The opportunity to work from home has become more common as the way we work shifts away from the traditional office to more flexible arrangements where companies can hire the best not just locally, but globally.
But with this shift comes new challenges. When we work in an office, the ecosystem and environment are developed to create a working environment; whereas, when we work from home; the environment is developed for living. To make our home a great place to work; we need to make a few mindset changes and apply some boundaries so we can work at our most effective.
So, here are 15 tips and tricks you can use to make your home working environment an effective and great place to work.
1. Create a Dedicated Space to Do Your Work
While it might seem fantastic that you no longer need to commute to an office every day, one of the biggest advantages of going to a place to work is you have a designated area to do your work. It puts you in the right frame of mind to do your work.
One of the hardest parts of switching to working from home is you no longer have that specific place to do work. It can be very tempting to stay in bed until 11 am with your laptop on your lap responding to your emails and messages, then moving to the sofa to do your monthly expense report, and finally sitting on the veranda in the afternoon watching the sunset while putting the last pieces of code together before submitting your software. While all this may seem idyllic, you will quickly find you are not getting very much work done.
Instead, create a dedicated place to sit down and do your work. It could be a separate room you convert into a home office, or you create a corner somewhere in your house for work. Wherever you create that space from now on that space is where you do your work.
2. Make Your Dedicated Space Light
You will more than likely be doing your work during ‘office hours’ and you need daylight. It can be very tempting to create your dedicated workspace in a corner away from the windows in the belief this will help with your focus. That might be correct, but it will also cause you to feel down and depressed.
We need sunlight, so find a cool, airy, well-lit place for your work area. You want to enjoy working in that place. A dark dingy corner will not do that. You soon come to hate your workspace that is not going to be an encouraging way to do your most important pieces of work.
3. Buy Yourself a Comfortable Chair
When I began working from home, the first items I thought about was the computer and monitor I would use. It never occurred to me to make sure I bought a comfortable chair. It turns out that if you think you can use any old chair, you are going to find yourself feeling very uncomfortable when you are at work, possibly leading to back and neck pain and much worse in the long-term.
It is just not worth it. Instead, invest in a good quality chair. Go your local office supplies or specialist furniture store and test out the chairs, and make sure you buy yourself a comfortable one. You will thank yourself later.
4. Create a Set Working Pattern
While it can be very tempting to start your work when you feel like it, we all need some kind of structure in our lives. Without structure, things slip. This is why many of the most successful people around us wake up early and do exercise. It’s the structure of having a morning routine that enables them to get into a set state to do their work, and also gives them that needed structure.
This means you wake up at the same time and you begin your work at the same time, preferably in the same place. It helps to create a start of day routine. Wake up, exercise, walk the dog, take the kids to school etc. You can also break for lunch at the same time and finish your day at the same time. Try to resist the temptation of taking a longer lunch break, believing that you can work an extra hour at the end of the day. This rarely happens and you soon find yourself lost.
5. Use Your Calendar to Block Focus Time
While this tip is usually reserved for those working in a busy office environment, I have found that when I block off time on my calendar to do focused work, not only does that work get done, it also gets done within the time I have allowed. It also stops me from being tempted to clean up the bathroom, do the breakfast dishes or pop out and do some gardening—ie procrastinate.
For me, I would normally have calls with my coaching clients in the evening which are scheduled on my calendar, but the day time is relatively free. At the end of every day, I spend ten minutes cleaning up and scheduling my work for tomorrow. This maintains a consistent flow of work being delivered every day.
6. Learn When You Are at Your Most Effective
Somewhat linked to number five, work out when you are mentally in your “working zone”. There are times during the day when we can better focus, and other times when we normally find it hard to focus. For most people, their most focused time is in the morning and their concentration will drop in the early afternoon before picking up again towards the end of the day.
We are all slightly different here, but once you know your best working times, you can schedule your blocks of focus time. For me, 7:00 am to 9:00 am is my best time for focused work and so is between 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm. With that knowledge, I block out two sessions of focused work each day and knowing that my concentration falls off a cliff around 2:00 pm, that’s when I would go to the gym.
7. Don’t Eat Lunch at Your Desk
This is a biggie. It can be very tempting to go to the kitchen, make your lunch and then return to your desk to continue with your work. Don’t do this. You need to get up and move. You need to change your environment from time to time.
