6 biggest work-from-home traps and simple ways to avoid them
With rapid advances in technology and more employers setting up flexible work practices, there’s never been a better time to work from home.
But if the idea of working whenever you like; wearing what you like and doing what you like with no office politics or micro-manager breathing down your neck sounds like bliss, you might be in for a shock!
Working from home has some serious drawbacks.
When I eagerly started my ‘work from home’ business (after 20+ years as a corporate slave, slogging it out in windowless offices), no one told me what to watch out for.
I had to learn the hard way…
A high achieving extrovert, I’d previously thrived on company and prided myself on ‘getting the job done’. But, with no fixed routine or people to chat to, I soon felt like a rudderless ship.
In my early work-from-home days, I drifted aimlessly, dipping in and out of loneliness. Distraction, procrastination and frustration took hold and at the end of each day, I’d beat myself up over how little I’d achieved.
If my business was going to succeed, I clearly needed to change something. So, I set about pinpointing what the real problems are. Then, with help from fellow work-from-homers, I figured out how to neatly sidestep the pitfalls.
Whether you work from home occasionally or regularly, as an employee or business owner, here are the biggest work from home traps and simple WFH (Work-From-Home) Hacks to overcome them:
1. No Dedicated, Clutter Free Work Space
Without a dedicated work space, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Sharing the dining table, surrounded by the toys, unpaid bills, placemats and unused cutlery from last night’s dinner, will put you on the back foot from the get go.
If you have a room you can convert into a home office, do it! Set it up like a professional office, with everything you’d need to feel like you’re ‘at work’. Walking into an uncluttered work space mentally prepares you to be more productive.
No spare room? No problem!
Rearrange your dining or living room to create a dedicated work space. Put a desk in a well-lit corner and add your work tools – laptop, phone, filing cabinet, pens etc. It doesn’t need to be a big space – just clutter free!
The most important tip here is to keep your dedicated work space free of clutter. Clearing away anything that isn’t essential to your work puts you in control and minimises clutter creating overwhelm.
WFH Hack #1
2. Too Many Distractions
Even with a dedicated work space, distractions are an ever present derailer for work-from-homers! Constant interruptions eat away at your time and fuel stress.
Before you know it, your day is consumed by stuff that contributes little to what you want and need to achieve.
The secret to minimising distractions is… planning! Anticipate every possible distraction and put steps in place to head them off, before they interrupt work time.
- Dedicating time to work while your children are cared for by someone else, during school or kindy hours.
- Turning off social media, your phone and automatic email notifications and checking these at set times of the day. Manage others’ expectations by adding a message to your voicemail and email signature (eg, Please note, I check and respond to emails and phone messages at [insert time].)
- Blocking out the noise! When the TV or radio are blaring or the neighbour’s dog constantly barks, half an ear is always listening and your attention is diverted.
- Invest in a pair of noise canceling headphones and if you work better with music, choose relaxing instrumental music without lyrics.
WFH Hack #2
3. It’s Easier to Procrastinate
Distractions are procrastination’s best friend!
Working from home, there’s always something else you could be doing.
Folding washing, planning dinner, taking out the garbage, checking Facebook… the list is never ending!
To beat procrastination, you first have to identify exactly what is driving it.
- Are you tackling a big, time-consuming piece of work, but don’t know where or how to start?
- Are you avoiding a necessary work task that you don’t enjoy?
Park the guilt and be honest about why you’re avoiding the task and break it down into do-able steps.
Ask yourself, ‘Is this non-work task I’m burning time on something I’d do if I were in an office?’
Objectively weigh up the consequences, benefits and impact of spending time on your procrastination task instead of getting on with your work.
One of my biggest ‘AHA’ moments came from a work-from-home friend who suggests giving yourself permission to ‘fluff’ but setting a time limit.
Allow yourself 15 – 20 minutes, set a timer with an alarm and then indulge in your ‘procrastinator of choice’ until the alarm goes off. Then, it’s back to work, head down and bum up!
WFH Hack #3
4. Poor Time Management
Working from home creates an amazing sense of freedom and choice. There’s no one watching what time you arrive and leave and how you spend your time is up to you.
But therein lies the trap.
Because your time is your own, it’s too easy to waste it. In my former life as a management consultant for an IT consulting firm, every hour was billable and completing my timesheet was a daily task.
