Working From Home: How To Manage Your Time

When you work in an office, your gabby neighbor, needy family members and others don’t expect you to be free during the day. Your inner domestic engineer or social media butterfly isn’t coming up with tasks or distractions either. But when you work from home—as a telecommuter, business owner or player in the gig economy—setting boundaries with others and yourself is critical to success.

Manage Others’ Expectations

Some people in your life will equate working from home with not really working. They’ll expect you to have time to babysit their child or elderly parent, listen to problems over the phone or—worse—at a coffee shop, let a repairman in their house or join their committee. If you want to be productive and successful, you must manage their expectations.

In May 2016, I marked 20 years of working from home. In the early years, I didn’t do a good job of putting the word out that I wasn’t lazing on the couch all day sipping tea, eating chocolate and waiting to meet the needs of others. When my daughter was in kindergarten, another mom asked me to babysit her two-year-old. This mom wanted to chaperone a kindergarten trip, a trip I had opted out of because work deadlines loomed. The other woman’s husband also worked from home. Couldn’t the father ‘babysit’ his own child? Oh no, he had to work, the mother told me. Obviously, I hadn’t put the word out widely enough that I, too, had a real job. Now, I make it clear that even though I toil in the comfort of my own home and sometimes even in yoga pants—never pajamas—I’m still at work with projects due, phone meetings and other commitments.

Don’t Let Others Into Your Work World

Even when you make it clear, some people won’t get the message. Let your phone do the work. Nearly everyone has caller ID and/or voice mail. Don’t answer the phone, unless the call is crucial to taking the next step in your task. If you slip and pick up, tell the caller you have three minutes and then get off. To get off the phone I have rung my own doorbell (oops someone’s at the door) and hung up while I (not the gabby talker) was in mid-sentence—who hangs up on themselves?

Just Say No With a Smile

You can’t avoid every phone call or request. Practice saying no with a smile in your voice. "I wish I could, but I have another commitment" should flow easily from your lips. Don’t make excuses because the most persistent requesters will figure out work-arounds for those excuses.

Guard Your Most Productive Time

To take it to the next level, figure out your most productive work time. For some, it’s early morning. For others it’s the sweet spot right after caffeine kicks in mid-morning. Others prefer afternoon or late night. This is your get-it-done time. Likely, you’re capable of accomplishing twice as much during these hours. That’s your time in The Zone. Protect it. Some people not only avoid outside commitments during their prime work time, they even limit what work they do by not answering the phone or email. Mornings are my crunch time. I don’t schedule doctor’s appointments, dates with friends or answer personal phone calls in the morning. I limit the work calls I answer as well. Late afternoons, when I know I won’t be as productive anyway, are when I book non-work events.

Limit Social Media

For some people, it’s easy to set limits for others but harder to set limits for themselves. The siren song of social media can sap your productivity. If you don’t have enough will power to limit yourself, there are plenty of free and inexpensive programs and apps such as Freedom (for PCs) and Self Control (Mac) that will keep you off social media or off the internet altogether for anywhere from an hour to all day. I did a search for ‘programs and apps to boost productivity and keep you off social media’ that yielded too many results to list. I plan to try at least five.

Ignore Housework

Focus on your job, not other tasks. To work at home, you have to ignore your inner household god or goddess. Just because you’re home, doesn’t mean you’re a homemaker, housewife or domestic dad. If you were in an office, you wouldn’t see the dirty dishes in the sink, the dog hair on the carpet or overflowing laundry basket. Train yourself to walk right past them as you focus on your work tasks. Consider using the money you’re saving on commuting and parking to hire a young teenager to help with home chores. You’re creating more jobs in the gig economy. When my helpers are unloading the dishwasher, folding laundry and mowing the lawn, I’m free to write about career success. 

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