If you’ve ever worked from home, you’ll know how easy it is to get distracted, step away from whatever you were supposed to be doing, and lose hours doing something totally unnecessary—like reorganizing the fridge.
Of course, you’ll also know how much easier it can be to focus when there’s no one around to distract you, and how much nicer it can be to work when and where you want. Want to spend a couple of hours in a coffee shop? No problem. Want to work in your pajamas? Done. Want to spend the first hour of the day jamming to ska while you check your emails? Well, who’s going to stop you?
If you know you’ll be working from home for a prolonged period of time, it’s probably safer to assume you’re going to get distracted unless you set yourself up for success right from the start. To help you out, we spoke to entrepreneurs from the YEC. Here’s what they have to say about setting up a productive home office.
1. Set work hours
Would you walk into the office at 11am? Unless you’ve mastered the 4-hour workweek—and if you have I want to know how—you likely wouldn’t begin your day an hour before you take your lunch. Not only is it going to mean you have to cram everything into the space of a few hours, but it’s more likely that you’ll eat into your personal time when you might have been relaxing or enjoying fun activities with friends and family.
For John Rood, the founder and President of Next Step Test Preparation, keeping more regimented work hours is key to staying on track. “Working from home creates the temptation to always be on call. That’s not healthy,” he says, “Set work hours for yourself and remove yourself from your work area when you aren’t actually working.”
This is also a good way to encourage anyone else who is home during your work hours to respect your need for space and privacy.
2. Have natural light
When it comes to knuckling down to work, a dark room is anything but inspiring—it’s sleeping inducing.
According to one study, both the quality and the type of lighting in a workspace can have a measurable effect on both productivity and general wellbeing.
Leadership coach and entrepreneur Brian Smith has kept a home office for the last 10 years and admits how easy it is to lose track of time when you work from home. “The most important aspect of a home office is windows with great natural light, which energizes you, provides a constant reminder of the passing time, and is a gentle nudge to go outdoors,” Smith says. “A home office is also a place for self-work, so I keep a yoga mat on the floor and space for meditation as well.”
If you’re going to be spending a fair portion of your time inside, make sure to splurge on good lighting and, if possible, pick a room with big windows so you don’t have to use artificial light in the early hours of the day.
If the intersection between lighting and productivity interests you, be sure to read this article.
3. Have a “do-not-disturb” indicator
If you have a family, working from home can present a challenge. Even if you’re pretty good at keeping yourself behind closed doors in order to focus, chances are your family isn’t going to think too much of dropping by every now and then for a quick chat, to ask a question, or worse, to ask you to do something!
Hubstaff co-founder Jared Brown has figured out a workaround that works for him and his family. “My biggest distraction at home is my wife asking a question or my kids bursting into my office to show me something. When I have my headphones on, they know not to bother me because I’m ‘at work.’ My advice to anyone in a home office is to set clear boundaries with spouses, kids, and roommates by giving them a clear indicator for when you shouldn’t be disturbed.”
You don’t have to choose headphones as your “do not disturb” sign. Other indicators can work just as well if the relevant parties are made aware of the meaning. You might try a closed door, a sign on the door, quiet hours, silencing headphones, or something else. Get creative!
4. Define the work that needs to get done
Another way to stay on task is to set specific goals for yourself. What needs to get done? When does it need to be done by? In doing this, you increase your chances of actually accomplishing these things.
Brett Farmiloe is the founder of Markitors, a digital marketing agency in Phoenix, Arizona. With five years of experience working from home, Farmiloe has learned that in order to be productive, he needs to focus on the work that needs to get done that day. “I set a schedule for myself with the work that needs to get done that day and when it needs to get done. By having a schedule and defined work priorities, I’m able to hold myself accountable to work that has been prioritized.”
In fact, according to one study by the American Psychological Association, checking in frequently on your progress toward your goals increases the likelihood that you’ll succeed. For more on this read “A Scientifically-Proven Method to Help You Achieve Your Goals.”
