Working from home: 10 golden rules to make it a success

April 8th 2015 / Emma Cossey

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Freelancer Emma Cossey reveals the ultimate dos and don'ts of home working...

I’ve been working from home, on and off, as a freelancer for over six years now and I LOVE it. Especially as an introvert, when I desperately need some time on my own during the week. When I tell people that I work from home, I get one of two responses:

“That sounds amazing, how can I do that?”

or

“I could never do that, I’d sit at home watching The Kardashians all day and never do any work.”

I get it. I really do. Working from home might mean skipping the long commute (and the costs that come with it), office drama and daily ‘I have nothing to wear’ routine, but there are downsides. Sometimes you’ll have days when your focus and productivity go out the window, or when you’ll CRAVE a little bit of office banter or gossip.

That’s why I have a set of rules for working from home success...

1. Do make your working area pretty. Your working space at home should fill you with joy - this isn’t another boring cubicle! Have a look on Pinterest for inspiration, or Work From Home Wisdom for a look at the offices of other homeworkers. As you’re at home, you can add details you wouldn’t be able to in an office too, like candles, your favourite perfume, inspiring prints or pictures of your family and friends.

2. Do embrace some productivity sound. When you need a productivity boost, I have a little life hack that automatically gets my brain into work mode: background sounds. I’m not talking music here (although I do have a Friday playlist for dealing with admin). These are sounds that transport you to another place. Coffitivity plays the sound of a coffee shop, Noisli creates a mix of your favourite sounds from nature and Spotify is always worth a browse (I like the Intense Studying and Nature Noise playlists). It sounds a little bizarre but give it a try.

3. Do 'eat the frog'. Have you heard of the Eat That Frog theory? It’s a book by Brian Tracey that outlines the productivity technique of doing the worst thing first. If you had to eat a really big, ugly, disgusting frog at some point today, it would be better to do it first thing rather than dreading it for the rest of the day. Same goes for your workday - get the worst bit out of the way first and the rest of your day will fly by.

4. Do keep it tidy. At the end of each day, take five minutes to declutter and tidy up your desk for the next day. While you’re at it, write a To Do list for the next day too so you’re fresh and ready when you return to your desk.

5. Do take advantage of that non-commuting time. When your commute involves rolling out of bed and sitting up at your new home office, it’s easy to let that time slip away from you and sleep in*. But you can now use that extra time for lots of things that will boost your productivity - a morning workout, planning and preparing your meals, catching up on emails before everyone else gets into the office or reading your favourite blogs over a cup of tea.

*Here’s a little secret: When you work from home, getting up earlier is SO much easier.

6. Do set boundaries. When you work from home, it’s common for friends and family to expect you to drop work and go shopping/go for lunch/help them out with childcare. It’s important when you work from home to make it clear that you have a workload just as anyone in an office would. This is where it helps to have working hours, so people know when you’re available.

7. Don’t feel like you have to be alone. Working from home can be lonely at times, but thanks to social networking there are some great support networks out there. Twitter is always great for a quick hit of socialising, and there are now lots of Facebook groups around too (my newsletter subscribers get access to my Facebook group The Freelance Lifestylers, where we chat about freelancing, working from home, finding accountability partners and dealing with tricky clients). It’s also great to organise Skype calls or Google+ Hangouts with other home workers or the office to get some face-to-face time - or even venture out to work in a coffee shop!

8. Don’t work on the sofa. As tempting as it may be to settle into the comfort of your sofa and pop Netflix on while you work, it really isn’t the most productive working environment. It is possible to be too comfortable while you work, plus it makes finishing your work day harder as you don’t get to leave your work space. If you’re planning to work from home regularly in the future, see if you can transform a room at home into an office or even a corner. Or use your kitchen table, or even the garden table if the weather is nice.

9. Don’t forget to clock off. When you work from home, it’s easy to lose track of time and suddenly realise it’s 7pm and you’re still working. That’s fine if you started later in the day or took an extended work break, but if you find yourself working longer hours regularly it’s worth setting yourself a reminder when it hits 5pm. Equally, if you find you work better later on in the day or early on in the day and your employer/clients don’t need you to be available at certain times, work when you’re at your best.

10. Don’t pick up unhealthy habits. Working from home can lead to one or two unhealthy habits. Nutella from the jar with a spoon for breakfast? Fine once in a while, but not every day. Sitting in your pyjamas all week? The postman is about to get judgey (and if you live with a partner or flatmate, prepare yourself for the snarky remarks). Haven’t taken a break in 8 hours? You’re not doing your eyes, back or brain any favours. If you want to make sure you stick to good habits, give the Coach.me app and website a try to keep track of daily habits.

Do you work from home? How do you get the balance right?

Emma Cossey is a freelance business trainer, social media consultant and coach. She also runs The Freelance Lifestyle Coach, a blog, community and ecourse for established freelancers or those who want to go freelance but don't know where to start. She can also be found on Twitter.

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