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I am fortunate to be able to work at home. It has a lot of advantages, not the least of which is the 30-second commute. There is a sense of empowerment in being able to work in my own home office, primarily because I can control […]

Home workerI am fortunate to be able to work at home. It has a lot of advantages, not the least of which is the 30-second commute. There is a sense of empowerment in being able to work in my own home office, primarily because I can control the environment in which I work. I have honed that environment to the point that it suits me perfectly, so it’s appropriate to share what I learned works well for me. Note that what works for me may not work for you, we’re all different in many ways and have different needs.

Set up a comfortable home office. This sounds very basic but it is so important to the home work experience that it’s worth noting. A home office that works well doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need to be ergonomic and conducive to long work sessions. If you work in front of a computer like I do, the computer screen(s) simply must be at an ergonomic angle for viewing. This simple step can prevent a sore, rigid back and neck at the end of those long work days. It is also important to make sure the keyboard is at the proper height for long-term usage. In my case I have a desk with a proper keyboard slide-out tray, and that is incredibly important. Many people do their work on laptops, and it’s just as important to have the notebook at not only the proper height but also a good angle for typing.

Make sure your home office has very good lighting. We all like low, mood lighting but it’s not good for a working environment. I find an office with bright lights can keep my eyes focused on the task at hand, and prevent tired eyes at the end of a long work day.

No TV. Maybe I am just lacking discipline, but I cannot have a TV in my work space. It is too easy to fall into the “well, I am at home” trap and having a TV is killer for me. It’s too easy for me to set out to just catch the news on the TV and then get distracted. It is vitally important to treat working at home just like working in an office, and that usually doesn’t involve the TV.

work zoneMake a separate work zone. It is crucial for the home worker to keep work and home life separate. It can be very tough to do but is vitally important, especially if you have a family at home. If your work zone is in the middle of the living space, it’s too easy to slip into thinking about work when it’s not appropriate. It is also a good thing to keep distractions to a minimum when working. Keep it as separate as possible, even if it means setting up the home office in a corner somewhere.

Music can play a big role. I am a big music fan, so this might just be for me. I find one of the greatest advantages to working at home over working in an office is the ability to have music I like playing while I work. I have never been one to work well while wearing headphones. I need to crank up the tunes while I am working at the desk. I play it loud, too, as I find it sets the tone for the task at hand. I often play rock and roll, which sets an up-tempo cloud of music that helps me work away. For those times I am working on a more intricate article that requires rigid concentration, I’ll switch over to classical music or jazz. It will still be loud though, as I like to be immersed in the music, just like I immerse myself in the work. The music playing is the main reason I am not a fan of home workers sharing their work space with life partners. Crank up the volume is a must for me.

Gloved hand holding disc.Software tools are key. Ask any craftsman what they need in a good tool and they will tell you the tool cannot get in the way of the task at hand. The very definition of a tool is something to make a given task easier. Home workers, especially those in front of a computer all day, can easily create a system that is constantly distracting. This should be avoided at all costs. Use only the software that is really needed to do the job. This insures there is less to get in the way, and most importantly that there is less to maintain. Spending a lot of time maintaining the system can be frustrating, and at the very least wastes a lot of time.

Ask others who do similar work what software tools they use. They are a good source of tips to find the best tools for the job. Even those who are well plugged into their particular scene can often find that a tool others are using works much better than the one they use. There are few things that can make as big an impact on getting the job done than finding a great new tool.

Keep a real work schedule. One of the biggest dangers for home workers is falling into a habit of losing a daily schedule. It’s nice to have flex-time, don’t get me wrong. But I find keeping a real work schedule not only keeps me focused on the work that needs doing, but it also puts me in the proper frame of mind for doing it. It is important to treat home work like a “real” job, because that’s exactly what it is. Sure it’s nice to be able to run a quick errand without asking the boss, but it’s also vital to treat the job like any other job. For me, that means a regular work schedule. It also sends out the proper message to coworkers and especially clients. I am here, and I’m working for you. I just happen to be doing it at home.

dress for successDress the part. This is another way I make sure that I have the proper mindset for getting the job done. Sure, I can work in my PJs and robe all day, but I don’t. Dressing as I would for a real job, albeit a casual one, goes hand in hand with the schedule thing. It helps me feel that I am working a real job, and just as importantly it sends that same message to those I come in contact with during the day. It says “I am serious about this”, and that helps me get in the proper frame of mind for the work day.

