It’s now been well over 2 years since I left the typical workday office job and began working from home. In that time, I’ve connected with several other work-from-home gurus and discussed some of the bad habits that can emerge from making such a big lifestyle shift. I’ve been guilty of some of these at various points in time, but they’re all avoidable with some simple planning and motivation.
1.) Out of Control Office Clutter
Moving from a shared office space to your own home office brings along a special kind of personal freedom. You no longer have to worry about your manager or a neat-freak coworker walking by and commenting on your messy desk. The more “Type B” workers among us rejoice at the liberty to let papers, business cards, and envelopes fall where they may.
While the reduced stress of not having to take care of your office space is nice, it can end up having detrimental effects on your productivity. An uncluttered desk is akin to an uncluttered mind; too much of a mess will stand in the way of important daily tasks.
One way to keep things from getting out of control is by scheduling a recurring time for cleaning your workspace. Once every two weeks should be enough to maintain a level of order and cleanliness, allowing you the mental freedom to focus on more important things.
2.) The Dreaded Bedroom Office
Of course, many people who are working from home for the first time don’t have an actual office to retreat to in their house or apartment. For these people, an existing space like a dining room or living room has to serve a dual purpose.
One of the worst decisions you can make for your work-life balance is to work from your bedroom. It seems like a new study is published every month that talks about the necessity of separating your working space from your sleeping space. After too much time spent working in the bedroom (or even worse, in the bed itself), your brain begins to associate that space with work rather than sleep.
Commit to finding a space in your home that is well lit, comfortable, and functional. Once you and your family understand the boundaries of your workspace, you’ll be able to work fluidly and efficiently without affecting the sanctity of other areas of the home.
3.) Spending Too Much Time on Inactive Work
This is a really easy habit to fall into and it can have disastrous effects on your productivity. “Inactive” work is what happens when we trick ourselves into thinking that we’re doing devoted, effective work when in reality we’re wasting as much time as if we were reading Buzzfeed articles.
Inactive work can be anything from sending emails unrelated to business, reading blog posts and news items that are somewhat related to your industry, or repeatedly checking the analytical data on your new website or blog to see who is visiting your site. We all do these things from time to time but when inactive work takes up the majority of your day, you have a problem that will have lasting consequences.
Allow yourself 15 minutes at the beginning of your workday for anything that you would reasonably call inactive work. Set a timer and once it goes off, that’s the sign that it’s time to get to work on the real tasks at hand.
4.) Allowing Time for Stagnant Entertainment
Here’s a bad habit that’s even worse than inactive work.
Human minds are able to talk themselves into some funny decisions, and some people’s minds go into overdrive when faced with the flexibility of making their own schedule. With so much extra time and no one looking over their shoulder, many work-from-home entrepreneurs are able to justify things like browsing on Facebook, watching Netflix, or playing computer games during the normal workday. (I call this “stagnant entertainment,” entertainment that demands nothing more from you than sitting in front of a screen.) They claim that they’ll make up for the lost time at another point in the day, but more often than not that time is just lost. No supervisor means you can get away with it up to a point, until your business stagnates and you start losing clients.
We all need time to blow off some steam, but it’s important to make a clear delineation between “work time” and “play time.” Make your working hours clear in your personal calendar and stick to them. If you have problems with personal accountability, ask a friend or family member to occasionally check in on you and see what you’re up to. The possibility of being caught in the act of not working should be enough to keep you on task.
5.) Too Much Work, Not Enough Life
On the opposite end of the spectrum from the movie-watchers are the workaholics, whose aggressive business-building habits allow no room for any other person or activity.
Keep in mind that by transitioning from an office job to working from home, you’ve effectively eliminated things from your schedule like commuting, endless meetings, and your morning routine to get dressed for the office. Those hours are now free for you to use how you like; while some of them will be useful for working, I can’t recommend using all of them for work.
One valuable exercise is to write out, hour by hour, the routine that you were on in your previous job. Make note of things that are no longer part of your life: a one-hour commute, for example, or time spent each week in performance reviews. Then write out your routine for working from home and compare the two. Your goal should be to spend a similar amount of time each week actually working; if you’re working more each day after leaving your office job than less, that’s a sign that you should re-evaluate your work/life balance and get things back in order.