If working from home sounds like your idea of paradise, ensure that you control your environment rather than letting it control you. Having no need to commute to work is just one of the advantages but take care to set boundaries that ensure you can clearly differentiate between work and home.

Office interruptions become a thing of the past – or do they? The bad news is that there are plenty of distractions and time wasters to consider when you work at home. Family, friends and neighbours may “pop by”, assuming you have time to chat because you haven’t travelled to work. The telephone and doorbell may ring when there’s no-one else to answer them.

Motivation and organisation are the keys to success. Are you skilled at staying on task? Do you succumb to distractions easily? Will you write that article or go to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee you know will make those biscuits sitting in the cupboard taste even more delicious?

Working from home requires a business-like environment. Consider the following points to help you get organised and create a home-based business environment that encourages work.

Set up a Separate Home Office

If you can’t set up a separate room, make sure you have a desk and cabinet where you keep your home based business materials. Create a family rule that no-one must touch them. Entering your defined work space will mentally prepare you to “go” to work. A demarcated business space serves as a signal to the family that “you’re busy” and shouldn’t be disturbed unless it’s a real emergency.

Keep a tidy Work Space

A cluttered desk does not always signify a cluttered mind but piles of disorganised papers are off-putting when you work at home. Buy an in and out tray and use them. Invest in a filing unit and use a wastepaper bin or shredder to dispose of unnecessary papers immediately. Keep all relevant papers in your defined work space rather than wasting time trying to find them elsewhere in the home.

Minimise Distractions

Create your own practical work schedule, inform the family and ask them to respect it. Working from home is incredibly difficult if you have small children. Consider paying someone to watch the children in your home or enquire about local child-minding services.
Buy an answering machine or employ a voice mail service if the telephone is an intrusion. Ideally, place the answering machine in another room so that you’re not distracted by hearing the messages. Be sure to check the machine regularly throughout the day. Alternatively, consider having a mobile or alternative telephone number for business use only.

Having organised your home office area, the following suggestions will help you organise a work schedule to ensure you do actually work at home.

Manage your Diary/Deadlines

Ensure you keep your work schedule deadlines visible so that you are organised and stay on task. Create a habit of starting each day checking your diary and the deadlines or do-do lists, focus on what you can practically accomplish that day and prioritise your tasks. Planning your tasks will put you in work mode and encourage you to work more efficiently.

Manage your Time

Build in to your regular routine the dreary tasks you’d rather avoid, as no-one else will do them for you. Those “hideous” tasks are easier to handle if you do a few fairly regularly rather than saving them for when “you’re in a better frame of mind”. It will probably never happen!

Keep to Your Work Schedule

Determine how many hours a day you want to work and when, and stick to it. If you need to, adjust your working day around the needs of your partner and/or children. Whatever work schedule you establish, be consistent. Your work will be much easier and more efficient if you work to a regular schedule, whatever it is.

Be Realistic

Determine how many hours you can sensibly, safely work and stick to them as much as possible. Don’t feel bad about those “work at home” days when the world conspires against your best efforts. Be kind to yourself. The great thing about working at home is that you set your own work schedule. Controlling it rather than letting it control you will increase your productivity and your peace of mind.

There are no “hard and fast” rules when it comes to working from home. Each of us adopts a routine to suit ourselves as no-one knows us better. My advice – just be honest with yourself, set realistic goals, get organised and start working.

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