By Debra Auerbach
In today's technology-driven workforce, it's easier than ever to set up a home office and work remotely. There are a lot of reasons people work from home: They move to a new city but remain with the same company; they have children and can't pay for a full week of day care; they are self-employed. Working from home has its benefits: They have more flexibility, they can spend more time with their children, and they more easily avoid common workplace distractions.
Yet those advantages can just as easily become disadvantages. No set schedule, personal distractions and less face-to-face communication with co-workers can suck the life out of your productivity. In fact, a recent CareerBuilder survey found that 17 percent of Americans who telecommute at least part of the time spend one hour or less per day on work. So how can you avoid being one of the 17 percent? Here are some tips for making working from home work for you.
Create a daily schedule and stick to it
While increased flexibility is a benefit of working from home, it's important that you still have some structure to your day. Create a schedule that works best for you and stick to it so you form a daily routine. Consider both personal and professional factors when creating the schedule. Do you like to work out? Do you have daily check-in calls with co-workers? Do you need to pick up your kids at a certain time? Then work around those factors to plan your day. Also, determine the time of day when you are most productive, whether it's right when you wake up or early afternoon, and designate it as the time to accomplish your most important tasks.
Merrily Orsini, president and CEO of Internet marketing firm corecubed, which operates as a remote workplace, also suggests implementing a project management program, such as BaseCamp, that does some of the work for you by assigning tasks and timelines.
Share your schedule with family and friends
Often, one of the biggest distractions is family and friends -- they assume that since you're working from home, you have time to meet them for coffee, run errands or do household chores. To ensure others around you respect your unique work situation, share your schedule with them and be firm about it. "Tell family and friends you have business hours," says Karen Southall Watts, consultant, coach and speaker on the topic of working from home. "Don't allow those around you to assume that because you're working from home you have endless 'free time' to entertain drop-in visitors or run their errands."
Write out your to-do list the night before
In order to hit the ground running each day, take time at the end of each day to write your to-do-list. "Plan in advance the three to four tasks that you must accomplish, and focus solely on those," says Tim Parkin, president of Parkin Web Development, based in Orlando, Fla. "Be sure to include any fixed events such as lunch meetings, conference calls, etc. Forming this plan the night before is a good exercise to clear your mind from the day and be prepared to tackle the next in the most efficient manner." Parkin recommends referring to your list throughout the day to help stay on track.
Deal with distractions effectively
While working at home may help you avoid common workplace interruptions, there is a whole other set of distractions one can encounter when telecommuting. The best way to avoid disturbances is to set up a home office that resembles one found in the workplace. If possible, find an area with a door that can be shut, and don't be afraid to use a "privacy please" sign for extra emphasis during those high-productivity hours or while on a conference call.
Also, rid your home office of any distractions such as TVs or pets. "I know it's hard, but sometimes you have to switch off the television," says Louise Gaillard, writer, book production consultant and owner of One Stop Books. "It is a drag on your productivity, especially when your favorite show is on. Turn on music instead; listening to your favorite playlist helps make you more productive."
Kids are often a source of distraction, so scheduling them into your workday will help you avoid getting off track. "If you have kids coming home from school in the afternoon, stop working when they arrive, and spend an hour with them," says E. William Horne, owner of William Warren Consulting, who works from home himself. "Ask them about their schoolwork, cover the homework that they're going to do, and help them plan how to get it done. Then kick them out."
There are some good kinds of distractions; ones that can help with productivity by breaking up your day. If you sit and stare at a computer all day long without getting up or taking a few minutes to recharge, you're bound to lose focus. Parkin suggests taking breaks by getting up, having a drink and walking around for a few minutes. That way, when you get back to work you'll be more focused on what needs to be done.
Parkin also recommends getting personal tasks accomplished early in the day so they don't become distractions. "If you're an early bird, wake up sooner to take care of personal matters first thing in the morning. Not only will your chores be out of the way, but your mind will be freed up to focus on the work at hand."
When the workday ends, stop working
CareerBuilder's survey also found that 35 percent of telecommuters work eight or more hours. That's often because they don't have a concrete end to their day, so they end up finishing projects or answering emails well into the evening. Horne recommends establishing a reasonable and realistic quitting time, and sticking to it. "It's important to feel like you're 'off the clock' at a reasonable hour, because you'll always have things that you couldn't get to today that must wait. And it's also important -- in fact, very important -- to realize that you're not Superman and can't do everything in one day."
Debra Auerbach is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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