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How To Successfully Work From Home

by Craig Ford

There are two major categories of people who work from home.

First, there are the employed who are either full time or part time working from their own home.  Many companies are starting to allow workers to work from home one or more days a week.

Second, there are the self-employed who own their own or start their own small business and set their own schedule.

Either way, there will be an adjustment for anyone who starts to work at home.

For the last four years, as a missionary, I’ve done all my work at home with a very minimal amount of accountability.  Here are some tips I’ve learned about adjusting to working at home.

How To Successfully Work From Home

When I talk about successfully working from home, I’m not going to talk about how to make bundles of money.  I’m going to talk about how to keep a good healthy personal life and a healthy family life, while being effective on the job.

Set clear boundaries.

When you start to work from home, you will find what were clearly two worlds have now collided into one.  In order to help balance the work and personal life, you must clearly communicate and set boundaries.  For example, in my house we have an understanding that, even though I’m around, I’m not.  The only exception is if there is an emergency.

In many ways, this is a dumb guideline.  However, I’ve felt a lot more at peace since my wife and I agreed on setting these boundaries.

Designate a work space.

There must be a physical place where you ‘go to work’.  Fortunately, in my case I actually walk out the front door and downstairs when I ‘go to work’.  This way I kiss the kids and my wife goodbye.  Even though I can hear when my kids are watching Dora or crying because they ran into the wall, there is something about that sacred office space.  There is a mental trigger when I enter the office.

You must have a clear home area and work area.  If not, it will be impossible to get away from work.  In my case, in addition to my missionary work, I also blog (you didn’t know that?).  Certain things like shutting down the computer at designated times and keeping the computer out of the bedroom are important ways to have clear space distinctions between home and work.

Find a way to mentally transition from home to work.

Several days a week, I come home after doing some visiting outside of the house.  During those days, my drive home is a time for me to mentally switch between missionary to husband/father (a switch I don’t always make too well).

However, on days when I come up from the office, I need some ‘transition time’.  Typically, this means I take 10 – 15 minutes alone before engaging with the family.

Communicate with your children.

My kids love to play outside my open windows.  I love for them to play there.  Sometimes, they just miss their daddy and try to sneak into the office.  While I enjoy being with my kids, I know that without clear boundaries they will always be in my office.  As a result, they usually ask mommy if it is OK for them to come see daddy.  In some ways, it’s not fair for my wife to serve as my secretary, but on the other hand, I certainly appreciate an extra line of defense.

Occasionally, I even ask the kids to come into the office.  It becomes a special way to honor them by allowing them into the office..

Use work phrases.

This is mostly for our kids, but we use ‘work phrases’.  I kiss my kids goodbye and say, “Daddy’s going to work.”  In a lot of ways it seems silly, but it is an easy way to communicate that I’m going to be occupied in a certain way.

Get separate phone lines.

People who have a work related question should be able to call me directly.  My wife, with three young kids, is far too busy to be playing secretary for me.  On the other hand, when friends want to call my wife, they should have a line to get in touch with her without interrupting me.

Keep accounts separate.

If you work for yourself, keep all your accounting separate.  Poor financial organization can be costly when you work at home.  Keep all your business receipts and expenses for tax season. (Editor’s note: Here is how Ryan manages his small business finances).

Keep strict hours.

This probably isn’t for everyone, but in our case I have ‘post hours’.  My wife knows when I’m going to work and when I’m coming home.  No one told me what time I should start or finish, but we both feel much better having designated hours.

Enjoy lunch at home.

Working from home has some amazing benefits.  In my case, I get to eat lunch at home with my wife and kids almost every day.  Be sure to take advantage of the unique opportunities associated with working from home.

Take a nap every day.

I should have been born in Europe.  The Europeans don’t think someone is lazy because they take naps.  About six years ago, I started taking a ‘power nap’ during lunch.  Actually, I have no idea what a power nap is, but I usually sleep 15 minutes during lunch 3-5 days a week.

After eating lunch with my family, I get a quick nap and head back to work. If you work from home, you should consider adding a nap to your work schedule :).  Sleep and renewal is not a sin.

If you work from home, what do you do in order to be successful?


Published or updated March 22, 2010.
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Craig/FFB

Since I don’t have my own office/den/or real space at home the only way I can really tune out the family is to put on a pair of headphones and listen to some tunes while I work. Sometimes just the of having the cans on my ears is enough to convey to the fam that this is work time.

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2 Ryan

Craig, I’ve done the same thing for a long time, but recently started using the desk in our guest bedroom more often. I like being able to visit with my wife, but there are times when I just need to close the door so I can focus 100%. I would love to have a dedicated office in our next house. :)

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3 Craig/FFB

We’re starting to look for a home and a place to make a dedicated “office” is a great bonus for me (and a nice write-off too!).

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4 Craig Ford

I think if a person does full-time work from home and can find a space an at home office is very close to necessary – especially with kids.

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5 savvysavingbytes

My schedule as a design and illustration freelancer is determined by whatever assignment comes my way. This means intense periods of work for rush assignments followed by periods of doing whatever I fancy. This fits my temperament. I also like the comfort of sometimes working in my jammies. That’s the great thing about freelancing. You’re free to set your own rules.

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6 MFO

I wish I could work from home! It would be the hour+ commute I have!

So true about the Naps. I take a nap in my car after I eat sometimes. I put on my eye cover things (don’t know what they are called), and just take a quick 20 min power nap. SO refreshing!

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7 Kristine

I think it’s great to set a routine as you mentioned Craig. Working from home can be great, but it can also be difficult to accomplish anything without structure.

I set aside a good 3 hours to work in the afternoon while my baby naps. I continue to work once he goes down for the night. I don’t work and care for my baby at the same time. With a newborn, he pretty much sets my schedule! :)

I always want to be 100% present for my husband and our child, and 100% present for work.

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8 Craig Ford

I like the idea of being 100% present at home and work. The routine is a great way to do that.

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9 Financial Samurai

Thnx for the tips Craig. Seems like the bottom line is that it’s all about separation during work, and not blending things in too much and letting things blur.

How would you gauge an unsuccessful work at home environmnet?

Are you still in Papua NG?

Sam

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10 Craig Ford

How would I gauge an unsucessful at home work environment? If married ask your husband or wife how it is going. You’ll know if it is working by the answer.

Yes, still in PNG.

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11 basicmoneytips

Good points here. I am trying to make the leap from working for the man to working from home at my own business. I have not thought a lot about the transition. However, these points seem accurate to me.

I have read several things about working from home, and I know one thing that is missed is the social interaction you do have with people.

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12 MoneyCone

I can speak from personal experience – I worked from home for a couple of years – discipline is most important. Working from home is not for everyone. And for most I wouldn’t recommend it.

Discipline to not get distracted – tv, sleep, games! Discipline to make it a point to go out – sitting at home all day can wreck your mind.

Discipline to communicate with your remote peers and bosses. This is so important. Otherwise it is out of sight, out of mind. Working from home you must keep emailing on every activity you have completed.

It was a fascinating experience – would I want to do it again? Probably not!

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