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.”

8 Keys for Work at Home Success

Working your own hours in your pajamas whenever you feel like it and never having to leave your house – and being paid for it – sounds pretty fantastic to most people! Unfortunately, working from home is not necessarily all that simple. Sure, there is the advantage of forever avoiding rush hour traffic, but there is also the much more difficult than expected task of dividing at-home time with working-at-home time.
“I’ll just make the bed real quick”… “Shoot, my desk is way too cluttered to get work done”… “I am starving; I’ll just run out for a quick bite and get right back to work.” The reasons are endless for procrastinating on getting work done. The key to successfully working from home is being able to differentiate when it’s time to work and when it’s time to simply be at home.
Okay, this was not intended to dash your hopes of successfully working from home; it can most certainly be done. People do it every day with great success. Here are a few tips for at-home workers who are really ready to make it work.
1. Dress for work
This seems silly. “Why can’t I work in my underwear?” you may ask, “No one will know.” Well, you will know. Successfully working from home requires a disciplined mindset, and you need to take yourself seriously. If you went to the office in your underwear, there’s no way anyone there would take you seriously, and deep down you know you won’t either.
2. Be truly accountable for your time
Seriously write down and track your time spent working. This is a great way to begin to hold yourself accountable for your valuable time spent. Journal what you did throughout the day, and be honest if you find yourself chatting on the phone with Mom when you really should be calling in those orders.
3. Work with a buddy
Peer pressure is a fantastic source of accountability. If you are lucky enough to know another person who works from home, set up days to work together to be sure each other is keeping up with work-at-home best practices. Doing this may also help you catch on to techniques that work for your fellow at-home worker or even smart house/work division ideas.
4. Know when to get away
No one is perfect, and sometimes prioritizing your work when you’d rather be doing the laundry (hard to believe) might mean that you need to get out of the house. Heading out to the library or a coffee shop is a great idea to avoid those distractions as well as making a nice change of scenery. Working at home and living at home means you might not be getting out much!
5. Avoid multi-tasking
Blending your work to-do list, your home to-do list, and your things-I-just-want-to-do list can become a work-at-home nightmare. Getting a few things done for work, then unloading the dishwasher and then checking Facebook before getting back to work may seem harmless, (it’s all stuff you need to get done anyway!) but it’s not the way to maximize your productivity.
6. Stay focused
Like I mentioned above, staying on task is vital to successfully working from home. You may find it easier to follow through if you’re able to have a separate work computer from your at-home computer. Ideally, a completely separate workspace would be perfect, but physically delineating between work and home is immensely helpful however you can do it.
7. Center your concentration
You don’t just need to hold your time accountable – you’ll also need to hold yourself mentally accountable. Being physically present doesn’t matter when you work from home if you’re not mentally present for your work.
8. Don’t self-destruct
It’s all about time management. If you’re looking into working from home, the concept of working 9 to 5, Monday through Friday at the office probably sounds dreadful. To succeed at home you’ll need to set your own “office” hours, though they may not be the same as conventional hours. Poor time management can mean you’ll find yourself working here-and-there seven days a week, and that’s the fast track to a major burn out.
The great perks of working from home can all too often become the downfall of many work-from-home hopefuls. The key to succeeding in this unsuspectingly difficult line of work is, and always will be, personal accountability.
Adam Toren is an Award Winning Author, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor. He Co-Founded YoungEntrepreneur.com along with his brother Matthew. Adam is co-author of the newly released book: Small Business, Big Vision: “Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right” and also co-author of Kidpreneurs.

How to Work from Home Like you Mean It….(Fast Company)

Despite all the stories you’ve heard, the hardest part of working from home isn’t putting on pants every day. 

I’ve been working from home, a few different homes, since late 2007. And the biggest thing I’ve learned during those four years is that working from home doesn’t have to change how you get work done, but it does change nearly everything else about your gig. When there are hard, regular deadlines and a constant flow of work, it is just like being at an office–with the added advantage that nobody else is there to interrupt my train of thought with an impromptu visit. And then there were times when I nearly broke down and told the boss the truth about why that weeklong project was in such sad shape: Because just when I need to focus it becomes clear that there are a lot of interesting links to look at on the Internet. Like this one.

