Creative Spotlight: How to Stay Disciplined Working at Home

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Dreaming of becoming your own boss? Of course you are. Freelancers who work at home can take meetings in their pajamas and lunch in their kitchens, not to mention avoiding office politics and a commute. Blah! But here’s the catch: Piles of laundry, the TV, and family members can easily distract you. If you don’t maintain the right attitude of professionalism or consistently produce results, others will never take you seriously. A little organization and planning can make all the difference. Discover some tips for staying disciplined when working from home.

Set Up a Home Office


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Whether you live in a sprawling home or tiny apartment, you should carve out a work space. A desk in a nook of the kitchen or hallway will suffice. Having an office space helps you delineate between work and personal time, a challenge under any circumstances but especially when you’re working from home. In addition, you should corral anything related to work in this area to avoid items spilling into the rest of your home. Keep distractions, such as the TV, out of this zone.

For the office, you should have the following materials:

  • A tabletop or desk for writing and completing whatever work you do
  • A comfortable chair
  • Any necessary equipment within arm’s reach of the work area
  • Writing instruments (such as pens, pencils, highlighters, and other stationery)
  • A laptop or tablet
  • Something to corral documents and mail
  • (Optional) A bit of inspiration in the form of art, some photos, or a memento
  • (Optional) A paint color that is neat and professional and inspires innovation, such as yellow, and not gray or white, which can cause gloomy feelings, according to a study from the University of Texas

Dress the Part


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You can wear sweatpants while you work from home. No one is suggesting you spend large sums of money on a wardrobe of the finest suits. But, sometimes, getting up and getting dressed as if you were going to leave the house can motivate you, giving you a sense of routine and making you feel more professional.

Many freelancers still have to conduct in-person or video conferencing meetings, both of which require a more professional, pulled-together look. Dark-colored jeans and a white button-down shirt will suffice. While you can sometimes dress down, dressing up also helps you better separate working hours from downtime.

Create a Routine


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Creating a routine is key to success. You can take advantage of the flexibility that comes with making your own schedule. However, keeping regular business hours and sticking to them helps you stay on track and avoid getting engrossed in your favorite TV show or cleaning the carpets. A routine can also help you offer a sense of normalcy to clients, who are probably keeping more traditional working hours. In fact, you can use your routine as a selling point by advertising business hours and guaranteeing help during those times.

Sometimes you will get distracted or sidetracked. What is important is that you not be too hard on yourself. Instead, reconsider your schedule and figure out what you need to create a routine that works for you.

Keep a Calendar


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Setting daily, weekly, monthly, or annual goals and using a digital or written agenda to track them and the various tasks required to complete them is never a bad idea. Keeping a calendar encourages you to maintain a routine. Calendars can also help you stay focused on your business and its long-term success. Of course, a calendar is a way to stay organized and on top of deadlines and must-dos, such as posting regularly to social media or meeting with various clients or potential business partners. Calendar notations can also remind yourself to shut off the TV and do dishes after working hours.

Another reason for keeping a calendar is to discourage well-meaning friends and family from taking advantage of your work-at-home status. “Don’t be afraid to defend your work time,” said online business coach Kelly McCausey in a Forbes article. “Being my own boss I can decide on the fly to flex my time and run off to have lunch with a friend — but that isn’t possible for everyone. Some will think that since you work at home, you can do whatever you like.”

Take Vacation Time


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On the surface, taking a vacation does not sound like good advice. After all, people who work from home have built-in flexibility, so vacation time doesn’t seem as necessary. On the contrary, however, many people who work from home never get away from their work. You put in more hours than others because you are always in the office so to speak.

Of course, you could give yourself too much vacation time. You might take a day here and there, but that erratic schedule could cost you business. One suggestion is to allot a certain amount of vacation time per year — such as two weeks — and a number of personal days, just as a human resources department would for employees. Stick to your allotment: Providing incentives, such as docking pay for going over the given amount or rewarding yourself for sticking to the plan, is a good way to stay disciplined.

Avoid Isolationism


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People are often drawn to working at home because they do not have to deal with colleagues and office drama. But once they are in the home office alone, they miss the buzz and back-and-forth dialogue that often inspires great ideas and teamwork. Without others around you, you might have a hard time zoning in on your work. The lack of a supervisor keeping you in line might also pose a problem.

Quickly set up phone meetings and video conferences with professional contacts to keep yourself from feeling isolated. “This might be easier in a major metropolitan area with lots of networking opportunities and industry meetings,” said Bill Murphy Jr., executive editor of TheMid.com and founder of ProGhostwriters.com, in an Inc. article. “However, even if you have to travel and use lots of virtual tools —LinkedIn is a great place to start — maintaining your network should be on your to-do list every day.”

The network often can help you develop leads for paying work or brainstorm ideas, but your network also can hold you accountable to keeping your promises and staying focused. Some people schedule time to work in a community office for freelancers or at a coffee shop to have the feeling of camaraderie while they work. You will have to decide what works best for you.

You can turn your dream of working from home into reality a little dedication and a plan. As long as you find ways to stay disciplined, you can set realistic goals and accomplish them.

About the author

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in Businessweek, About.com, iVillage, and Ladies' Home Journal. She writes the Italian Mamma blog at www.francescadimeglio.com. As the mother of a 5-year-old boy, Di Meglio's life goals at the moment are to get him to eat something green and get to school on time.