You always thought working from home would be great. You could work in your PJs, listen to whatever music you wanted, drink your favorite brand of coffee, and, of course, get up at 7:55 and be at your desk before 8.00...

So when your boss agreed to let you work from home part of the time (or when you left to start your own business), you were excited. You just knew you'd be much more productive, and much happier.

And then, a little thing called reality kicked in. It's not easy to stay productive and effective when you're working at home, especially if you have family or housemates around. The techniques which served you well in the office environment don't seem quite so useful when you're working from your bedroom, or your sofa.

Here are five ways to make sure that your days spent working at home are more productive than days in the office.

  1. Remind People You're Working

    It's surprising how many people will call for a chat, or drop in casually, when you're at home. They'd never dream of phoning you at work to tell you about their vacation, or swinging by your office because they were just passing ... but when you're working from home, it seems like you're fair game.

    You may have to gently but firmly remind people that you're working. If your best mate phones for a mid-morning chat, explain I'm afraid I can't talk now, but I'll be free after five. If your spouse or children tend to interrupt you, try working in a separate room, with the door closed. Explain that the sooner you get through your work, the sooner you'll be free to pay attention to them!

  2. Keep Work and Home Separate

    When you're in an office that you have to commute to, you never consider cleaning your kitchen or vacuuming your hallway during the work day: it's just not possible. But when you're working from home, it's all too easy to get distracted from work by the home tasks that you notice.

    Give yourself a lunch hour when you can pop out to the grocery store, walk the dog, clean the windows, etc. Don't let these activities interrupt the course of your working day. If you're struggling to decide whether something is a legitimate quick break from work or not, ask yourself what your boss would think if he saw you doing it on company time. (If you're a freelancer, consider whether your clients would accept it on their bill.)

  3. Take a Lunch Hour - And Have A Schedule

    Some work-at-homers might have raised an eyebrow at the Give yourself a lunch hour suggestion in the paragraph above. When you work from home, time tends to be much more fluid than in the office. Perhaps you start work late in the morning and work on until dinner in the evening.

    Your productivity will get a boost if you do take a decent break in the middle of the day. An hour is about right: long enough to relax and recharge, but not so long that you lose all momentum. Also, decide on a start and end time for work each day, and stick to them: you'll find that you focus much better.

  4. Keep In Touch With Colleagues

    Many people who work at home say that they miss the casual social interaction at work. Perhaps you miss having easy access to colleagues when you had a question, problem or idea; or perhaps you just feel isolated without the daily chats at the water cooler.

    Don't just keep up with work by email: phone the office occasionally, too. Online tools like Twitter or Messenger can be an easy way to casually stay in touch during the day, but they can also end up wasting huge chunks of time!

    If you're a freelancer, forge links with other people in your community (online or offline) who work in the same area as you.

  5. Stay On-Task - Even Without Your Boss Watching

    Whether you can admit it or not, you're probably a lot better at staying on task and focused when someone's looking over your shoulder. If you have an eagle-eyed boss in the office, you'll stick with that boring spreadsheet, even when you're tempted to read blogs or Facebook.

    When you're at home, however, your boss and colleagues aren't checking up on you. It's very easy to get distracted, or to procrastinate, especially when faced with tasks that are a bit dull. This usually ends up meaning working longer hours to compensate, though.

    If you find yourself getting easily distracted, pick one task, and tell yourself you'll finish that one thing before you do anything else. Don't check your email, or play around on Twitter, until it's done.

If you work from home - some or all of the time - how do you stay productive? Are you already following the above tips? What techniques have you found that help you?

Posted on June 30, 2009