Strategy & Marketing

Five Keys to Successfully Working from Home

At 37 years old, I was fired from my job. So after nearly 15 years of working in a conventional office, my wife and I made the decision to launch into a freelance career working from home. The transition wasn’t easy. Suddenly I didn’t have access to the copy machine, the office phone system, the conference room, and all the other resources a company makes available to employees. As a result, I needed to switch to guerilla mode and switch fast. Here’s a few of the key changes I made that not only allowed me to increase my productivity, but helped me eventually build my own business:

1) Designate a full time space in your home for “the office.”  Unless you have no other alternative, do your best to create a space solely dedicated to work. Don’t mix it with watching TV, eating, playing with the kids, or anything else. Train your brain to switch to “work” mode when you walk into that space and you won’t believe the difference it will make.

2) Develop a routine. It’s too easy to sit around in pajamas, watch a little TV, crank up the video games, and waste an entire day. So you need to set the alarm, get dressed, and show up. Map out the local post office, copy store, coffee shop, or any other place you need to function, and begin a routine for running errands, delivering mail, and meeting people. We are creatures of habit, and setting up routines keeps us on point and focused.

3) Get out and meet people. Too many people work from home, and the only human contact they experience is through a computer screen or mobile device. Before long, you become a hermit, and begin losing skills for interacting with real people. That’s when productivity takes a dive. Don’t forget the importance of connecting with living human beings – both for work and social reasons. Take a walk with your kids, shoot some baskets with a friend, get involved at church, or schedule a meeting for coffee.

4) Make sure your family understands the difference between working at the office and working from home. Too often we don’t set boundaries. The wonderful thing about working from home is that it allowed me to be there for my kids. But at the same time, they understood that when daddy was working he needed his privacy. Even spouses have trouble making the transition, because since you’re home all day, they forget you’re working. Sit down with the family, and help them realize how important what you’re doing is, and how they can help. It will make a dramatic difference in your work – and your guilt.

5) Finally – realize that you can’t do everything, so develop a team. Now that you’re on your own, you don’t have access to in-house graphic designers, sales staff, writers, and others. Now’s the time to develop your own list of experts in web design, advertising, IT, and more. The quality of your work will shoot through the roof if you can leverage a team to make your dream happen. They might be other freelancers, outside companies, or small vendors. Whoever they may be, they can really extend the capabilities for a single person working from home.

Do you have other tips that made a difference for you?

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  1. I like having some natural light in my home office, so that’s one tip. Having a dog at home comes in handy too. Our German Shepherd wants attention throughout the day which gives me a good excuse to get up and move around a bit. I tend to get hyper focused on a project and not move from my desk for hours. That will quickly lead to tight neck muscles and eye strain. An ergonomic keyboard helps too.

  2. Discipline yourself to NOT be in your office all the time. Because of proximity it becomes very easy to spend more (than less) time there.

  3. I heard about the “deep work” idea a few months ago, and it really makes sense. Our human psyche has a hard time focusing at peak productivity for longer than about 90 minutes at a stretch. This fits whether you’re working at home or not, but working at home means you must be so much more intentional about your work processes, distractions, etc.
    Breaking up my workday into such segments really improves my output. When I have something important that needs “deep work”, I’ll schedule a 1-2 hour stretch at a time when my mind is most capable. Often my work starts to lag after about 90 minutes, and I’ll take a walk, move around, or make a phone call or two. Then my mind can come back and do another “deep work” session if necessary.

    1. There’s a blog post right there Carol. I used to step outside and play basketball. Now I go for walks during the day. Meetings are even worse. My experience is that after 40 minutes, you start to lose people. We need to realize that people just can’t stay focused for a long time and schedule within that understanding… Thanks for that comment!

  4. One benefit of working from home is SAVING the driving TIME from home to work and back. There are 261 workdays per year. If the daily drive time is one hour, that means saving 32.6 workdays in a year. If someone drives two hours daily, that’s 65 (8 hour) working days in a year. Time is money (or family time or video games 🙂

  5. 4 little foxes, that spoil the vines – or 4 little “outward” factors that may help or hinder productivity:

    1. SEATING POSITION: A relaxed or tired body concentrates differently. So, having an ergonomic chair, or changing position from chair to a couch or to stand, may keep the body alert – that differs from person to person and each one must find what works best for him/her.

    2. EYES: Having surroundings that do not irritate, but are pleasant to the eyes + the right amount of light, keeps us focused. Changing screen brightness and matching it with the amount of light in different parts of day, etc.

    3. EARS: Either absolute silence (with silent earplugs) or a music you enjoy – what works best.

    4. TEMPERATURE: Body has a tendency to be more alert in a bit cooler than normal temperature.

    So, knowing yourself and what helps you be more productive.

    1. Mirgen,
      Love this reply and it is true. Do things which will make you more productive. Working from home is great. But as with any job you need productivity and persistence. Thanks for the 4 little foxes. 🙂

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