Tips on Working from Home

Pictured on your left is my office space in my house, a place where I typically spend 6-7 hours a day. Over the past few years an increasing amount of my work-related efforts occur in this 10' x 12' room, and I have been thinking a lot the past few months about the nature of working from home.

I am certainly far from being alone in my work-at-home capacities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2004 some 20.7 million persons performed some work at home as part of their primary job. These workers, who reported working at home at least once per week, accounted for about 15 percent of total nonagricultural employment in the United States. Interestingly, 8 in 10 of those engaged in job-related work at home used a computer in their work, suggesting that an increasing amount of tech-based work is being farmed out to consultants and part-timers.

The following is a short list of some suggestion that came to mind for people who are employed at least in part out of their homes. Feel free to chime in in the Comments section if you have other ideas or anecdotes you would like to share.

  • Reinforce to family members or roommates the need to respect your workspace and work time. In my own case my children have been the most frequent interrupters of my work at home, and sometimes I have to repeatedly remind them that "Dad is working." The temptation is quite strong to see you as your "normal" self and not as an employee performing the work that pays for their PlayStations and PopTarts, and it is important to set clear boundaries.

  • Create a separate work space, and avoid letting work expand beyond the home office. Ideally you will have a door to the office that can be closed, but if you have an open work area make sure that people know that this is not their personal office supply cache or a dumping zone for articles they are too lazy to put in their proper place.

  • Set regular home work hours. Yes, working from home has its advantages in that you can take a break and run errands or play with the dogs, but you need to create a schedule and stick to it. People who lack self-discipline or who thrive best in a structured environment tend to struggle when working from home.

  • Make time for social interaction. Personally I am something of a reclusive hermit, so working at home appeals to me on an instinctual level. For the rest of the world, though, being isolated at home would be like solitary confinement. Spend a few minutes each day talking to neighbors, or make some quick calls to friends to get the necessary human connections. Even a curmudgeon like me winds up with cabin fever after a few days.

  • Dress in a reasonably professional manner. People who work out of their homes sometimes joke that they plod around in their pyjamas all day, but I find that I am more work-focused if I at least put on a dress shirt and khakis when working. I also shower and shave every day before work to put me in the focused mode. Besides, it is too easy to slip into slob mode by wearing pyjamas, and you should also remember that occasionally you will need to leave the house for unexpected meetings or work-related errands.

  • Set aside designated break times. The Internet can be a massive time-sucking entity, and a person can waste a tremendous amount of time on sites like Facebook or Twitter. Set attainable work goals for yourself and do not "play" on your computer until that goal is met. In my own case I often tell myself during course prep that I have to write 10 PowerPoints (about an hour's worth of work) before I can kill a few minutes in an entertaining pursuit.

  • Create an exercise and meal routine. Working at home can mean an increased amount of time sitting at the computer, which can translate into excess body weight quite quickly. In addition, back strain, eye strain, and carpal tunnel are very real possibilities, so make sure you get up from your work station at least once an hour. Eat a healthy breakfast, do not skip lunch, and make sure that you drink plenty of water.

  • Avoid returning to work after you have finished. That work desk can sometimes beckon you to keep working long after you have completed a solid day's work. Unless you have some emergency situations, make sure your free time stays that way.

  • Keep the rest of the house neat and clean. For me a messy house is a significant distraction, making me feel like cleaning instead of working. At a minimum I keep the dishes washed, trash emptied, and clutter picked up before I sit down for serious work, as that stuff will linger in my subconscious and annoy me until it is finished.

  • Keep family time exactly that. It is unfair to make the rest of the family suffer because you are behind on your work, especially if this is due to procrastination. I try to schedule the majority of my work when the house is empty, and this also makes sense in terms of a reduction in interruptions.

  • Eliminate potential sources of distraction. Ringing telephones always jar me out of deep thinking, and I recently engaged in a campaign to get removed from every telemarketing list. The number of incoming calls is noticeably down at my house, but if the phone is annoying to you, simply shut it off or unplug it. The same goes for televisions, doorbells, or any other devices that interfere with productivity.