Sandra Schuler shares with TheNextWomen her top tips for creating an efficient and productive office environment when working from home, drawing on her experiences of the choices she made for her business, Mejor Trato.
This month, it will be ten years since I first started working exclusively from home, without wasting time on commuting to and from the office. Honestly, the first year wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for me, nor for my family. It takes time to get used to working from home.
I wasn’t sure if, by staying at home, I was going to be able to maintain the same level of productivity as when spending the whole day at the office, with project partners sharing the same daily dynamics. However, the result was highly positive, and today, without any doubt, I choose this work methodology. Based on my experiences over the last couple of years, I want to share how I have learnt to successfully work from home.
The first tip I would suggest to anyone considering working from home is to set two timetabled breaks during the day. In my case, I set breakfast at 9 am and lunch at 2 pm as breaks when working.
What’s the aim of doing this? Over the first year, I didn’t have fixed timetables. There were days when I would wake up at 10 am and work until 3 pm, then I would have lunch and work from 4 pm until 9 pm. Over the weeks and months, these timetables became more and more varied and unstructured, and I would often finish working at 11 pm or later.
The idea is to have a fixed timetabled break to start the first work session and another to start the second work session, working for approximately four hours in each session. Personally, I found that breakfast is perfect for the first break and lunch for the second. I tried structuring my working in day in many ways over the years, but breaking the day up with timetabled breaks for breakfast and lunch was, without doubt, the most effective method.
For people who like working at night, I recommend setting lunch as the fixed timetabled break to start the first work session, and dinner to start the second one. This may sound like a very simple method, which lacks value, but just try it and you will conclude that it may be simple, but is extremely valuable. It’s the basis for efficiency when working from home.
Another method which I consider to be key is to establish the regular tasks which need to be performed day after day, and assign them to a steady timetable to implement them.
For example, in my case, if we have to call clients to sell our services and/or suppliers for any business necessity, it makes sense to complete all the outgoing phone communications at a particular time during that day. Deciding that we will do the phone calls at 10 AM leaves the rest of the work day free, in order to be productive and not to interrupt it with this task.
On the other hand, if we are programmers and we need to write codes, or designers and need to sit for a while and need tranquility and concentration, then the best option, and I strongly recommend it, is to organize the whole work session of four hours, whether it is the first one or the second one, in order to work without interruption. The efficiency that will be attained will be invaluable. Just try it. The final goal is to have big work blocks of several hours with no interruptions, which will generate productivity.
Responding to an email, then working, then making another phone call, then working again, then answering another email, etc., is a total waste of productivity.
When I talk about outgoing phone calls, I also include verifying emails and sending them to third parties, whether they are part of our entrepreneurship or not. There should be a set timetable for communications; the aim for the rest of the day is to work with no distractions.
I’d like to discuss the issue of interruptions it in more depth.
Today, some companies have blocked access to social networks like Facebook and Twitter in their offices; they have also done this with entertainment (online games) and sports sites. I sincerely consider this to be a mistake; it’s trying to solve a problem without reaching its roots, and this is not an adequate way to solve it. Visiting these sites is like taking a cigarette break, and that is not forbidden.
In the end, they are just a couple of minutes for recreation and there’s nothing wrong with that. Beyond what big companies might think, the real problem is that this leisure time is uncontrolled. Being aware of this is essential.
Eliminating breaks is not the solution. The right answer is to know how to administrate them.
For example, I personally take 20 minutes to rest every two hours of work, in which I can check Facebook, Twitter, or whatever I want. This doesn’t interrupt my work or decreases my productivity; it’s a controlled period of time for leisure before then going back to work. When I go back to work, I silence my cellphone to avoid notifications/distractions of all kinds (WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).
To conclude this article, I accept that, after almost 2 years, I now understand that in order to work with this new methodology, we need to have an office at home.
We need to have a specific place to perform our tasks, a desk and a chair with everything designed and placed within reach to enable us to work several consecutive hours.
It doesn’t have to be a place in the house where everybody circulates, since people going in or out of the kitchen, living room or dining room generates distractions. Furthermore, it has to be a quiet place if possible, a place where we can’t listen to the conversations of neighbors, relatives, friends, etc.
Working efficiently from home is not an activity that anyone can perform; the general rules shared throughout this article must be applied, but I can assure you that the result we can achieve can be highly superior to working in the typical office environment.
Sandra Schuler is the Marketing Director and Founder of Mejor Trato (MT), an online quotation platform for services in an automated way for all Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Mexico). Sandra graduated from the National University of Argentina in Public Accountancy. She specialized in and is passionate about the online world from desktop applications to mobile devices. Six years on she is running her own company based in Carlos Paz, Cordoba.