As a small business owner, working from home is a great way to begin your business. It eases the stress of bills while also saving you from the dreaded rush hour traffic. You also may look forward to how much you’ll get done: washing the dishes in-between emails, folding the laundry while on a call, tidying up here and there throughout the day. The possibilities of getting some real, actual work completed make a home office especially attractive.
However, working from home comes with its negatives. You’ll have more temptations to slack off or distractions around the house, which will keep you from doing your work. Noise, lighting and clutter can all make it extra hard to focus at home, which is exactly why it pays to ditch the kitchen table and set up your own office space. You might think you’re being productive when you do your laundry instead of responding to emails, creating your products or working on your marketing strategy, but you’re only being productive for your personal life – not for your business. If you want to get extra productive in your home office, here are some tips that will see you through.
Move your desk by a window
It’s easy to forget in our world of apps and shortcuts, but our surroundings have a lot to do with how much we get done in a day. Lighting, in particular, seems to play an important role in productivity. According to some sources, workers who have some access to daylight see a 3 to 40 percent increases in productivity over those who don’t.
It all has to do with our bodies’ circadian rhythms – our “master clock”, if you will. An office suffused in daylight isn’t just a nicety. Studies show that it may be vital to overall health and well-being. In fact, in one trial, workers who were regularly exposed to windows got an average 46 more minutes of sleep per night. Extra sleep means better performance and higher levels of concentration. Ever noticed how your mind wanders when you’re tired? Researchers now know that interruptions in natural light-dark cycles affect your body’s ability to produce melatonin, which is intrinsic to restful sleep.
All of that is to say that if you have access to a window and can fit your desk there, you’ll be better off, especially if you spend a good part of your day working from home. If the area nearby is drafty or stuffy, though, it may be time for new windows. In fact, after they replace their old glass with a new window, many homeowners are surprised at the change, not realizing just how dingy their old windows had gotten. Plus, if you have a nice view of trees or lawn below, you may find that your focus is even better.
Carve out some space for yourself
When you share a home with others, the main rooms can get pretty chaotic. But noise, traffic and even clutter are distractions that interrupt your flow and make it hard to take phone calls or hold meetings.
If you can’t claim a whole room to yourself, try creating your own boundaries. Use a tall filing cabinet or bookshelf in a quiet nook to rope your workspace off from the rest of the home, effectually separating business from pleasure. You could also make a quaint office from a small corner next to a window, in a large walk-in or even on an enclosed porch or in a refurbished shed. Anything you can do to insulate yourself from higher traffic areas will keep you distraction-free and ready to get down to brass tacks.
Take care with clutter
When the Marie Kondo craze came into vogue, we were so on board! The reason? Clutter has been shown to negatively impact concentration and focus. You may not realize it, but your brain is constantly working in the background, scanning for stimuli in your surroundings.
Working in a cluttered space is kind of like trying to accomplish two things at once: The clutter around you continually competes for your attention, drawing focus off whatever you’re working on. And when you work from home, it’s easy to pile your work desk with the overflow from your day-to-day life. Suddenly your office is also the spot you fold laundry, where you put your coats, where you store those boxes you need to send to Goodwill, etc. – all to the detriment of that report you were supposed to have finished by Friday.
To avoid these problems, make decluttering a whole-home initiative. Take some time to parse through your belongings and throw away items like old mail, ill-fitting clothing, broken furniture and electronics – whatever you no longer use or need. Make sure to take anything you’re giving away to the donation center as soon as possible. When you have less unnecessary stuff in your life, it will be harder for clutter to dominate.
You can also begin this practice, stolen from decluttering advocates: When you knock off work for the day, take a moment to bring the room back to “ready” before you leave. Put any books you pulled off the shelf back in place. Take your coffee mug downstairs to the dishwasher. Clear your desk of excess papers and junk. Clutter becomes overwhelming fast, so it pays to stay on top of it. Treat it like part of your job and your work performance will profit.
Set up a separate “break room”
When you’re stressed about a looming deadline, it’s easy to mainline work until you’re done. That’s especially true when you work from home as the boundaries between office life and home life can get really blurry. It would be nice for your to-do list if we were like robots, constantly chipping away at a task until it was done, but in real life, it doesn’t work that way.
In fact, studies show that workers who take small breaks every hour actually perform better than those who keep plugging away for hours. But without the walk to meeting rooms or organic conversations that spring up with coworkers, you often have to remind yourself to step away for a minute.
If you have the luxury of extra space, set up a spot in your office for breaks. Go to this place when you’re feeling drained or when you’re trying to generate ideas or problem solve. You can fill it with little distractions: puzzles, books, long walks – anything that will divert your focus for a few minutes.
The environmental aspect of this is key. Your break area should feel separate from your workspace, so try using a couch or other seating to clearly demarcate it from your desk space. That gives your brain permission to switch off for a few minutes. It’s all too easy to start reading those emails when you’re still sitting at your desk.
When you first got the green light to work from home, you were elated. Not only could you wash your laundry in between emails, you also looked forward to how much you’d get done. No chatty coworkers to dodge or endless meetings to attend? The possibilities of getting some real, actual work completed made a home office especially attractive.
You may also want to try using the Pomodoro technique. Using this method, you work for short bursts (usually 25 minutes) and then take a five minute break. Do this for four intervals and then take a longer break (20 to 30 minutes). This gives your mind time to rest so you come back to your computer refreshed and don’t suffer from that dreaded brain burnout at the end of the day. After all, what’s a hard day’s work if you can’t enjoy your time off afterward?
Working from home can be a luxury, but like anything else, it has its downsides. Distractions of our personal life can get in the way of our work, as well as temptations to avoid work and do something fun around the house. There are plenty of ways to overcome this from setting up your own home office to decluttering your space. If you want your small business to succeed, set up boundaries and systems in place to ensure that your office at home is still an office in which you can be productive and get your best work done.
Lauren Pezzullo is a writer, editor, and musicophile who’s passionate about vegetarianism and sustainable eating. As an editor for Modernize, she writes about energy-efficient living in the home. She’s currently writing her debut novel.