I wrote the first draft of this column before 8 a.m. on a Sunday, working in my pajamas at the standing desk in my home office.
A new study says I have good company in that kind of work flexibility, and not just among entrepreneurs and those who work for themselves. Nearly one-third of full-time employees do most of their work in homes, coffee shops, and other remote places, according to the Flex+Strategy Group report.
After extensive study, here are the best ways I've learned to make this arrangement work. (If you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments below or drop me a line.)
1. Reclaim your commuting time.
Commuting sucks, and one big advantage of working from home is that you no longer have to deal with it regularly. But it's crucial to reclaim the time you used to devote to travel for something productive. For example, maybe use the first 30 minutes of your day to answer emails you didn't get to the day before and the last half hour to set long-term strategic goals and specific objectives for the next day.
2. Design your space.
You've heard this one before, but it's crucial. Carve out a dedicated space that you only use for work. Preferably, you need natural light and a door, so that you can separate your work from your home life when the workday is done. (Moreover, creating a separate and exclusive space can be necessary if you want to take a tax deduction for a home office.)
3. Project professionalism.
Some people advise dressing as if you were still working in someone else's office. I think that's unnecessary, and maybe even a bit crazy, but you do need to come across as professional and reliable when dealing with clients. Here's an example: If you're doing video calls, consider having a clean dedicated area for them, or at least hanging a backdrop so people aren't distracted by home-office clutter.
4. Track your savings.
Following on the first three items, it helps to track how much you save as a result of working from home. Commuting costs alone can be substantial. Then consider the reduced costs of meals, now that you don't have to rely on take-out lunches and $2.50 cups of coffee, throw in your lower dry-cleaning bills, and the savings add up quickly.
5. Expand your circle.
Working at home can become isolating, unless you make an effort to build your network and maintain relationships. This might be easier in a major metropolitan area with lots of networking opportunities and industry meetings. However even if you have to travel and use lots of virtual tools--LinkedIn is a great place to start--maintaining your network should be on your to-do list every day.
6. Delegate all that you can.
When I wrote recently about delegating things to assistants, I was truly surprised by the blowback. Regardless, this is crucial, especially if you work from home, because it's easy to fall prey to the illusion that you have unlimited time, and can now do everything yourself. However, if you have a business worth doing, you can--and should--delegate things like managing your calendar, doing initial research, and handling household chores. (Yes, this can apply to child care, as well.)
7. Manage your distractions.
Talk about easier said than done, but another danger in working from home is that it's so easy not to work. (Thankfully, they're no longer televising Olympic hockey games in the middle of the workday. I'll have to work something out for the World Cup.) One winning strategy is simply to accept that you'll never be 100 percent productive. That makes it easier to be in control of your "mind-wandering" time at work, and keep it under control.
8. Own your day.
If you find yourself working earlier, take time for yourself and your family later. (Personally, I have ghostwriting clients all over the world, and it's a lot easier to do the occasional 4 a.m. overseas Skype call from my home office.) At the same time, it's great to do errands during low-demand hours. Don't fight the crowds at the mall on a Saturday. Instead, discover the tranquility of 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.
9. Own your week.
If you liked the idea of owning your day, just wait until you own your week. If you've wondered how many more runs you could get in on the ski slopes on a Wednesday (or whatever it is you like to do for fun), or how much easier and cheaper it would be to travel during times when fewer people are able, the answer is: a lot. In fact, the only drawback is that friends and family probably don't have the same flexibility. Once you get to the point where you own the week, however, you'll find yourself longing a lot less for the weekend.
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