Home-Based: Taking Care of Distractions

Here's how to avoid wasting time and to become more productive, while working from home

By: Margot Lester

When you’re trapped in a cubicle farm, working from home sure seems grand. But the reality can be slightly more complicated.

“Staying focused on your top priorities is especially important when you don’t have an on-site supervisor to keep your attention on the big picture, or when you are the supervisor,” said Leslie Godwin, a career and life-transition coach in Calabasas, Calif.

Being productive in a home-office environment boils down to two key issues: focus and discipline.

“It’s way too easy to get distracted by what Stephen Covey calls ‘urgent, but not important’ items and lose sight of ‘important, but not urgent’ ones,” Godwin said. “This means don’t take a non critical phone call when you should be working on your marketing plan.”

Try this tip. Figure out when you’re most productive early in the morning or midafternoon and schedule your most important tasks then. Build other tasks around them.

“Start each day with a review of your schedule and to-do list,” Godwin advised. “You’re more likely to get that important item checked off, if it’s scheduled, and not just in a file somewhere on your desk.”

Having a dedicated workspace helps, too, said Arik Anderson, vice president of Freer Travel and a home-based agent in Newtown Square, Penn.

“I used to have my office in the living room,” said Andersen. “The TV would be on, et cetera. When I moved to a bigger place, the first thing I did was create an office. It’s really helped me stay motivated and focused.”

If you don’t have room to spare, try to make your part of the kitchen or den as professional as possible. This doesn’t mean that you have to have a cubicle or clunky filing cabinets.

Home-based agent, Jamie Losiri, a partner with Travel Ortelius in San Francisco, said she likes to keep it quite simple.

“Some of my favorite organizational tools are Palm Pilot/calculator, a calendar and a filing system,” she said, meaning you can take your office almost anywhere.

Working at home is still work. “There must be a balance between work and play, especially if you work from home,” Losiri said. “You cannot allow family and friends to interrupt you while you are working.”

She has established work hours and asked family and friends to “respect my time as if I were working in an office.”

When the inevitable interruptions occur, remain as businesslike as possible. When your spouse, neighbor or mother-in-law pops in, say, “I’m working now but can take a break later.” Or, stick a sign on the door: “In meeting, please don’t interrupt.’”

That will work on adults, but what about your children?

“If you’re the primary caretaker, working at home with kids is like bringing them to work with you, but worse,” Godwin said. “Working from home is not being a stay-at-home parent.”

Godwin counsels strongly against saying, “I can’t now, I’m working.”

“Your child will always remember that mantra, and it’ll cost you thousands of dollars for their psychotherapy,” she said.

“It’s better to give them your full attention for a few minutes, then either invite them to bring a book or homework in and join you, or tell them you’ll see them at some specific time and stick to it,” she said.

Finding an effective and efficient way to work at home will maintain your productivity, without sacrificing your personal time.

You’ll also be able to enjoy the benefits of having breakfast with your family or reading a book while neighbors are stalled in traffic.

“And,” Godwin added, “try not to make your friends and colleagues envious that your commute takes less than a minute.”