Whether you're currently taking classes online or you have a telecommuting job, working from home can offer some additional freedom and flexibility. However, this extra flexibility comes with the added challenges of time management, staying focused and motivated throughout the day, and balancing work and family schedules to ensure you still have enough time to get everything done.
Below are some essential working from home tips to help you maintain a sense of structure and organization when working outside of a typical office environment.
Create a Dedicated Home Office
When working from home it can be tempting to just set up for the day in a comfy chair or on the couch. While this may work as a nice change of pace here and there, you should generally try to avoid too much overlap between leisure spaces and your work area. Setting up a specific place just for work can help you get into the work mindset when it's time to start the day, in addition to helping you avoid extra distractions throughout your house.
Treating your remote work like an office job can have the added benefit of helping you maintain a clear separation between your professional and personal life. Plus, if you work out of a home office exclusively, you can write off this portion of your rent or house payment on your taxes.1
Maintain a Daily Schedule
While working from home can make it easier to fit errands and doctors' appointments into your day, try to follow a consistent schedule as often as possible. Fight the temptation to sleep in or otherwise get a late start, and instead make a concerted effort to get up and start working at the same time every day. Likewise, try to eat lunch at a consistent time, and keep yourself to a half-hour just like if you needed to get back to the office. When possible, leave non-essential errands like grocery shopping until after the work day is over.
The temptation to break up the day with personal tasks can be strong at first, but establishing clear work hours can help you stay more efficient.1 This way you're not still trying to finish up work when it's time to pick up the kids from school, make dinner, work on a school project, or relax and unwind for the night. If you have small children at home during the day, making a corresponding schedule for them can also help reduce interruptions.2
Make To-Do Lists
One of the most useful working from home tips is to make to-do lists to keep you on track with your most important tasks. You can create daily and/or weekly to-do lists, and it may help to break your lists into "work" and "personal" columns. This enables you to prioritize the specific tasks that must be completed before the day is over, which in turn can help you decide when it's time to move from work to personal or school-related responsibilities.2
Set Aside Time for Calls and Email
Since many remote workers spend a significant portion of their day corresponding online, it can seem like common sense to always leave your email open. However, this can be more of a distraction than you realize, especially when many emails can wait an hour or two before being answered. Take a look at your to-do list for the day, and based on the most important and time-consuming tasks, schedule specific periods where you close your email and dedicate uninterrupted time to work.
Checking your email and making phone calls at a few strategically placed points throughout the day can both function as much-needed breaks and help you stay focused on your more demanding tasks.
Plan Short Breaks Throughout the Day
Just as there can be many distractions while working from home, it's also easy to forget how important it is to take a break now and then. Setting an alarm or some calendar alerts to remind you to take a quick break every few hours can help you stay energized and focused for the whole work day.
If you have family responsibilities to take care of, you may also schedule your breaks accordingly. For instance, you may plan to take a break to put on a movie for the kids or lay them down for a nap, or schedule one later in the day around when you need to pick them up from school. This can help ensure that juggling professional and family responsibilities doesn't disrupt your work day any more than it needs to.2
Have a Work Cut-Off Time
One of the crucial things about working from home is learning how to keep work and your personal and family life separate. Just because you work from your house doesn't mean you should be in work mode at all hours. When you make your schedules and to-do lists throughout the week, set a reasonable cut-off time for each day and hold yourself to it. You can't guarantee that nothing will come up to disrupt your schedule, but you should treat the flexibility in your work hours as a backup, not as the normal rule.3
While working from home can be a rewarding and sometimes less stressful experience, keep in mind that these advantages come with some additional responsibilities. Developing good habits to keep you organized and on track can help you take advantage of the autonomy and freedom remote work offers without losing a sense of structure and control.
Looking for ways to stay focused throughout the work day? Read our tips on ways to improve your attention span while working.
1. Forbes, "10 Tips for Working From Home," on the Internet at http://www.forbes.com/sites/kerryhannon/2013/09/02/10-tips-for-working-from-home/#34337159290a (visited 7/8/16).
2. Inc., "Get More Done: 18 Tips for Telecommuters," on the Internet at http://www.inc.com/christina-desmarais/get-more-done-18-tips-for-telecommuters.html (visited 7/8/16).