Working from home has lots of benefits: no commute, you don’t have to dress for the office, play your music loud, etc. However, in order to keep up (and improve on) your productivity while working at home, it is essential to come up with and enact a strategy for dealing with distractions.
Distractions at home can take many forms:
- Children and/or Spouse
- Household chores (washing three days of dishes is a handy method for procrastination when you are really desperate)
- Television/Video Games
The common theme among these distractions is that they are things that are commonly found at home that you would not normally encounter in your place of work. There are good things and bad things about the average workplace – one positive thing is that the normal distractions you would face at home are not there, enabling you to (at least in theory) be more productive. Thus, in order to telecommute productively, one must find a way to achieve some level of concentration in an environment that is at first glance not so conducive to it.
So without further ado, here are a few ideas for ways to handle these distractions:
1) Close Your Door
Make sure that your workspace is separated as much as possible from the potential sources of distraction (ie: television, kitchen, play room) and make sure that the word gets out that whenever your door is closed, you are working and are not to be disturbed. You can even set up with your spouse or children that if they need to speak with you and want to see if you are free for a minute, they should IM you, email you, call your cell phone, but not knock on the door. Take advantage of the proximity of your home office to the rest of your home, but in all other ways, treat it like a real office (where these other distractions probably wouldn’t exist and where your kids could never just come in and say hello).
The idea here is that even when you are working behind a closed door (or if you are sharing a home office with the family PC and cannot have the door closed as often as you would like) there will still be distracting home-sounds that make their way into your work area and could potentially disrupt your thought process and work flow. To combat this, try some headphones, especially the type that is designed to cancel noise. For those who like to work with music, this is a no-brainer (and a good idea even if you work in a regular office). However, even if you don’t like to listen to music all the time while you work, wearing headphones can help you to focus more on the task at hand, ignore distractions and let the background noises fade a bit. (And if you do have to share your home office with someone else, wearing headphones can be like a second door – it is a sign to the other person that you are working now and should not be disturbed).
The two tips above are intended to help you insulate yourself from the distraction-filled environment that is your home-office, and help you to create for yourself some thinking-space. However, there is another aspect of working from home that these do not take advantage of. One very nice thing is that you do have more flexibility to help watch the baby, run an errand, play with the kids when they come home from school or do something else that is only possible at home and would not be possible in the traditional office. Or perhaps you might need to take a break from what you are doing and watching TV or a DVD (which is done more comfortably at home and not in front of your co-workers) is exactly what you need to do. How can you make these distractions a part of your work day in a way that will improve, not hurt your productivity?
The answer is to schedule out your daily activities. You may want to have this rigidly set (ie: on every Monday I will work from 9am to 11:30am and then take a 45 minute break), or you may want to do this flexibly, creating a To Do list every day, listing the tasks that you want to accomplish and how long each will take (I have found David Seah’s Printable CEO, and Online Emergent Task Timer excellent tools for this type of informal task planning). Whichever way you do it, this will help you to set boundaries for yourself regarding your goals, and will help you to use the distractions that surround you as tools for making progress in your work and goals for completing your tasks, rather than as a means for procrastination.
4) Setting Boundaries
I have found that one of the hardest things, especially if you enjoy your job (and it is computer/programming-related) is leaving work and going home. When I used to work in an office, I would have a 30-40 minute commute home every day that served to help me unwind and transition from work-mode to home-mode. Then when I got home, I was home. Work was no longer at the top of my list of things to do. I had a physical and mental separation between the two.
Now, my commute is much shorter. When dinner is ready, my wife IMs me, and thirty seconds later I have finished my “commute” home. This is ever-so convenient (with a big savings on time and gas). However, this lack of separation between work and home means that it only takes another half minute for me to “commute” back to work. I just sit down at my computer, and I am already there. Though this is great for my employer, it can sometimes be detrimental to family life (and it also prevents you from having the down-time that is necessary for preventing burn-out).
Try very hard not to let this happen. When you come home, stay home (barring any type of emergency where you might have been called into duty had you been an office commuter, of course). If this is hard for you and you find yourself drifting back to the computer, create a schedule of activities for yourself to do at home, go outside, exercise, read books. But don’t go back to work until tomorrow morning.