I’ve been working from home for the past 14 years, and it’s been interesting to watch the shift between in-office and at-home workplaces in 2020. A survey conducted by PwC found that 55% of employers expect that working from home will be a long-term arrangement.
Thanks to my own long-term work-at-home arrangement, complete with three kids and a busy household, I’ve had ample time to perfect a productivity strategy that works for me. I’ve learned that if you take the time to prepare to work from home and create an atmosphere conducive to professionalism and productivity, it’s more than possible to build a thriving career.
Tips for Working From Home to Increase Productivity
Staying on task in a workspace that includes kids, instant access to social networks, and an infinite number of other distractions can be tough. Here’s how to keep the distractions at bay and boost your productivity when working from home.
1. Create a Dedicated Office Space
In a busy household, it can be all too easy to let kids pile their homework on your desk or play around on your computer, but it hardly creates a professional atmosphere. If your home is big enough to accommodate an entire room dedicated solely to work, you’re one of the lucky ones. If not, simply establish an area where you can use your computer, talk on the phone, and keep important documents stored.
Whatever your approach, what’s important is keeping your work life and personal life separate. Unless you have nowhere else to work, keep your bedroom and your workspace separate so you aren’t tempted by your bed during the day or tempted by your laptop at night.
Even if you’re home alone, having a dedicated home office space makes sense — not just to help you stay focused but to save you money on taxes. To claim the home office tax deduction, measure your dedicated office space and calculate the percentage of your home it represents — for example, a 200 square-foot office in a 2,000 square-foot home would be 10%. You can then deduct that percentage of the costs associated with your home, such as utilities and home improvements.
To qualify for the home office deduction, however, you must use your office exclusively and regularly for business. If you only use it casually or you share it with your entire family, it no longer qualifies. If you have questions, consult a tax professional from somewhere like H&R Block who specializes in small-business taxes.
2. Invest in Your Office Inventory
It’s important that your home workspace has all the accouterments you’d expect in a professional office. Of course, what each person deems necessary varies by taste and profession. Some items you might consider include:
- A reliable, dedicated computer
- A quality Internet connection
- A landline business phone or a business-only cellphone (look into Xfinity Mobile)
- A filing system
- General office supplies (buy them at back-to-school sales for the best deals)
- A good printer
- Comfortable home office furniture, including an office chair
Fiddling with an outdated computer or running to the print store can cost you time and productivity. And if you’re self-employed, you can deduct any items you purchase for your home office on that year’s taxes. Just be sure to keep your receipts.
Take daily inventory and make sure that you have everything you need before you get started. That way, you’re not interrupting your workflow to hunt down a laptop charger or scrambling to find printer paper.
3. Prioritize Your Day
Setting priorities is important at the office and infinitely more so when working from home. Without a boss peering over your shoulder or colleagues to bounce ideas off of, it’s up to you to put your to-do list in order. It can help you stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Quickly jot down what needs to be done during a particular workday, then number each item in order of priority. When the day is done, immediately transfer anything you didn’t accomplish to the next day’s list to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.
You can also use apps and tools to keep yourself on track. I like TeuxDeux for creating and prioritizing lists, as well as taking notes online. If you’d rather manage your to-do list with your smartphone, try Remember the Milk, which also works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri to allow you to create lists via voice instead of typing them. Or try Do it Tomorrow, available for iOS and Android. It helps schedule your to-do list a day in advance so nothing goes undone — even if you can’t get to it today.
4. Get Your Family Involved
If you work at home with kids, you need everyone’s cooperation. Call a family meeting and explain to your children that you need to focus during work hours. Talk to your partner about your schedule and trade off kid duty if you’re both working from home so you each have dedicated time to focus.
One family I know uses the “stoplight system.” The work-at-home parent puts a red, yellow, or green circle on the office door based on what’s happening that day. Green means to come right in, yellow means to ask first, and red means do not disturb. It makes productivity a kind of game for the kids in a visual and easy-to-understand way.
Even if you don’t have kids, you may have to communicate your need for a quiet working environment to your significant other. If your spouse or partner works in a more traditional setting, the idea of a home office may seem casual to them, resulting in noise and disruptions when you’re trying to concentrate. Set ground rules for your workspace, such as knocking before coming into your office or respecting quiet time between certain hours.
5. Stay on Task
Checking your email is a necessity when you’re telecommuting, especially if it’s your colleagues’ favorite method of communication. However, constantly clicking on that email tab can impede your own projects and disrupt workflow.
Instead, close your email, turn off all phone notifications, and check your messages and social networks only at designated times throughout the day. Even if you check every 30 minutes, you’ll still score some solid, uninterrupted work time.
Another option to keep a clean inbox and stop getting sidetracked by personal messages is to establish a separate email address for work and make an effort to read, sort, and respond to correspondence accordingly.
If you’re prone to checking your favorite websites when you should be working, try using LeechBlock, an extension that allows you to “ban” time-sucker sites between certain hours. You can even set “allowed” check-in times, such as five minutes of Facebook after 45 minutes of work.
6. Use a Dedicated Browser
I have two different browsers on my computer: one for work and one for casual surfing. The casual surfing browser is packed with distractions, from open tabs to bookmarks, email notifications, and messaging. When I have free time, I use my surfing browser so I can quickly check my favorite sites and connect with others.
By contrast, my work browser is almost completely bare. I only keep job-related bookmarks and outfit it with apps and extensions that help me stay productive. The result is the ability to access the Internet without being distracted by funny videos or social networking feeds.
7. Get Organized
When you’re working from home, your job can actually become more stressful. Suddenly, you’re battling between home and work life, and a cramped schedule can disrupt your workflow. That means you have to do everything you can to optimize and organize your home office.
Getting organized before you ever sit down at your desk can make you less stressed and more productive all day long. One of my favorite apps for staying organized is Evernote. It allows you to keep ideas, notes, pictures, and reminders all in one place, which makes it perfect for that “eureka” moment when you’re away from your desk.
Keeping a clean office also helps you stay on top of things. By organizing and filing loose papers, you’
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