7 Tips to Being Productive in Your Home Office
More than 30 million Americans work from home. Around 15.5 million are self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2015. This number was 1 million more than in May 2014. And experts say the number is going to climb. By 2020, a separate study estimates that there will be more than 40% of the American workforce, or 60 million people, who will be independent workers. This includes freelancers, contractors, and temporary employees.
For the past five years, I’ve been one of the self-employed. But when I decided to write about a “how to” on being productive in your home office, I learned a thing or two. The big question is “How do you stay focused and productive while working from home?”
Here are a few of the suggestions I have for you.
While it is tempting to get on your laptop in bed or on the couch when you work from home, this is not a good idea. I read that bedrooms should be for sleeping and sex, but everything else should stop at the door. As an inveterate worrier, I know the danger of bringing work to bed. Why add more stress?
As for the couch, isn’t that where you like to play games or watch TV and surf the internet at the same time? It is too easy to stop the hard stuff and go back to what you are familiar with. Oops.
The best advice I read is to set up an actual office area. If you have a spare room, that’s great. I have been lucky to have had a spare room since I began freelancing. I have a large desk, two monitors, room for my “stuff” on the desk and some wire racks for things I want to keep close at hand. I also have a three-drawer file cabinet and a small one by my desk.
Even if you don’t have a separate room, you can still set up a work area.
You want to think of yourself as a professional and working in an “office” setting is good psychology.
Along the same lines is having a good office chair at that desk. The wrong one will have you thinking about your aching back instead of what you need to do.
Chairs come in a variety of styles. Designers make chairs for people with long thigh bones and people with short thigh bones. You can get one with armrests or not. And the good ones will adjust in just about every conceivable angle.
There are even balancing ball office chairs.
But you might want to forego the chair altogether and opt for a standing desk. These are better on the back, I understand. The thought doesn’t appeal to me, but people in offices swear by them.
MAKE A PLAN
Making a plan was on every checklist I read and, at first, I was sure that I didn’t have one. I don’t make a written plan, but that what those I read say is the best way to be sure you do all you have to do.
If you are working on several jobs at once or are working hourly, having a plan is a must. I played around with the Outlook calendar that tracked hours. It was fun, but I didn’t need it.
When I was a mom working with three kids and a husband to organize, I tried a Franklin planner. In those days (pre-historic, I might add), I worked on a paper calendar. Each person had a different color pen. I kept track of where each needed to be at particular times. I also kept track of what I was doing.
After about a month, I looked over the calendar and got tired reading it. I also wondered if I could use my time better than the amount of time I spent on the thing. I quit using it. I still have it around somewhere.
I do have plans, but I write them on a loose to-do list. I also know pretty much what I need to do each day without having to plan it. If I ever get so busy, I need a better system, I know how to use them.
One suggestion I read was the 1-2-3 method. The Franklin planner suggested this method. You need to create a list of what you want to do the next day before you leave work the day before. After you have created the list, you can mark each activity with a one if you need to do it the next day. Mark the item with a two if you should do it the next day, but it’s okay if it waits until the following day. Three is for things that can wait if you don’t finish the ones and twos. Just be careful not to neglect the three’s altogether.
You can find all sorts of planner samples on the internet. My suggestion is to use the simplest one you can get away with.
THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME – OR IS THERE?
Many people who are self-employed don’t even work from home. They prefer to be in the company of others. Some work in their local coffee shop because the sounds of others around helped them do their work.
In major cities, there is a new movement called co-working. This is great for independent workers who feel isolated working at home alone. Co-working spaces are providing workers spaces to work around others.
One such place is WeWork. This is one of the most popular providers of workspace for independent contractors in certain cities around the world. The company focuses on creating a “collaborative ambiance” including arcades, fresh fruit, and beer on tap. Imagine.
Even the public library can be a desirable place to work.
If you aren’t sure where you work best, try an experiment. Just be sure to give it a fair trial of several days to get used to the routine.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN—OR IS IT?
And speaking of sounds, the writers had definite preferences for the sounds that they chose while working. Like I said some people wanted to be around others in the coffee shop setting.
Other preferred certain kinds of music, their favorite radio station or even certain noises.
I have a son who could not do his homework unless he had his music going full blast. Since I like quiet, I tried to get him to work without the music. He couldn’t. I learned that as long as he was productive, it didn’t matter that he preferred the music.
I found a sound generator online that allows a person to change the volume on the sub-bass to high-treble of a sound to allow for one’s level of hearing. Having listened to too much rock as a young woman, I am now experiencing some hearing loss. This sound generator is great for improving what I can hear. You can find this at myNoise.net. I tried out the rain sounds, but I decided I prefer the sounds of me typing away best. I read it takes several days to get used to this kind of thing.
My next suggestion comes from the voice of experience. If you work from home, and you don’t exercise because you think you are too busy, you will lose muscle tone. Besides taking brain rests or coffee breaks, you need to get out, go for a walk and hit the gym, as well.
There is no specific time you have to do this. Gyms are open 24/7 these days. Do you want to exercise first thing in the morning before you begin work? Great. That’s what I do. You can also plan to exercise in the middle of the day when you get sleepy or after you stop working. You do stop working, don’t you?
I know one person who exercises late, late at night, takes a shower and goes to bed. That works for her. But some people get energized by exercise and can’t relax that fast. They need to exercise at least two to four hours before they go to bed.
Since I have been self-employed, I have had people call me and just start talking without any thought that I might be busy. Others have asked me to go on errands for them.
People who work from home with young children often get interrupted by those sweet things.
If you are serious about working from home, you need to set up boundaries to stop these distractions. This means you might need a babysitter or daycare while you are working. Talk to your friends and family. Explain to them that you are not available while you are working unless there is blood or fire. They wouldn’t just call you up at work to shoot the breeze. Well, you are at work.
How do you handle friends who call to chat? This takes some tact. You need to apologize and say you can’t talk to them now, but what would be a good time to call back in the evening. Then call them back. I know how hard that is, but others don’t understand this unless you say something.
Here then are seven ideas on how to stay productive while working at home. What can you add to this list?
Ann Mullen has been a “paid writer” for the last 20-something years since she began writing for a newspaper in South Texas in the early 1990s. From 2011 through 2015, Ann worked with several marketing agencies where she learned she loves the creative side of inbound marketing. Researching, creating gripping text and coming up with engaging images for the various media are her passion.
She has now struck out on her own as a freelance writer. You can find her by emailing her at email@example.com, on Facebook, on Twitter at Ann Mullen@AnnMullen4, on Google+ or by calling 512 278 8288.