Coffee shopGet out with people. A serious danger for home workers is the isolation that comes along with the territory. While many of us work well most of the time without the distractions that other people create, it is good to get out from time to time. It’s a good way to vary the work scene, too. There is a big, vital world outside the home office walls, and it’s a good idea to experience it occasionally. It can be as simple as spending the afternoon working in the coffee shop, or working in a library, or even spending a whole day working in a coworking environment. The key is to vary the surroundings, and encourage interaction with other people. Ideas come from many different places, but they invariably come from other people.

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  1. This is a great list — I agree with all of your points, but especially Get out with people and Dress the part. Interestingly, Darrell disagrees with your TV point (I don’t): http://webworkerdaily.com/2009/03/12/a-tv-connected-computer-makes-me-more-productive-no-really/

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  2. borax99 (AlainC.) Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Excellent post. The two points I most agree with: no TV and dress the part. Absolutely ! If you dress the part, you naturally feel more disciplined.

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  3. Hi James

    I always felt you had a hell of a long walk to get a coffee :)

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  4. I don’t have a TV period. ;)

    Some of these tips seem great… one reason I tried to stop working from home earlier was due to always thinking about work. It’s hard to relax when you get the next great idea to fix something and your tools are right in front of you.

    Unfortunately, I lack the space to make a separate office area. Getting out with people is great advice, though.

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  5. Music, yes. I have Sirius/XM wired into a home audio system and can crank up the tunes all day long. Too much talk is distracting so my two favorite channels are XM 50 (The Loft) and 51 (The Coffee House).

    One suggestion I would add to your list is to limit interruptions from phones, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. These distractions frequently start out innocently (I just have a quick question.) but allow enough of them and your whole day is suddenly gone. I used to hate working in an office where people can just walk in and it’s hard to ignore them. At home I can use caller ID (and the cool Google Voice management tools) to ignore most phone calls until it’s convenient FOR ME. And don’t read your e-mail and social networking stuff as it shows up because you’ll suddenly feel the urge to respond immediately. (None of these comments apply to jkOnTheRun which you should all read and respond to frequently throughout the day/night.)

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  6. Good post. Since my work computer is a thin client + 2 screens, I use a corner unit for it. At the end of the day, power down and close the doors. rotate around and there’s the desk with the personal system.
    While a huge music fan, I find podcasts do better as background for me, as I can sponge the information without getting caught up in the music too much. Since I’m relatively new to working at home, this has led to NPR, CNET, and TWiT(and mobiletech roundup) crawling up my last.fm charts.
    I agree with Robert, guarding against the twitter/FB/phone distractions is key.
    We will have to disagree, however, on dressing the part. Chinos are gone, jeans and tees only here. Shoes? Rarely.

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  7. Great points. I’ve been @home for 7yrs now..
    See my blog for some productivity tips too.
    I find structuring time is v important.

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  8. To ensure that I focus on the task at hand, I have a separate OS X workspace designated for each of the tools that I use throughout the day. I have one designated for common tasks such as web browsing and instant messaging, another for software development tools, and another for office utilities like Microsoft Word and Excel. While I’m not prevented from switching workspaces or simply selecting another application from the dock, I’ve found that this simple trick does wonders with a bit of added discipline.

    While it primarily aides in keeping me sane, I’ve found that changing my environment also leads to me being much more creative and productive with my work. I frequently alternate between home, a variety of coffee shops, and the local coworking space (also an art studio and engineering workshop), and each provides me with different surroundings and inspiration.

    Great article!

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  9. These are great tips, however, some positions or fields require the designated hours to be extended, long hours. By long, I mean early morning until wee hours. Right now, as a small business owner of a real estate brokerage based from my home, I must work the long hours and blend it with my family and personal time. I do have the designated work zone, do dress the part (most of the time), but do enjoy an occasional televised show in my office. Each day, I make it a point to enjoy lunch out with my husband or a friend. Being able to connect with family in the home, steps from my home office, and with professional and personal friends outside of the office, is essential to my survival and success.

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  10. Richard bingham Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Oh dear … Got URL right this time!

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