Working from home is awesome. Greater autonomy and a flexible schedule are just the beginning. In the past, I spent at least an hour driving to work each day, and another hour driving home. That adds up to 520 hours (21 days) a year. Cutting out the commute also lowers my carbon footprint and saves me thousands of dollars a year in transportation costs.
Working from home is hard. More distractions and less supervision can zap your productivity if you're not careful. Sitting at home alone all day can also have negative effects on your physical and mental health.
During the past ten years, I've discovered several hacks to keep me on track and healthy while working from home. Whether you're a freelancer, telecommuter, or small business owner, these tools and strategies can help make your working-at-home experience more efficient and manageable.
1. Designate your workspace
A key component of successfully working at home is having a dedicated workspace. Whether it's a spare room, converted garage, yurt, or hanging nest, designate a specific place for work and only work.
"You need to create an environment for yourself that creates the sense that you’re leaving personal time and entering work time.” - Cris Sgrott-Wheedleton, a Virginia-based productivity consultant
Tight on space? Even if you live in a small apartment with other people, it's important to carve out a space of your own from which to work. You can loft a bed and add a desk underneath, find a corner desk that fits your space, or even set up your workspace in a hallway or closet.
2. Optimize your workspace
Keep your workspace clean and clutter-free. In a survey by OfficeMax, 77% of respondents said that clutter impairs their productivity and more than half of those surveyed said it also negatively affects their motivation levels and state of mind.
"Your performance coincides with your workspace. When it’s organized and precise you have the mindset and motivation to work." - Jennie Dede, VP of Recruiting for Adecco.
Clutter can affect your reputation as well. If you have video calls with coworkers or clients, a messy desk, bad lighting, or embarrassing personal items in the background will detract from what you are trying to say, no matter how eloquent you are.
Once it's clutter free, optimize your space further by adding air-filtering plants, a music player, or a dry erase board wall.
Avoid placing a refrigerator, snacks, or unhealthy drinks within easy reach. Weight gain is a serious problem for remote workers. Keep a liter bottle of water close by and refill it at least once, preferably twice each day.
3. Be prepared with backups
The expression, "You never know, lightning could strike," really hit home for me one day about three years ago when lightning literally struck my home. My laptop and router were completely fried. I lost all of my work and had to replace my entire system.
If you work online, backup your work frequently and save files in the cloud whenever possible. Test all of your equipment weekly and learn how to do basic repairs and troubleshooting yourself. That way you can fix simple problems on the fly to get you through the day if there is a problem.
If your budget allows, have backup equipment and services, including:
- An extra laptop or desktop
- Wireless and fixed Internet connections
- Mobile, VoIP ("voice over IP," like Skype), and landline phone services
- A backup battery or UPS (uninterruptible power supply)
4. Stick to a set schedule
Once your workspace is ready, establish a consistent routine. Sure, one of the benefits of working from home is being able to work whenever you want, but that doesn't mean you should just fly by the seat of your pants. Having a structured schedule helps boost productivity. It also makes it a whole lot easier to keep your work and personal time separate.
Develop a schedule based on the types of work you do, and where your clients or coworkers are located. If you work for a company in your time zone, plan your work day around their business hours. On the other hand, if you are a freelancer working for clients in various time zones and countries, you may need to plan shorter blocks of times throughout the day rather than one large 8-hour chunk. Whenever possible, schedule some time that overlaps with your coworkers and clients on a daily or weekly basis.
Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, found that the best performers typically work in uninterrupted blocks of time, for no more than 90 minutes at a time.
5. Take breaks—and stand up!
Dr. Ericsson and his colleagues also found that stopping every 90 minutes renews your energy level and gets you ready for you next task with a new outlook. During these breaks you can get up and stretch and do light exercise, refill your bottle of water, go outside the house for some fresh air, eat a healthy snack and come back refreshed.
"Employees who take a break every 90 minutes report a 30 percent higher level of focus than those who take no breaks or just one during the day. They also report a nearly 50 percent greater capacity to think creatively and a 46 percent higher level of health and well-being." - Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project
Sitting all day is bad for you. Some research indicates that each hour of sedentary activity can actually lower your life expectancy by more than 20 minutes, which is a pretty amazing statistic to consider. Think about getting a standing desk or an under-the-desk elliptical machine. Most importantly, stand at least once an hour and take breaks for moderate activity throughout your day. Take a walk, do some gardening, clean your office, or spend time playing with your kids—whatever works for you.
In a recent episode of "The Meaningful Show," Dean Bokhari explored the importance of these "rituals of renewal" even further. Dean noted, "Whenever you can disconnect for a short period of time, it allows your mind to just kind rejuvenate and renew. When you can give yourself that and then come back to your dedicated focus time... you'll find that you're actually more productive."
Best App: GPS for the Soul This iOS app by The Huffington Post helps create a healthy balance between your daily life and work. You can create guides for yourself that include things like pictures of your loved ones, inspiring quotes, music, and breathing exercises to help restore harmony and balance.
6. Switch it up
Just because you CAN work from home, that doesn't mean you HAVE to work from home ALL the time. Go to a coffee shop or the library sometimes. Do you know other people in your area who work from home? Schedule regular co-working meet-ups with them at your fav coffee shop.
Co-working spaces have become much more common (and nicer) in recent years, too. Services like Workbar, LiquidSpace, and ShareDesk can help you find available spaces near you, on a daily or longer-term basis.
Switch up the type of work you're doing as often as possible too. If you've been staring at the same project for a while, unable to make any significant progress, take a break from it to renew your energy and focus. Then go back to the task that was giving you problems, refreshed and ready to tackle it in a new way.
7. Stay social
When you work from home, you meet and interact with fewer people on a daily basis. This causes many remote workers to feel isolated, which can cause anxiety and even depression.
Once you find your groove and you have established a routine you are happy with, don’t forget to keep in touch with your friends and colleagues. You have to make time for personal interactions by scheduling face-to-face meetings at least once a week along with lunches and other social outings. Fortunately for us we live in a time where the available technology makes it easy to stay in touch with others.
Remote working has changed the nature of the work environment, and as sociologist and businesses argue the pros and cons and the impact it is having on society and the business community, more individuals are opting to work from wherever they want, whenever they want. Forrester Research reported that, "34 million Americans work from home and that number is expected to reach a staggering 63 million—or 43% of the U.S. workforc—by 2016."
If you are one of those people, make your health (and sanity) a priority so that working from home can be the awesome experience we all know it can be.
Managing Editor at KillerStartups
Dawn is an American artist and journalist currently living in SE Asia. She is the Managing Editor at KillerStartups, an online publication which focuses on tech startups, website development, and entrepreneurship. Dawn is passionate about travel and committed to the location independent lifestyle. Follow her on Twitter @DawnEBowman.