Increasingly, more and more people are working from home.  Many small business owners operate from home, and employers are encouraging staff to do the same.  There’s no doubt there are huge benefits: no more sitting in traffic jams wasting hours every day … a cup of coffee when you fancy one … and of course no expensive office rent to pay.

But working from home doesn’t suit everyone.  If you’re not disciplined, there’s a danger you won’t get any work done and, if you’re used to being in a busy work environment, it can be a very solitary existence.  So what can you do to make sure working from home is a positive experience?

1. A dedicated place of work

If you’re going to work from home, the first thing you’ll need is a dedicated office space.  You might already have a study, or a spare bedroom you can convert.  Perhaps you can create some space in the attic or even a home office in the garden.  The important thing is to have somewhere you actually ‘go to work’.

OK, some people can be disciplined working at the kitchen table or in the sitting room with the TV on, but they are in the minority.  Even if it’s just walking up the stairs or up the garden path, physically going to your place of work will help your mindset.

2.  Don’t paper-shuffle!

There are hundreds of distractions for anyone working from home.  Allowing them to take over your day is the home worker’s equivalent of paper shuffling.

There’s no problem with hanging your washing out if it’s a fine day.  But if you then decide to mow the lawn, clean the car, or watch the golf on TV, you could be on a slippery slope!

3.  Educate your family and friends

Not everyone understands the home working concept.  If your friends and family are guilty of just popping in because they ‘were just passing’, nip it in the bud!  They wouldn’t be able to visit if you were working in a formal environment, so don’t encourage day-time social visits.  And, no matter how much pressure you’re subjected to, make sure all your family and friends know you’re not the unofficial babysitter, dog walker, or personal shopper, simply because you’re at home during the day.

4.  Plan your days

Working from home isn’t an excuse to sleep late, take 3-hour lunch breaks, or knock off early!  If you do that, you’ll never be a successful home worker.  On the other hand, you have to know when to stop too.  Working from home can mean you’re ‘on call’ 18 hours a day, but like everyone else you need to take time out.

The answer is to plan your days.  Set your working hours and keep to them.  If you take an extra long lunch break one day, make up the time by working another half hour in the evening.  If you burn the midnight oil one night, take some time out the next morning.

Sit down each morning and write yourself a list of things to do that day.  Prioritise them, and tick them off the list as they’re completed.

If you’re a workaholic, you’ll need to plan in some leisure time too.  There are always going to be times when you need to work in the evening or early morning, but don’t overdo it.  If your phone always rings when you’re having dinner, let the ansaphone pick it up – that’s what its there for!

5.  Overcoming loneliness

If you’re used to working in a busy environment, the home worker’s solitary life-style can be a bit of a shock.

While social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter can help and allow you to communicate with others from your desk, they do have their drawbacks.  If you spend too much time on these sites, your work will suffer.  You can overcome this by planning the time you spend on social networking each day, so you reap the benefits but don’t damage your business.

Business networking events are great for home workers.  Obviously the objective is to meet other people and ultimately increase sales, but they are also a good social opportunity and will get you out of the house on a regular basis.

If you are working alone at home, it’s important to engage in some out-of-hours social activities.  This might be a visit to the local pub or going to the gym for a workout, joining some social groups, or perhaps attending evening classes.

Get it right, and working from home can be a fulfilling experience.

Blog post by Joy McCarthy