I’ve lost count of how many people have said to me over the years: “I could never do what you do. I would spend all day goofing off if I were working from home.”
Becoming a successful work-from-homer can take practice. But even with some remote work experience on their CV, there are people who just can’t keep a productive schedule due to home-based distractions. Dogs bark at squirrels running by. Strawberry cheesecake beckons from the fridge. Gardens beg to be weeded. Nordstrom sends an email about a sale that ends at midnight. And then the UPS driver drops off a package and the dogs bark again. On those days, it might take 16 hours to get 8 hours’ worth of work done.
Being productive and efficient largely depends on how well you can manage your time and schedule. Even without the seductive call of various desserts, those people who thrive at home may still find themselves working more hours than they do in the office. This is for several reasons:
- They have more uninterrupted work time to dedicate to projects.
- They feel pressure — sometimes from themselves, sometimes from a boss or colleague — to work harder to prove their worth, especially if there are any negative attitudes about remote work in the company.
- They simply love what they do and have a hard time putting it down.
Either way, the life-work balance can shift further to work than you would like. In that situation, it’s time to take steps to better manage yourself and your schedule.
Set a start and end time for your workday. When I made a work change about three years ago, I decided to always end work by 5 p.m. so that my husband and I could share dinner together without my computer being open next to my plate. My workdays now generally start at 8 a.m., giving me time to fit in a run earlier or to catch up on a favorite TV show while having morning coffee. If you find that you have a clearer head at 6 a.m. for writing business emails, then by all means, do that. But account for it during another part of the day if you can.
Keep your calendar visible. If you keep your calendar in an app that you never open, it’s not going to help you stick to your schedule. Make your calendar prominently visible, whether it is a paper calendar on your wall or an app on your phone that reminds you to head “home” at a certain time. At the end of my workday, I’ve made it a habit to review my to-do list and calendar for the next day. I then leave the program open so that it’s what I see first when I open up my laptop the next morning.
If your team has a group calendar, use it in the office and out. Keep your schedule posted on the group calendar so that others are aware of your working hours, when you are busy in meetings, when you hold open office hours and so on. They should know when they can and can’t reach you, and it helps you to set your calendar if you pay attention to their hours, too.
Just close it. Close your computer, close your office door and leave the computer in the office. Even though I know better, if my laptop is laying on the couch when I sit down with a cup of coffee at 6:00 a.m., I’ll open it and start reading work email. Keeping it in its own space in the other room regulates it to where it belongs and helps me keep a better boundary between work and the rest of my life.