Working from homeThere's much to be desired about working from home: the stress-free commute, flexible hours, and improved work-life balance. But working from home also means it's a lot easier to procrastinate (daytime television anyone?). Make the most of home-office perks and maximize your productivity with these best practices.
1. Design a dedicated workspace
Don't waste valuable time setting up and shutting down your office each day. "If a whole room isn't at your disposal, outfit a closet or corner of a room with a desk, drawers, and shelving," says Kathi Elster, executive coach and author of Working With You is Killing Me. She adds that no matter what space you use, a good ergonomic chair - with an adjustable back and base, and lumbar support - is a necessity. Your workspace should contain everything you need to get through the day, including supplies like a stapler and scissors that may have a home elsewhere in the house. "Set things up so that everything is only a reach or a chair roll away," says psychologist Deborah Carlin, MD.
2. Test yourself
Assess your personal strengths and weaknesses by taking a work-style test. "Personality tests show what people need to feel satisfied in their work. They also show what can get in the way of staying motivated and focused," says clinical psychotherapist, Anne Dranitsaris, PhD. "Any method that helps with reflection can be used, such as a diary, talking to friends and asking for feedback." Results will give you an idea of whether you perform better solo or in a more social environment.
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3. Schedule smarter
Put your newfound knowledge about yourself to work in a concrete way. Take advantage of the hours when your energy levels are highest. "If you are clearer and more creative in the morning, then don't dissipate that energy answering emails and doing minutia," says Cynthia Ackrill, human performance consultant. Keep your schedule consistent to promote concentration and motivation as well. "Even though I am working from home, I schedule the official start of my day at a certain time," says Kristin van Dusen, partner of Design and Conquer LLC, an organization firm. "[Then] I am less likely to get caught up in the household distractions."
4. Pen achievable goals
Creating daily goals helps provide structure to an otherwise flexible workday - and signals when it's time to close up shop once tasks are completed. Dranitsaris suggests using sticky notes as reminders for deadlines. "Setting goals is critical to feeling the pleasure of accomplishing them. This promotes the release of dopamine in the brain, which keeps us motivated to go after that feeling again," she says. For extra motivation, share big achievements with family and friends or reward yourself for your success.
5. Squash distractions
It's easy to be tempted by distractions like the kitchen, bed, TV, and laundry when you work from home. One way to outsmart these disruptions is to play hostess to another small business owner, says Elster, who used to invite others to work from her home. "It helped me stay focused on the work because I wasn't going to lie down," she says. If dust bunnies are taunting you, resist running the vacuum by scheduling time each day to take care of chores and personal tasks. "Having a plan makes them much less of a distraction and more a part of your daily schedule," says Van Dusen. To maintain concentration, Carlin uses Call Notes app to take phone messages; instead of picking up every time the phone rings, she returns calls at a time that's more convenient for her.
6. Take breaks
Making time for breaks between projects refreshes your body and mind, and keeps them operating efficiently. Ackrill recommends breaking every 90 minutes, but, at the very least, taking a breather for lunch. "Stretch, look away from the computer, move, and breathe," she says. "Change your visual focus, rest the eyes, and move your body. Get outside if you can." But adhering to a strict break schedule isn't always beneficial. "Don't interrupt productive energy for breaks. Sometimes a work process is going to take hours but ignite you," says Carlin.
7. Dress to impress
Whether you prefer business casual or Lululemon, remember that your dress code should help, not hinder, your projects and potential opportunities. "Appointments do pop up and you don't want to say no because you haven't showered." says Elster. Changing out of pajamas and into professional attire can also help signal the beginning of the workday.
8. Put on a consultant hat
Block out time every few months to assess your vision, long-term goals, and workflow to see what's working well and what isn't. Act as your own external consultant and be honest. Ackrill suggests asking yourself "What makes you happy? What would make it even better?" Then use the answers to guide future business decisions and make necessary changes.
- By Jennifer Barnes
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