Self Employment

How to Set Up an Effective Home Office

Working from home is such a wonderful privilege.

I still remember throwing myself into rush-hour traffic after sleeping five hours and having to deal with people I didn’t respect or like day after day after day. It was miserable. I remember thinking, “I could do most of this work from home. It would be such a relief. I would get up at 9, lie in bed with my laptop and work, and then bring my computer to a coffee shop, get something good to drink and work some more.”

The idea sounded like a slice of heaven, especially while dealing with terrible, gloomy people with bad coffee-breath in a disgusting prison of a building all week.

Now that I’ve been working from home for four years I can tell you what it is actually like. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, and there are some real disadvantages to working from home. However, the benefits and the lifestyle it affords make it very, very worth it. Given the option I would never go back to a traditional office setting. But there are some things you need to know:

1. One is a Lonely Number

When I started my home-based web-development business the hardest thing for me to adjust to was working alone, and I don’t mean not having any contact with people. After all, I was speaking to clients across the globe all day some weeks. What I mean is that there were days where I would go 9+ hours without seeing a soul.

I a mildly introverted person by nature, but not so much that I don’t get lonely. I am human. You are human too, if you are reading this article. As introverted as you might think you are, or as much as you may think hate people, you will miss the camaraderie and the office lunches, I swear.

At least at first.

There are good ways to counter the effect of the loneliness of working from home. The first is to pick at least one day a week where you do not work from home! The best day is Wednesday, as this tends to divide your weeks up nicely, if you work five days a week. Go work at a coffee shop, the park, or even bloody Walmart if you can get a WiFi signal. Even though you will still be working, just being around people will help.

I used to take a lunchtime walk to the grocery store, go to a bookstore and/or meet up with a friend for lunch all the time. I still do this.

Another good idea is to work with a buddy every now and then. If you can pull it off, get together with other entrepreneurs and meet up with them. There are groups for self-employed folks that can be found online. Plenty of others have experienced the occasional loneliness that arises from working for yourself. Meet up with them and make the day better for both of you!

2. Don’t Work Next to the Goldfish Tank

Your home office should be a relatively peaceful place. This actually requires more preparation than you might think.

First, make sure that you choose a room away from the hustle and bustle of the house. You don’t want to be near the kitchen if you can help it, especially if you live with someone who likes to cook. The noise of a blender, oven timer or your significant other singing while the smell of fresh bread wafts into the room will more than likely put you out of a working mood.

Secondly, make sure that the environment suits you. This will be different for different people. Some of us like quiet, airtight, sterile quarantine-cells with no windows, no noise, no drafts and no personality. That may be you. If it is, set your office up this way. Others might like their dog’s kennel in the corner, AC/DC blaring at a deafening pitch and the smell of incense burning at all hours. Don’t judge. This might actually be a productive work environment for some. It isn’t for me. But whatever office-structure works for you is what you should strive towards creating.

Finally, reduce the likelihood of something distracting you. If you are a Facebook addict, do not sign on to Facebook during the day, and actually you might want to just block the site for yourself during work hours. If annoying little noises bug you, don’t set you office up next to a goldfish tank or in the same room as the baby.

The point is, get to know your work habits and set your office up in the way that will maximize your productivity. It will make a huge difference in the success of your business, as this is where you will be spending a majority of your work time.

3. Work When You Work and Live When You Live

It is extremely important to differentiate your home life from your work life.

You will burn out faster than you can get that goldfish tank out of your office if you do not follow a simple rule: set office hours and stick to them!

Also – and I mean this with every fiber of my being: You should never tell your clients that you work all the time or are available any time. It is much, much better to tell your clients that your office hours are noon-5pm twice a week and you are unavailable any other time (love that 10-hour work week) and then work all other hours anyway then it is to not set any hours.

As well-meaning as your clients may be, then will call you relentlessly if you do not set hours and set boundaries. Ideally, your schedule should be similar to a regular work schedule (9 to 5 Monday through Friday), as un-romantic as this sounds. The advantage here is that it will help you align your business to the rest of the world and make you feel more connected. It will also look more professional to you clients. Finally, they will not harass you nearly as much outside those hours. And for God’s sake do NOT take any calls or respond to any e-mails outside your office hours. Don’t give one of the biggest advantages to working from home.

Finally, if you do need to work an occasional Saturday just don’t tell your clients you are available. I made this mistake once and ended up with 12 “urgent” e-mails that day, and I am not exaggerating!

Remember – you will get the most work done in an ideal environment with little interruption from your clients.

Treat your home office seriously and you will reap all the great rewards from working from home.

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