When I wrote recently about things successful people do when working from home, some readers' suggestions got me thinking: It's not just what you do, but what tools you use, that can make life easier and work more productive.

I've been working almost exclusively from a home office since the start of 2014. I did a lot of research before trying this arrangement. Two months in, I've settled on 9 essential items that won't break the bank but will make you more productive. Got others? Suggest them in the comments below or by contacting me directly.

This column is the second in a series about working from home. Read part one.

1. Really reliable telephone service

About 38 percent of Americans have given up landlines for cell phones entirely, but nothing screams unprofessional like bad quality connections and dropped calls when you're trying to do business over the phone. Granted, I've been a fan of Vonage, Google Voice, and other VOIP-related services for years, to the point that my Google Voice number is in my Twitter profile. However, a landline phone still offers the best call quality. Some cable television and Internet companies are now throwing in telephone service for free with other packages, so there's no reason not to do it.

2. Really reliable Internet service

Wired Internet service is generally faster than Wi-Fi in most studies. That squares with my personal experience. We depend so much on good, reliable Internet connections now that I can't imagine equipping a home office with anything less. From a security standpoint, I also appreciate the ability to remove the Ethernet cable at the end of the day.

3. An awesome desk setup

My home office experiment coincided with my decision to try a full-time standing desk. The verdict so far is that it's amazing. I don't know if there really is a significant health benefit, but I find that the standing desk makes it a bit easier to focus on work. In one small study, anyway, it seems that workers using standing desks were more productive than their colleagues at traditional sit-down desks.

4. An expanded desktop

I've been using MacBook Pro laptops for years. Since setting up at home, however, I've added an external keyboard and screen, which basically triples my digital landscape and allows me to to keep communication applications open on one window, and my "real work" (documents and spreadsheets) on another. Next step: Turn the second or third screen to work vertically.

5. An assistant (or more than one).

Productivity isn't simply about what you do; it's about what you don't do. This becomes even more important when you work from home, because there's a temptation to think you now have unlimited time to do everything. You don't. Personally, I have two fantastic writing assistants, whose work is very important to my productivity.

6. Exterior office support

At the least you want an external mailbox, or one of those full-service mail delivery places that will accept packages and faxes for you. This enables you to avoid using your home address for customers and clients, it lets you avoid waiting around all day for important mail or packages. On certain days, you'll also just be grateful to have something you have to go and do outside your home office.

7. Others places to go

Speaking of which, this might be counterintuitive, but if you're going to work from home productively it helps to have another place to work as well. For me, destination No. 1 is a nearby co-working space where I'm a member, which fortunately opened its doors last year. That's where I meet clients, and where I go when I just need a change of scenery. It's also important to have another place or two in your home where you can work occasionally, whether it's the living room couch or the kitchen table.

8. A door (and a window)

If you have kids or other people in your home during the day, this is essential, because you need to have some way to signal physically that during your work time, you are nearly as inaccessible as if you were away in an office. I also think at least one window is essential, if just to let some natural light in and remind you that there's a world outside. The door is also important at the end of the day, so that you can close off your office and go live the rest of your life.

9. Visual organization.

If you're a very creative, entrepreneurial person, you might not be a naturally organized person. I'm the first to admit that this can be a challenge for me, so I have to be proactive. I surround myself with tools that make it easier to organize the things I have to do visually, and execute the tasks I need to get done. The two most important items on this list for me are an entire wall covered with peel-and-stick whiteboard panels, and a gigantic, full-year, day by day calendar.

Want to read more, make a suggestion, or be featured in a future column? Contact me or sign up for my weekly email.

Published on: Mar 18, 2014
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.