One thing I really need to do is get rid of the TV in my home office. I’m a sucker for Discovery channel and Animal Planet during the day. Been wireless for ages now. Got comcast’s business plan that’s 12Mbps. Minimal office decorations is something I’m going to do this summer when I get the carpet its annual professional cleaning. I have a lot of things on the wall. Funny programming posters, a few science posters, one funny demotivational poster. It feels cluttered. The only thing I’ll have up when I’m done is my giant framed Star Wars painting and my degree. I also have a small half-bath in my office in which I plan to redo the floor and paint before next year.
10 Home Office Time Savers
Working from home is one of my favorite things about being a freelancer. However, it can end up being a distraction if you’re not careful. There have been plenty of times that the whole day has gone by before I even got started working–simply because I decided to play around the house or on the internet.
While it’s okay to do this from time-to-time, it’s not okay on a regular basis, your projects either start being late or you’re forced to work off-hours to make up for it. The way your office is set up plays a big part in whether you’re more or less productive throughout the day. There are several ways to help it speed along your work.
1. Have a Dedicated Office Space
The most important time saver that a freelancer could possibly incorporate is to have a dedicated office space. That means either a room (preferable) or a section of a room that’s for working only. When you’re forced to work on the dining room table, in the living room or anywhere else that’s not specifically for work, you end up wasting so much time setting up and tearing down your office stuff every day. Plus, when you’re trying to work somewhere where you normally eat or relax, it makes it difficult to get in a productive work mode.
If at all possible, try to dedicate a full room for an office, even if you have to invade a guest bedroom. This allows you to shut the door and have the peace and quiet that’s required for us freelancers to work.
2. Keep Everything Off
It took me a long time to realize just how much time I was wasting due to all of the stuff I had ‘on.’ Twitter, Email and IM programs actually ate up a good chunk of my work time every day–so I started an experiment last month to see what would happen if I kept everything except what I really needed off while I was working. The result? I’ve been able to finally work several hours straight with little to no interruptions and I now get a lot more work done in less time. Score!
3. Kill the Clutter & Get Organized
A cluttered desk and office can slow you down in more ways than one. The first is that it takes you that much longer to find whatever it is you’re looking for. How long have you wasted searching for that one client invoice?
Another way clutter can slow you down is by keeping you from being mentally focused. When you’re around a ton of visual clutter, it’s harder for your mind to focus because it’s so distracted. It’s fine to have stuff on your desk, but make sure it’s neat, orderly, and please find another place for all those papers!
4. Go Digital
One big way I’ve been able to save time is to go digital. I no longer print anything out dealing with business. Invoices, estimates and payments are handled through a billing app. My schedule is handled on iCal and my taxes are done online and then saved to my computer.
Going digital has saved a ton of time. It’s easier to find what you’re looking for when you can just search on the computer, I no longer have to spend the time organizing and filing away either. Plus I save lots of money since I don’t need so much ink and paper anymore.
5. Invest in Wireless
When setting up your home office, it’s worth it to invest in a good wireless system. Currently, I have zero wires hanging off my desk besides the power cord to my computer (and I’m still trying to figure out how to go wireless on that). My printer, internet, mouse, keyboard and even music and movies are all wireless. This reduces the visual clutter on your desk, allows you to place your office and desk where it’s most comfortable for you and saves you time by not having to keep up with all those cords. The extra cost of these items is well worth it, and it allows you to work anywhere else in your house if you need a break from the office.
There’s no longer just “high-speed” internet anymore. When you call your cable company to get internet, they most likely hook you up to their cheapest plan. Instead, ask for upgraded internet. We’re currently on 10mbps (from what I hear, that’s slow compared to Europe but fast for us!) and while we end up paying an extra $20 a month or so–our work gets done faster and we’re able to bill our clients faster and do more work because of it.
While you’d think once you get to a certain speed you wouldn’t notice a difference, but you do. This is especially true if you’re working with a lot of large files such as photography, layered PSDs and PDFs. Uploading sites via FTP no longer takes all day with a faster internet connection.
One of the reasons people hate working at a full-time job is because they have no control over their environment. Who wants to work in a plain vanilla cubicle? Yet when I see so many of my fellow freelancer’s office space, it’s just as terrible. Why would you want to work in a cluttered, dark cave all day?
