at Home? Here's 10 Ways to Be More Productive
By Alexandria K. Brown
working at home... Visions of leisurely days,
conference calls in comfy sweatpants, increased
productivity with fewer interruptions. But the
distinctions between work life and home life
soon blur. You really should throw some laundry
in the wash before you write that proposal.
You have an hour before a meeting: Should you
balance your books or clean the kitchen? And
remember to call that client back right after
you empty the cat box.
Welcome to the real world of working at home:
unforeseen distractions, a lack of structured
time, and sometimes a perceived loss of identity.
But don't give up the dream just yet! By putting
into place a few simple ideas, you can reap
more of the rewards of working at home. Based
on my experiences and those of my associates,
here are 10 simple ways to help you stay on
1. Separate Your Space
Keep a separate, distinct work area in your
home. (This is especially difficult if you're
living and working in a shoebox studio, like
I was when I started my business in New York
City!) If you don't have a separate room, at
least define an area, and know that when you're
in it, you're in "work mode." Make
sure your roommates and family are aware of
this as well.
2. Structure Your Time
As your business and personal time mesh, it's
more important than ever to structure your day.
For example, if you regularly take a walk or
go to the gym, try to do it every day at the
same time. Value that personal appointment with
yourself - even when you're very busy. It will
actually help you keep your business on track!
I like to get up early and work until noon,
then I take a few hours off to enjoy lunch,
do some reading, and take my daily jog on the
beach. Then I'm back at my desk at 4:00 until
who knows when!
3. Outsource All You Can
When I began my business, I made the mistake
of acting as my own courier service. I soon
learned how much time I was wasting by visiting
clients too much just to pick things up and
drop them off. Whenever you start thinking,
"Well I can do that myself," STOP.
Streamline your business, making everything
as automatic as possible. Use outside services
to stay focused on your *real work*. Get accounts
with an overnight delivery service, messenger
service, virtual assistant (VA), bookkeeper,
etc. Save your energy for your brilliant ideas!
4. Use Technology to Your Advantage
In-person meetings are very valuable when
appropriate, but schedule them sparingly.
Try to do most of your business via phone,
fax, and e-mail using the best equipment you
can afford. For most home-based entrepreneurs,
when you're out of the office, you're NOT
making money. So it's important that you can
communicate flawlessly from where you are.
And PLEASE do us all a favor and get separate
lines/services for your phone, fax, and Internet!
No one likes getting a busy signal.
(BONUS TIP: If your phone company offers voicemail,
get it. Not only will your outgoing message
sound more professional, but if you're on
an important call and don't want to be disturbed,
other callers can still leave you a message.)
5. Group Your Errands
Try to group your meetings and errands together
to minimize your out-of-office time. Make
a list in the morning of all the outside tasks
you need done for the day, and attempt to
complete them in one fell swoop. Even better,
do what I do and designate just one day a
week as your "blitz" day for errands
and meetings. I like doing this, because then
I need to get dressed up only one day a week!
6. Stay Focused
Make your workspace off-limits to other roommates
or family members when you're working. For
you animal lovers, this may go for pets as
well. (My cat Francine gets very jealous when
I'm not giving her complete attention!) Keep
all personal paperwork such as bills and magazines
out of sight, so as not to distract you from
7. Beware of Yappers
Many of your friends and family will be immediately
delighted when they learn that you're working
at home. They picture you lounging on the
couch, eating potato chips, and waiting for
their calls. When they call you simply to
chat, politely remind them that you're working,
and ask them if you can call them back after
your day is over. It may take them awhile,
but they'll eventually "get it."
8. Work With Your Moods
Keep track of your moods and productivity
compared with the time of day. For example,
if you find you're more alert in the morning,
use this time to make important calls and
do your creative work. Take advantage of your
natural cycles. If you feel better after an
afternoon nap, go for it! (I'm a BIG proponent
of the catnap.)
9. Suit Yourself
To bring out your best work, make your environment
perfect for YOU. How do you work best? With
plenty of breaks, or with no interruptions?
In silence, or with some light music in the
background? On a cushy couch and coffee table,
or at a business desk in an ergonomic chair?
(My friends thought I was nuts when I spent
$700 on my Herman Miller Aeron chair, but
they quickly understood why once they sat
in it! And my spine thanks me every day.)
Also, find some places you can do work when
you need a change of scenery. How about the
library, the park, or your neighborhood coffee
shop? When I need to do serious reading, thinking,
or editing, I take my work outside to the
beach. The sea air, sunshine, and soothing
waves help me think much more clearly.
10. Break for People
Feeling sluggish, lonely, or moody? Arrange
for at least one social break during the week.
(I aim for two or three.) Schedule breakfast,
lunch, dinner, or even just coffee with a
client, vendor, or friend. Join a business
networking group, or sign-up for social activities
such as dance class or recreational sports
league. Don't go into hermit mode - it can
(c) 1999-2001 Alexandria Brown
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