Working From Home?
If you work from home, you know how easily distractions can bog down your productivity. “Who is the dog barking at?” “Was that the doorbell?” “Gee, those ceiling fans could really use a good dusting…” A million thoughts swarm through your head, keeping you from truly focusing on the task at hand. So, how can you block out the distractions and up your productivity when working at home? The answer may lie in a properly setup home office. Having your own space at home devoted to your work helps minimize distractions and allows you to keep up the pace just as you would if you were going into the office. This space should be just for work, so you can really get into the zone. Now, not everyone has the luxury of having a separate room just for an office, but whether you have a dedicated office or are creating a workspace in your living room, kitchen or even hallway, there are some tips and tricks that can make it a functioning work area. Listed below are a few guidelines that will help you to make your workspace a dedicated zone of productivity.
Choosing Your Space
Hopefully, you are fortunate enough to have a separate room in your house dedicated solely to being your office. This is the ideal situation, and the most effective for minimizing distractions. It also adds to the illusion of going to the office - having a shut door that you can enter and leave as you shift between home and work. However, we realize that the ideal isn’t the reality for everyone. So, when choosing your workspace, there are a few other factors to consider. Pick an area that sees minimal foot traffic. If your family is constantly running by, you aren’t likely to get a lot of work done. Also, you don’t want your office to be within eyesight or earshot of the television or other noise polluters. If possible, pick a place in your house that receives plenty of natural light. This will increase your comfort and thus your productivity. If natural light isn’t an option, make sure to adorn your space with a lamp or two, and supply them with light bulbs made to resemble natural light. The more well lit your space is, the less strain your eyes will feel. Plus, no one likes a dark, gloomy work environment.
When organizing your home office, the general rule is to keep the items you need the most and use frequently within arm’s reach. You don’t want to waste time by frequently getting up to sort through something across the room to retrieve the item you’re after. Likewise, you don’t want to take up valuable space on or near your desk with items you don’t really need. The more you use an item, the closer to your desk it should be. The lesser-used items can be kept in separate filing cabinets or shelves further away. If the item is rarely used, it can even be kept in a separate room in the house. If it is never used - toss it out! Only essential items have any place in your home office.
No matter where you’re working, you’ll obviously need a desk to sit down and get to work. Having a desk that is large enough for what you’re working on is vital, but with the right organization and gadgets, you can make even a smaller surface work to your advantage. The number one tip in setting up your desk: declutter! Having a clean, organized surface helps clear your mind of distractions and focus on the task at hand. All that should be on your desk are items that you use regularly and need to be reached quickly. This most likely boils down to just your computer, your phone, and maybe some pens and post-its. If you have a computer tower, place it underneath the desk, as you don’t regularly need to access it. If you’re working with a smaller desk, opt for a swinging arm for your monitor, so you can easily move it aside when you don’t need it. While it may be tempting to place that adorable picture of your dog or a bit of greenery on your desk, these items should be kept out of the way and placed in other areas of your home office. Your desk is just for work, unless of course you have one of those large executive desks!
Visual clutter clogs the mind just as much as physical clutter. Having a bunch of cords and wires is not only unattractive and potentially dangerous if they are in your footpath, but they can actually slow productivity. Luckily, the world is going wireless, and there are a ton of wireless gadgets to choose from. Keyboards and mice, for instance, are incredibly easy to find wireless, and going wireless with these tools gives you more freedom on how you arrange your desk. By choosing a wireless printer, you can clear up even more space on your desk by putting the printer in another area of your office. This is especially helpful if the printer isn’t something you use regularly. If going completely wireless isn’t an option, at least be sure to organize and bundle any dangling cords. Whether you use velcro, zip-ties, or fashion some other cord-storing device, make sure the cords are out of sight, and more importantly, out of your footpath.
Who doesn’t love shopping for office supplies? In most offices, you’ll find a wide array of paper clips, scissors, staplers, thumb tacks, and a whole bunch of other tools that while occasionally useful, don’t really need to be accessed constantly. Again, we want to keep the workspace clean, so organizing these less-used objects away neatly in a drawer using drawer organizers will allow you to still access them easily, while keeping your desk free of unnecessary clutter. Also, look for duplicates. How many of us have unintentionally collected more than one stapler and three-hole punch? Do you really need that arsenal of post-its in every color under the sun? Get back to the basics. Only keep what you really need on hand. If you like to buy in bulk, try keeping extra supplies in a separate area of the house, and out of the way. The goal here is to minimize. Your home office should only contain what you absolutely need to get your work done.
