I’ve been fortunate to be able to work at home a good portion of my career. Fortunate is probably not the right word, as it took a series of tactical moves, planning, and willingness to take risks to get to this point. Even though working at home sounds pretty awesome, it’s not for everyone. You need a lot of discipline and you must set up the proper work environment to avoid going stir crazy or getting nothing done.
I thought I would share some of my “rules to work by” that I use to stay productive while working at home:
- Treat this as a “real” job, and stick to a schedule. Whether you are working for yourself, or working for someone else, just because you are sitting at home doesn’t mean you can sleep late, have a long breakfast, take a break every 30 minutes, have a long lunch, go to the gym for an hour (or whatever), play with the kids all day, etc. For most of us, working Monday through Friday with the goal of getting 40 hours of work done in that period is a good standard schedule, so do that or pick a different schedule, and stick to it. Try to get 4 hours of work done before lunch, limit your lunch break to no more than an hour, and get 4 hours of work done after lunch. If you want to go to the gym, fine, do it during your one hour lunch break and eat lunch at your desk after.
- Prepare a good work space. You probably need a desk, your computer, a comfortable chair, and some room to work in an area that is designated as your “office”. It should feel like an office and you should do everything you can to make it productive for you, with no distractions. Don’t try sitting on the couch with your laptop on your lap, at least not often. There are too many distractions in that environment.
- Have a remote workspace option. The neighborhood coffee shop is a good place to go to escape the distractions of home or family, but there are many distractions. Many towns have great options for shared office space you can rent by the hour or for a small fee each month.
- Tell your family when you are working. Perhaps you have kids at home, or a spouse. Let them know the times that you will be working and that you should not be disturbed then. Close your office door and block out the distractions. Plan for a specific break time when you will come out of your office and socialize with them.
- Maintain normal work habits. I don’t like to set an alarm unless I have to, but I give myself 30 minutes from the time I wake up to be working. I take a shower, shave, brush teeth, put on clothes (maybe not pants right away : ) just like I would if I was about to drive to an office. Breakfast is something quick that I might eat while working at my computer. Maintain the same routine every day.
- No TV! You can’t watch TV at a regular office, can you? Then don’t do it at your home office. I have a rule that the TV doesn’t come on until after my work day is done. There is no such thing as a quick TV break — it will end up much longer than planned.
- Cabin Fever. If you don’t talk to anyone all day long, I tend to get a little cabin fever and crave a little human interaction. Going out to lunch helps, as does using a remote work space. Meetups are another great way to socialize and learn at the same time.
- Schedule in some research and learning time. If you are working for someone else, you need to get your assigned work done, but you will be a better employee if you keep up with the latest industry news and trends, so it’s OK so spend a few minutes each day surfing the internet in a productive way. Likewise, if working for yourself, you don’t want to fall behind the latest state of the art techniques in your field.
- Be your own CEO. Hold yourself accountable. Look at what you accomplish each day and imagine reporting your daily or weekly status to a boss. Would he or she be pleased with your work? You can even use a spouse or friend as a stand-in for the “boss”.