Working from home is a benefit coveted by many employees; there are no traffic snarls, no weather delays, and no drama over the perfect thermostat setting. Working outside of a traditional office setting does, however, create challenges for maintaining a consistent level of productivity. Here are my eight tips for making it work:

1. Act like you are still going to work

Your entire home is engineered to provide maximum comfort and relaxation, which is great for downtime but not so good for work time. Your body associates pajamas and daytime TV with lazy weekend mornings. If you want to be productive, you'll need to flip the switch into work mode.

The best bet is to make some coffee or tea, take a shower, and get dressed in clothes that could at least pass as work-casual. Kickstart your body into thinking it's work time, not sleep time.

2. Compartmentalize your space

Don't confine your life to an area the size of a mattress. Instead, make sure you've designated space in your home that will serve as your work area. Ideally, this will not be an area where you also sleep or spend a lot of time with your family; conflating work space with personal space can bring work stress into your sleep or relaxation habits.

3. Turn up the volume

Although it's important to have a station for work, working outside of your home also has benefits. Working in a coffee shop once a week can actually refresh your creativity and productivity based on noise. According to a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago, "A moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition."

If you can't get out of the house, then turn up the volume with sites like Coffitivity.

4. Communication is essential

Especially because you won't be stopping by your colleagues' desks for quick chats, your communication tools--and your dedication to using them--are important. Make it a point to contact your team members individually during the day to check in. Doing so keeps you in touch with what's going on in the office and gives them a nudge to ask you about projects or challenges they're facing. A few tools to consider:

  • Email: Ideal for more formal check-ins and sharing or requesting more complex information, documents, or resources.
  • Instant Messaging: Better for less formal check-ins and updates, as well as quick questions that need quick answers.
  • Video calls (i.e. Skype or Google Hangouts): Good for discussing ideas or meetings with groups of people, since video allows you to make the connection between voices and faces.

5. Minimize distractions

You may have the freedom to create the ultimate death-metal playlist in the comfort of your home office, but that doesn't mean you should make "iTunes DJ" your second job title. Make a conscious effort to minimize these distractions during your working hours:

  • Music: Don't spend hours creating the perfect mix. Pick your station or album, then leave it alone for at least two hours. Google Play Music, Spotify, Songza, and Radio Paradise are all good resources for relinquishing the urge to control the playlist.
  • Pets: A quick pat while you work is fine, but a cat on your keyboard can seriously impede your productivity. My best practice is to act like I'm not home, so I keep my pets crated, as they normally would be during working hours.
  • Children: If children will share your space during a work period, talk with them about the importance of your quiet, focused time and demystify your activity by offering them opportunities to "work" with you for short time frames around your tasks and deadlines. If possible, try to make arrangements for appropriate child care or alternative entertainment during work hours.
  • Deliveries/visitors: Just because you're at home doesn't mean you are available for every visitor or package delivery. Don't be afraid to turn down knocks at your door with a quick "I'm sorry, but can we chat another time? I have a deadline to meet today!"

6. Prepare your environment

Being a prepared work-from-home employee means you must anticipate your needs in the way an administrator or manager might if you were in the office. Keep an adequate supply of pens, printer ink, coffee, and whatever else you may use stocked and ready during working hours to avoid the distraction of a drive to the store. Don't forget that a good office chair and lighting are also considered essential office equipment.

7. Eat healthily

Your kitchen will be close at hand, but you can't cook six-course lunches or subsist on random junk food. Nor will you have officemates to remind you when it's time to eat, which means it may be all too easy to forget good nutrition habits. Take the time during your off-hours to plan healthy, simple meals and snacks just as you would if you were commuting and set times to eat. Your body and time-management plan will thank you.

8. Take breaks

It may seem counterintuitive to take breaks in order to be more productive, but research has shown that the most productive workers focus for 52 minutes, then disengage for 17 minutes. These rest periods help the mind come back refreshed and better prepared to see new angles on challenges.

What are your strategies for keeping up your productivity while you work from home? Share your tips in the comments!

Published on: Dec 10, 2014