How to Thrive in Your Home Office

Header image: It’s very difficult to avoid distractions when there is no one to hold you accountable. Even worse, it’s almost impossible to ward off the occasional bouts of sleepiness when your coworkers are snoring under your desk.

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As a freelancer, I do a good deal of my work from home. Sometimes I’ll work on-site in a client’s office, occasionally I’ll go to a coffee shop, and if the weather is nice then I’ll set up camp outside (let’s be honest though – in Houston that’s limited to about three days a year). However, most days you’ll find me in my lovely home office.

Over the years, I’ve sought out a lot of advice about how to successfully manage your time and keep yourself on-task when working from home. Some of these suggestions have been incredibly helpful and have been integrated into my daily routine, while others seemed a bit over the mark for my personal taste (I’m not dressing in business formal every day to sit in my home office – nice try).

Below are my top 6 tips for making your home office a more productive space whether you’re a full-timer like myself or just need the occasional moment of focus in your own home.

Make time to do what you love.

Obviously, paying jobs are a huge portion of – well… your job. That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to keep your nose to the grind stone for 8+ hours straight each day. One of the best parts of working from your home office is that you can allot time to do something that you really love doing in addition to your existing work.

For example, I like to get any difficult tasks that I’m not necessarily looking forward to out of the way first thing each day when I’m the most focused. This frees up a lot of my time in the afternoons so that – instead of trying to find excuses to put off that thing I didn’t want to do – I can dive right in to a fun side project as a reward for getting the rough stuff done earlier.

Even if you don’t adhere to a schedule like this, it is absolutely essential to make some time for yourself each day.

Find a schedule that works for you.

I hate mornings so waking up early and getting right to the grind was one of my least favorite things about my office job. Now I choose to work starting at about 9:00 a.m. on a fairly regular basis. This gives me time for a morning walk with my dogs and plenty of opportunity to shake off the last vestiges of sleep before I have to be a responsible business person.

If you love mornings then by all means – wake up at 5:00 a.m. and have at it! If you’re more efficient in the evenings then set up your day so you can work more when the sun goes down. Whatever schedule feels more natural for you, go for it! The goal here is to find a way to be efficient and you certainly can’t do that if your schedule doesn’t match your lifestyle.

Don’t be afraid to take breaks.

Breaks are looked down upon when you work for a big company because it makes you look lazy. However, the fact is that no one can effectively do anything for eight solid hours and they shouldn’t be expected to.

Breaks are one of the best tools for increasing efficiency, in my opinion. I know that may sound a little counter-intuitive but sometimes the mind just gets tired and needs a little break to refocus and re-energize.

For example, I know that my attention lags about every two hours so I make certain to get up, walk around a little, refill my tea, and just take a second to clear my mind. This is another great bonus that my dogs coworkers offer – they get a fun little run outside every few hours and I get a chance to relax for a bit.

When you find your attention wavering, consider taking a small break to give yourself a moment of rest.

Make a plan for the future.

I never call my day finished until I’ve come up with a plan for the next day. Often times, I will plan out my whole week as best I can on Monday just so I don’t have to worry about scrambling around from day to day. I find this is particularly useful when setting goals for looming projects and establishing a social media schedule.

When you create a plan for your day, you avoid a lot of the dread and procrastination that can come with scheduling.

Establish a set work space in your home.

This is the one that I think really trips people up when they’re first starting out. Part of getting in the mindset to work and avoiding distractions (lookin’ at you, my beautiful Netflix-enabled HDTV) is setting up a designated work environment within your house. I personally have my own special office that I use for absolutely nothing but work. That way, when I sit down at my desk, I am already in the zone and ready to do my job.

If you don’t have a room in your house that you can make into an office, try to sit somewhere that you don’t normally hang out when you’re relaxing in the evening. Avoid your TV and your cozy living room couch and perhaps settle for a dining room table. Once you establish a designated work area, you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to focus when your butt hits the “work chair”.

Wear what you can work effectively in.

I had to include this last one because people are always telling me that you need to dress the part – if you’re doing work, dress in work clothes. Of all the advice I have received, this is the one I get most often that I disagree with the most fiercely.

Why? Because “business” clothes are often just downright uncomfortable. I will never choose a stuffy jacket and slacks over some sweet yoga pants and a t-shirt.

Don’t get me wrong here – this tip is just like all the others. You absolutely must find something that works for you personally. If you find that you need that polo to focus on your work then you wear that collar proudly, my friend. If you get the most done when you’re in pajamas then don those PJs and get to it! The point here is that you can’t let others tell you how to dress in your own home because, when it comes right down to it, they don’t have to wear the clothes – you do.

Showering is always a good idea regardless though. Don’t stop showering.

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