Many people are discovering that having a home office-and by a “home office” I do not refer to just a desk with a computer on it, but, rather, an office similar to the one found in most business environments, one properly equipped and functional–can be a great idea for a number of reasons. For one thing, it is much cheaper than renting office space and it can increase one’s productivity, among other ways, by reducing travel time between “work” and home. Although some people may not be interested in bringing work to their house, for some of us, especially those of us who freelance, or who work both at a regular company and at home, having a home office is a necessity. Make no mistake, though, a home office has to be managed differently than the office one may report to on a daily basis, usually following a schedule set up by employers. As a matter of fact, a home office is a good idea only if certain steps are followed and, more importantly, if certain things are prevented. In order to maximize your home-office productivity, consider the following suggestions:
1. Purchase and use good lighting. Studies have shown that the brighter the lighting in work environments, the more productive people can be, probably because we naturally associate good lighting with daylight, and daylight with earning a living. Good lighting is also better on the eyes, as opposed to using dim lights. I make a point to use 75 watts or higher light bulbs, although 100 watts is best, in my opinion. Some halogen and fluorescent lights may be more energy efficient, but they are often not bright enough, especially if you are going to be reading a lot. Bad lighting can be bad for the eyes.
2. Remove or get rid of potential distractions, when possible. This means that you should not have any regular-line home phones (assuming that you have a separate line or a cell phone for clients) in your office; as a general rule, I let my answering machine deal with phone calls when I am in my home office. Also, under no circumstances should you have a television in your office, or be able to catch the glimpse of one from where you sit. Just being able to hear one nearby is, in my opinion, distracting, which is why the best location for an office is in an attic, a basement, or a room altogether separate from the rest of the house, and not next to the living room or where the children play and rumble. Finally, inform all family members that you are not to be disturbed while at “work,” unless it is a legitimate emergency.
3. Sign up with a good, dependable, high-speed Internet service. Slower service plans are usually available at cheaper rates, but I think that paying a higher price in order to get (or send) information much faster can be a great time saver. Good Internet service, as a matter of fact, is probably one of the best investments we can make, if interested in maximizing our productivity.
4. Invest in a good document holder, especially if you type a lot. Some people just prop documents up using make-shift document holders, or they buy rinky-dink devices that fall apart or do not hold things very well. For my money, a good, well-made document holder is another, essential investment. Some people may be squeamish about spending $50 or more for a sturdy device, but it can really make things much easier, in the long run. Speaking of “easier,” you should also consider getting an ergonomic, wrist-friendly mouse pad; they appear to help out in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome.
5. Get an anti-glare filter or a good LCD monitor. One can tone down the brightness of a monitor, but that may only strain the eyes and will not completely get rid of glare. A good filter, however, can cut down on some of the strain produced by the constant use of monitors, especially if using a CRT monitor-and, if this is the case, consider getting a filter that also provides anti-radiation. Some filters, which some people do not like because they claim it can make the monitor too dark (why you need to comparison shop before buying one, since not all anti-glare filters are the same), also come with anti-snooping coating (making text blurry to anyone looking from the side of the screen), some come with magnification capacity (increasing the size of things on the screen without disturbing the quality of the picture), and some with anti-static qualities. As a side note, make sure that your monitor is properly positioned, preferably in front of you, in line with your eyes; it may also help (with glare) if the monitor is not facing any bright things, like a strong light or the outdoors on a sunny day.
6. Develop and stick to a schedule each day. Such a schedule should list specific tasks to be completed on that day, being careful to prioritize important things. Also, remember to keep a log book of what you do each day, making sure to include meticulous details that may be useful later on. In my log book, for example, I keep track of what articles and queries I wrote or worked on each day; this comes in handy later on when I am trying to determine whether I already worked on a specific topic, where I have submitted manuscripts, and what was accepted for publication or rejected.
7. Allocate segments of time each day to specific task categories. In other words, set aside a certain amount of time for opening and responding to correspondence, conducting research, writing (or whatever it is that you do), dealing with financial issues, etc. By limiting how much time you devote to these things, you can train yourself to become more efficient. If you are not used to doing this, it may take some time for you to determine realistic expectations for each category, but it does work. If you do not do this, you will spend too much time on some tasks and end up not completing assignments on a regular basis.
8. Keep your area clear of clutter. This may sound like a “goes without saying” admonition, but all of us have walked into offices with desks brimming with all kinds of paperwork. The person sitting behind the desk probably assumes that people will just think that they are very busy (if they care at all), but this says two main things about people like that: a). they are not very efficient and b). they are not very well organized (and, if so, will people feel comfortable doing business with them?). While a home office (unless you see clients at home) may not be the same, having clutter is still a no-no. If this applies to you, get rid of any excessive clutter on the desk or work table; only then should you begin your work day.
9. Develop and use a good filing system. As it turns out, this is the best solution for the preceding problem. Though this may sound like another obvious suggestion, many people come up with all kinds of excuses for not following through on this piece of advice. They either think it is a waste of time, or they dread the idea of spending a week or more (for setting up a good filing system can take up a good deal of time) working on such a boring enterprise-and this sentiment is especially prevalent among creative people, like writers. A good filing system, though, in the long run saves huge chunks of time; it allows one to find things when one needs it and it gives a pretty good excuse for not letting clutter build up on one’s desk.
10. Use your work area for work only. This is one of the reasons why I am not a big believer in putting a desk in a bedroom or a kitchen or any other place where you do something other than work, unless the desk you put in those rooms is used for personal tasks, like paying bills, playing online video games, and using chat rooms. Beyond this, make sure that your home office is kept clean, that it is comfortable to be in (not too cold or too hot or too damp or smoke-filled, etc.), and that it is set up safely and efficiently (i.e., it is not full of unnecessary clutter, bookcases that you cannot safely get to, and things balancing overhead where they could fall on someone).