an interesting strategy: “I rank importance by what will make money the quickest, so activities that most directly result in income [such as] direct services or marketing are listed first and activities that don’t result in income or at least not in immediate future income go later on the list [such as] busy work [or] filing.”
Other entrepreneurs start with tasks they find most fascinating. Or they undertake the toughest tasks first.
5. Eliminate interruptions. Identify your specific interruptions during the day, and figure out how to eliminate them. For instance, you might hire a babysitter for your kids for several hours a day, let your phone go to voicemail, create a separate work area and even post a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so neighbors know you’re working, Truex suggested.
6. Get familiar with your energy cycles. Caputo suggested arranging your schedule so your energy levels match your tasks. For example, is your best time to interact with people in the morning or the afternoon? When are you most creative? When does your energy inevitably dip?
“It will take you much less time to get things done when it’s in alignment with your natural rhythms,” she said.
7. Schedule time for planning. Take some time at the end of the day and week to clear out office clutter and plan ahead. “When working from home, it’s easy to skip this one because someone needs you or the laundry is done and the thought ‘I’ll clean up my space later and put those files away when I’m done with X, Y or Z’ probably creeps up more often than not,” Caputo said.
For instance, if you’d like to stop working at 5 p.m. each day, set your alarm to 4:40 so you have 20 minutes to clean your space, clear your inbox and create your to-do list for the next day, she said. “This will help eliminate the nagging feeling that you need to get back into your office after dinner or after the kids go down to do ‘just that one last thing.’”
What strategies help you get organized and work from home productively?