Working from home: 8 tips for making the most of your day
10 March 2015
Esther Shaw is an award-winning journalist who writes personal finance and property articles for the national newspapers.
How to stay productive and get the most from your day when you're working from home.
Some people are happy to work from home. But others can find it boring and lonely, and getting motivated can be difficult.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics revealed that over 2.8 million people in the UK now work from home; this is equivalent to one in 10 people.
The key to making it a success is setting your home up in the right way for a productive working day – and getting into good habits from the outset.
1. Make sure you have a proper working area
First off, create a dedicated working space that is intimate and personal, but also tidy and organised.
Choose a quiet area – or go somewhere you can shut the door to avoid distractions.
Avoid using the dining room. Never use the bedroom as your office.
Empty nesters can turn a child’s bedroom into an office/craft making space. Don’t be sentimental. It’s your space now.
Don’t assume the shed will provide the answer, it’s a short-term mild weather option at best.
Take time to set up your working space; eyestrain due to screen work or bad lighting, or repetitive strain injury (RSI) due to poor desk design can lead to debilitating injury.
You can download checklists or even get a workstation consultant to visit you at home.
Your home furniture may not be appropriate for long-hours working. A good office chair may be the best investment you make, so don’t be worried about spending money on a decent chair, and get a big filing cabinet for all your paperwork, so you can pack everything away at the end of the day, allowing you to mentally leave work for home.
Ensure the rest of the house remains somewhere to relax; if not, you won’t be able to escape thoughts about work.
Most importantly, leave any ‘bad day at the office’ in the home office; don’t take it into the living room or bedroom.
2. Each morning, act as though you’re off to work
While you may relish the idea of spending all day in comfy jogging bottoms – or even your pyjamas – this could affect your productivity. Getting dressed can help you get into the right mind-set for work.
The commute is a bridge between the home and work environment, when we mentally move from domestic considerations to work concerns. It can also offer quality time for reflection, to read, listen to music etc. That opportunity may disappear once you’re working from home – your ‘commute’ might only be as far as the bedroom to the lounge.
So give yourself a new commute – via the kitchen, where you can make yourself a coffee, eat breakfast, then at a strict set time, start your working day. Which leads us to the next point…
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3. Set out proper start and finish times
When working from home it’s vital to put some structure into your day, and that means setting out strict start and finish times.
You may find it makes sense to start early and finish early, as you are likely to be fresher first thing.
Crucially, once you have logged off at the end of the day, resist the temptation to switch on again.
4. Schedule lots of breaks
Without colleagues around you, it can be easy to lose track of time, but it’s just as important to take lots of breaks away from your desk.
Get up and walk around lots throughout the day – even if it’s just for a cup of tea or a toilet break.
An eight-hour working day at home is a long time without talking to anyone. Use your lunchbreak (you must take one) to get out of the house to the shops, or to take your partner to a cafe for lunch.
Better still, go for a run with a friend during your lunch-break – or sign up to a yoga class.
And while you may be happy to allow yourself to watch a bit of television during your breaks, you need to ration this – or you could find you have wasted a whole afternoon doing nothing else.
5. Don’t get distracted by daily life
When working from home, it’s easy to get distracted by household chores that need doing, such as the laundry or washing up. At the office, you wouldn’t take a mid-morning break to do the washing-up (unless you’re one of those people who finds washing-up therapeutic, and you’re able to mentally sort through work issues whilst elbow-deep in suds, only to run back to your computer after a eureka moment!).
That’s great if that works for you, but the majority of people will fall into the housework trap because we’re bored or can’t find a solution to a problem; be honest with yourself and make sure you aren't wasting your working day.
Set aside half an hour, say, to do these tasks first thing, so you can then spend the rest of the day fully focused on home-working – with no excuses.
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6. Have a separate work line
Think about having a separate work line so that you don’t get stuck fielding personal calls when you should be working.
A business-only mobile phone will also help stop you being distracted by landline calls; simply put an answerphone on the landline so you won’t worry about missing anything urgent.
Remember, you wouldn't be able to answer the home phone if you were away working in an office; odds are, they’re just nuisance calls asking if you’ve had an accident in the last few years...
7. Plan for IT problems
As well as a phone, ensure you have all the necessary technology in place to support your work.
Have a plan in case your computer breaks down or your printer packs up, as you won’t have an IT department to fall back on.
If your partner is at home and used to accessing the home computer at their convenience, they won’t take kindly to being denied access to it.
Buying them a laptop or tablet of their own will quite likely save your relationship. And don’t ever ask to borrow it for work!
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8. Keep your partner ‘in the loop’
You may see yourself as a dedicated entrepreneur, they may see a somewhat estranged individual locked in a room all day.
So keep your partner up to date with how things are progressing.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.