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Maintaining a Productive Environment in the Home Office

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If you work from home, beware of perceptions and misperceptions that can cause your productivity at home to fizzle. Managing your time effectively at a home office can be challenging if you don't have the right mind-set or establish firm boundaries.

Creating an environment that fosters solid focus

When choosing a location for your home office, you want a place that affects your productivity and your ability to manage your time in a positive way. When the space is less than ideal, or when you struggle to focus on work even when your location is ideal, consider these tips:

  • Choose an out-of-the-way locale. Look for an area that's yours alone, removed from general traffic and noise, where you can shut the door and hang a do-not-disturb sign on the knob. The more out of the way your office is, the better use you'll make of your time.

  • Employ other physical barriers if your office location isn't ideal. If your home office isn't off in a private area of the house and your doors are glass, your best defense is a shade or visual barrier. When children see you "not working" (that is, thinking), they may figure it's playtime. The other necessary item is a lock on the door, which announces that you're busy and shouldn't be interrupted.

  • Use white noise or music to block out other household noises. You can establish auditory boundaries by blocking household noises with white noise. White noise is a constant low-level background sound, such as static or a whirring fan, which quickly becomes inaudible but drowns out other, more disruptive noises.

Establishing boundaries; getting in the work mind-set

Crafting and adhering to a set of rules for you as well as your entire family and friends increases your chance of success when you're working at home. By drawing lines between your work time and your personal time, you allow yourself to be fully present with each — and presence is a key component of productivity.

Here are a few suggestions for establishing a solid set of boundaries:

  • Treat a day at home as you would a day in your office. Regular start and stop times and set lunch breaks allow everyone to recognize your schedule and abide by it.

  • Start early. If you work at home, you may find, as most office workers have, that you're most productive before others arrive. In the home office world, that's before the rest of your household wakes up for the day.

  • Dress for success. Shower, and get dressed just as you would if you were heading to the office. If you feel successful, you'll be successful.

  • Set goals for yourself. Set goals in terms of work completed and reward yourself for achieving them, just as you would at the office.

  • Don't answer personal calls during your workday. Using a home office to increase your productivity is an act of discipline. Others sometimes adopt the attitude that you're not really working; people who wouldn't imagine interrupting you at the office call to chew the fat, simply because you're home. Be polite but firm: "I'm sorry. I'd love to talk, but I'm working right now. I'll call you back at five, as soon as I'm finished, okay?"

  • Control interruptions from your family members. Patiently train your family on your work schedule and etiquette. You may want to establish set times when you allow for interruptions.

  • End on time. When the office door closes, let voice mail pick up work calls. Leave the office behind.

  • Allow yourself uninterrupted time each day to decompress. A commute allows you time to shift gears. But when you exit the door of your home office, you're immediately Daddy, Mommy, husband, wife, partner, or Fido's master! So when you're done for the day, take ten minutes to decompress before you walk out of your home office.

    [Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/Catherine Yeulet]
    Credit: Photo © iStockphoto.com/Catherine Yeulet

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