More and more people are realizing the benefits of working from home and making the transition into a virtual work environment. The core benefits are obvious, but there are also pitfalls to avoid. The biggest is hitting unproductive roadblocks when you’re in full control (and fully accountable) for your own schedule.
So what are the best ways to stay productive when working from home? Here are my top pieces of advice for anyone working from home and wanting to maintain a productive virtual work environment!
Define a real office space
When working from home, it’s ideal to have a defined and closed off environment that is designated as your work space. I have been guilty of not following this very advice, and can tell you that when you blur the lines between what area is for work and what area is for living, you do neither efficiently in those spaces.
For example, I used to work from the living room sofa. It was comfortable and convenient. But I found it difficult to unplug each evening because sitting in the living room made me feel like I needed to be doing work. It’s funny how easily we are trained!
While a true room to call your office is the best case scenario (for tax purposes too), this additional space is not always available in a busy home. Find an area that you do not tend to use for other “living” at least on a regular basis. Maybe this is a guest room, your dining room table that is only used a few other times a year, or a nook in your bedroom or finished basement that can accommodate a small desk. Just because your office environment is virtual, doesn’t mean it needs to be portable! Establish roots and you will be amazed how much more “grounded” you feel when working from home each day.
Limit your “social” visitors
When you work from home, people can often mistake what you do during the day for sitting around watching soap operas and eating Bon Bon’s. Work of all types and magnitudes can and does occur from people’s homes every day.
While I strive to make my home a relaxing space during my off hours, I am also a nose-to-the-grindstone type of worker when I need to be. The precious hours I dedicate to work are easily disrupted by a social phone call or pop-in visitor. Beyond the actual time conversing, I also lose the time it takes to get back into the work mindset.
Just because you’re at home during the day, doesn’t mean you are available for a mid-afternoon coffee date any more than people who work in a traditional office environment. My advice – schedule even your social appointments like work appointments. You will see how they add up throughout the week and steal productive hours from your day. If possible, save them for the evenings or weekends just like most other people do!
Don’t waste work hours on too many personal tasks
I have the tendency to want to multi-task (even though I know this is not an effective use of time). When working from home, I’m always finding household chores vying for my attention. I can lose hours of my workday to sweeping floors, tidying up and doing laundry. Here and there, these tasks can be fit in when I need a break from writing and help me to free up my evenings for more family time. But I try not to allow them to eat up more than a total of ½ hour of my day.
Another big time eraser is running personal errands. If I tack on grocery shopping after a client meeting, I lose at least another hour of my day by the time I can sit down and get in the work zone again. Inevitably such personal tasks may need to occur on work hours, but try to resist the temptation to use them as a way to procrastinate completing the bigger work projects you are simply trying to avoid.
Meet with clients outside the home
It’s a good argument that getting clients to come to you for meetings is the epitome of efficiency – but is it? I highly discourage hosting client meetings from your home. When you meet in a neutral space like a coffee shop or café, you both have the ability to make an exit whenever you need to.
In contrast, when you invite someone into your work space, you become a hostage to however long they wish to chat. Also, a home environment feels more casual and invites people to stray from business conversations or arrive late because they figure you’re going to be there anyways. All of these little things add up and eat away at your efficiency, leaving you less time for personal time at the end of the day.
Get help with childcare
If you are a hybrid mom or dad who works from home, there can be a lot of pressure to save money on childcare by handling it yourself since you’re =home during the day. The fact is that you already are saving a good bit of money by working from home and it’s not in the best interest of you or your children to try and juggle their care with your work. Someone will always lose.
When my son stopped sleeping the majority of the day, I realized I needed help with childcare. I was never fully present with him or my work. We have a nice schedule where I get four dedicated work days a week and he gets to see a variety of children his age and loving adults who offer him great care. The money I make during the hours he is in care more than offsets the investment. Plus, I am able to dedicate much needed attention to my first baby – my business – which all around makes me a happy mama!
Remember to strive for balance and flexibility – but it’s a work in progress!
Finally and most importantly, be reasonable with expectations for what can be accomplished in a day. Your workday is meant for work, but it should still be enjoyable. And working from home is a real treat that not everyone will get to experience!
Distractions, unexpected illnesses and other setbacks will occur, believe me. They do for everyone. Foremost, try to keep your sense of balance – and humor – before you try to do it all!
If you work from home, how do you preserve your productivity and avoid distractions? Share your ideas in the comments below!