The phone keeps ringing. The kitchen sink is full of dishes. The dog has been snoring for 30 minutes and you desperately need to write out your monthly budget and pay your bills.
But those things have to wait, and it’s not always by choice. When you work at home, you have to ignore your everyday concerns and responsibilities until your actual work is done. Because, let’s face it, folding laundry doesn’t pay the bills.
Can You Stay on the Job at Home?
So how do you stay productive when you’re expected to live and work at the same address? Ask most work-at-home professionals and they’ll give you a list of strategies they use to stay on task when the dishes, the garden, and the neighborhood pool keep calling their name.
Here are a few tips that can help any work-at-home employee or solopreneur get the job done without stepping out the front door:
Set Work Hours… and Stick to Them
When you work at home, and especially when you’re self-employed, it can be easy to work every day, all day. After all, your work area is typically just steps away from where you spend most of your life, and if you have several projects in the works, it can be tempting to work on them any time the mood strikes.
If you want a successful work-at-home situation that doesn’t take over your entire life, it helps to stick to regular working hours. If you have kids, the easiest thing to do is set your work hours for when they’re at day care, in school, or asleep. If not, you can always set hours based on when you feel the most productive, or when you are best able to concentrate.
Fashion a Home Office… and Use It
Setting hours is easier to do when your home office is more than a laptop sitting on your kitchen table. If you want your work-at-home situation to be sustainable, you need to have a home office — somewhere that is designated for work and work only.
If you don’t have an extra bedroom or den to spare, consider setting up an office in a rarely used dining room. You can also splurge for a cubicle or partition that can easily be set up in a bedroom, family room, or kitchen.
And if your work doesn’t require a desk, don’t feel like you have to have one. All you really need is a quiet area to retreat to when it’s time to get the job done.
Identify and Minimize Distractions
The online world connects many at-home workers to the outside world. However, having easy access to the Internet can also make it nearly impossible to work at times.
Facebook, Twitter, and even sites like Money360 can become a hindrance when you’re slaving away at complicated or boring work. But no matter what, you simply have to learn to tune it all out.
So turn off Facebook and Twitter and wait until your work is done before reading your favorite blogs. And while you’re at it, turn off your cellphone and television, too. All of those things, and others, can prevent you from being productive if you let them.
And remember, only you have the power to hit the off switch. When you work at home, no one else can do it for you.
Set Boundaries With Friends and Relatives
I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me during the workweek and asked if I could pick them up from the airport or go out for lunch. And while everyone who has asked me for a favor has been well-intentioned, it has been important for me to set boundaries and let them know I’m actually working while I’m here. It’s not social hour!
It might take a while, but you can also set boundaries with anyone in your life who has unreasonable expectations. Honesty is always the best policy. Tell them the truth. You can’t babysit, run errands, or eat lunch at your favorite Thai place while remaining gainfully employed. If they’re real friends and truly care about your livelihood, they should understand.
Working at home is the ultimate dream for many people who are tired of the 9-to-5 life. However, it’s important to remember that work is work. Even if you never change out of your pajamas, you still need to be productive if you want to earn a living, and that’s the case whether you work at home for someone else or for yourself.
To be successful, you need to set some ground rules for yourself and for others. And yes, it takes some self-discipline and a great deal of self-restraint. The grass keeps growing, the kitchen sink never stops filling up, and the dog will always want to go for a walk.
It’s up to you to find time for all of it, and be a productive worker at the same time.