This does not just go for lunch either. You should be taking regular breaks and these breaks need to be away from a screen. Go outside, go for a walk. Whatever you do, make sure you are changing your environment, so your brain gets the rest it needs.
8. Use Cloud-Based Storage for Your Files
This has helped me when it comes to getting my work done. There are times I find sitting down at my desk at home to be uninspiring. Whenever that happens, I want to be able to grab my iPad and go to a nearby coffee shop. The change in the environment is often all I need to get inspired again and sit down and do my work.
By having all my work in the cloud, all I have to do is throw my iPad into my bag and head out. I don’t have to waste time trying to remember what files I might need. Everything I am working on is in the cloud and accessible wherever I am.
9. Plan Your Day Before You Finish the Day
This one tip will ensure you never waste time and helps to make you much more effective. Before you close down at the end of the day, spend ten to fifteen minutes to plan out what you will work on tomorrow. The trick here is to plan exactly what you will begin the day with. What project you will work on and what you will do on that project—write a report, prepare a presentation file etc.
When you plan the day, the day before you don’t waste any time in the morning trying to decide what to work on. When you work from home, you are essentially your boss. It is you who has to decide what to work on and when. Making those decisions before you close down the day helps your workflow and ensures you are working on the right things at the right time.
10. Keep the Afternoon Reasonably Flexible
Over planning is a problem. There are far too many unknowns being thrown at us every day to be able to plan out every minute of the day. You need to build in flexibility.
For most people, the afternoons are the best time to deal with the urgent emails, messages and requests. This is when your concentration levels are beginning to drop and the change from focused work to dealing with communications—telephone calls, emails and messages—can be a welcome break from the heavy brain work.
I generally deal with my communications immediately after lunch, before heading out to exercise, and in the early evening before ending my workday.
11. Create a Work Playlist
With the amazing music streaming services available today, it is very easy to create your playlists for different moods. I have several playlists I use for my work.
Two of the best places for inspiring work music are the Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep pages on the streaming services of your choice. Having your work playlists will help to put you into a great working mood, and will help you to focus on what is important without the risk of being distracted by outside noises.
12. Turn off Notifications
This one might not be specific for working from home—it also works when you work in an office—but it is still excellent advice. Notifications are distracting and you do not need them. If you check your email periodically throughout the day, you are not going to miss anything important.
It is when you are constantly being pinged by incoming emails and messages that you are unable to focus on getting your important work done. Turn off notifications and check email when you have finished each session of work and stop worrying, you are not missing out on anything important.
13. Keep Your Desk Clean and Clutter-Free
Having flies, paper and other stuff lying around on your desk will only distract you. You want to be creating a work station that encourages work and an untidy, disorganized desk does not encourage quality work and focus.
Before you end your workday, stop and clean up everything you have worked on and put them back in their rightful place.
14. Clean up Your Desktop at the End of Every Day
There’s nothing worse than beginning the day, turning on your computer and seeing a desktop full of old files, screenshots and other stuff. It does nothing for your motivation and it does not help you start the day with energy, purpose and focus.
Instead, give yourself five minutes at the end of your workday to clean up your desktop, put files away in their rightful place and delete all your old files. It helps you to start the day with a clear mind and prepares you for a good session of focused work.
15. Use Tools You Enjoy Using
One of the benefits of working from home is you generally get to use your own tools. It could be that your employer provides you with a computer, but there’s nothing to stop you from adding to that. You could invest in a separate monitor if you prefer to work from a large screen, you also generally have greater freedom with the software you use.
For example, if you hate using Outlook, you may be able to use an alternative email service. Likewise, if you prefer to write in a different writing app other than Microsoft Word, then do so. In my experience, the tools you use do help you to perform better. I enjoy writing all my written work in Ulysses, using Apple’s Mail app as my email program and Evernote and Todoist as my productivity and planning tools.
Choose the tools you enjoy using. You’ll enjoy your work more if you do so.
The Bottom Line
So there you go, fifteen tips for getting the most out of your home office. Remember, work should never be a chore, you should enjoy what you do and love the environment you are working in.
As I write this, I have the sun’s rays pouring in through the window to the side of me, Above and Beyond playing in the background and I am sitting very comfortably in my chair. It could not get any better.
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Featured photo credit: Paige Cody via unsplash.com