Woman using computer

I went from having a full-time (i.e., 50 hour a week) job to being a stay-at-home contractor, with some time allocated for studying. As the time to quit my full-time job approached, I wondered what it would be like to work from home.. Would I get any work done or be on Facebook all day long? Would I start waking up at noon and going to bed at 4AM? Would I forget to shower??

Can You Be Productive?

A years into it, I discovered that you can be just as productive, or more, working at home compared to working in an office. One key is that you have to enjoy your work. I enjoy my work, so I look forward to it every morning. If you don’t enjoy your work, you might actually be less productive working from home where there is no taskmaster looming over you.

Working from home can also allow you to maximize your social time, family time, and exercise time, all while getting your chores and errands done in the middle of the day. So overall, your quality of life can be much better that it was when you commuted to work.

Work When You’re Productive

To avoid becoming a complete bum, I set my alarm for 8:30AM, as if I had a real job to go to. This allows me to sleep in 45 minutes later than I did when I had a real job, but still start work 30 minutes before I used to. I now usually wake up naturally before the alarm goes off – something that never used to happen when I had a 9-to-5 job! Hmmmm…. Interesting.

I discovered that the period of time immediately after you get up is when your brain is at its peak. This is when your analytical skills and powers of concentration are at their best. I get up, check my email, then get right to work, deferring breakfast and showering until later. I am amazed at how much work I can get done during this time. What a shame it was to waste much of this optimum brain time on the morning commute!!

Don’t Force Yourself to Work When You’re Not Productive

After my morning burst of work, I take a long break for lunch. For me, the after-lunch afternoon food coma has always been my least productive time. At work, I’d have to struggle to stay awake with coffee and tea. Many cultures in Europe, Latin America, and Asia have “siestas” during this time, and for good reason. Several factories that I visited in Asia take 15 minutes after lunch where they turn off the lights and the workers put their heads down on their desks, just like we did pre-school, but it works!

So, I use this inefficient time to shower, run errands, and do household work. These things don’t require a lot of concentration, and they need to be done at some point in the day, so why not in the middle of the day when you’re least productive at work?? The other nice thing (and the dilemma of working a 9-to-5 job) is that many stores and services that you need (like banks) are only open during the day and not after work! This was always a total pain when I worked in an office.

You can also use this time to take a walk, get some sun, take a power nap, or whatever you like to do. It’s your mid-day break!

Don’t Be Afraid to Work Odd Hours

Of course, the work day doesn’t end there. I have another burst of productivity in the late afternoon, after the lunchtime doldrums wear off. I generally work from around 2PM to 6PM in the afternoon.

In my previous 9-5 job (or more accurately, 9 to 7 or 8!), I’d miss out on a lot of after-work social activities like happy hours, after-work get-togethers, etc. Now I can finally take advantage of these! So, I generally break at 6PM to do social things. Maybe have dinner with a friend or something. It is awesome to have this social time. Or, if there is nothing social going on, I go for a jog before dinner.

Depending on what time these events end, I usually have another burst of productivity before bed. Sometimes I work from 10 PM until midnight, rounding out my work day nicely.

So, there you have it: a full 8-hour work day, plus a two-hour break in the middle for errands, and time in the evening for your social life or exercising!!

Eat Well and Exercise

I actually lost one inch from my waistline since I started working from home. I believe it’s mainly because of better eating habits.

Working from home enables me to make my own food (instead of eating the high-fat restaurant food I used to eat). My fridge is right there. No more vending machine snacks. I also eat when my body wants to, and not starve waiting to get out of some 2-hour meeting like I did at work.

Another great benefit is exercise, which I touched on before. I never was the type of person who could get up early enough to exercise before work. When I worked in an office, I would exercise only when I got out at a reasonable hour. But that didn’t happen very often, and when it did, I’d often be too hungry to work out.

This problem is completely solved when working from home. You can work out when you want, and as a result, more often!

Get the Right Equipment

As far as office equipment is concerned, I had much of what I needed already, but I did buy a new laptop for travel, a big hard drive for backup, and I upgraded a lot of my software.

Later, after I started making more money in my business, I bought huge new monitors, replaced my desktop computer, and bought a new laser printer. Don’t be afraid to spend money on equipment that you use every day if it will make you more efficient.

Tips for Maximum Efficiency

Here are my tips to stay productive at home:

  1. Make a “to do” list for each day.
  2. Keep a daily log of your work activities, including time spent on each major task. It doesn’t have to be super-detailed, or super-accurate for that matter. I find this helpful to stay on track, motivate me, and also to help me quote new work, since I have a record of how long it took me last time. If you are spending too much time goofing off, you’ll see it in your log and you can adjust the next day.
  3. At the end of each week, take time to reflect and write down in your log what you accomplished that week. This helps motivate you and helps you make adjustments to your schedule. You might find that you are not making progress in some area. In that case, you can adjust your priorities for the next week.
  4. Shut off all email popups, IM message alerts, etc. on your computer desktop and phone. These are terribly distracting. Studies have shown that it takes up to five minutes for your brain to recover from an interruption. If you really need to concentrate, close your email application altogether.
  5. It is important to have a quiet area of your home to serve as your office. I live alone so there are very few interruptions. My productivity would not be so good if my home was a chaotic mess with kids and pets running around, noisy neighbors, or other interruptions. So, if you want to work from home, make sure you have a quiet place to do it.
  6. Get kickass equipment if it will make you more efficient.
  7. Keep some semblance of a schedule. Set your alarm clock to a reasonable hour in the morning. I don’t party late every night. I still say “it’s getting late – I have to work tomorrow”, even though I technically don’t have to get up at any specific time.
  8. Be honest with yourself. If there is something that is leeching your productivity, you need to deal with it, whether that is Facebook, video games, phone calls with friends, or whatever. Treat your job at home like a real job, because it is.
  9. Make time for a social life outside your home too however. Meetup.com is a great source of social events, both work-related and not. As an added bonus, I found that I got a lot of good business connections at these events (and I wasn’t even trying to network!)

It’s Not for Everyone

Working from home is not for everyone. You have to be self-motivated. You have to judge this for yourself. If you stay up till 3AM playing video games every day, you might not be a good candidate to work from home.

If you need a lot of social interaction every day, working from home might not be for you. Personally, I love not having to deal with a lot of people, but some people need that interpersonal interaction.

If your job requires a lot in-person communication, meetings, and so forth, working from home can be problematic.

But, if you can overcome these hurdles, working from home can be very enjoyable and efficient!

Send Your Tips and Tricks

Working from home with flexible hours can benefit all aspects of your life if you can make it work. Let me know about your tips and tricks to stay efficient and productive at home! – Brian

(Photo by Ariel da Silva Parreira)

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