5. Make your office as far away from the kitchen and living room as possible
Many of us eat when we’re bored, when we want to put something off for a little while longer, or when we’re feeling down. If your office is near the kitchen and your self-control is less than stupendous, you’d be better served to pick a room farther away.
Alexander Levit, President of Inspiration at Work, says, “The farther you have to walk to the kitchen, the more productive you will be because you won’t be tempted to procrastinate with snacks every hour. Along those same lines, keep other distractions like TV and video game consoles out of the general vicinity. Although home amenities are available to you, you’re better off if you pretend they aren’t.”
Save watching “The Office” for when the work day is done, and get to focusing on focusing!
6. Occasionally get a different perspective
Even the most creative workspace can become stagnant if you’re in it 24/7. When you have the chance to move around or get out to work somewhere different, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish.
If that’s not possible, at least be sure you have a dedicated workspace at home so that you can get into the right mode.
Andrew O’Connor, the Director of SEO at American Addiction Centers, says, “If you have others living with you, make sure you have a private space designated for home office work. However, when everyone is at work and school, feel free to venture to other spaces for a different perspective. For example, take your work to the patio, by the pool, or to the couch.”
The very act of changing your work environment can help boost your energy and productivity, and it’s a whole lot faster than remodeling your workspace.
7. Get dressed for work
To shift from sleep mode to professional mode, don some clothes that aren’t your pajamas. Not only will you be less likely to take a nap a couple of hours into the morning, but you’ll get into the right mindset for the day ahead.
Brandon Strapper, the founder of 858 Graphics, is strict about starting his day in the right clothes. “Shower and dress for work as if you were leaving your house. Put on fresh slacks, a pressed shirt, and shiny shoes. You are going to work, after all. If you stay in your bathrobe and slippers all day, you won’t feel like there’s any separation between home and work. This might just be a psychological trick, but it helps me stay focused, reminding me there is work to be done.”
And don’t just take it from us—read this article on “When a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat,” published in The New York Times.
8. Take your calls in a public space
For many people, meetings and phone calls are the bane of their existence—they waste time and they distract from other activities. If you have the ability to schedule your meetings and calls at a certain time, and ideally outside the environment in which you do your best, most focused work, you may be surprised by how much you can get done.
Growth Spark founder Ross Beyeler likes to keep a dedicated workspace for specific things. His advice: “Embrace the solitude that comes with working from home and reserve it for focus-intensive tasks. When it comes to meetings and phone calls, get in a public space, coffee shop, client office, etc. Reserve your home office for the heavy-lifting tasks better suited to tackle as an individual.”
If you don’t like speaking or meeting in a busy area, perhaps consider an alternative space in your own home.
9. Have a bookshelf
Working at home can be a lonely endeavor. With no one talk to, whom do you turn to for advice, mentorship, or a friendly conversation—not your next door neighbor, surely?
Well, according to David Ciccarelli, co-founder and CEO of Voices.com, look no further than your bookshelf! “Across from my desk is a wall-to-wall bookshelf full of my favorite books covering business, art, science, and religion. Reading titles reminds me of their main themes, lessons learned by the author and advice given. This endless source of creativity is only steps away. And, if I feel I’m too familiar with its content, I refresh the shelf by buying a new book or borrowing a few from the library.”
The mere presence of books (and the ideas and thoughts contained within) is often enough to keep people working hard—just think of libraries!
10. Create an inspiring space
It’s easy to stay in the zone when you’re surrounded by things that keep you focused on your goals and work.
Ashley Mady is the founder and President at Brandberry and an advocate of the inspiring workspace. “Design a room filled with things that inspire you. From the color of the walls to the trinkets on your desk, everything you surround yourself with should remind you of your goals. Once you create a space that motivates you, productivity comes easily.”
Who wants to work in a boring, uninspiring environment anyway? You may spend a good portion of your day here—don’t let it suck the life out of you!
How do you stay productive in your own home office? Let us know, we’d love to chat more about it.