How To Actually Work When You're Working From Home

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

1. A friend or family member, who supposedly already knows you’re working, calls you in the early afternoon. “Are you busy?” they ask. Or worse, “What’cha doing?”

2. A local friend says, “Hey, since you’re working from home, wanna go out for lunch?”

3. Even though you’ve hired a sitter, your kids regularly burst into the room you’re in, in the hopes that you’ll resolve the latest argument, bandage the newest cut, or answer some question about an event happening two weeks from now.

I’ve worked from offices and from home, and the lunch scenario is the only one that happens in both places. While no one would dream of calling you at your workplace to ask what you’re doing, they don’t think twice about doing it when you’re at home, even though that, too, is your workplace.

The answer, then, is to add some boundaries to your work-at-home situation, and the nice people at Lifehacker have some strategies to help you do so.

1. Create Office Hours, and Let Everybody Know About Them

This solves two problems: the tendency to keep working 24 hours a day, and the fact that everyone thinks working at home means you don’t have deadlines, or projects that require concentration.

Choose your hours, and make sure everyone knows what they are. Be clear that during these hours, you can’t chat on the phone, text or get lunch.

If you have kids, or even a spouse, at home with you, you might need to kick this up a notch and put a sign on your door during office hours. It can say “Do Not Disturb,” or “Keep Out,” or it can just be a clock that indicates when you’ll be free. And if you’re online, make sure you’re invisible. I use Facebook for research, but just being on it doesn’t mean I have time for conversations any more than I do for Candy Crush, and you don’t want your friends tempting you into lengthy message exchanges just because they can “see” you.

2. Create a Physical Work Zone

If you have an office with a door, perfect. My husband works from home a fair bit, and he’s made the basement into his lair to avoid all the traffic in the house once school gets out.

For people who don’t have either of those options, create a border for yourself, either imaginary or with some masking tape, Les Nessman style. Let everyone know that even without the luxury of a door, your space is still your space, and when you’re in it, you’re working.

3. Start Your Day as Early as Possible

If you’re an early riser, make the most of it and get started while all the potential interrupters in your life are still sleeping. If you’ve got school-age kids, get started the minute they’ve been safely delivered or walked out the door, while your other working friends are commuting or eating breakfast.

Not a morning person? Use the late-night hours the same way. But be careful that you don’t wear yourself out completely; if you’ve got kids, you’re going to need those late-night hours for personal down time, or maybe even that particularly elusive activity, sleep.

4. Find Another Place to Work

A friend of mine was consulting from home for a few months, and being in her apartment for so many hours made her claustrophobic. She was also getting distracted by her own snack-filled kitchen. So she took her laptop and whatever else she needed to a local Wi-Fi-enabled cafe, and got a lot more productive. She got her caffeine fix, didn’t eat anything because she’d have to get up and pay for it, and didn’t have to worry about getting interrupted when her high schooler got home in the afternoon.

If the cafe option doesn’t appeal, don’t fret. Most local libraries have Wi-Fi too, and neither coffee nor croissants to tempt you or drain your wallet.

5. Make Time for Family and Friends

If you don’t want them distracting you while you’re working, then make time for them when you’re not working. Since you’ve already created office hours, you should have non-office hours too. Use them well.

6. Create a Separate Email Account for Work

Set up an email account just for your work clients. That way you can turn off your personal email when you really need to focus, and your interruptions will come only from people who really need to interrupt you during working hours. Let’s face it, email from your wise and witty friends can be awfully tempting, and working from home requires a special kind of discipline. Make it easier on yourself if you can.

Bottom line: No one’s going to respect boundaries—even invisible ones—unless you set them yourself.

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