Posted by: bevmeldrum | August 14, 2007

The 10 Step Commute: Learning To Love Working From Home

In the morning it takes me just 10 steps to walk from my bedroom to my office. I’ve had a number of bad experiences working from home in the past but this time I’m really loving it.

For a start I don’t have to spend 3 hours commuting anymore. That’s an extra 3 hours a day that I can use for work or fun stuff or a mixture of the two. It has also saved a lot of money on both travel and office costs.

It hasn’t been easy though. I’m the sort of person who finds it difficult to switch off – I have the ability to work constantly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week which isn’t helped by the fact that I actually find my job to be a lot of fun.

There are a number of issues that keep coming up when I’m talking to my clients. Here are the top three:

  1. how to stay productive and not spend all your time doing those essential household tasks 
  2. how to deal with interupptions from family, housmates and pets
  3. how to switch off from work when its only in the next room

Staying Productive

Why is that when we sit down to work we can suddenly list at least three tasks around the house that must be completed immediately? This happens to me all of the time – suddenly cleaning the bath becomes my top priority for the day.

I do two things that I find useful:

  1. Write down the task immediately on a piece of paper and put it in my in-tray to deal with later
  2. Take regular breaks – I use the 48/12 minute rule (I picked this up a while ago from the Success Begins Today blog). Work for 48 minutes then take a 12 minute break from what you were doing and do something completely different – clean the bath, put on the washing, play with the dog, read a blog post. It’s a great way to stay productive for longer and feel like you are getting through all of the household tasks.

Avoiding Interupptions

The key to avoiding interupptions from family members, housemates and pets while you are working at home is to explain what the ground rules are. In our house I have two tactics I use.

  1. I close the door – if I want time to focus without interupptions from either human or dog I just close the door. It also helps me to realise that now is the time to get on with that project or task that I supposed to be focussing on. Of course if you don’t have a seperate room with a door that is a bit more of a challenge … so maybe point 2 will help.
  2. I use the Green Frog approach (I can’t remember where this idea originally came from) – you place your Green Frog (or other appropriate object – mine is a 30cm high Scooby-Doo toy) on your desk or by your door. The Green Frog means that I do not want to be interuppted by humans as I am trying to concentrate. The dog can wander in and out (I’m struggling to teach him to obey the prescence of the Scooby-Doo toy) but all humans must stay away and let me focus.

Both of these approaches may seem a bit odd at first, but try it even for just 10 minutes and see that you don’t so much more work done without waiting for the next interupption. The Green Frog is also easy for kids to grasp hold of and I wouldn’t even bother trying to teach a cat. It can also work well in offices where your colleagues just pop by for a quick word all of the time.

Switching Off From Work

This can be really difficult for some people – I am one of those. With our wireless broadband connection my work isn’t restricted to my office. This has its benefits because it means that on a sunny day I can go and work in the garden. But it also means that I can work in the dining room and in the lounge in front of the TV when I am supposed to be focusing on family or just relaxing. Try these suggestions:

  1. Shut the door at the end of the day – When I first moved my office back home my office door did not shut. Although this seems an insignificant thing it meant that whenever I walked past the room I saw my work laid out on my desk. So I got the door fixed and actually that has helped a lot. At the end of the day the door is shut and doesn’t get opened again until the next morning. If you don’t have a door to shut as, for example, your office in a corner of your lounge you could try either covering up your desk with a nice throw at the end of the day or creating a big sign to sit on your desk saying ‘Office Closed’.
  2. Diary in time for fun – again it might seem a bit silly but it is a lot easier to wander back to the office in an evening if there’s nothing in your diary. It gets a bit harder when you actually have an appointment in your diary saying ‘Watch CSI’ or ‘Dinner in with Husband’.
  3. If all else fails, just go out. I mentioned that I had struggled with this particular issue. Shutting the door and scheduling in time off does work to an extent but I still have a tendancy to find a way to do work at the same time. So I took drastic measures and invested in a monthly cinema card. In the cinema, in the dark there is no way I can do any work. Of course I always take a notebook because I will inevitably think of some ideas or things I need to do during the adverts and trailers before the lights go completely out. But if I’m out then I can’t work.

If you work from home some or all of the time you might find one or two of these ideas helpful, but at the end of the day we all work differently and different things will work for you, but hopefully this will give you some inspiration as to where to start.

If you want to access more resources on working from home effectively have a look at Success From the Nest. They have a great blog full of useful tips.

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