How to Stay Focused When You’re Working from Home

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Elizabeth Grace Saunders for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.

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No commute. No drive-by meetings. No dress code. Remote working can seem like a dream — until personal obligations get in the way.

These distractions are easy to ignore in an office, but at home it can be difficult to draw the line between personal and professional time.

Consider when you’re working on a project and get a call from a friend. You know you need to finish your work, but you feel rude for not talking when you technically could. Or think about when you’re planning your daily to-do list, but also need to decide when you’ll squeeze in your personal commitments. Taking the time to put a few loads of laundry in the washer midday can seem like a quick task — until you find yourself making up that work time late at night. In the end, it’s never entirely clear when you’re really “on” or “off.”

As someone who has worked from home for 12 years, and been a time management coach for remote workers, I’ve seen and experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve found that the most focused and effective remote workers set up boundaries for themselves so that they can actually get work done.

Here are some tips for how you can make remote work more productive and satisfying, whether it’s an everyday occurrence or an occasional day away from the office.Establish working hours. It may sound silly, but if you want to have a focused day of work, pretend you’re not working from home. Before I became a time management coach, my schedule was chaotic. I didn’t have a set time that I would be at my computer, and I would often schedule personal appointments or run errands during the day. And since my personal life didn’t have boundaries, my work life didn’t either. When I was home, I would feel guilty for not checking business email at all hours of the day and night. I never felt that I could truly rest.

But a big shift occurred when I set up “office hours” for working from home (for me, that was about 9 AM to 6 PM most weekdays) and clarified what was or wasn’t acceptable to do during that time. I’d ask myself, “If I was in an office, would I do this task during the day?” If the answer was no, I knew I needed to do the activity before or after office hours. Household chores, errands, and spending time with friends all became activities that needed to happen before or after work. Sure, I would still field an occasional call from a friend during my lunch break, or if I had an urgent task like an emergency car repair, I’d make it happen during the day. But these were exceptions, not the rule. In setting this boundary, I not only created dedicated work time but also found that I could focus on personal items guilt-free “after hours.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders
is a time management coach and the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Speaking. She is author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money and Divine Time Management.

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