How To Work From Home (And Actually Get Stuff Done)

No, your floors don't actually require urgent scrubbing.
Sometimes working from the dining table is the most practical option.
Sometimes working from the dining table is the most practical option.

Working from home can sound like a tempting proposition for many professionals. No commute, no 9-5, no suits, no worries.

Except the reality of the situation can be starkly different. For instance, you may not have to adhere to traditional working hours, but this could see you pulling all-nighters as you struggle to meet deadlines that, sadly, don't disappear along with your daily bus ride.

After the initial thrill of working in your pajamas wears off, many people actually find themselves struggling to keep focused or without a sense of professional direction.

It's a situation Jane Copeland is all too familiar with. Originally from a corporate background, Copeland decided to try working from home after the birth of her son six years ago. Since then, she has written a book, built a successful business and coaches other women on their own professional pursuits.

"I've been working from home ever since I started my business, which was when I had my son," Copeland told HuffPost Australia.

"I really found it difficult from being in a corporate environment to working from home, where there are lots of distractions and there's a lot of freedom to do what you want.

"When I had my son, I really had to change my whole way of thinking about things. I needed to learn how to work with distractions around me and go with the flow."

1. Work in short bursts of time

"For me that might mean an hour burst at a time," Copeland said. "I know a lot of people think working in 30 minutes stints are good, but for me it's an hour.

"By working in short bursts, I make sure [those blocks of time] really work for me."

While Copeland notes that dealing with distractions are just part of the working-from-home gig, she also said she tries not to let anything interfere with her work when she's in the middle of a burst.

"It is okay to do some cleaning or to make some food or to pick up the kids, but if you know what your proprieties are and work in that short burst -- as long as that isn't getting interrupted -- you will find you can still get a lot of work done," she said.

2. Make your own routine

One of the perks of working from home is the fact you don't have to stick to a time schedule someone else has decided for you. The hard part is carving out your own routine in your new set of circumstances.

"I don't work in six or eight hour blocks. I might work three hours in the morning, and three at night, depending on what suits me," Copeland said. "That's a big point, actually. I set my routine up to what suits me. So often, for instance, I'll work after my son is asleep, so I'll work from 7pm onward. That might not work for everyone but it does for me.

"Really you have to go with the flow. I remember thinking initially it was a real pain. I really struggled with it. But the thing is, if work needs to be done, work needs to be done, and you need to carve out the time to do it."

Be prepared to multi-task.
Be prepared to multi-task.

3. Get your priorities straight

"I find often people focus on tasks that are urgent but not important," Copeland said. "Whereas in actual fact they need to prioritise things that aren't urgent but extremely important to get done.

"For example, there might be daily administration work that needs to be done, like replying to emails, which feels urgent, but really what should be urgent might be focusing on dollar productive activities like making a sales call instead.

"Those are the things people often avoid because they are more difficult than answering an email."

4. Establish or join a community

Of all the obstacles Copeland faced when starting her business, she said the hardest thing to overcome was the absence of the social interaction you get from working in an office.

"All the other things I have spoken about so far, I've nailed all of that over time as anyone can," Copeland told HuffPost Australia. "But the isolation really is difficult. With so many people, including myself, having virtual staff -- you're just not interacting with them.

It's important to connect with others, either in person or online (preferably a mixture of both).
It's important to connect with others, either in person or online (preferably a mixture of both).

"How I've got around that is I have created my own community where we actually meet up in person, not regularly but occasionally, and online we're all connecting a lot.

"It is so important to be around people either in person or even online, to have that support, a 'business family' type of thing. What I'm talking about isn't a Facebook group, I am talking about the next level, being part of some kind of paid community. It doesn't mean it's expensive but it does have to be a place where you're valued and considered a person and not just a number.

"I created my own, anyone can create their own. Get out there and look."

5. Make your space work for you

As much as we'd love to all have a home office stocked with every Mac product under the sun, Copeland is realistic about the fact a) it's not always possible and b) it's not always the best option anyway.

"I worked at my dining table for three years and it really worked for me, Copeland said. "That was when I was in an apartment, I had my [laptop] set up on the kitchen table and that's how I did it.

"Now, I have a dedicated office space and that also works well. I do think it's beneficial to have a dedicated work space but I don't think it's essential.

"Back when I started and for the first few years, I could have had an office in a separate room but it didn't work for me because my son needed to be all around the time, and so I needed to be with him.

"If I had tried to work in a home office, it would have actually taken me away from working because I quite simply never would have been in there."