When you are trying to balance your personal professional life in one place, there may always be a few unexpected wrinkles that cut into your professional productivity. However, most of the issues home-based workers encounter (e.g. interruptions, distractions, etc.) can be avoided by setting some work-at-home ground rules for your family, yourself and even your coworkers. While the specifics of every work-at-home family’s rules will differ, address these seven issues to ensure your productivity.
Set (and Track) Working Hours
When you work in an outside office, going home is the signal that your work day is over. If you are already home, work can easily stretch into the evening or weekends. Coworkers may think that because you work at home, you are always available. Or on the flip side, it is possible to let distractions eat away at the time you are supposed to be at work. One solution is to set your work hours in advance.
It can be as simple as making a mental plan at the beginning of each day or as complex as filling out a monthly schedule, depending on your needs. The key is to be realistic.
If you are an employed telecommuter, your employer may have set working hours for you. If you are an independent contractor or home business owner, you may want to factor in a certain level of flexibility in your day. Be sure that your intended work hours are known to all your household. If kids don’t understand your schedule, they won’t understand their place in it.
To ensure that you are working when you should, consider keeping a log or using a timer, even if it not required of you. Your impression of how many hours you are working may not be as accurate as you think.
Set (and Achieve) Goals
It isn’t enough to just set a time schedule; you need to set goals for what you will accomplish in that time.
Perhaps, goal-setting, whether short-term, mid-term or long-term, is part of your work-at-home agreement with your employer already. However, if not, you should do it for yourself and make sure that it's based on the solid foundation of your values.
When creating your goals, start with the longer-term and work backward. Where would you like your home business to be in a year? What projects do you want to accomplish in the next six months at your job? Then work backwards to identify the steps you need to take to achieve these goals and work them into your daily or weekly routine. Evaluate your progress periodically.
Limit Interruptions From Family Members
What merits an interruption during work time should be clear to everyone, including adults. Children tend to forget the rules, while grown-ups think they don’t apply to them.
If your children are young, your rules will need to be looser than if your kids are old enough to take care of their own needs. But even when they are able, that doesn’t mean they’ll want to. Hold the line on responding to interruptions, and eventually, they will stop asking or at least asking so much.
One way to minimize interruptions from children is to plan out their day as much as possible. Layout snacks, clothes, etc. in advance. Plan things for the kids to do while you work. Take little breaks during the day. If the kids know you will emerge from your office at some point, it makes it easier to wait to tell you the latest news.
If you have childcare, provide your babysitter with authority by not running out of your office when you hear your child cry. Trust that your sitter can handle it.
If your caregiver is your spouse, authority may not be an issue, but he or she may feel freer to interrupt you than a babysitter would. No matter who your caregiver is, discuss in advance about what merits an interruption.
Interruptions by others are not the only form of distraction that home-based workers encounter. We can all be distracted by email, social media, household chores, television and much more. To avoid distractions when you work at home, you need self-discipline. And the key to developing that is understanding your weaknesses. As mentioned previously, keeping a log of your hours and activities may be helpful in revealing where you get off track. Once you know what distracts you, set rules, hours, routines and goals for yourself.
Create a Productive Work Environment
Creating a productive environment starts with your physical workspace, but it goes beyond that. A separate home office with a door is ideal, but we don’t all have the space for that. Wherever you work, be it a corner in the dining room or your bedroom, it should be dedicated for that purpose. It is inefficient to set up and break down your workspace every day. It should be a place where you are least likely to be interrupted.
If you do have a dedicated home office, whether children are allowed in your office during working hours is one of the most basic decisions you will need to make. If you have frequent phone or video meetings, you may need a closed door policy. If you do allow children in your office, then you’ll likely need some rules. They can be simple enough for even toddlers can follow: knock before entering or never enter when you are on the phone or always use quiet voices.
Also, part of setting a productive environment is how you present yourself for work. Even if you never have video meetings, get cleaned up and dressed before you begin working. Working in your PJs might sound like it would be great, but it doesn’t put you in the right frame of mind to work efficiently.
We all multitask sometimes, but when you work at home (especially with children), it can be tempting to do it too much. It can leave you with a string of half-finished projects work and children who feel they never have your full attention.
The trick is to multitask effectively and to do it in a limited way. It’s okay to fold laundry while on an audio conference call or check your email while you’re waiting to pick up a child from an activity. However, when interacting with your child, you either want to be fully present or defer until you can give your full attention.
When you work remotely, your employer, clients or customers need to trust that you are working on their behalf as they expect you to. To build that trust, you will need to be accessible. This means writing efficient emails and answering others quickly. It means picking up the phone and calling when necessary. It might even mean going into the office occasionally.