How to Work at Home and Stay Productive

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Every Thursday night, I pack up my laptop and files and tote them home with me for Work from Home Friday. At first, it took some getting used to. Now I find I’m much more productive when I work from home. I still value my time in the office – it’s easier to have an impromptu discussion in the kitchen if you’re all in the same kitchen – but I consider Fridays to be “Get Things Done” day. Here’s how I do it:

Set Up a Real Home Office
I don’t have kids and my cats sleep most of the day, so I don’t have those distractions, but I still prefer to work in my home office rather than at the kitchen table or on the couch. For one thing, I hate typing on laptops, so I turn on my laptop for reference, but do the bulk of my work on my home computer and upload it to the office server. I’m also more tempted to turn on the TV or wander off if I work outside my office.

Get Your Coworkers on IM or Skype
My office already uses IM to communicate while we’re at work, so we’re also on IM at home. Skype is growing in popularity for regular telecommuters because it allows for a free virtual water cooler. If you don’t have either, stay in touch by email and phone when you have questions.

Train Your Pets and Humans
When I first started working from home, I had just finished grad school, so the cats figured I would interact with them as much as before. It took some time, but they’ve now learned that they can’t jump on my keyboard while I work or attack me when I’m on the phone. Until your pets learn this lesson, save documents often and invest in a phone with a mute button. Humans may be harder to train, but if you have kids old enough to understand, let them know that you shouldn’t be disturbed except in a real emergency (define emergency for them.) Check in every hour or so when you get up to stretch.

Don’t Become the Neighborhood Gal Friday
If your neighbors learn you work from home, they may ask to have packages delivered to you when they’re not home, or drop by for coffee unannounced, or ask you to watch their kids while they run to the store. The answer to all of these is no (unless you frequently have packages delivered to them.) Gently remind them that you are actually working and have deadlines to meet or your employer won’t continue to employ you. That said, I’ve been know to use my “lunch hour” to run errands on Friday morning when I get them done faster and then have the rest of the day to concentrate.

Start on Time
This may not matter to some people, but I find it easier to get into “work mode” if I maintain the same general hours I do in the office. I might start a little earlier or work a little later, but I don’t stretch it too far. It helps me maintain the work/life balance.

Don’t Forget to Take Breaks
When you’re in the office, you probably move around a lot due to interruptions from co-workers, restroom breaks, or a run to the kitchen for more coffee. I find that my butt is in the chair longer when I work from home, so I have to remind myself to get up and stretch. I go to the gym near my office four days a week, but I also try to do a short home workout mid-day on Fridays to stretch my neck and get my energy up.

I’m fortunate that my employer sees the value in working from home and is flexible about it. If your employer isn’t ready to take the leap, ask for a trial run to prove just how productive you can be away from the office.

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