You know the benefits, but there are some drawbacks to working from home. Lack of social interaction can leave you feeling isolated, out of the loop and demotivated. (There’s a health issue, too: low levels of social engagement have been linked to dementia in later life.) Time management and switching off can prove difficult. Career progression can stall without the pressure of an external taskmaster.
So I’ve put together 20 tips on how to get the best from your life as a mobile worker. Let me know if you have any other tips for staying sane while working from home.
1. Don’t: join a business club or one of the growing number of shared office spaces. You’ll meet people who may have nothing to do with your business and who may inspire you to be more innovative.
2. Get a shed: emulate author Roald Dahl, an early champion of shed-working, and convert that hut at the end of your garden into your own HQ.
3. If space is a problem, set aside a discrete work area, preferably with a door that closes firmly behind you. While many home workers don’t mentally separate home and work life, there is a lot to be said for physically doing so. Likewise, don’t share your business and home phone lines if it’s avoidable. Try to keep paperwork and files to a minimum – check out my tips for a paperfree office on TurbineHQ.
4. Start the day with a walk: cabin fever is a common problem among home workers. To combat this – and get a ‘work head’ on — author Orhan Pamuk used to say goodbye to his wife, leave the house, walk around the block and come back as if he’d just arrived at the office. An added bonus: this ensures you’re out of your PJs before midday.
5. Schedule in networking time: former HP boss and author Patty Azzarello encourages home workers to put aside a couple of hours (at least) a week to socialise with colleagues and contacts online. Get some daily banter with a phone call or by using tools such as Facebook or Yammer. This gives you a break from non-stop toil, while also keeping your presence ‘alive’ to peers and contacts. Better yet, schedule in lunch and breakfast meetings a few times a week.
6. Create a routine: freedom to work when you want is great, but remember others still keep ‘office hours’.
7. Change your IM status to unavailable out-of-hours: if your overseas colleagues see you’re online, they will contact you – and you’ll be drawn back into working.
8. Don’t eat meals at your desk (a good habit wherever you work).
9. Visit the office once a week if you can.
10. Schedule your most important work when you’re at your sharpest. Despite the instinct, checking your email first thing may not be the best use of your brain at that hour. Our rational resources are limited to a few hours a day, so organise your work day accordingly, suggests David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work”.
11. Work in time blocks, possibly using a timer to keep you on schedule. Take a short break to reward yourself after each block.
12. During blocks, switch off online distractions you don’t need – email, Twitter notifications, Facebook updates. There is increasing evidence that this sort of multi-tasking is at best distracting and can result in work becoming less focused and more time-consuming.
13. Consider finding a ‘creative buddy’ with whom you can exchange ideas: blogger Scott Hanselman used Skype and a dedicated computer to simulate this “virtual camaraderie”.
14. Get up early. Even natural owls will find it less onerous when the commute is just down the hallway.
15. Focus on tasks, not hours put in. Eight hours is a long time to work alone. Zen Habits suggests keeping three lists of three: one for the things you will do, another for the less urgent jobs, a third for things you’d really like to get done at some point.
17. Staring at a computer screen can disrupt your sleep: take MessageBase founder Sebastian Powell’s advice and stop working a few hours before you go to bed.
18. Make sure you’ve got tech support and a contingency plan for network failures.
19. Invest in noise cancelling earphones and a comfy chair.
20. Stuck on a problem? Relax, stop thinking, step away from your screen. Putting your brain into idle for a few moments can help a solution surface, according to David Rock.