I’m far from the only person to have confronted the joys and challenges of telecommuting. So I asked a few productive work-from-homers what they would do differently, if they could go back in time and reboot their office. Here’s a bit of home-working hindsight that might help you out the next time you’re going to work from home, whether it’s for a day or a career.

Look the Part, Be the Part

It’s one of far too many great quotes from Proposition Joe in The Wire [1], and great advice for getting more done at home.

Dressing for work and “arriving” on time, eating lunch on a rigid schedule, shaving, brushing, and so on seems pointless at first. But not doing these basic preparations is the start of a steep, Teflon-coated slope to all kinds of other transgressions. If you’re not dressed well enough to greet the UPS delivery person, you’re giving yourself license to hide. If you’re hiding, then you imagine nobody can see Netflix open on your second monitor. On and on it goes, until you spend a two-hour lunch watching Portlandia [2] on your couch with your iPad, grabbing your way through a bag of kettle chips. After that you’ll try and fake your way through an afternoon of self-loathing busywork.

It’s not clever psychological trickery. It’s having respect for the work you do, wherever you do it. John Herrman [3], tech writer and assistant editor at Popular Mechanics [4], suggested in a Twitter chat that it’s almost like treating your working self’s worst tendencies like a prisoner of war, or maybe someone suffering from grief: Keeping up rituals, routines, and appearances is how you train yourself to do your work when you’re supposed to, and set aside the fun stuff for after hours.

Schedule offline social time, batch your online social time

When you’re in an office, you’ll occasionally wish for fewer distractions, more privacy, and for Todd in acquisitions to find a job somewhere else. When you’ve been working from home at a frantic clip, you’ll start to realize how much you miss talking to somebody other than your dog, having a good excuse to get up from your desk, and sharing in the struggle of other workers with intolerable bosses. And you start to fear you’re heading toward the social condition depicted by The Oatmeal [5].

So schedule some regular out-of-home social times [6]. When those sometimes fall through, you’ll realize the value of “batching” your online social time. It’s very tempting to keep a Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ tab open at all times, along with Reddit, Hacker News, and other forums and fast-moving link-based sites. When they’re always open, they’re the equivalent of distracting coworkers, constantly shifting your attention away to complaints, jokes, gossip, and “Did you see…” discussions–the kind of stuff that makes it hard to get work done at work [7]. You also come to appreciate them less, and they become more of a utility.

As geeky as it sounds, then, put your two or three “social breaks” right on your daily agenda or calendar. Don’t open social or addictive news sites until that time. Breaking the habit will be hard at first, so try a tool like RescueTime [8] to literally block yourself from your impulses and enforce your segmented work and play times.

Realize when the problem is motivation, not space

Distractions, temptations, and kids can all legitimately get in the way of doing work at home. But sometimes you have to step back and look at other reasons why you’re avoiding the work that needs doing. Is it really because you don’t want to do it?

This is perhaps the hardest part of working from home. At an office, you are very likely to be found out and penalized if you spend all day checking Facebook or replaying Portal 2, so you at least make a stab at moving forward on even the most painful tasks. At home, it’s up to you to stay motivated, and the things toward the very bottom of the Awesome Challenging Fun list might never get done.

The only real solution is summed up by designer and iOS developer Neven Morgan [9]: “Wake up unable to stop thinking about the awesome thing you’re working on [10].” If you lack for an awesome project, or a sense of where the work in front of you is going to take you, that’s probably the reason you’ll do anything other than what you have to do. Luckily, you can think that through and plan your next move anywhere, whether at home, in the office, or in line at the grocery store.

Ideas / Industry Tips from Brian Stevens – CEO / ConferenceDirect

ROOM BLOCK AUDITS KEEP MONEY IN YOUR POCKET

One of the best practices your organization or company can implement is the room block audit. Because audits prove their worth again and again, Lynn Golabowski, vice president/team director, and Bryan Croyle, CMP, director of global accounts, make sure to follow these best practices with their ConferenceDirect clients.

Put it in writing. Hotels are getting more aggressive in not allowing audits, so make sure that they are stipulated in the contract. “You don’t want to lose money either from attrition charges or loss of other contractual concessions like earned complimentary rooms and rebates,” Golabowski stressed. “Every room night counts, so everything must be in writing.”

Wipe away the fear of an audit. “Meeting planners and hotels cringe, visualizing countless hours spent in front of lists, cross-referencing,” said Croyle. “That doesn’t have to happen when you come to the table with the right tools.” Meanwhile, documenting the right history should result in the group booking more room nights in the future. “The booking process becomes a lot more efficient for all,” Golabowski noted.

