Working from Home More Effectively
By Chelse Benham
“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” - Isabella Mary Beeton
(1836-1865) writer and author of “Mrs Beeton's Book of Household
If you are a new home-office worker or experienced one, you may find it difficult
to stay focused. There are many perks to working from home - no commuting
and a totally flexible schedule – but, home offices can be a double-edged sword
situation. There are many distractions that can interfere with staying focused and
on task. It’s easy to misplace priorities, such as cleaning the house, as a means
of avoiding working on a business project. Working from home means that you
must budget your time, work efficiently and commit yourself to working smart.
“Working from home requires real discipline,” said Pedro Salazar, associate
director for One Stop Capital Shop at The University of Texas-Pan American.
“These are some of the suggestions I usually give clients that come to us for
• Create a separate area that looks like a "real" office. If you feel like you
are at work, you are more likely to stay on task.
• Get up and get dressed. Just because they can't see you, doesn't mean
that you should work in your robe. What you communicate on the phone is
reflective of how you feel and how you are dressed has a lot to do with
• Talk to your family and friends about respecting your work time. It starts
with running one personal errand during the day and the next thing you
know you are spending most of your time doing personal stuff for family
• Plan your workday and include some time to do the personal things you
need to do, but stay focused on what work you need to accomplish. Seek
face to face interaction with other people.
• Visit a customer or spend an afternoon working from the coffee shop. The
important thing is to feel some how connected and not feel excessively
isolated from the rest of the world.”
Terry Thomas, president of IMC, Inc., a multi-million dollar import/export home
based company, and the author of the article “Run an Efficient Home Office”
originally published at www.homebusinessmag.com, offers some suggestions to
creating a successful home office environment. Thomas suggests the following
when creating a productive home work environment:
Have a separate phone line installed. This makes it easier for
customers to reach you and projects a professional image. A fax machine
is certainly a must for many businesses. You don't need a separate phone
line. Use a telephone sharing device which automatically routes calls to
a phone, fax or modem. These are readily available and eliminate the
need for costly phone lines.
Have the proper office furniture. Make sure you have a desk that is
large enough to handle your needs and a file cabinet or two for files. Most
importantly, get a good comfortable chair. This can be your most
important office tool! Fatigue and many back and neck problems are
caused by cheaply made chairs.
Purchase or lease an office copier. For many this may be out of the
question due to the numerous copy places in every community. But, if
copying is repetitive and halts work evaluate if the time and money
saved offsets this expense. Get one that handles everyday copy needs.
Set up a regular work schedule. All of us know we work our home
businesses all hours of the day and night. Still, set up some "business
hours". If you're going to have hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then
stick to that schedule. Take normal breaks, including lunch. It is
important that you establish a regular habit of being "in the office" on
a set schedule for the sake of your customers. For the times you must
leave the office to make sales calls, run errands, or for other reasons,
make sure there is an answering machine or service to answer any
incoming calls, and that you return the calls as soon as you return. Be
certain that family and friends are aware of your regular "business"
hours. Ask them to respect that time. They should not expect you to be
"free" just because you are at home.
Outfit your office as best you can within your budget. Treat it as a
business and work regular hours. Your business or office may be at
home, but it is still an "office"! Treat it with the respect it deserves!
The Web site smartprice.com offers tips to help maintain costs and save money
when managing a home office. They suggest:
Using recyclable paper
Turn your recycle pile into a scrap paper pile. Take notes on the backs of
"used" pages from your printer and copier and recycle them after the
second use! You can also use the back-side of "used" paper in your fax
Get creative with office supplies
While you don't want to skimp on your desk setup and your chair, you do
want to save money wherever you can. You can re-use things around your
house as office supplies. For example, need an in-box? Use a square
Tupperware container. Need a pencil holder? Use a coffee mug. You can
also use vases or other bottom-heavy objects as paperweights. You'll be
amazed at the clever things you can do with everyday household items.
Lights, computers and other equipment
In a larger office, where the budget is bigger and there are more people to
accommodate, it isn't necessary to keep up with lights or computers being
left on all the time, but in your home office turn them off when you're not
using them. You'll be surprised on how much money you can save on
Separate your housework from your office work
Don't pay your household bills at your desk. Have two distinct areas where
you handle work tasks and household tasks. If at all possible, choose a
workspace that has a door. That way, at the end of the workday, you'll be
able to close the door and concentrate on your personal life.
Save money where you can
Quite possibly the easiest way to cutback on your bills is by optimizing
your telecommunications plans. Find a long distance provider that caters
exactly to your specific calling needs to save 65 percent or more on your
long distance bill. Check to make sure you're using the best wireless plan
for your calling habits - more than 75 percent of all wireless users are on
the wrong plan for their needs. Finally, be sure you have the best Internet
access for your needs. Broadband is great if you're online a lot, but if you
only check email once or twice a day, a dialup connection may be the
most cost effective option for you.
Suzanne Falter-Barns, president and founder of howmuchjoy.com, a personal
advice Web site offers some advice to make an office more productive in her Joy
Letter #98, “The Distraction-Free Home Office.” A few of her suggestions are
If the kids have a break, go on vacation. Don't casually forget about
these breaks before you agree to major work deadlines. Instead, write
them all down in your calendar as soon as the school year begins. Then
really carve that time out for yourself and your family; you almost certainly
would if you were working in an office.
Don't begin your day by checking e-mail. Instead, use that time to jump
into your most difficult, challenging task. Your mind will be its freshest, and
you'll be able to get much more done.
E-mail is a surprising consumer of time. A study from the Pew Research
Center found that 71 percent of workers interviewed consider e-mail a
generally positive force in their work lives. However, a third of workers say
e-mail can be stressful, encourage gossip and otherwise create "situations
that distract from work."
Create small rewards along the way. What makes you stay committed,
even in the face of wandering off task? If it’s a piece of chocolate or a
stroll down the block, do something to reward yourself for your efforts.
Schedule chat breaks. Just as you would visit the water cooler in the
office, every so often you need to take a breather. So give yourself ten
minutes every few hours to call a friend, stretch your legs and even
wander down to the kitchen. This is especially helpful if you're struggling
over something with no immediate solution.
Eliminate coffee breaks. While you're taking a break, avoid caffeine. A
report released by United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research
Council reports that caffeine exacerbates stress, especially in men, and
makes people less cooperative in teams. Other studies say it can worsen
anxiety and trigger stress.
Close your door. If you're not alone in your home during the day, give the
rest of your family or housemates the signal. Door closed means "Please
don't interrupt"; door opens means "Come on in." And don't cave to the
impulse to let the hordes in "just this once." That quickly erodes your
critical barrier, and the importance of your workspace and your work.
End the work day at a given time. It may be easy for you to want to
return to work after the end of the day. Don't do it! Otherwise, you run the
risk of serious burnout, which makes you far less efficient the next day.
Working at home requires discipline, motivation and focus. Are you the
regimented type who can stay alert and self-motivated? Critical self-evaluation
can help solve productivity problems in the home office environment. Knowing
your strengths and isolating your weaknesses are vital to structuring an
industrious working situation from home. Put yourself on track tomorrow with
some simple solutions for better time management today.
“Discipline is remembering what you want.” - David Campbell, international