Whether someone is a telecommuter or runs their own business from home, I’ve found it’s ridiculously important to establish ground rules for how I operate and work from my home office. Some people have a home office tucked away for this kind of work while others have to turn dining rooms, living rooms, and even bedrooms into workspaces — and sometimes this can be very challenging. How do you retain a semblance of peace, concentration, and such when all of your favorite things are sitting around you?
Good thing that you’ve got me here to help, right?
First off, all of these are absolutely interchangeable and if you’ve got your own thing that you want to slide in there, your own flavor of it: go for it! Remember, this is to help you make your home office situation easier.
Maximize Your Home Office Space
Wherever you choose to work from in your house, make sure you can spread out. Don’t sit in a corner or set yourself up with a cubicle, because you don’t need to. People in regular office situations hate that, and you’re at home. Why not enjoy the fact that you can turn a whole table into your home office workstation for a few hours a day? Even if you’re using your bed, prop some pillows around you for support, make sure your bed is neat, and lay out the things you’ll need. Are you using a laptop? Get a laptop table to go beside your bed or perhaps even a laptop stand for ease of use. You’ll work better, smarter, and faster if you feel organized and can get to everything you need in your comfortable, makeshift home office.
Four of the Five Senses in the Home Office
Like any big production in a regular office, the reason you feel comfortable enough to work is that you’re lacking in the normal distractions and sounds you’d hear in your home office. Minimize those! Sure, you need your cell phone on but don’t keep your television on and don’t put movies on whilst you work — because those take, even at the least, minutes away in small chunks. There’s a reason your bosses don’t let you do it in an actual office, right?
Be that as it may, you’re still working from home and need to be comfortable and have the right amount of structure without stifling yourself. Try light-level lamps that have a soft, ambient quality. My room contains two paper covered lamps. One hangs from a corner with a soft teal paper and the other is a lamp with a rice paper covered shade. The reason for that is that light tends to be intense and not many people have overhead lights in their homes, you know? Did you know casinos black out their windows so you don’t see the passage of time and thus you don’t become too tired and leave? It’s true! The more light that hits your pupils, the more tired and overworked they become. Soften the blow by softening the lights. (Don’t go completely dark; you’ll get sleepy.) I’ve also heard instances of people putting architecture paper over windows in their rooms and offices that get a lot of direct glaring sunlight. It softens the light without darkening your home office surroundings.
Sound is an important part of keeping your focus up and your energy going. Some people can handle blasting music and working alongside it and in regular offices, you see this often because sometimes office chatter or people walking in and out can be distracting from your job. In this instance though — you control your home office headspace and your workspace. For me, I turn my PS3 on, get the YouTube app going, and play ambient videos in which I can hear light chatter, clinking of things, and obvious activity but nothing that disrupts my workflow. Why? Because it is proven to keep concentration levels up when you feel that things are happening around you but not directly in contact. (I included my favorite to give you a good idea of how I use it in my home office, and also try Coffitivity.com for when you don’t have YouTube abilities.)
There are so many odd little things that energize your senses while you’re working from a home office. Candles, oil diffusers and such can actually do you a lot of good and keep you wide-awake and focused. Scents with citrus, eucalyptus, cinnamon, cedarwood (I included a link to my personal favorite), and pine are well-known for wiping out lethargy and getting you squared away in terms of setting your own productive scene. On a taste level, if you feel like you’re dipping a bit low but need some energy, try snacking on dried ginger or, my personal favorite, honey straws. Straws filled with honey make for a no-mess and idle concentration tool while providing honey — an incredible food known for its vitamins, antioxidants, antiseptic properties, allergen cures AND energy-enhancing. Yes. Honey, my friends. (I included an amazing DIY project to make your own honey sticks if you can’t find them at your local stores. Places like Amazon are known to carry honey sticks, and lots of candy and tea stores local to you may have them as well. Local honey is the best for you since it comes from indigenous pollens.)
What you do not want is consistent distraction. Do what you can to minimize those without risking the comfort of working from home.
But What About Facebook in the Home Office?
The Internet — let’s be honest — is easy to get lost in. Friends send links, people check on their Farms and before you know it you’ve been Tweeting for three hours and haven’t managed to get four words on a page. What about Skype? Oh, yes. All of these things — together — spell absolute disaster for someone working from home and on their own time. If you need to connect with people from your work or even with people in general, choose Skype or an another Instant Messaging program. Try to avoid Facebook unless you’re taking a break, but limit those breaks. Have things to Tweet but want to avoid sticking around? Try using TweetDeck (Which has an amazing Chrome integration) or HootSuite and scheduling those tweets to go out rather than let temptation lure you into your friends feeds.
Giving Yourself a Break (or Two) from Your Home Office!
Look, just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean your body doesn’t still need activity. You still need to take breaks and manage a normal, reasonable meal period. Once every two hours, go take a ten minute walk and if you don’t want to leave the house, go get yourself a light snack — preferably without carbs, because those will make you sleepy, too — and walk around your house. Do some stretches. Blood flow is important no matter where your home office is, and this is no exception. The point is to completely walk away from your computer and go get your body moving.
Taking a meal break is the same concept. Step away from your work, make yourself a light meal and keep yourself restricted to 30-60 minutes. Use that time to cook yourself something, make some of those friend calls, run a quick errand or whatever. That time is yours and you’re not running your own sweatshop. Make sure you take it. Personally, I like to make myself a small lunch and play some pinball or video game golf. Something I know I can easily stop playing but zone out to before I head back into my writing.
Set Realistic Home Office Boundaries
It’s easy, and I know from experience, to not give yourself a schedule when you’re working from home. You just start whenever and end whenever but the problem is — your body never gets used to it. Whether you realize it or not, your body pays attention to when you’re “on” and if you are irregular with when you turn it “off” — you can never fully relax when the work day is over. Set regular hours. Tell people these hours. Stick to them. If you start work at nine in the morning, be done by five. Tell your co-workers and boss that these are strict and stay with it because you’re a human being and you need to have a human being’s life. All those movies where the woman charges ahead of others because she works herself to the bone to impress the head honcho? Those are movies. Be reasonable with yourself and don’t go too hard. I’ve learned this the hard way; in the end, your work is better when you find your pace and keep at it.
So! There you have it! I’ve given you all the tools to lead a successful workplace within your home. Do you have certain things you do in order to keep yourself on task whilst working from the home?
[Image courtesy of Vera Kratochvil]