Maintain control of group inventory as long as possible. Because of their numbers, large citywide meetings generally need to establish a cut-off date (30 days out) and a shut-off date (three to four days prior to scheduled arrival). While giving a hotel the initial rooming list on the contracted cut-off date, ConferenceDirect’s standard contract allows clients to continue to sell rooms to attendees at the group rate, so long as the hotel continues to have availability. By enabling this, groups can capture rooms from people who would otherwise book around the block.

Ensure efficiency and security for both parties. Just as hotels don’t want to provide you with their in-house lists, organizations and companies don’t want to share their full attendee list and all its valuable information with hotels. Automated audit systems, which can perform audits in a secure fashion, can bridge this divide. “Most convention hotels have such systems, and they are pretty accurate,” said Croyle. “We utilize them to make sure room matches are credited to the group’s overall pick-up.” This is especially critical for groups that receive rebates or concessions based on their room block numbers.

If no automated system is available, the most efficient and secure approach for Croyle is to format his group’s registration list into a Microsoft Excel program. It can be easily and quickly searched by name and by arrival date. The harder part is getting the hotel to produce its rooming lists for the nights in question. “You need to be forceful about what the contract allows you to do,” he said. If the registration list is 100 people, it’s easier to search Croyle’s file. “But if we’re talking thousands of names, it’s far better to work from the hotel’s list of people not coded to our group.” There is no direct exchange of information, as one reads a last name and the other shares a first name to see if there is a “match.”

Document the findings. During the audit, Croyle immediately annotates his digital list with the identified attendee’s hotel, arrival and departure dates, the number of room nights and the room rate, where possible. “Some hotels are not as free to give out that information,” he acknowledged, “but it makes even clearer what is commissionable and eligible for rebate, if applicable.” He makes sure his list includes the person’s city and state should there be a challenge to the name.

Find the international contingent. Meetings that draw global attendance pose a completely different challenge. Many companies outside of the United States still use travel agencies, especially for packages that combine air, hotel and other land services. “That makes the audit even more important,” Golabowski maintained. “We try our best to facilitate a system that is easy to book in advance, even when visitors don’t follow our procedures. It’s inevitable that everyone from Malaysia, for example, will be required to work through a travel agency and so may be paying a higher hotel rate than the meeting has contracted.”

ConferenceDirect embraces Corporate Social Responsibility at CDX11

Las Vegas, NV – October 3, 2011 – ConferenceDirect embraces corporate social responsibility as an element of its new event, CDX11 in Las Vegas last week.

Brian Stevens, President & CEO of ConferenceDirect, created CDX11 as a way to bring together an exclusive group of top Customers, Associates and Partners for relevant and timely educational content, exploration of industry trends and forums to exchange ideas through a variety of sessions and networking activities.

The event kicked off with an opening reception where guests participated in an ice-breaking, community service project. Brian Stevens and Brian Richey, Chief Talent Officer, unveiled the finished product to the group the following morning. The art was then presented to Ken Rubeli, CEO for the Boys & Girls Club of Las Vegas, as a donation for their newest club in Southern Highlands. Later that day, guests were entertained by 28 year-old performance artist, David Garibaldi, who produced a second painting that was also donated to the club by ConferenceDirect.

About ConferenceDirect: Based in Los Angeles, California, ConferenceDirect is a full service meeting solutions company specializing in Site Selection/Contract Negotiation, Conference Management, Housing and Registration. ConferenceDirect provides its expertise to more than 1200 corporations and associations worldwide. ConferenceDirect’s 325 Associates and worldwide regional offices comprise the fastest-growing meeting resources company in the hospitality industry today. For more information, visit ConferenceDirect at http://www.conferencedirect.com

ConferenceDirect launches successful new conference

CDX11 wraps up at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

Las Vegas, NV – October 3, 2011 – ConferenceDirect launched a successful new meeting last week in Las Vegas at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, CDX11.

Brian Stevens, President & CEO of ConferenceDirect, created CDX11 as a way to bring together an exclusive group of top Customers, Associates and Partners for relevant and timely educational content, exploration of industry trends and forums to exchange ideas through a variety of forums and networking activities.

