Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

When I started working out of my home office, I had visions of spending eight uninterrupted, billable hours at my desk every day.  Without the distractions of a regular office, I would be so efficient, so productive!  My photo would be in the dictionary, proudly displayed beside the definition of productivity.

Reality Check

The fact of the matter is that most days don’t look quite like that.  Or, if I’m being totally honest here, I don’t think I’ve had a single day that looked even remotely like that.  It turns out, while I’m the model of efficiency in someone else’s office, I am a giant procrastinator in my own.  So many distractions!  Here are my top five.

1. Phone calls

I have friends and family in other time zones.  If I wait until the end of my day to call them, they’re sound asleep.  So I often make those calls during “office hours.”  My sister and I have never had a conversation that could be considered brief.

2. Errands and Chores

With a deadline looming, what I really feel the need to do is clean out a closet, fold some laundry, or scrub the bath tub.  As a minimum, I absolutely must catch up on filing, and clean off my desk.

3. Social Media

I don’t have proof, but I’m almost certain that bad things will happen if I am not absolutely up to speed on the latest from Facebook and Twitter.  And so I must check both with great frequency.

4. Volunteering

The elementary school needs help with their spring carnival.  The grade four class is going on a field trip.  Parents are needed to help the grade two class with a craft project.  Sign me up!

5. Angry Birds and Words With Friends

We have no comment at this time.  I plead the fifth.  Can I speak to my lawyer?  Guilty!

Cracking the Whip

On occasion I do manage to get it together and stay focussed.  I’ve taken a number of university courses either online or by distance, and have learned a few self-direction survival skills over the years.

  • Deadlines – I keep a calendar on my desk where all my project deadlines and other important dates are written.  I always start with the completion date for a project and work my way backwards, writing in smaller deadlines for each stage of the project.   This helps me stay on track and reach the project deadline without a last minute panic.
  • Lists – I’m a big fan of lists.  Every Sunday night I sit down with my notebook and write a list of what needs to be accomplished that week.  I also write a list for each specific day of that week.  And I put everything on that list, each email, phone call, errand or task.  There is immense satisfaction in crossing things off a list.  (Beat my husband at Words With Friends?  Check!  Just kidding…. It’s all business now, remember?)
  • Work – Sounds simple but seriously, the easiest way to get things done is just to work at it.  I recently read a book by Brian Tracy, entitled Flight Plan: The real secret of success – How to achieve more faster than you ever dreamed possible.  According to Tracy, one of the habits common to successful people is that they work the whole time they’re working.  They don’t spend time chatting with co-workers.  They don’t get distracted by social media.  He suggests  choosing our highest priority task at the start of our work day, and focussing on that task, and that task only, until it is complete.  Then we move on to the next item.  But above all, that we actually work the entire time we’re working.

As long as I’m working from home, there will be distractions.  And I’m okay with that.  In fact, Angry Birds aside, one of the reasons I choose to work from home is so that I can intentionally work some of those distractions into my day.  It’s part of my work-life balance strategy.  But I definitely need to be mindful of how much time is spent on those distractions.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to update my Facebook status to announce that I have just productively written a blog post.

What are your biggest distractions when working from home?  How do you maintain a productive work-life balance in your home office?