If you're like me, chances are that you work from home during at least some part of a typical workweek. According to the Telework Research Network, one in five Americans works from a home office at least once a week. This number is expected to grow by more than 60 percent in the next five years. So if you're not working from home now, chances are you soon will be.
But working from home brings with it an entirely new set of challenges. First of all, your significant other, kids, neighbors, friends, and door-to-door salespeople may want you to pay attention to them and not to your work. Not only that, but you may not have the awesome setup that you've got back in your real office, including your computer, desk, chair, telephones, and all the rest.
The good news is that there are some proven strategies for successfully working from home that you can easily adopt while upping your productivity. Here are seven:
1. Find your space
If you are going to work from home, it is important to find a special place for your office even if it only consists of a table and a chair. If you're like me and don't have a spare room, then you need to be creative--I turned our family room into an alternative office. Be sure your space is as free of distractions as possible, and never, ever use your bedroom as an office. Your bedroom is your refuge from the world and should not be tainted with work.
2. Find your time
Some of us are more productive and creative first thing in the morning, while others are more productive late into the night when everyone else has gone to bed and incoming email messages slow to a crawl. Figure out when you are most productive, and schedule your homework sessions accordingly.
3. Be firm but polite
If you are the kind of person who needs to have several hours carved out in order to get anything done, then make sure everyone else is aware of your work hours and that you will be unavailable during those times. It is so easy to get sucked into helping a friend or doing just one more errand for what you thought would only be an hour, but it ends up being four. Just say no to these nonbusiness requests. Be firm but polite.
4. Keep it neat
If the workspace in your home looks like a war zone--stacks of paper everywhere, and dried-up old coffee mugs scattered about (bonus points for the ones with green stuff growing inside!)--then you're not going to be very effective. Begin by decluttering and organizing your space. Purchase extra shelving, space-saving storage solutions, or more file cabinets. At least once a month, go through everything in your workspace and toss anything you no longer need; file, dust, and get organized.
5. Avoid surfing safaris
Remember: When you make the decision to do some of your work at home, you need to keep your focus on your work for whatever time it is that you've decided is necessary. This means not beginning your day watching TV reruns, then catching up with friends on Facebook, and then checking out ads on Craigslist. Make surfing the internet or checking in on your social media a reward for completing a project, and when you do allow this sort of break, make it brief. There are even apps today that can keep you focused, like Anti-Social, Time Out, and StayFocusd.
6. Beware the call of your refrigerator
When you work at home, there's something constantly calling your name that you probably don't have in your regular office: a refrigerator full of tasty treats. Not only can this be a distraction, but it can cause you to put on unwanted weight. Keep your refrigerator (and your desk drawers) a junk food-free zone, and make healthy choices when you do decide to grab something to eat.
7. Don't go overboard
Remember: You're supposed to be doing most of your work in your office and just some of your work at home. Don't fall into the trap of allowing your homework to take over your day and night--especially on weekends, when you should be recharging your batteries and spending time with friends and family. Ask yourself this question: "Is this a home or an office?" If you find yourself answering "an office," then you know you need to cut back.