How to Stay Organized When You Work at Home
Organizing your home life and work life is tough enough for everyone. Those who work at home, though, encounter special challenges in keeping both their family and work obligations in their rightful places as the two realms mingle under one roof.
Everyone’s style and ability for organizing differ, so a one-size-fits-all approach definitely doesn't work. However, these resources cover the types of things you'll need to consider as you go about organizing your work-at-home life.
Organizing Your Time
Time is a precious commodity. Making the most of your time, by eliminating the commute, tops the list of reasons to work at home for many work-at-home parents, but time saved one place can be time wasted in another if you don’t take control of your time.
Effective time management for work-at-home parents starts with creating some ground rules for both your family and for yourself. One of those rules should be to set your working hours in advance. This will keep you from working too much or working too little, whichever is your tendency. It brings better family balance because everyone knows what to expect.
No matter how good you are sticking to your ground rules, there will be distractions when you work at home. They will just be different from those that eat away at the day of your counterparts back in the office. Learning what they are for you and how to deal with distractions is an important skill.
Choosing a Calendar System
Use a calendar system that can be shared with all members of the family. Google Calendar work particularly well because they are free so children can each have their own, but parents can have access to them. Likewise, children see what’s going on for everyone else.
For a calendar that everyone has access to, there’s also always a paper calendar hanging in the kitchen. The problem is this type of calendar is that you don’t have it with you when you are at the doctor’s or at a school function and need to add to it. Somewhere between the electronic and old-fashioned paper calendar is a weekly printout of all upcoming events hung in a prominent spot. Creating this every Sunday night will also help you spot conflicts in the family schedule in the coming week.
Organizing Your Spaces
When your professional and personal lives occur in the same location, you need to take care to organize that physical space in a way that is conducive to productivity for both parts of your life.
A dedicated workspace is essential to anyone who works at home. Ideally, your home office should be a room (with a door) that is not used for any other purpose. Most of us, though, just don’t have that kind of extra space in our homes, so we have to compromise. It might be in a corner of a room, a bedroom or the dining room. What's important is that this particular space is dedicated to that one purpose. Setting up your laptop on the kitchen table does not qualify as a home office!
Design your home office space with your weaknesses, routines and your job's and your family’s needs in mind. Are you easily distracted by children vying for your attention while you work? Choose a space far from their play areas. Are you trying to do double duty by watching children while you work? Put yourself nearby them. Will you need quiet for teleconferencing and phone calls? Pick an out-of-the-way room with a door, like a bedroom.
Whatever area you choose for your office, you need, at a minimum, a desk, chair, computer and some shelving or other storage space. Take time to make it an inviting space, decorating it with pictures or mementos in the way that you might a cubicle in the office. You should enjoy being in this space.
Don’t let others use the space when you are not, and don’t use it yourself for activities outside of your professional work. Don’t pay your bills there or fill out forms for your kids' school. Keeping those professional and personal obligations from melting together starts with maintaining separate spaces.
Keeping that workspace dedicated and separate is a lot easier if you have the other spaces in your home well organized. Create a family information hub. Choose a space where you accumulate family-related information, e.g. mail that comes in, papers from school, etc. If you do use a paper calendar or a weekly listing of events, this is where it should be. If your kids are in school, make your life a bit easier by having a basket for them to deposit all the papers they bring home from school. You have a separate basket for bills and other paperwork.
Pick the area where you will organize and process this information. It could be in the same area where it is accumulated, or it could be near your dedicated workspace. Just don’t mix it with your work-related papers. In this case, it's okay to pull out your laptop and use the kitchen table but create a space where all the needed items belong when you are not working on them.
You may be tempted to use your work computer to complete these tasks. Just like many of us don’t have extra rooms that can be exclusively used as home offices, we can’t all necessarily afford extra computer equipment. If at all possible, use a tablet or another computer for personal use. If you are employed telecommuter, you may have already agreed that company equipment is not for personal use as part of your telework agreement. If you are a freelancer or home business owner, it may seem more efficient to have just one computer but consider buying an inexpensive netbook or reusing an older computer.
When you mix the personal and professional use of your computer, before long others in your family will be using it as well.