Keep it Colored
Okay, this may sound like a silly task, but color-coding your files really does boost productivity! Our brains react much faster to seeing color than reading labels, so by having a consistent color coding system will save you a lot of time when looking for the correct document. Yes, you should still neatly label everything in your office, but by adding some color you can really save a lot of time, and you know what they say, time is money! Having a comfortable, adjustable, ergonomic chair is super important when it comes to productivity and health. Numerous studies have shown a direct correlation between comfort and productivity. The less time you spend fidgeting, the more time you have to spend working. Plus, sitting at a desk all day can be really hard on your spine and cause a plethora of health problems. Choose a chair with adjustable (and adequate) lumbar support to help support the natural curve of your spine. You’ll also want to choose a chair that is the proper height for your desk, so you can sit with your feet flat on the floor, your arms can easily reach your keyboard, and you don’t have to strain your neck to properly view your monitor. Also, make sure to give your body plenty of breaks. Get up and walk around! Even if it just to go get a cup of coffee or glass of water, you need to give your legs a stretch and your eyes a break from the screen. Reducing the strain that office work can cause your body will help to increase your productivity and keep you enjoying your work much more.
Many people have found success in using the inbox/outbox system. Have a file on the left side of your desk that is your designated inbox. This is your immediate projects - your today’s to-do’s. Mail that needs to be sent, invoices that need to be filed, documents that need to be signed, etc. Once they are complete, you can move them to your “outbox” on the right side of your desk. When you are done working for the day, be sure to take a minute to clear your outbox. File/shred/recycle completed outbox tasks each day in order to prevent this organizational tool from becoming yet another version of a junk drawer where documents get lost and forgotten.
One of the great benefits of working from home is flexibility. Being able to work when you want, where you want. While some people may thrive with this kind of freedom, others have difficulty staying productive without a set schedule. If you fall into the latter category, try setting office hours for yourself. Knowing that you will be at your workspace for a set amount of time on each specific day can help you focus more clearly on your work, much as though you were punching a time card at your office. This method can be especially beneficial for those of you with families. Make sure the whole household knows your schedule, and they will know that those hours are your “do not disturb” hours, thus further minimizing outside distractions.
One major thing that can really put a damper on home office productivity is inefficient technology. Is your computer frequently crashing, your internet lagging, or your printer on the fritz? Staying on top of your technology is vital to a productive work space. There is nothing more frustrating than having your computer unexpectedly shut down while rushing to meet a deadline, or having your internet drop as you are trying to send an important email to a client. Keep up with computer updates and consistently back up your files to a cloud, external hard drive, or an internet storage service. If your internet is working too slow, contact your internet provider about upping your speed. Technology can be a great expense, but by making sure everything is well cared for and up-to-date, you will save an invaluable amount of time.
We’ve already talked about the benefit of color-coding your files. There are a few other things to keep in mind when filing, though. Just as you need to be on top of technological updates, you need to be on top of updating your files. Are you still storing away an invoice from ten years ago that you’ll never need again? Did some of your personal tax statements get mixed in with your business tax statements? Keep your household files separate from your business ones, and only hold on to what you need - shred the rest. Remember, though, that filing isn’t just for your hard copies. Is your computer desktop cluttered with documents? Do you have difficulty locating the file you need? Keeping a tidy computer is just as important as keeping a tidy file cabinet, if not moreso. Not only does a cluttered computer cause a strain on your time and clutter your mind, but it can also slow down your computer and make it run less efficiently. Just like you would with your paper files, keep your electronic documents in designated, easy to locate folders, and only keep what you need. You also want to be sure to back these documents up. There are plenty of inexpensive internet storage services available now to safeguard your electronic information. Signing up for one of these services can provide you with protection and peace of mind.
Personalize - With Caution
Here is where you have to find a happy balancing point. To make a home office productive, it needs to be free of distraction, and the professional needs to be kept separate from the personal. Now, that doesn’t mean that you need to work in a cold, sterile, environment. While less clutter means greater productivity, you still need your space to feel comfortable in order to get work done effectively and with minimal stress. Putting a plant in your office brings nature indoors, boosts the spirit, and even helps with air circulation. However, if your home office starts to resemble the inside of a greenhouse, your plants are likely just causing clutter and decreasing productivity. Having a few pictures or inspirational quotes on the wall can cause an energy boost while you work, but cluttering your workspace with tons of personal photos can be distracting. We recommend choosing just a few personal items, such as a plant and a couple photos, and rotating these personal touches out regularly. Also, make sure to keep your home office free of non-work related items. Regularly clean out any clothes, toys, or other items that may have snuck their way into your workspace.