When lay-offs and redundancies are on the rise, it generally follows that people trying to make a living from home, working for themselves, or over the Internet are on the increase as well. So it stands to reason that as we speak, thousands of people are sitting in their new home office (quite possibly the living room, or the dining room table) and tearing their hair out asking: How do work-at-homers actually manage to get anything done when there’s a TV in the next room, a coffee machine in the kitchen and all sorts of fun stuff to do in the laundry?
If that’s you, well, I feel sorry for you. Not because writing for a productivity blog means that I’ve found the secret to getting everything done before everyone else, but because it’s hard, really hard, to work from home, and there’s only so much you can do to make it easier. That’s what this article’s about.
Here are some tips to help you make the transition from the office job, where the environment is tailored to make sure you don’t do anything except work, to the home office, where every distraction you could’ve asked for is present.
If working from the same cubicle day in and day out was frustrating and claustrophobic, do you think it’ll be any different in your home office? For your sanity, use your newfound mobility and get out. You can work from a wide variety of places these days, including cafes and fast food joints, not to mention Starbucks which is somewhere in between the two. If you live in a central location, even better – you can grab your laptop bag and get some exercise walking to your work location, which brings me to…
This is, of course, one of those things you’re supposed to be doing regardless of where you work. The thing is, you need exercise even more when you work at home; you can go the whole day without leaving the house much of the time. You don’t even get the minuscule activity of walking to the car, and from the car to your cubicle. The sad truth about working from home: you will get fatter than if you were still working in an office, unless you take measures to stay healthy.
Exercise is also an important part of making the transition from the office job to working at home. If you can go for a jog or a walk in the morning before you start work, you’ll find yourself much more clear-headed and motivated to work, which is a huge help. It can become very hard to get motivated when you spend most of your life in the one building.
If you don’t plan for lunch, then you might find that lunch starts making its own plans for your day, or your weight. If you haven’t planned for a non-intrusive but relaxing lunch break you might find yourself cooking a gourmet meal that takes two or three hours to complete (for the same reason one might suddenly choose to clean that rangehood that hasn’t been touched in months: to get out of working), or you might find yourself constantly driving up to the nearest McDonalds or KFC. Eating an unhealthy diet is not something I’d recommend in any circumstances, let alone those were the sole motivator in the business is you.
So that particular headline contains one of those annoying buzzphrases, but here’s the thing: there are no checks and balances to keep distractions at bay when managers aren’t patrolling the cubicles and sysadmins aren’t watching your screen without your knowledge. You’ll check email, Google Reader and even the ghastly Twitter and fritter away your precious productive time if you are not careful.
Take a page from Tim Ferriss’s book (literally). Check email twice a day, at 12:00pm and 4:00pm. As for Google Reader? Don’t check it – maybe if you’re out of work hours, but not during them. I’m guilty of checking my work-related feeds using Google Reader amongst my personal feeds. Don’t do that, it’s stupid. As for Twitter? Unless your manager asks you to tweet during your work day (yeah right, you say, but it has happened to me!) then don’t. Even. Think. About. It.
I read a book that said you shouldn’t spend money on your desk or office chair or what have you when you’re starting a work-at-home business. Forget it. If you’re not comfortable, the jabbing of your chair or the over- or under-elevation of your desk will gnaw at your mind and add yet another layer of distraction to your day. Get great furniture, and deck out the room with things that relax you – whether that’s posters of Cannibal Corpse or a zen garden and one of those little mini water fountains, that’s up to personal taste.
Your office should be a place you enjoy entering, not a place that fills you with dread.
Don’t forget to entertain yourself. Make sure you’re reading a good fiction book at any given time, and don’t forget to watch the odd movie, even go out to the cinema and see one. These sort of recreational activities feed your mind while relaxing it; they’re perfect for creative individuals. That said, creatives need to relax without other people’s ideas being thrown at them sometimes, or when would your own mind get a chance to tell you about the bright ideas it has had lately?
Set work hours: 9am to 5pm, 5am to 1pm, 6pm to 2am, it doesn’t really matter when as long as you can tweak your lifestyle and body clock to suit. The important thing is that you set work hours, both for yourself – you only work during these hours – and for others, so that clients know when they can and can’t interrupt you and so family and friends don’t break your concentration.
Another common problem for work-at-homers is that we become social hermits. I know it happens to me. A few times, I haven’t seen anyone at all because I started so early and finished so late – despite living with my wife, my toddler and my newborn (not the quietest of housemates). Make sure you spend a couple of hours with your family each day if you have one, and regularly schedule things with your friends – whether it is going out somewhere or just having a beer at your house. The bonus – not that this should be your primary motivation – is that you’ll make sure you get your work done in time to meet your other commitments.
You might be seeing a pattern in all this. The thing that will make your transition the easiest is to take care of yourself and treat yourself as you would an expensive car – regularly serviced and in good shape. The irony is that taking care of oneself is usually the first thing to go in those who work where they live. Take care of your health, your mind, and your relationships.
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