Not having to commute to work can be incredibly freeing. You save time not having to climb into a car, bus, or train, and that's minutes (or even hours) every day that can be used for fun, family, and nonwork pursuits.
The problem -- at least for work-from-home workers who lack a set schedule -- is that your home is filled with productivity killers. Yes, it's awesome that you can take the time to accept a package or let a contractor in during the day, but it's less awesome when you realize that you can also get tripped up by multiple possible distractions.
These aren't the only potential productivity killers in and around your home. They are, however, the ones most likely to trip you up when you're trying to take care of business.
1. Your family
It sounds awful, but your family can make it hard to be productive in so many ways. The first is that it's easy to assume that because you're home, you're available.
It's very important for you to set boundaries. This can be especially challenging if you're a parent. Yes, you may be home with a sick kid or handle school conferences and doctors' appointments. It's important, however, to make it clear to your partner (or older children) that time you take away from work will either have to be made up or result in a loss of income.
You also need to draw a hard line in the sand. Taking care of a sick child so your significant other doesn't have to take a day off may make sense, but going to a workday event at school may not. Be clear and don't let yourself be taken advantage of just because you have flexibility.
Sometimes, work-from-home situations offer too much flexibility. It's amazing that you can get up early, get your work done, and then see a movie on opening day before screenings get crowded. That situation is not so great if you skip the getting up early to get work done only in part, and then miss some hours the next day because you stayed out late.
You have to hold yourself accountable and make sure you meet your goals. That means having clear goals. Those can be hours put in, income earned, or tasks accomplished. Make a system that works for you and stick to it.
Some people will find that they can cheat but then buckle down and meet their goals. Others will find that they have to stay on a schedule, or it will be nearly impossible to get to the finish line.
3. Your work
As a work-from-home contract writer for The Motley Fool, I get paid for writing. I don't directly get paid for research, watching press conferences, conducting interviews, or doing anything else until it results in a written article. I need to do all of those things, of course, to be a good writer, but it's important to balance your prep tasks with the work you actually get paid for.
There are days when I would love to spend hours listening to earnings calls. In reality, it makes more sense to wait until a transcript comes out so I can still profit from the information without having it be a major time drain.
That's just one example of the countless ways I could go off track and do a lot of work but not produce much money. There are days when that happens, because the long-term investment of doing an interview or watching a trade show keynote will help me make more money down the line. It's very important to understand the trade-off and keep an eye on the bottom line.
Hold yourself accountable
Working from home is like dieting or going to the gym. You can only succeed if you set a metric for success and measure yourself according to it.
That does not mean you'll never slip up -- people with 9-to-5 jobs have off days, too -- it means that you will create a standard and work hard to live up to it. You may be the only person who knows when you succeed and when you fail, but it's important that you know what you're trying to accomplish so you can guard against things that may prevent you from getting there.