by Cheryl Pope

It’s hard enough to stay focused when working in an office. The pressure of the boss walking by or fellow employees watching is enough to keep most people on task. But how do people who work from home do it? While people may dream about it, most say they don’t think they could actually stay focused if given the opportunity. Here are some simple tips to help stay focused and productive while working from home.

Maintain a schedule. Keeping a routine is key for being productive. Setting the alarm, getting up and hitting the “office” at the same time every day reduces the risk of developing bad habits. Schedule breaks and lunch and get up and leave the work area occasionally. Work is a four-letter word for a reason, and it’s ok to step away a couple of times a day to re-energize!

Dedicate a work area. While sitting on the couch with a laptop may be tempting, it won’t do much to increase productivity. Set aside an area that is only intended for work and make sure that the desk and chair are comfortable. If TVs and radios weren’t part of office life, don’t bring them to your home office.

Go Home! Yes, a home-based worker is already home at quitting time but it’s critical to avoid the temptation to “keep going.” Work with the boss and peers to identify acceptable boundaries regarding work times, then make sure key stakeholders are clear on when it is and is not acceptable to cross those lines.

Set boundaries with other people living in the house. Establish a list of chores so it’s clear who is responsible for what. It’s easy for others to unintentionally take advantage of someone working from home. It starts off innocent enough. First, there’s a dirty cup in the sink. Then a request to put the clothes in the dryer. Before long, full-time housekeeper becomes part of the job responsibilities. Talking about this up front is easier  (and cleaner) than going on strike and letting the dishes pile up. Oh, this applies to service visits too. Working from home doesn’t make someone the full-time “meet the plumber/delivery/cable guy” person.

Understand technology. Ensure phone and internet capabilities at home work, test them frequently and have a backup plan. Inevitably, something will go wrong five minutes before a huge conference call so have a plan B. Also, if using a cell phone be sure to silence the landline to reduce background noise.

Know the neighborhood. Whether it’s the yard crew’s mowing schedule, trash pickup, the dog next door or the mailman, understand the noise patterns of the neighborhood. There is nothing worse than trying to fight through a conference call when a guy with a weed whacker is right outside the window.

The bottom line is that the most effective strategy for staying productive while working from home is based on the individual and having a mindset to making it work!