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10 Rules for Working at Home

TechRepublic: “How do you make sure your work life doesn’t invade your home life?” Carroll: “Having two little boys helps. They’re five and seven, and certainly they know that at five o’clock—if I’m not under a big deadline—they can come down to Daddy’s machine and turn it off.”
From an interview in TechRepublic, Feb 8.2001

“Expect distractions!”

Some months back, a client was looking for a presentation on how to deal with the challenge of working at home. I sat down and wrote out my list of rules. There’s a little bit of experience here — I’ve been working out of a home office for thirteen years, and my wife Christa, at one point the controller for a large multinational food company with responsibility for some 30 staff, has been working with me at home for eight years.

Together, we’ve got some 21 years of experience in working in a home office.

In that time, we’ve seen projects that have involved the writing of some 34 books, the raising of two children, the preparation and customization of 1,000 speeches, three office moves, the writing of some 600 articles, the building of a major home addition to house a new home office, and the growth of a home computer network involving some 25 computing devices.

What we’ve learned is that working in a home office means learning to manage the distractions — while appreciating the joy of the distraction!.

Here’s my list of the “10 Rules for Working at Home

1. Make a daily plan, set a commitment

Most people assume that you can be too distracted working in a home office. Not true — you’ve got a job like anyone else, and quite simply, you have to get things done.

Having said that, I’ve found that it is important to set a daily list of goals, in order that you can stay focussed. In my case, I get up every morning, and with a bit of quiet time at the start of the day, set out my goals for the day. What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to get done? What projects will I tackle, and in what order. (I’ve “timeshifted” my life.) [ link ]

I’ve found that establishing a series of goals and benchmarks has helped to establish a routine to my day, and has been the key to ensuring and enhancing productivity in a home office setting.

2. Make space

Your home office has to be just that — an office. Try to create a space in your home that will be your office, and use it only for that purpose.

If you have a spare bedroom, use it. If not, then do other things to ensure that your office is “someplace separate.” You need to make sure that the area you set aside for your desk is just that — an area for work. If your desk is in the family room or basement, then a nice divider or two will help to provide the separation between work and home. If you can’t do that, then set things up so that your files are put away — and out of sight — at the end of the day
However you do it, the bottom line is this — make sure that there is a distinct space between your living area and your work area. Otherwise, you won’t develop the sense that you are really “working” at home. Your “work space” must be a separate place that you get up and go to in the morning!

3. Don’t feel guilt

Don’t feel bad if you take some private time here and there! It’s part of the balance, and has to be part of your routine. Working at home can often involve a huge balancing act between family and work, and it is easier to balance if you don’t feel guilty about doing what is necessary to balance.

Part of the balance revolves around the fact that you will probably find that you’ll end up working different hours than you would in an office environment. In my case, I start many mornings at 5:30AM, take a break between 8 and 8:45 to have breakfast with my children and wife, and then go back to work. I’ll have a quick lunch and then head to the gym at 2 or 3 PM. I’m still getting in a very productive day, I’m just working odd hours.

In the early years, I’d feel guilty about not living by a strict 9 to 5 regimen, but then I realized — “I’m working just as much, if not more, and so I’ll just do it at my pace.”

4. Set boundaries

Learn to shut the door. That’s got to be the most important thing when it comes to developing a healthy separation between your work day and your home life.

I still find it a challenge. Walking past the home office door, I think that there might be a new e-mail message. A phone call, a fax, something new. And sometimes I’ll walk in, and before I know it, I’m immersed in work again. There’s always the big temptation of the home office, and it will probably be the most difficult thing that you’ve got to learn to deal with.

Recruit family members to help you out. My children were taught that most days I could quit at a certain time, unless I had major deadlines. They would appear in the home office at the designated time …. and escort me out!

But likewise, you’ve got to teach your family the boundaries. My boys have learned that if the office door is closed, it means that “daddy is busy, and is not to be disturbed.” We’ve instilled in them the rules of the home office from day one — and you need to do it too with your own family.

5. Kick back

In your home office, you’ll have a desk. That doesn’t mean you have to do all of your work there!

I’ve often found that I’ll get unique bursts of productivity by moving around. Several of my books were written while I was sitting in a La-Z-Boy in front of a roaring fire in the basement. Other times, I’ve found that taking a set of files for review out to the backyard has led to a massive burst of productivity.

