As I’m writing this post, it’s snowing outside my window, and I’m thinking, “I’m so glad I work from home and don’t have to go out in that storm.”
A short commute to work is one of the advantages of having an at-home office. My Grandma used to laugh when I told her, “It took me about 10 seconds to get to work today.” I would joke about minor delays caused by my tripping on the stairs or running into clutter in the hallway.
But there are definitely some challenges to working from home. When I first started my career as a Virtual Assistant, I would often get distracted by household chores or social visits and put off my work until the last minute. It can take a while to get a work-life balance established when both work and life are in the same place.
Here are some ways you can enjoy the freedom and flexibility of your at-home office and still be productive:
1. Be kind and have boundaries.
When you work from home, sometimes it’s tempting to procrastinate and end up racing to meet a deadline. Or you might feel guilty about saying no to a dinner invitation because you can just stay up late to finish your work.
But that kind of schedule is tough to maintain and can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. Now that virtual careers are more common than they used to be, I find people are usually understanding when I say I need to decline an invitation because of work. Maintaining these boundaries is a kindness to yourself and others. When you do take time away from your desk, you’ll have more of yourself to give to your friends and loved ones.
2. Organize your day.
In keeping with the idea of maintaining boundaries, it often helps to develop a work routine. By blocking out chunks of time devoted to certain tasks, you can map out when you’re available for housework, socializing, and family time.
Here are some tools that can help organize your schedule:
Google Calendar: A free online calendar where you can keep track of events or deadlines and set reminders for yourself. Also available as an app for Android or iOS.
Wunderlist: A free online account where you can create to-do lists and reminders. App can be downloaded and synced on all your devices.
3. Get dressed for success.
Years ago my parents gave me a pair of cozy flannel pajamas for Christmas, and when I opened the gift, my Dad said, “Work clothes!” Yep, I had gotten into the habit of rolling out of bed and not bothering to get dressed. My clients all lived out of town, and Skype wasn’t invented yet, so I wasn’t worried about anyone seeing me. Sometimes I even forgot to brush my teeth because I’d just dive into my tasks.
Everyone is different, so I hesitate to prescribe a certain way of heading into your virtual work day. If you like to eat breakfast before work, by all means do so. If you like to get a bit of work done in your PJs before you eat breakfast, you can do that too. But it will do wonders for your frame of mind and productivity if you set a time in the morning to get dressed and ready to face the world… or the courier delivery person who unexpectedly shows up at the door.
4. Have backup.
When working from home, it can be scary when the power goes out or the Internet isn’t working… and I shudder to think of those times when the computer crashes. Thankfully there are many tech tools we can use as backup.
I’m a big fan of cloud-based services like Google Docs and Dropbox for backing up files. Sometimes I even pop my works-in-progress into a Gmail draft for extra backup. After my iMac computer crashed a few years ago, I also invested in an external hard drive so that I wouldn’t lose everything again.
In a post titled “Working from Home? Here are 6 Tips to a Productive Day at the (Home) Office,”
Jennee Rasavong recommends having the ability to tether to your cellphone data in case of an Internet outage.
It’s also a good idea to locate an alternate Wi-Fi location where you can work if the power goes out in your house and you need to be online.
5. Be comfortable in your space.
In order to thrive in your at-home office, you need to feel comfortable in it. A dedicated work station is important, but if it feels cramped and cluttered, you won’t want to be there.
I enjoy having Wi-Fi and a portable computer desk in my home because when my husband is at work, I can take my laptop into the living room and sit by the patio doors. Alternatively, I can retreat to a separate room that serves as my at-home office if I need privacy.
The great thing about working from home is you have freedom about the kind of chair and desk you choose. A blog post titled “5 Tips for Working at Home Effectively” recommends the InMovement Standing Desk that can be adjusted from a sitting to standing position. This type of desk allows more range of motion and can help you avoid the discomfort of sitting for extended periods of time.
6. Batch emails and social media.
I have one of those “Do it now” personalities, and my greatest loss of productivity happens when I answer every email or social media notification as it comes. But I’ve finally discovered the beauty of batching. By checking and answering emails only at certain times of the day or at certain time intervals, I find I can focus on the tasks at hand without getting distracted. It also helps me give more thought to my replies instead of hurriedly answering.
7. Take regular breaks.
When I was taking some computer courses at a local college, my instructor recommended that we use the 20-20-20 rule to prevent eye strain. The Canadian Association of Optometrists describes this rule as “Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.” It’s great advice for those of us who work on computers most of the day.
It’s also important to get up and move around regularly. I have a bad knee that starts complaining when I sit too long, so it’s an automatic reminder to get up from my desk and walk around every half-hour. A stopwatch or time tracking tool can also help you remember to take breaks.
And when you feel like you’ve been working alone too long and need some human contact, a phone call or coffee with a friend can be rejuvenating. I have a friend I call once a week to shoot the breeze around lunchtime, and by organizing my days, I pinpoint certain times when I can commit to planning a visit with someone.
Well, it looks like the snow has stopped falling in my neck of the woods, but I’m still glad I don’t have to drive home from work. After 17 years of working in an at-home office, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
What are some tips or tools that have helped you thrive when working from home?
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