“Oh, you work from home? I could never do that. I’d get too distracted.”
This is, hands down, the most common response I get when people find out I work from home. They’re often intrigued by my follow-up: “I do, too. It’s just something you learn to deal with.” Yes, distractions abound when working at home. Without someone looking over our shoulders we’re bound to let our minds wander. Since we’re in a familiar environment, we can easily indulge our every whim. Of course, any at-home worker who regularly succumbs to impulse will be out of a job soon enough. But even for those of us who have tuned out many distractions, self-discipline remains a daily struggle.
Distraction and focus start in your immediate work environment. In other words, your office space can make a big difference. Have an office with a TV and you’re bound to watch it. But if you can eliminate distractions from your immediate environment you’ll find it easier to focus. In nearly six years of working from home I’ve gone through many iterations of my home office. These are the elements I consider crucial to working with few distractions.
- A dedicated office space
It might seem obvious, but many at-home workers, particularly those new to the lifestyle, don’t feel it necessary. I ranked among them. With my first gig I would wake up, fiddle around on the internet for a bit, and then finally start working — all while sitting in a recliner with my laptop on my lap.
That job didn’t last very long. It wasn’t until I finally set up a desk in my bedroom that I started focusing on the task at hand. If you’re working from home and don’t have a dedicated space, you’re already falling behind the curve. It doesn’t need to be a separate room, though that is ideal. It just has to be a space where you work and do nothing else. Consider this your focus foundation. Without it any other efforts will likely prove flimsy.
- Spacious desk and comfortable chair
When you work in an office, you are subject to that office’s desks. Oftentimes these are quite small, allowing room for a computer monitor and keyboard, but not much else. When you work at home you have the unique opportunity to create your own workspace. Take advantage by using a desk with a large surface area. I prefer drafting tables, because they’re versatile. But really, any desk that will allow you to fit two monitors, a keyboard, a legal pad, and a physical inbox will do.
Drafting tables have another advantage: they allow you to stand for some of your day. Sitting all day, we’ve heard plenty of times, is really bad for you. A drafting table with a high chair affords you the ability to alternate between standing and sitting. But you’ll still be sitting some, if not most, of the day. Spend a few dollars and make your rear feel more comfortable with a high quality chair. It might cost over a hundred dollars, but isn’t your everyday comfort worth it?
- Filing system
This is something I didn’t adopt until recently, and it has caused many headaches. Even at-home workers have physical items that they need to keep. Previously I’d just dump these into a folder called “reference” and leave it at that. I imagine many others are similarly lackadaisical in filing and organizing. But it’s a killer. Wouldn’t you much rather have a reference item readily available whenever you need it?
A filing system needn’t be complex. For most of us it requires just a filing crate and some hanging folders. Label them A through Z, and then file in a way that feels natural. For instance, computer and car payment information goes in the C folder for me, but maybe you’d file your computer stuff under M for Mac or P for PC. Any way you do it is fine, as long as you can pull the file from the appropriate folder when you need it.
This is particularly important if you’re managing projects with multiple freelancers or colleagues, as you’ll need to be able to access client files, grant sharing or send them as needed. If you’re struggling, check out these project management training tips to help boost productivity.
- Appropriate appliances
Do you drink a lot of coffee? Sip water during the day? You might be better off buying some appliances to make that process a little easier. That way you won’t have to leave your office, or otherwise spend as little time outside your office as possible.
Coffee drinkers might want to invest in a Keurig single-cup brewer. There are some cheap ones that can fit in your office rather easily. Another suggestion that comes from experience: look into water softeners. Water softener installation might cost a bit, but it will pay off. That means not having to fill a filtered pitcher multiple times per day. It also means getting mineral-free water in your coffee maker, so you won’t have to clean it as often. What seems like a luxury to some can be a boon to the at-home worker. Don’t skimp on appliances you use every day. Get them near your office and as convenient as possible, or find yourself distracted.
- Storage space
This is in addition to your filing system. There are all sorts of supplies that we have in our home offices: pens, pencils, notebooks, books, folders, tape, and gadgets, just to name a few. To have all these laying out on your desk makes for a disaster. You’ll need at least some level of organization. Setting up storage space, such as stackable drawers, goes a long way in keeping things in place so they don’t distract you all day long.
Again, it doesn’t take much. I store all of my office supplies in four stackable drawers: gadgets, notebooks and folders, physical software, and miscellaneous office supplies. Pens and pencils go on a tray on my desk. Everything stays in its space, so it doesn’t distract me when I don’t need it. If you find yourself distracted by clutter, additional storage space might be necessary.
No, this is not a comprehensive list of everything you need in a home office. It is instead a list of the most essential elements of any home office. They are, in other words, a foundation on which you can build. Once you have a dedicated office space with a comfortable chair and spacious desk, a filing system, the appliances you use every day, and storage space, you’ll be off to the races. From there your office can evolve any way you imagine. Just don’t skimp on the essentials, though. They’ll serve you every day.