Invest some money into your office and try to place your office where you have some nice windows and plenty of light. Get a nice desk and chair and some decor. While having a nice office doesn’t directly save you time, it can help you be more motivated to come and work. I know I still look forward to coming into my office after we relocated it to the brightest room in the house and completely redecorated it.
8. Work Alone
Some of us (like myself) like to talk and enjoy company. It can get hard sometimes to work in the office alone, but it has to be done. If you’re someone who’s easily distracted, you need to work alone. While my fiance works from home twice a week, I’m lucky he’s so focused because he will actually tell me to shut it (in a nice way). People themselves can often be distracting, especially if they’re someone we really like, like our kids, friends or significant others. I have literally wasted an entire day or missed out on potential work because I ended up talking to my mother all day.
9. Use Less Apps
I love beautiful apps, so I get really excited when I see all of the awesome to-do apps and client management apps and project apps and billing apps. Do you see where I’m going with this? I’ve found that a freelancer can easily get app-itis and end up wasting a ton of time playing with the apps or trying to keep up with them instead of working like they should be. Personally, the only business apps I use are one for billing and one for scheduling. That’s it. I don’t use project or client management apps, and to-do apps just take too much time to keep up with. Remember the famous acronym KISS? Keep It Simple Stupid.
10. List Your Office Time Savers
And the last item is up to you! What has helped you save time in your own office?
Image by Jeremy Levine Design
- Open Thread: What Do You Love/Hate About Your Home Office?
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- 6 Alternative Work Spaces to the Home Office – FreelancerMagazine.com
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April 12th, 2011 at 8:53 am
April 12th, 2011 at 9:23 am
I agree with what you’ve said and have done most of it. However, I find it really difficult to turn off the email, Tweet Deck and Yahoo IM. It can also be a challenge to keep the TV off.
April 12th, 2011 at 9:49 am
11. Get Multi-monitor system
With additional monitor you can see/follow more things in same time without any extra click. Especially you should use a wide screen monitor in vertical mode. With 19″ wide monitor I can see 62 lines of code in same time.
April 12th, 2011 at 9:59 am
I have to work to background noise whether that is TV or music without it i go nuts and get less done. I have my calendar sync through my email client and linked to my mobile and it sets alarms and to do lists with alarms i find this very easy to keep me on track. As they say if you had 70% organisation and 30% talent you make it better than someone with 30% organisation and 70% talent. As you need organisation to make things happen and to get things moving.
April 12th, 2011 at 10:21 am
@amber 6 High speed – depends heavily on where you live – especially if you are in the UK! There are some parts of the UK that are so far from a junction box that they can’t even get 512K! (Average in cities in UK is upto 20MB)
My number 10 is make sure you have a decent break every day. This may not sound like a timesaver, but I have found since I actually started taking an hour fro lunch I have been more productive in the afternoon. Yes I may have to work till 6 instead of 5 if I have a lot to do but I find that I work so much better if I stop for a bit and look at something unconnected to work the afternoon isn’t A) a waste of time, and B) actually seems to go quicker.
My number 11) is make sure teh coffee pot is always full – saves stopping every 15 mins to make another cup! (Yes I know I’m a caffine addict – but hey it could be worse right??)
April 12th, 2011 at 10:47 am
Thanks Amber! I’ve also found killing the clutter to be very effective. All I have on my desk are a stack of reference books that I use on a regular basis and a lamp. When I see a clean desk, my mind instantly feels clearer. Something to be said for the little things! I also limit the number of times I allow myself to check my email in a day. I find it much more effective to block of chunks of time for email so I’m not constantly going back to it every half hour.
April 12th, 2011 at 1:41 pm
First of all, i’ve moved my home office to a real one. That “office feeling” make me to think that i’m there to work and i noticed that i’m more productive now. :)
April 12th, 2011 at 1:42 pm
These are such great tips, Amber. I especially love #2 & #7. Each day before I start working, I move my little mouse icon up to the “X” box to close Twitter & Facebook, & even though there’s a tiny “noooooo…..!” in my head, I know closing those distractions makes for so much more productivity. Also, decorating our own work spaces is so beneficial!
April 12th, 2011 at 6:58 pm
Great list! I would add using a site blocker throughout the day. There are many free ones available. I’ve used the Firefox plugin Leechblock and the Get Focused feature on Rescue Time. You can set these up to keep you from visiting websites that you know are distracting (i.e. Facebook). Don’t worry, you can usually set them for a certain period or turn them off so you will be able to access these websites when you are giving yourself a true break.
