Working from home used to be a privilege reserved for only the lucky few. But these days, a growing number of workers are conducting business without having to leave the house. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, 24% of employees performed some or all of their work from home, up from 19% back in 2003.
But while working from home obviously has its benefits -- like the ability to save on commuting costs or be available for daytime deliveries -- this arrangement can be both a blessing and a curse. Though office life offers less flexibility, you don't have to worry about getting distracted by your television, or giving in to the urge to sneak in a quick midday nap.
If you're going to work successfully from home, it's best to go in with a game plan. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Have a dedicated workspace
It's easy to get sidetracked if you work from home and are constantly surrounded by temptation. If you set up shop at your kitchen table, for example, you're likely to take frequent breaks to whip up a snack, tidy your countertops, or start prepping dinner when you're supposed to be working. A better arrangement is to set up a separate, distraction-free workspace in your home.
If you have a walled-off room that can function as an office, that's probably your best bet. If not, consider sectioning off a portion of your dining or living room and surrounding yourself with the tools you need to get things done, such as a printer or filing cabinet. Better yet, consider investing in a room divider or screen to create the illusion that you're actually in an office, and not your home.
Not only can creating a dedicated workspace help boost your productivity, but it can also come in handy from a tax perspective. That's because self-employed workers are allowed to take a home office deduction provided they meet certain criteria, such as having an area of the home that's used solely for business purposes.
2. Create a work schedule
It's hard to focus on your paying job when countless household tasks seem to beckon -- like that pile of laundry just begging to be folded, or that stack of bills that need to be paid. And while you might think you can get away with multitasking (like taking a conference call while dusting the furniture), that often just doesn't work.
If you really want to ensure that you meet your job-related obligations, map out a work schedule at the start of the week and pledge to stick to it, no matter what. Keep in mind that this schedule can -- and probably should -- include breaks to eat, recharge, and even take care of household tasks.
If you actually write out a schedule where you're working certain hours every day, you're more likely to stick to it. You can even take this idea one step further by scheduling specific work tasks to be done at pre-arranged times. This is especially important if you have a tendency to procrastinate and come close to missing deadlines.
3. Eliminate distractions
Even if you designate a separate workspace and write up a schedule, you'll inevitably still face the temptation to stray. That's why it pays to identify your greatest distractions and make them a non-issue.
If you can't trust yourself not to get sucked in by the TV during the workweek, stash yours away in the closet and only bust it out on weekends. If you're constantly stopping what you're doing to take your cute little dog out for a stroll, put your pet in the basement so he's not there to beg in your face. The more you do to eliminate distractions, the more actual work you'll get done when you're supposed to be doing it.
Whether you work for a company that allows you to telecommute or are self-employed, don't make the mistake of abusing your work-from-home arrangement. In the former scenario, you'll risk having that privilege revoked as your productivity drops. And in the latter situation, you'll risk not getting paid because your work just isn't getting done.
Finally, realize that working from home isn't necessarily the best idea for everyone. If, despite your best efforts, you're just not being productive when working from home, you may be better off going into the office or, if you're self-employed, renting some space during the week. Otherwise, you'll just be putting your career -- and your paycheck -- perpetually on the line.