Everyone Doesn’t Have to Know You’re Still in Your Jammies. How to Be More Productive Working from Home
These days more and more people are working from home. When I first started my business in 2002, I thought I had to get dressed up before I hit my home office so I could “get in the mood” and feel professional. Flexibility today is the name of the game when working at home. I recently was interviewed for an article with Forbes.com for my expertise on being productive while working at home. Read on . . .
There’s a lot to be said for working from home. The commute is a breeze, the kitchen is stocked and you can take meetings in your sweats. But is telecommuting more productive than working from an office?
For the last three years, Lauren Libert has been one of the estimated 67% Americans that the 2014 National Study of Employers reports is spending some amount of time each week telecommuting. A business development director for North Carolina-based N2 Publishing, Libert works full-time from her home office in northern New Jersey. The benefits? “I have total flexibility about when and how I get my job done. I make my own hours and I don’t have to deal with the distractions that often come with working in a large office,” says Libert. “Of course, there are times when I miss the camaraderie of having co-workers close by. But at the end of the day, I get a lot more accomplished than if I had to commute to an office each day.”
Libert isn’t unusual. Experts point to numerous studies that demonstrate that people who work from home are on average more productive than other workers. They’ve also shown that telecommuting improves morale and reduces turnover.
In one recent study, Stanford professor of economics Nicholas Bloom teamed up with Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, to test whether telecommuters were more or less productive than employees who came into the office. About 250 workers volunteered for the experience; half were randomly chosen to work at home for a nine-month period and half were in the office. The results, which appeared in a January 2014 Harvard Business Reviewarticle, To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work From Home, showed that home-based employees were 13.5% more productive than office workers; they also were sick less often and reported being happier and quit less frequently.
While the benefits of telecommuting are clear, working from home has its challenges, according to productivity expert Anne McGurty. McGurty is the president and founder of the Arizona-based consulting and coaching firm, Strategize and Organize. “There’s much to be desired about working from home, but even if you have managers and coworkers you’re accountable to, there are still temptations that can easily sap your productivity and motivation. These can make telecommuting difficult for many,” says McGurty. “If you’re not careful, they can also hurt your career.”
To make working from home a win-win for you and your employer, McGurty suggests 5 tips that can help you get ahead and stay ahead.
1. Get a room. It might sound obvious, but having a designated workspace in your home is essential. “Some people think they can set up “shop” on the kitchen table or plop on the sofa, open a laptop and work. In my experience, that’s a recipe for distraction.” explains McGurty. “You need an organized space in your apartment or home that allows you to keep your works space and your home separate.”
2. Keep it professional. Another important tip for staying productive? Treat your home office like a business. “Just because you’re working from what used to be the storage closet off your family room, doesn’t mean the same rules governing an office don’t apply,” says McGurty. “Ban barking dogs and playing children from your work space and keep your desk and work area organized; it’ll help create the right environment for getting things done. A clutter-free environment (and computer desktop) frees up space and is also easier to manage.
Get in the habit of putting “stuff” in the right place. “The average worker wastes six weeks a year retrieving misplaced information on office and computer files,” says McGurty. “Set up a system for organizing information and then use it. If you put stuff in the right place, rather than simply shoving it aside or dumping it onto your hard drive, you’ll be able to access what you need, when you need it.” She also urges telecommuters to be professional in how they handle and store sensitive work information. “It’s important to adhere to the same confidentiality rules that would apply if you worked at the home office. Keep a shredder handy to properly dispose of all sensitive documents and properly maintain all computer and cloud files.”
3. Get ready, get set, go. One of the hidden dangers of telecommuting is procrastination. It can creep into your day because, when you work from home, it can seem like you have all the time in the world to get things done. But don’t let the clock get the better of you. “Working from home takes self-discipline, and that means getting things done in the right time,” says McGurty. “One way to keep your day on schedule is to set a daily start and stop time for working. The structure of a routine will help you avoid procrastination and boost your productivity,” says McGurty. “If you’re always wondering where the time went, consider using one of the many free online apps, such as RescueTime, to help you track your activities.”
McGurty also advises telecommuters to plan out their day the night before. “Whether you keep a written list or use a computer-based program like Outlook, creating daily goals gives structure to an otherwise flexible workday, helping you to hit your important deadlines. And to avoid getting mired in day-to-day details, be sure to include at least one productive long-term goal-oriented task each day.”
4. Play to your wheelhouse. As a corollary to setting priorities, McGurty also suggests getting more tactical about when you actually work. “One of the bonuses of telecommuting is having the freedom to schedule your time. If you’re a morning person, use that time to tackle your most important goals and leave emails and other tasks for later in the day. If you have more energy in the afternoon, flip the order,” says McGurty. “Either way, keep your schedule consistent to promote concentration and motivation.” Some other ideas to ratchet-up your productivity? McGurty suggests getting a change of scenery once in the while. “There’s a reason why places like Starbucks and Panera are filled with people typing away on their computers during office hours. Leaving your house for an hour or two can do wonders for your focus,” explains McGurty.
5. Don’t forget “me” time. It can be difficult to disengage when working from home, but don’t let that stop you from maintaining a healthy work-life balance. McGurty suggests setting clear boundaries around family and work time. She also encourages workers to join a gym or club, get involved in a hobby or interest that gets you out the door, and/or take regular vacations to avoid falling into a rut and to recharge your mind and body.
Staying focused can be tricky when working from home. The key is to develop habits and rituals that tell you brain (and you’re family if that’s relevant to your situation), “I’m at work now.” After working 9 to 5 at a company for more than 20 years, Libert says that telecommuting is the way to go, assuming you have the option. “Sure, working from home tests my discipline. But for me, the flexibility and quality of life it provides is far greater than the challenge of managing any occasional lapse in focus or motivation I may encounter along the way.”
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