Discipline: Do You Have What it Takes to Work from Home?

This will be great, I thought. I will be able to jump into work right away, no commuting delay and get more done because I won’t have the normal office distractions. Well that’s kind of how it happened.

The day began with grabbing breakfast and coffee, then I settled into my desk, opened up my laptop and email… and that’s where I stayed.

I spent the whole day returning every email in record time, jumping up to eat, walk the dogs or look at the stack of projects I was supposed to get done that day, but couldn’t because I was buried in email. Then my significant other got home.

Wow you are home early; let’s get some dinner. Just like that the day ended, and I got my first lesson in how much discipline I would need to actually get work done at home.

Luckily, I don’t watch a lot of TV, so that wasn’t a distraction. But email is 100x worse than TV could ever be. If I was ever going to be productive working from home, I would need to better manage my time. That came as a huge surprise to me, because I’ve always considered myself to be very efficient and great at managing my time…. in the office.

I had to figure out what was distracting me and manage it. Email was the primary culprit. The second was family, I love them dearly, but loved ones can be the most guilt ridden distractions of them all.

Making Work from Home Work

Fast forward to today. I regularly dedicate 1 or 2 days per month to working from home. In the summertime I spend 1 week or more working from a summer house in Michigan, and a few hours here or there working while I’m on vacations out of the country, actually getting stuff done.

In many cases, I accomplish more than when I’m in the office. So how did I manage to move from one end of the spectrum to the other?

Two words: Discipline & Expectations

Discipline: Your ability to force yourself to focus on one task at a time until completion, avoiding all outside distractions. This can be done in a number of ways, but here’s what worked for me.

  • Get out of your email! Don’t even open it unless you are going to dedicate that time to returning messages. It is completely normal to set designated times to return email. Trust me: no one expects to receive a response from you 30 seconds after they sent their email. By spreading out times through the day when you return emails, you can still keep up with your inbox without letting email take over your day.
  • Agenda…Get one! Know what your goals are for that day. Create a “to do” list or identify a set of projects you need to complete. Then get to work! Dedicate 25 minutes – 1 hour to one task. Don’t check email; don’t take calls–nothing but that task should take up that time. When time is up or the task is complete, take a break. Walk the dog, grab some coffee, anything for 5-15 minutes. Reset your brain, then jump in and start again. The Pomodoro Technique is great for this: PomodoroTechnique.com/

Expectations: You are a businessperson. Setting expectations for your family, clients and friends should be a skill in your toolkit. You and everyone else can only benefit from doing so.

  • Tell your team / staff / family / employees your schedule ahead of time. For example, “I’ll be working from home on Fridays. I will be wrapping up billing or projects, in order to get everything done I will be checking email at the following times: 8am-9am, 12-12:30, 3pm and 5pm. I will call into the office at 12:30 to answer any questions and help with any emergencies. Outside of these times I will be working. Please understand that if I do not respond to you immediately, it is because I am focusing on a task. I will return your call before the end of the day, or feel free to jump on the call I have scheduled to check in at 12:30.”
  • Create a WORK ZONE. Don’t expect to get a lot done if you are sitting in the middle of your kitchen or living room with a laptop when school gets out or your spouse gets home. Have a quiet place that everyone in your family knows is for you to work… uninterrupted. They should consider this to be a real office, with office hours. You can make them feel less jilted by letting them know that you’ll take regular breaks in between project and they can ask you for things when you leave your work zone.

Lastly, be realistic. Life happens; things come up, personal and business. Be ready to make adjustments to your agenda, and don’t forget to communicate your changes to everyone personal and professional.

These tips work for me… what are your working from home secrets?

Wondering whether working from home could work for you or looking to tighten up your processes or work more effectively with work-from-home contractors?