Working from home can sound like the holy grail to many folks, especially if you work in a cubicle somewhere. Yet whether you get the opportunity to work from home as part of an arrangement with your employer or YOU are your own employer, you need to be conscious of your choices and focused to reap the benefits. Some of the biggest challenges include things like: distractions, urge to goof off, urge to work nonstop, meeting customer/employer expectations, dealing with technology requirements/problems, and creating a physical space conducive to work.

Working from home can work out splendidly and be a win-win all around, but only if you set yourself up to succeed. That takes some planning and conscious decision making. I know personally I have had the opportunity to work from home both as an employee and now as a self-employed business owner. I have been successful at both but also faced challenges that needed to be overcome.

I have noticed a little different mindset between the two. When I worked for someone else I felt a lot of stress that came from managers feeling like they needed to keep tabs on anyone working remotely. They treated it like something to be discouraged and that couldn’t be trusted. So, I would find myself worrying about when I was logged on, for how long, how many emails or phone calls I made whether I needed to be doing that or not to meet my agreed upon deliverables. With my employers there was a level of appearance that needed to be maintained regardless of results. This facade that had to be maintained and the grief one took for being “privileged” to work remotely was one thing that made even a good deal feel crappy. Far from a results mentality.

On the other hand, working for oneself is a whole different ballgame.

No one at all is monitoring your degree of focus, commitment, or delivery. However, if you don’t get efficient, productive, and accountable you will quickly find yourself out of business. So the biggest challenge I have found is that between wanting to be available and successful while also creating a strong boundary and space for my personal life. That is, establishing a clear line between “being at work” and “being at home” when the office IS at home.

I know what works for me, but everyone is different. So, I went to the web to see what some of the best tips and strategies are for working from home.

I liked this article “Setting up Your Day for Work at Home Success” as much for its conscious intention for setting up your day as for this tip of advice:

The one thing you should savor is the thirty second commute to work. If you previously worked outside the home, any time spent on getting to and from work is now newfound time. This found time is yours. Use it as your gift to yourself to do with as you wish.

I have to say many days I totally fall short on this one. Sometimes I savor that extra time, but often I find I fritter it away and find myself rushing from breakfast to the desk. Of course considering I used to eat my breakfast AT my cubicle, perhaps it is an improvement!

Handling distractions is a key skill for anyone who works from home. Focus can be a challenge for anyone at work, but when the TV, errands, laundry, pets, children, and interruptions from friends and family beckon it can be even more challenging. I pride myself on being very disciplined and responsible. I’ve simply built habits over the years that make it natural for me to be productive versus say killing time on unimportant things. Yet even I can find it difficult to focus when my attention turns to the nice weather outside or the number of personal things I could start doing instead.

One of the best things I can recommend for managing distractions is to take control. YOU hold the power to hit the delete key for irrelevant emails, turn off the phones to limit interruptions, and generally move away from the things that are pulling your attention. It is not uncommon for me to turn off all the phones, shut down email, turn on some good music, and just start plowing through work. It is pure focus time and allows me to be very productive in a short time. That being said, the key to this tactic is to build in breaks so you don’t feel like you’re holding yourself captive and working for a slave driver.

Here is a good article called “7 ways to handle distractions (when you work where you live)”. I found these two tips to be great because they don’t tell you to just suck it up and focus dammit, but rather shift your energy so you can naturally be more focused:

6. Bug out if you have to.

If there’s just too much going on at home some days, those might be good days to establish a “remote office” in a coffee shop or restaurant for the day. Those places have distractions of their own, but I usually find it’s easier to tune out the noise and distractions in a crowded coffee shop than it is to resist the lure of my guitar when I really should be writing.

7. Take a work break and clear your head.

When it seems like any little thing is getting you off-task, maybe it’s time for a break. Step outside for some fresh air, maybe take a short walk, or get a fresh cup of coffee, work on a relatively mindless, busy-work task for a bit-any of these things can help you rest your mind long enough to gather your thoughts and get back in the groove.

I personally don’t have kids and my pets amount to two older cats who basically sleep the entire day away. So my critter and kid distractions are almost nil on a daily basis. For many, though, part of the lure of working from home is to manage the balance between being a parent and a professional. Here are a few tips from the article “Another Day Off?? How to Work at Home With the Kids”:

My plans will sometimes include arranging playdates for my girls.

Sometimes my plan will involve rearranging my work schedule so we can do something fun together during the day and I’ll make up my hours when they go to bed.

Maybe your problem is not distractions, but rather obsession. Perhaps you love your work. You are focused and work all the time. You might think that is super productive and the sure-fire path to success, but it is not. Instead the problem here is that you are so focused that work consumes your life to the detriment of everything else. In “Work-Life Boundaries for the Passionate Worker” Anne Zelenka concurs:

The only problem with being super-passionate about your work life is that work can take over your whole life. That’s especially so for web workers since near-ubiquitous connectivity means you can almost always tweak that website, write that blog post, or code that next feature no matter where you are or what time it is.

She shares “5 Boundary-Setting Tips for the Work Obsessed” in her guest post over at Tim Ferris’ blog. While all 5 tips are great, my favorite is:

Choose flow-inducing hobbies that really engage you and pull your mind away from work.

Flow is a sense of effortless engagement in what you’re doing. You’ll find it in activities that have clear objectives and challenge you just a bit beyond your current level of skill. What kind of hobbies can produce flow? Sports like skiing or martial arts, art like painting or pottery, games like poker or bridge, and puzzles like crosswords or sudoku are a few examples. Such activities will lure you away from work because, unlike passive activities like watching TV, they can provide the same sense of engagement and challenge that your work life offers.

I personally just got back from an 8 day vacation in the middle of nowhere desert in Utah where I was hiking and canyoneering. I can tell you during that time I did not think one bit about the nitty gritty of my business. Opening up that space to get away, whether it is for a few hours or a few weeks, is crucial to being effective and successful in your business. Otherwise, even if you love what you do you will head to burnout.

Whether you work at home once a week or full time doing it well and sustainably is an ongoing ebb and flow of experimenting with different strategies and sticking with the ones that work for you. Everyone is different, and there is no “right” answer. That is part of why you wanted to spend some time working solo anyway, right?

Would love to hear some of your personal strategies that have worked as well as some that didn’t turn out so well in the comments…

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, works with women who are ready to create their lives and businesses in a way that fits who they are rather than how they were told they “should”. Get the free 12 part eCourse “How to Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin” and start taking charge of your own success.

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