What advice do you have for working productively from a home office?

What advice do you have for working productively from a home office? Find out at Paywizard.org.

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Answer Paywizard:

Welcome to the club!  According to the United States Department of Labor, more than 20 million Americans conduct some work at home as part of their primary job, with approximately 30% of those in management, professional, and related occupations working from home.  In fact, even this Wizard has some experience working from a home office.  The challenge you face is shared by many who work from home, and it sounds as if your situation is compounded by having a wonderful (but potentially problematic) distraction as a couple both working from home.  

When you are in an environment with your significant other, it’s natural that you would want to speak to them about issues other than work. Indeed, when you work at home, there is no clear dividing line between the two lives that most people have when in their office: (1) work life and (2) home life – hence the need to create this separation in order to set yourselves up for success in both spheres of your lives.

This blurring of distinctions combined with the environment that you’re working in can make it understandably difficult to concentrate. But this is a problem that can be solved. I would suggest taking these steps:

            (1) Make an entire room/area your office - This is nonnegotiable!  If you have a house with several rooms and the capacity to do so, both you and your wife should each have entire rooms for your offices.  If you are not able to do so, dedicate distinct areas for work, and separate these sections with a small (but clear) dividers. These rooms/areas must contain all of the things that you need for your work, such as a desk, computer, phone, office supplies, etc. This division between workspace/homespace has a very powerful psychological effect: while you are in the workspace, you are at work, and while you are in your living space  you are not.

            (2) Develop clear rules with your spouse and agree to honor and respect them – Since both of you work at home and live at home, it is CRUCIAL to sit down and list a formal set of rules, like workplace rules, governing what both of you can and cannot do while the other is working.  Creating a set of mutually understood and agreed upon principles is the key to any productive workplace, whether at the home or in a more traditional office environment.  While it may seem convenient to check in quickly with each other about domestic issues or responsibilities, to switch a load of laundry, to field a domestic call (allow it to go to voicemail and pick it up when you return home), to discuss scheduling a repair person’s visit, etc., if you are at work, you are at work.  Respecting each other’s physical work space also means respecting each other’s intellectual space.  Time and space to think and work makes for a more productive day and clearer boundaries.   

            (3) Follow a schedule as if you were commuting to work – If you were working a full-time job that required you to be in a office, when would you get up and go to sleep? Set work hours and abide by them.  This can be harder for those who work at home since it is very easy to pop back into the office with a mere 30-second commute to the office (if that!).  Develop the hours that work for you, agree to them, and make them work for you.  Perhaps a good rule of thumb will be to wake up at around 7:00 a.m., get dressed (no working in your bathrobe!), spend some family time together, take your child to daycare, and start working at around 9:00 a.m. Take no more than one hour for lunch and taking care of business, and try not to work past 6:00 p.m. Get everything you need to get done between those hours.  This is a mere guideline – you two will work out what is best for you or it will not be sustainable.  

The WORST thing that you can do is spread out your workload throughout the day where you only do a little work throughout the day and into the night. This will make you feel like your work is never-ending and will end up with both you and your wife extremely stressed out and likely frustrated with each other.  

In order for arrangement your home office arrangement to be successful, it will require discipline and commitment.  A home office is not for everyone; however, if you make it work, there are tremendous rewards:

Saving time and money by not having a traditional commute,
Flexibility in hours to work when you are at your best
Flexibility in hours to schedule other interests or responsibilities (working out, volunteering in the community, etc.)
The camaraderie of having someone else working alongside (but independently of) you – frequently people working at home can miss simply having colleagues nearby
Follow these rules and you should be on your way to higher productivity and both a happier worklife and a happier homelife. 

Good luck!