The fact is, you’ve got a home with beautiful surroundings — take advantage of it to boost your productivity! Don’t feel bad about working outside on a beautiful sunny day — in fact, you might find that you end up getting more done than ever before……

6. Educate your coworkers

Working at home means that you are in the vanguard of a workplace revolution. And the simple fact of the matter is, your coworkers might not understand. All too often, people who don’t work at home think that those who are, “aren’t really working.” They’ll think that you are watching TV, reading books, or generally doing all kinds of things that aren’t work related. People think you are goofing off.

You’ll get quite frustrated at their attitude. And I’ve learned that you need to educate them. For your own sanity — so that you can avoid those constant jokes that “you’ aren’t really working” — you’ve got to carefully and diplomatically stress to them that you are working as hard as they are — you are just doing so in a different setting.

7. Talk to your mailman

People often ask me, “don’t you worry about the isolation of working at home?”

Not at all! My attitude is that we are social creatures, and we crave social interaction. When you work at home, you’ve got to make sure that you replace water-cooler chit-chat with something else. Get out and talk to people! Make some time for your own unique chit chat. It’s important to your attitude, and is critical to your productivity.

Over the years, I’ve found that our mailman is a highly intelligent and fascinating human being. We’ve had marvelous discussions about all kinds of topics. Likewise, I’ve come to know the various courier drivers in the neighborhood — one of the first words out of each of my boys mouths was “FedEx.”

I know more about my neighbors than I might ever have before, since they are part of my little social interactions through the day.

Quite simply, I’ve built into my routine all kinds of little social interactions, and I recognize that this is critical to my outlook, emotional well-being, and has a great impact on my overall productivity!

8. Appreciate the rewards

Love your job!

Realize that you’ve got the best of both worlds — you’ve got a great career, and you get to spend time with your family.

Many times one of my sons will come down in the early morning with a book to read. I’ll spend 5 or 10 minutes with them, taking a small break from work. Then, when I get back to it, I’m motivated like never before to get back to work. “.


I dug out the statistic once that indicated that” the average person in North America now spends almost six months of their entire life, stuck in a traffic jam.” Think about that — if you had a traditional job, you’d be wasting so much time! Now you get to invest that time into other things — family time, personal time, cooking dinner, working out at the gym. Recognize that by working in a home office, you are recovering the most precious gift of all — time.

You should marvel in that fact, and be inspired and motivated that you are so lucky!

9. Plant flowers outside your window and buy a birdfeeder

Take the time to make a home office that will drive you to results, and that will spur you on to enjoy your work!

This might mean investing in a great office chair. Buying a little home stereo for your desktop. Or buying a birdfeeder for outside your window……

I remember this spring, we had a family of sparrows move into the backyard.

Over a period of days, my wife and I were mesmerized. We’d watch the mom and dad trying to teach the kids to fly and land at the birdfeeder, and would have a chuckle when they just couldn’t quite do it, falling to the ground in frustration. Then we witnessed the unique sight of the mom trying to teach the children how to poke their beak into the feeder to get some seed — often with hilarious results. Then we watched them try to do it all on their own. Eventually they mastered their survival skills, and flew away.

It was a fascinating time. Throughout the day, we’d have a minute here, a minute there, in which we would watch with rapt attention. And then we’d get back to work.

And you know what? Thinking back, that was probably one of the most productive weeks we’d ever spent. We had a little distraction that brought a smile to our face, and joy to our hearts. Simply put, having that type of attitude spurred us on to new heights in the home office — we tackled our work with pleasure. Being in a great mood does wonderful things for your overall productivity…..

10. Recognize that you get a lot more done

That’s a simple truth. Be proud of what you accomplish. You are probably doing more than those who don’t work at home — yet don’t have the stress, the aggravation, the politics. What more could you ask for?

11. Have a laugh

Did we say a list of 10? I have 11! No wonder that as an accountant, I no longer practice the black art on a daily basis….

And I have many, many more!

Recognize that the whole trend to home work is not an aberration — it is part of a overall significant shift in the economic landscape of North America. I remember one day, being on the phone, in the midst of an important call. One of my sons — at that point, two years old — came running into the office, screaming! He had banged his finger. I frantically tried to quiet him down while trying to maintain my composure on the phone call.

And you know what happened? The lady at the other end started laughing. “I’m working at home too,” she said, “and my six month old is sleeping on my lap!” We had a great laugh, as we began comparing stories about how many times we’ve met fellow home-workers over the phone in similar circumstances.

The fact is, there are a lot of us out there. We’re in the midst of a revolution, and you should be thrilled to be a part of it.

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