October 27, 2009

8 Tips for Making WAH Work!

Working at home has a ton of perks, but it also requires a lot of motivation, dedication and organization. Believe me, I know.

I’ve worked from home for several years now and I’ve had my ups and downs. Even during those down times, however, the plusses of working at home have more than compensated.

I think I mentioned back in June that I had another baby — my 3rd. And while my older two are in school for 2/3rd of the day, my littlest one is home with me … and, at 5 months, starting to make her presence more felt. Fortunately she is pretty easy going and likes to take a good long nap, but even still, balancing work, home and the baby is a lot to handle.

I have recently had to fine tune some of my routines in order to really make working at home work for me in this phase of my life. Based on that tune-up, I thought I’d share some of my best suggestions for being a work at home success.

1. Separate your work space from your home space as much as possible. For a while there, I was working on a laptop on my bed, or the couch, or the kitchen table. I finally cleared off the desk and set up some “work-only” space for myself. It’s a lot easier to stay motivated for work when I feel like I’m “at” work.

2. Invest in a good chair. Along the lines of making separate work space, the wooden kitchen chairs just weren’t doing it for me anymore. I am nothing if not frugal, but sitting on that unforgiving chair for 3 or 4 hours at a stretch was killing my back! It’s easier to sit and focus when you’re not miserably uncomfortable.

3. Buy the best equipment you can afford. Not everyone can afford to run out and getting the newest MacBook every year, but if you are on your computer 10 hours a day, slow speeds and cruddy memory capacity are going to get real old, real quick. Figure out what equipment is most important for your job — a camera? a computer? a fax machine? — and then put aside some “retained earnings” to invest in better equipment as you can afford it. Remember, too, that any purchases related to your job are a tax write-off!

4. Establish a schedule – and stick to it. This one isn’t so easy for me, with a little one who often doesn’t stick to a schedule herself. But I have started rising earlier two or three mornings a week to get an hour or two of work in before the kiddos are up for the day. And I make sure that I use the baby’s nap strictly for working — no laundry, no phone calls, no running errands.

5.  Limit distractions. Again, with a baby at home, some distractions are inevitable. But you know what my #1 distraction is? Not the baby, but rather the Internet. I’ve started experimenting with shutting off my WiFi for an hour or two at a time. Sure, I have a slew of emails to read when I get back online, but without the temptation of surfing, I am far more productive.

6. Take a break. Working from home can be a very solitary and isolating experience. After a good couple of hours, it’s important to take a break in order to refresh yourself. You may think that you can work eight or 10 hours straight, but trust me, you will burn out. I like to take a quick walk around the block. Now that the weather has turned cooler, I find the crisp air especially refreshing.

7. Turn off the phone. When you say you work from home, many people seem to think that’s code for “I hang out and watch game shows all day.” They feel more than free to call you just to chat. I have found that the easiest way to avoid that time-suck is simply to turn off the ringer on my phone. I keep my cell phone on, since that’s the one clients call on. But I only answer for work-related matter during work hours.

8. Know when to say when. Beyond the importance of taking breaks, it’s also critical that you know when to stop altogether. The distinction between work and the rest of your life is a hard one to draw when you work at home, because your computer is always *right* there. “Just one more email” can easily turn into three more hours in front of the screen. One way I’ve found to reestablish some boundaries is by doing my utmost to take a two-day weekend — for the first time in my freelance career. If work is really hectic, I might work half a day on Sunday, or do an hour or two on Saturday night. But by aiming for two days of non-work time, it makes the other five days that much more productive.

Are you working from home? How do you make sure you stay on track, while still maintaining some balance in your life, too? Leave me a comment with your best tips!

For more about working at home, check out our new Home Based Employment content area.

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