The event kicked off with an opening reception and dinner at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, Las Vegas’ newest hotel. ConferenceDirect guests participated in an ice-breaking, community service project during the opening reception. Brian Stevens opened Tuesday’s session with industry trends followed by guest speakers from the hotel and CVB senior leadership. Guest speakers covered topics such as corporate social responsibility, community service and meetings, social media, virtual meetings and financial strategies in the remainder of the educational sessions.

About ConferenceDirect: Based in Los Angeles, California, ConferenceDirect is a full service meeting solutions company specializing in Site Selection/Contract Negotiation, Conference Management, Housing and Registration. ConferenceDirect provides its expertise to more than 1200 corporations and associations worldwide. ConferenceDirect’s 325 Associates and worldwide regional offices comprise the fastest-growing meeting resources company in the hospitality industry today. For more information, visit ConferenceDirect at http://www.conferencedirect.com

For American Workers, It’s The Age Of Independence

Jobs and the economy loom large today in the American consciousness. Small business has understandably gained national recognition for its role in the overall economy, and potential for job creation. Yet, the large and influential independent workforce – those who work on their own and offer their acquired knowledge and skills to the open market – has received little more than a passing nod. Many assume independent work is a temporary stop between unemployment and the next job for American workers. Our company MBO Partners’ new landmark study is finally showcasing the real ‘state of independence’ in America, providing the first national baseline about this growing, strategically significant (if often overlooked) segment of the workforce.

The independent labor market is today the fastest-growing segment of the American workforce, currently 16 million strong, and according to the study, projected to grow to 21 million over the next few years. Of the 16 million, 70% or 10 million are independent experts – those offering specialized knowledge and skills to the open market.

To date, there has been little meaningful data about the independent labor market and their vital role in the economy, even from the government. This new quantitative data about this labor force suggest not only that independent workers are a larger-than-expected market, but also that members are more satisfied with their lifestyle choice and actively seeking to remain independent. They present a silver lining in today’s otherwise grim workforce picture of dissatisfied and demotivated full-time workers.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that independent work has been a consequence of the weak economy. Following a job loss or layoff, professionals turn to self-employment largely out of desperation. The study debunks this myth, and validates something I have known for more than 25 years of serving the independent professional market – people choose to be independent not out of force but because they love what they do.

In fact, study data highlights the longevity of the independent career revealing that independents have been working in this capacity for 9 years on average, and 63% had full time jobs prior to it. Further, 63% state they plan to remain independent.

Grim economic news has not dampened the entrepreneurial spirit upon which this country was founded. The independent worker stands as a hallmark to the fortitude of Americans, as they lead us into a new era of work – one that embraces the notion that work is not limited to performing a fixed set of duties for a single employer, but rather a progression of projects that create value and produce results. The independent worker both understands and likes that they are responsible for their career. In fact, just one in five independents stated that they would rather have a regular, permanent traditional job than be on their own.

However, the undisputed reward of independence is accompanied by the burden of empowerment. The independent assumes the challenges, risks and infrastructure of running a business. There is no outside organization providing a steady paycheck, benefits, retirement programs and job security. The independent must find work and ensure that they develop and sustain a steady pipeline of opportunity. They must qualify to work with a large company, which often means additional insurance and compliance burdens. According to the survey, the top three sources of concern for independents are: not enough predictable income (56%), worry about job pipeline (46%) and planning for retirement (46%). Other key burdens include: setting boundaries on the work so that it does not become a 24/7 commitment (32%), managing business details (28%) and collecting on accounts receivable (32%).

The myriad challenges of running a business can overwhelm and detract from the amount of time that an independent worker can spend focusing on actual client deliverables and billable work. For example, failure to properly manage taxes and compliance can lead to financial consequences for the independent and companies that hire them. Another complexity of working with independent workers is adhering to compliance rules regarding engagement. Without knowledge of the complexities and nuances of utilizing 1099 workers, companies can be found “non-compliant” and risk having independent workers reclassified as W-2 employees at considerable cost.

The study suggests it’s important for us to invest in the independents, and highlights a strategic workforce need for a shared burden of empowerment so that independents can remain focused on doing the work they love rather than the distractions of the back office details. Luckily, these burdens can be alleviated by working with the right outside partners, either independent contractor engagement specialists for companies, or independent consulting services providers for individual workers.

Forbes Magazine

 

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