As a mother of two beautiful girls, I've experienced first-hand the struggles of balancing work with the responsibilities of being a parent. I jumped at the opportunity to work from home, but I quickly realized I needed to set boundaries in order to maximize my productivity in a busy home.
With 14.2 million UK workers or 13.9% of the workforce opting to work from home according to a 2014 survey, I know that I'm not alone. I'm sharing the lessons I've learned along the way in order to help those following in my path.
1. Create A Dedicated Workspace
Sitting on the couch with a laptop might sound appealing, but countless blog articles tout the benefits of having a dedicated workspace in your home. This is a place where you only go to do work, and your family should recognize it as a distraction-free zone.
I've found that if I'm sitting in the living room on my laptop, the kids innocently interrupt me a lot more than during my time spent in my office. Heading to the other side of the house requires more effort than looking up and saying "Mom, what do you think about XYZ?" as I hammer out a report a few feet away.
2. Make Every Effort to Become Personally Connected
According to a Stanford University study, working from home cuts an employee's chances of being promoted by 50%. This is bad news for career minded professionals. The luxury of working from home can give us space from office politics, but it can also lead to an unfair perception that we're not as engaged or relatable with the office-based team.
Actively look for opportunities to head to the office whenever possible. If you're within driving distance, then head in for weekly meetings. If you're working further away, use Skype and Google Hangouts to get in some virtual face time.
3. Invest in Comfortable Home Office Amenities
The finer things in life really do make a difference. Whether it's a comfortable office chair or better lighting, creating an organized, bright space to get work done improves productivity. The more comfortable I feel in my office, the more likely I am to happily spend hours knocking out my to-do list.
Having modern technology is also a plus. For example, according to a study by Intel, "wireless notebook users see an increase in productivity of over 100 hours per year." For me, I saw a huge bump in productivity after installing a second monitor; copying and pasting, as well as research, is a lot easier.
4. Create a To-Do List: Daily, Weekly, and Monthly
Brian Tracy wrote an incredible book titled: "Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time". My work life dramatically changed after taking his lessons to heart. The most important lesson is learning to "think on paper" and work off of a set of to-do lists.
Planning my day around my most important daily, weekly and monthly objectives empowers me to stay ahead of the important things before wasting time on low-value busywork. Plus, getting everything out of my head and onto paper lowers my stress level because I have a visual reminder that I've strategically processed my approach.
5. Communicate First, Work Second
I proactively communicate with my colleagues and supervisors. If I'm in the middle of a project and an email comes in, I quickly reply. Depending on the complexity of the message, I may simply confirm receipt and add it to my to-do list. Or, if I can quickly resolve the intent of the email, instant message or text in less than 5 minutes, I'll take care of it upon receipt. Responding quickly to messages reaffirms that I am engaged, which is incredibly important when working from home.
Waiting 30-60 minutes to answer a work-related email may inadvertently signal that I'm not focused on my responsibilities.
Boundaries, Comfort and Communication Are Key to Maximizing Productivity
Balancing family and work are challenging on the best of days. Creating a space that is separate from the rest of the house and includes everything I need to be productive helps me psychologically separate my family and work life. The added buffer between my family and my work lets me focus on one thing at a time, which improves my performance in both areas of my life.
Proactively communicating with my team at the office allows me to reaffirm that I am engaged, even though I'm not in the same workspace. Using tools to increase the level of face time I get with my coworkers allows me to effectively stay on their radar and see how they are reacting to my work product and analysis. While challenging, working from home is becoming increasingly popular; I hope my observations help you maximize your productivity while working from home!