Whether you are a professional looking for a more flexible work arrangement, a better work/life balance, more proximity to family, more control over your career or a chance to innovate and succeed away from the daily grind of the office, working from home is an increasingly popular and viable option. The following are some key tips to maximize your productivity and make sure you make the most of your new arrangement.
1. Plan ahead
Don't enter your into your new arrangement blindly or without truly understanding and weighing the consequences. Discuss the new arrangement with your family and trusted colleagues and friends and make sure you have really fully understood the financial, social, psychological and long-term career-related implications of working from home. Make sure you have your family on board and the financial buffer to tide you through the initial days if your future income stream is uncertain. In the case of starting a new business leave no stone unturned in constructing your detailed business plan and make sure to analyze and prepare for every possible outcome and scenario.
2. Create a separate workspace
Chances are that if your "desk" is your lunch tray in front of the television set and your children, friends and neighbors have full access and visitation rights to your workspace, you are working at less than optimal levels of output and productivity. Your toddler's cacophony and paraphernalia may be cute in the living room but hazardous to your career in your professional filing cabinets and on your work phone. To help you maintain the right frame of mind, separate your workspace from your living space and create a private sanctuary for your work where you feel you can be focused and productive. Keep this area "off limits" during working hours. Make sure your professional work calls are separated from your personal calls and the confidentiality and security of your work computer files are maintained by keeping your work computer separate from the family computer.
3. Choose a routine and stick to it
Haphazard chaos is not normally the most conducive environment to do business but it is easy to slip into a disruptive non-routine unless your build some structure and discipline into your day. Choose the times when you are at your most productive and construct a routine around them, providing these times don't encumber your abilities to contact suppliers, colleagues or clients. Now that you are on your own, you may not need to work a 9 to 5 shift if you are far more productive after noon or if you would rather spend the mornings accompanying your daughter to her toddler painting class. Tailor your day to suit your needs and preferences bearing in mind the constraints of third parties you have to contact during the course of the day. Once you have structured your day make sure you adhere to that structure strictly. Filter into your day lunch breaks and tea breaks just as you would at your corporate workplace.
4. Stay organized
It is very easy when working from home for your private life to encroach on your professional life and for important documents, dates and materials to lose their way in the confusion. Beyond organizing your days and weeks by sticking to a daily schedule, it is important to make sure letters, files, important documents, promotional materials, bank accounts and all that pertains to your professional endeavours are well organized and clearly labeled and accessible. Set deadlines and makes sure you meet them to stay on target and maintain a productive workflow. Keep your calendar, files and ledgers in order and do not let the business of organizing your professional life pile up or get delayed.
5. Avoid distractions
A large part of the joy of working form home is proximity to family and home comforts but these should not distract from your work calendar. Your children should respect that at certain times you are largely off-limits and friends, neighbors, relatives should also be discouraged from calling at such times. Your work time should be strictly devoted to your business endeavours. The garden swing, your favorite magazines, the television set, your CD collection, and all your other prize possessions will all beckon at certain moments of the day but you are well advised to resist the tempting diversions and adhere to your daily routine.
6. Find creative ways to network
Working at home often entails a feeling of initial displacement as it usually means working without coworkers to chat with, bounce ideas off of and share plans with. Work on building a network to expand your contacts in your area of business, source leads and socialize amongst people with similar interests. Building a support network that you can use as a sounding board and a launchpad for your new business will also keep you sane on days when 'Barney' bellowing from the television set in the TV room and your teens' favorite rock band floating down from the upstairs bedroom threaten your focus and dedication.
7. Reward yourself
Don't forget to reward yourself for goals met, targets achieved and days you have been especially productive. Set clear targets and deliverables and make sure you are very cognizant of your success criteria so you can measure them clearly and reward yourself commensurately. Take precious time off after a very prolific morning for a long lunch or a walk in the park or an afternoon with your children; alternatively purchase that new piece of software or furniture or vacation you have been eying for a while if you have exceeded your financial targets.
8. Maintain a work/life balance
What may seem as a ticket to an easy life at first glance often translates into a recipe for 24 hour work days for the less disciplined. Don't lose sight of what's important in your life and remember that you have another life to "come home" to after your regular work hours no more where this work is conducted. Set time aside for the people and things that matter to you - your family, home, sports, hobbies and friends.
9. Don't lose sight of your overriding goals
Set annual, monthly and daily goals and targets and make sure you adhere to them. Take the time to revisit, assess and update your plans on a regular basis. Make sure you don't lose sight of your overriding objectives as you get bogged down in the day-to-day operational details of what you do.
10. Stay professional
It helps to dress for work every day and to approach your day exactly as you would do in a professional work environment. Answer the phone promptly and professionally, make sure no background din detracts from the professionalism of the situation, meet colleagues, clients and suppliers in a professional setting, respond to work mail and emails in a timely and formal manner and maintain the most professional code of conduct in all your endeavors.