Working from home, for myself, was a big wake-up call. If I billed my clients for every hour I was thinking about them + actually doing work for and with them, they’d never be able to afford me!
Through trial and error, I discovered the solution to better managing my time:
- Stop counting the hours! Rather, I’ve create dedicated work blocks, based on when I’m being my most (early morning) and least (mid-afternoon) productive.
- Systemise everything. 12 years on, I have re-usable templates and repeatable processes for just about every conceivable variation of the work I do. Not having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ saves a huge amount of time.
- Set outcome focused, time limited goals – then do whatever it takes within a preset time limit. Time limits help me focus on priorities and outcomes rather than tasks. This counters my high-achieving tendency to overinvest time and effort on tasks that don’t add real value.
And when people ask me how many hours a week I work, I honestly can’t tell them because it doesn’t matter anymore. Through inevitable peaks and troughs, I adjust my schedule to go with the flow.
WFH Hack #4
5. Blurred Work/Life Boundaries
Oh the joy of not having to battle the daily commute!
There’s a smug satisfaction that comes when I’m walking my dog every morning watching bumper-to-bumper traffic crawl by. And I’m still starting work half an hour earlier than I did in my corporate days.
But… it also means that without employer imposed boundaries, work can easily bleed into evenings and weekends, month after month. This trap is particularly pervasive when you love what you do!
Before you know it, you’re feeling constantly guilty and compromised. Maybe you’re not spending enough time with family and friends or conversely, work is always on the back burner. You find yourself having to ‘make it up’ to whichever part of your life you feel like you’re neglecting.
While I don’t subscribe to the notion of ‘work/life balance’ (you can read why in my book, The Great Life Redesign), there is a way to successfully manage both.
- Work with rather than struggle against the demands. Being disciplined and persistent, yet flexible and pragmatic, helps you focus on what matters most and adapt more easily.
- Create daily routines and rituals. For me this includes scheduling my work time and sticking to the schedule.
- Adopt a comfy, casual but not sloppy, work-from-home dress code. Staying in my PJs and slippers just doesn’t work for me!
- I stop for set lunch and coffee breaks but when I’m back in my home office, I’m back at work.
- My last daily task is prepping for the next day. When I walk out of my home office, I physically and mentally ‘switch off’, knowing I’m ready to get straight into work tomorrow.
- Be fully present, whoever you’re with and whatever you’re doing. Mindfulness is a powerful state that resolves the inner conflicts of trading off work for life or vice versa.
WFH Hack #5
6. Being Home Alone Can Be Lonely
Working in a corporate office means there’s a constant buzz and stream of people to connect with ‘on tap’.
Feel like a chat? Simply stick your head over the workstation wall and check in with your neighbour.
Yes, working from home can be very quiet.
On quiet days, it’s like living in a sealed capsule, with only the dog for company!
Chatting recently to a friend who has worked hard to set up her home-based business over the last few years, I was saddened to hear that she’s giving it away and going ‘back to corporate’.
One reason she gave was, ‘I’m too much of an extrovert and working from home is too isolating.’
Newsflash: It’s only lonely if you make it that way!
If you thrive on company, there’s no limit to the people you can reach out to, every day. Vibrant communities of online entrepreneurs create limitless opportunities to connect with like-minded people.
If you’re working remotely, don’t rely solely on email for connection. Make the effort to pick up the phone, jump into chat rooms and schedule online video meetings.
Join a local business network to connect with those doing similar work and schedule regular breakfasts, lunches or coffee catch ups.
Working from home, YOU get to choose who you connect and hang out with and when. No more having to listen to the guy in the next cubicle yelling down the phone, or constantly interrupting you with his inane chatter!
As for me, I’ve created a business that enjoys the best of both worlds. In any given week you may find me coaching online or at a client’s city office, enjoying a drive to visit country clients and flying interstate to run a workshop or give a keynote. This hybrid model meets my need for company, solitude, travel and diversity.
WFH Hack #6
Regardless of how, when or why you work from home, it can be incredibly liberating. I know I won’t be heading back to that windowless office on the 27th floor anytime soon!
If you have any more tips that make working from home easier for you, I’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments below.
Caroline Cameron is an award winning, master certified executive, career and life coach, speaker and author.
Caroline helps mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.