Working from home successfully requires extra planning, organization, and discipline

The home office has become the work environment of choice for many of today's IT consultants. But what does it take to stay on track with all those distractions in your path?

More than one-third of all working Americans (that’s roughly 40 million people) presently work from their homes. These individuals face some challenging obstacles that they didn’t have to deal with when they worked out of an office. Factors like children, time management, and even beautiful days can cause someone working from home to stray from the responsibilities of his or her job.

To help deal with the distractions that can crop up when your home is your office, it’s important to plan your time wisely, record all vital information, and maintain a level of discipline when it comes down to getting your work done.

Planning is everything
When you’re in an office environment, you go there with one purpose: to work. If for some reason you’re not in that mind-set, then your coworkers can quickly snap you into it when they start making requests of your time (or you’ll find yourself out on the street looking for a new job). At home, however, it’s up to you to establish a routine that will enable you to be in the proper frame of mind to get your work done.

For many of those working from home, “one of the hardest tasks they face is learning to manage their time,” said Mike Markowitz, content editor for, a Web site designed for freelancers, consultants, and the self-employed. “They have more flexibility now that they’ve escaped the corporate life, but with that independence comes greater pressure not to waste precious hours.”

One way to prevent the wasting of this precious time is to create a daily plan. A recent article recommends making and sticking to a daily plan. Because they are inevitable, this plan should allow time for interruptions. In fact, no more than 75 percent of your day should be planned as a means of dealing with any unexpected disruptions of your daily routine.

The first few months of a consultant’s life can get a little scary, so it’s best to figure out a few things about yourself and your work habits. Issues such as if you are a morning person or are more productive in the afternoon will influence how you structure your daily plan. If you want to take a day off during every week, then pick the same day each week. Set your schedule every Sunday and do your best to stick to it.

The cardinal rule: Write it down
Part of planning is having a system that keeps all your important work-related information in order. Ronni Eisenberg—author of Organize Your Home Office: Simple Routines for Setting Up An Office At Home—recommends creating a master list in a spiral notebook and titling it your “Office Notebook.” She prefers this method to the PalmPilot revolution of organization (although she still likes the PalmPilot for “to-do” lists). “I visit countless offices where I find executives keeping track of things on lists they keep everywhere,” Eisenberg said. “They’ve written on the back of everything—letters, file folders, envelopes,” rather than in something specifically intended for this information, like an Office Notebook.

In your Office Notebook, you should list all your notes and tasks—things to do, phone calls to make, “finish-by” dates for projects, mailing addresses, and even special notes about client situations. The notebook, in effect, becomes a history of your working life, and because it’s in chronological order, you can refer back to it to trace anything you need.

Discipline, discipline
Getting real work done at home takes discipline. Now that you’ve planned your day, have written your to-do list, and are sitting at your desk, you’ll need to maintain your focus on the tasks at hand. Here are a few techniques that can help you keep your attention geared solely toward work:
  • Practice working in small blocks of time (20 minutes) without interruption.
  • Have two phone lines—one for work and one for home—and don’t answer the home line while you’re working.
  • Faxes are rarely emergencies. Don’t interrupt what you’re doing to pick up a fax unless you know it needs to be dealt with right away.
  • If you have kids, hire qualified childcare to keep the children busy. Set house rules that you are not to be interrupted for any reason unless it is an emergency.
  • Close the door to your dedicated office space.
  • Use one calendar combining home and office so everything is in one place.
  • Use your calendar to reduce paperwork. Toss appointment cards, fliers, invitations, and mailers after you’ve entered the appropriate information.
  • Write everything down, check your calendar every day, and review your activities a week in advance.
  • Set a weekly schedule and stick to it. Write important items in red.

Some days are diamonds; some are stones
If you have had a productive day, “walk around your block to transition from work life to home life at the end of the day,” suggests Dan Pink, publisher of Free Agent Nation and editor at large for and On the other hand, if the interruptions are endless, the kids are sick, and you are simply out of sync, it might be time to gently close the door to your home office and head for the couch. There’s nothing like a little leisure time to get you back on track.
Got any great tips for staying on track while working from home? What do you do when you seem to hit a distraction at every turn—work somewhere else, or call it quits for a few hours? To share your thoughts, post a comment below or send us a note.

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