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Effective Tips on How to Work from Home

Victoria Morrison
Working from home on a laptop

Whether you're new to the bliss of the commute-free lifestyle or a seasoned pro, you're not alone. According to Statistics Canada, the number of self-employed people who work from home increased from 54 to 60 percent between 2006 and 2008, and "1,842,000 self-employed persons worked at home in 2008". More recent information suggests the workforce is increasingly mobile and interested in working from home, especially younger generations.  For self-employed people, working from home comes with the territory, and if you used to travel to an office every day, the absence of commuting and office distractions could boost productivity, as long as you know how to be organized and productive at home. Read on to find out how.

How do I work from home effectively?

Let's face it, working from home can be one of the terrific benefits of being self-employed if you're efficient. That takes discipline, determination, patience and the right tools.  Often you come across general common sense advice about working from home that various media bring up time and time again such as "find a routine that works and stick to it", "don't work in your bathrobe all day", or "unplug from email and phone during your resting time". But there is a lot more than the obvious. Here are a few specific productivity tips to get you moving along the path to self-employment Nirvana.

Time management: Get organized!

If you work full-time from home and nobody else is around, it's easy to spend 8 to 10 hours in front of a computer without budging or even eating. Don't! Keep track of time.

  • Plan out as much of your day as you can by the end of the previous day if you can. Making a list of priorities at the end of the day for tomorrow gives you peace of mind and a head start the next morning.
  • When you start your day, look at your list from last night and adjust it as needed or create a list if you don't like the "night before" approach, and scratch items off as they get done.
  • Do the hard stuff you don't want to do first. Accomplishing the tough tasks will prove satisfying and make the rest of your day easier and more productive.
  • Use short bursts of time productively. If you have 20 minutes left at day's end, take on as many easy or administrative tasks as you can: pay some bills, send an invoice, answer some emails.
Woman working home using laptop, daughter doing homework in background

Basic tools for working from home

You don't need a trove of tools to work effectively from home, but you do need the right ones:

  • A good desk and a chair with basic ergonomic adjustments
  • A newer laptop. These days, powerful, sleek laptops can cost as little as $500, and virtually no one needs a desktop computer in 2018. Get a new laptop at least every 4 or 5 years to stay current!
  • A good external monitor (24 inches or more is ideal), a mouse and keyboard
  • A powerful wireless modem
  • A high-speed internet connection (25-30 Megabits/sec is fast enough for 1-2 adults, even if one of them is watching 4K video or gaming online)
  • A mobile phone as your primary or secondary business phone line.

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Make technology work for you

Stay in touch or hold virtual meetings for free. Skype, Facetime, Google Duo, WhatsApp, and Zoom are just a few of the dozens of apps for calling, online meetings or webinars.  Write faster with dictation. Do you write a lot? Your phone is a fantastic and very accurate portable dictation machine. Dictate text into a message and then send it to yourself. Or use Windows 10 to dictate anywhere on your PC.  Make "to do" lists and notes on the fly. Again, dictate or grab your keyboard and type anywhere - email, text editor, or use a note tool like OneNote, in which you centralize and keep track of all your ideas, lists and Web research.  Accounting and expense tracking. Stay organized with accounting software and mileage tracking, and make tax payments on time to avoid penalties.

Protect your data to protect your business

Remember to back up your data regularly! It's easier than ever and crucial when you work from home. You are your own IT Manager, so do your job! Don't wait until you lose that report you've been working on for weeks, or worse, witness years of data vanish if your hard drive crashes.  The pain of data loss is devastating and costly to your business and productivity. Use OneDrive in Windows, Google, Apple, or any cloud service to back up your valuable files yourself, or automatically.  Keep the kids away from your work tools. Your computer is your livelihood. Imagine your high-performance work laptop slowing to a crawl after your teenager starts using it for homework every day, and then spending hours on research and calling support to bring it back to life (true story). Bottom line: get the kids an affordable laptop for school work.  

Real photo of a workplace interior with a computer on a desk next to a chair and a shelf with ornaments, posters on a wall and a window with blinds

Control your work environment for maximum productivity

Ideally, you have a dedicated space at home for work, such as a home office that's away from the action (basement, bedroom upstairs, remote corner of the living room).  You'll be more productive if your space isn't too hot, cold, noisy, bright, humid or dry. If it is, there are (relatively) cheap fixes: a dehumidifier, portable AC, a fan, blinds, and earplugs!

No work, no problem! Do business development

When you're self-employed and you work from home, one of the hardest things to do is "manage your pipeline" (that is, find your next project or client). Work can come in clusters at the best of times and then slow to a crawl in the summer and around holidays.  Business development should always be on your mind. Ask happy clients to refer you to people they know who might need your services, use social media to build your brand (let people know what you do), update customers or collect testimonials.

Healthy habits and working effectively from home go hand in hand

To stay alert and focused, move your eyes away from the monitor every 20 minutes to focus on the back of the room. Get up and move around and take short breaks or tackle a personal task to switch gears (besides raiding the fridge), go for a short walk outside or exercise, and don't forget to stay well hydrated.  Some people work better nights and weekends so that they can do personal things during the day. Being productive at home means setting a routine that works for you and having enough balance in your life to avoid neglecting other obligations or your health.  If you feel out of whack every day because of 80-hour work weeks, your workload could lead to health problems. Maybe it's time to form a partnership with peers whose work you trust so you can help each other with some basic tasks when things get crazy?  What if you're sick? Do you have supplemental health and disability insurance to protect your income and your health?  Use a virtual assistant to help with simple tasks like answering emails and calls from suppliers or managing your schedule.  If you just started working from home, you'll have to decide what works best for you over time, but bad habits can die hard. Here is another great list of expert tips compiled by freelancer coach Ed Gangia that's worth a read.

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