5 ways I stay focused while working at home – Melissa Hincha Ownby

Happy Telework Week 2012. If you work from home, how was your commute this morning? When I got up this morning, I commuted from my bedroom to my office to start my workday. Although I love working from home, I’ve found that it isn’t always easy to stay focused and on task. The phone rings for non-business-related reasons, neighbors stop by to say hi and I hear hammers and other construction noises coming from the lot where my new neighbors are building their house.

I’m sure that I’m not alone with these distractions, and so I am sharing five ways that I stay focused while working from home.
1. Set up a productive workspace
If you work outside of the home you likely have an office or dedicated workspace; you need to have the same setup if you telework. I have a nice-sized desk with a comfortable office chair. Since I live in a community that is still being built, there are a lot of distracting noises just outside my door and so I make sure that I have a source of ambient noise. My favorite is classical music or some smooth jazz. It drowns out the outside noise but doesn’t distract from my writing.
Your definition of a productive workspace may differ from mine but planning your workspace is an important first step if you’re transitioning into a telework position. I asked Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps, what three items she would place in her ideal work-from-home office space.
An office door that shuts, to close out distractions. It may sound silly and very obvious, but creating a physical barrier between your workspace and your home life makes a significant difference in your productivity level.”
A webcam for virtual meetings. My company, Mom Corps, is a 100 percent virtual workforce with offices across the country. I’ve found that occasional “face to face” meetings via webcam keep our employees connected and engaged. Phone calls work most of the time, but every so often, connecting with our team so we can see each other’s non-verbal communication helps us learn each other’s communication styles, which comes in handy during those times when we can’t see each other.”
A mindset of over-communicating. It is so easy to get lost in your day when working from home or from another remote location, but it is cross-team communication that makes this model work. On our regular team calls, we discuss productive methods for interaction, the latest technologies for team collaboration, and where we are not meeting expectations. By having this as a regular agenda item, the topic of communication becomes more and more habitual.”
2. Task management program
A comprehensive yet easy-to-use task management program is an integral part of working from home, especially if you are self-employed or a freelancer. Since I’m a self-admitted Apple addict, I wanted to find a program that would work on my MacBook, my iPhone and my iPad so that I always had access to my tasks. After a lot of research I ended up purchasing the OmniFocus program and it is perfect for me.
If you work for a business that has a built-in task management program, make sure that you have access to that program from your home office. The ability to keep track of your projects regardless of your work location will help you stay focused.
3. Set work hours
When I first started teleworking it was the late 1990s and my work hours were the same hours that I held at the office. Whenever I started working from home as a self-employed individual I didn’t pay attention to start and end times and I quickly found myself overwhelmed with deadlines and missing hours in my day.
Now I have a pretty set schedule and my family and friends all know that if it is 10 a.m. on a weekday, I’m working, even though I’m at home, and they are less likely to interrupt me with a call or surprise visit.
4. Get out and get moving
When I worked in an office building I’d head out for a lunchtime walk with several of my coworkers. I still try to do this even though I telework now. Just getting out and talking a quick walk around the neighborhood helps clear my mind, and it’s always great to stretch out my legs.
Unfortunately I am not able to get outdoors year-round. When the summer highs top 115 here in Arizona, the last thing I want to do is walk around the neighborhood at noontime, and I’m sure those of you in snowy climates may feel the same during the winter months. During the summer, I’ll do some stretching and then a few exercises with my workout band. The main point of the break is to get out of your office chair and wake up your muscles.
5. Schedule brainstorming sessions
In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges with teleworking is coming up with new ideas for my business. A few years ago I learned that I did better if I scheduled a once-a-month brainstorming session and just wrote down every idea that came to mind. I take these ideas and put them into OmniFocus and revisit them regularly to determine which ideas I want to flesh out and which ideas need to be scrapped.
If you work for an organization and have co-workers, make sure to include them in your brainstorming session. Getting together for a working lunch is great if a face-to-face meeting is possible, if not fire up your web cam for a virtual meeting and let the ideas flow.
I’ve been teleworking off and on for years and have discovered what works for me. As with everything in life, take what works for you and forget the rest. If you’re new to teleworking, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the process of transitioning from office employee to home office employee.
O’Kelly also recommends that you, “set clear boundaries. With a spouse or significant other, it is important to explain that you aren’t the catch-all for child care or errand running just because you are at home. Explain that they should think of your job just as they think of their own — mandatory and with a set schedule and routine.”
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