April 12th, 2011 at 8:15 pm
I always try to clean up at the end of the day at quitting time. Since my most productive time of the day is when I first get started, I don’t want to waste any of that time trying to figure out the mess I left on my desk the night before!
April 12th, 2011 at 10:16 pm
I loved your comment about app-itis. Finally, now I know what to call my problem. I was starting to think I was going to end up on a new reality show called App Hoarders.
Anyway, great list and some new ideas. Thanks for taking the time to share.
April 13th, 2011 at 8:18 am
Nice, light and well-written. Thanks Amber.
April 13th, 2011 at 8:20 am
We’re on the same wavelength. In fact, I’m so into #2 that I quit Facebook and (try to) no longer apologize when I’m not immediately available when someone pings me or calls.
Of course, that extends to the people in our homes. I think having your own space is critical, but also key: establishing firm boundaries with loved ones. I’ve been working on that one for years and am still struggling to get it through my husband’s head that even a light knock and a whisper can be a distraction.
I can’t create quality content if I can’t concentrate. The end.
Karen BiceApril 14th, 2011 at 8:32 am
Great tips, Amber. I appreciate #6 as I am currently only using wireless and it’s become too expensive for me. I plan to get cable internet service very soon!
April 14th, 2011 at 9:00 am
Don’t forget the most important thing: a good sound system. The speakers in most computers jam sound together to create tinny and junky audio that can kill momentum. Investing in a great pair of speakers or headphones to eliminate distractions and set a working mood really helps. I found it’s best to throw on music without lyrics when reading and writing to help concentrate, and music with lyrics or spoken word when doing creative projects.
April 14th, 2011 at 10:11 pm
I fully agree with the tip to “turn everything off.” If I walk by the living room while the TV is on I can easily get sucked into mid-day judge shows. It’s best to leave unnecessary electronics off.
Branda RochwergerApril 15th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
This post was written for me. I find that my biggest problem is my cluttered table. Whenever I manage to clean it, it only lasts for a few days and it’s soon covered with piles of paper and what-nots. Anyway, that’s something I know I must take care of, but I’ve been like this forever. =P
April 16th, 2011 at 4:29 pm
My biggest issue is clutter on my desk. I’m really bad about tossing mail and other stuff on my desk and it creeps closer and closer to the workplace before I finally go through it.
As for internet connection speed, I just recently upgraded my service. I was on a 1mbps/512kbps connection. For $30 per month more, I went to 3mbps/2mbps. My ISP. Had just begun offering that speed, and I found out about it by asking him one day if it was a hardware limitation. Come to find out, he had just added another fiber connection at the tower that serves my area. I’m lucky to even have broadband at home because I’m about 6 miles from the nearest town. If it wasn’t for quotas and Oklahoma weather, I’d consider satellite, but I hit the quota on an equally priced plan within the first few days and the wireless can shoot under the storm. The only issue I have is if a hail core with baseball or larger hail is between me and the tower, or we get a 60mph wind with the towers swaying too far out of sync.
DavidApril 17th, 2011 at 1:56 am
As for “go wireless” and “high speed”–anything that runs through a wireless router shares whatever bandwidth the router is capable of–so I would always prefer to wire a backup device, for example, so it would work most efficiently and without slowing down the high speed access you are paying for. Also, Lifehacker and other sites have many examples of cable control and how to hide them to get them off the desktop and reduce the clutter behind the desk. If a primary workstation will use a desktop machine, there is little reason why much of it needs to be wireless.
In many houses, too, it’s difficult to get good wireless performance throughout the house without a fairly complex setup of additional access points–each of which should be wired. Wireless speed also degrades rapidly with the distance from the router or access point.
As for daylighting–I am a huge fan of having a really good source of daylight for your workspace–but large, glaring windows may not be the best choice. For example, a couple hundred bucks and you can put in a tubular skylight such as a Sun Tunnel in spaces that were formerly quite dark. Also, several manufacturers are producing fluorescent tubes with daylight color balance. Those can be extremely helpful, particularly during darker days when windows or skylights are inadequate. Glare reduction alone can be wonderful in making the space workable. A low-cost alternative to true full spectrum bulbs might be 5,000 degree Kelvin tubes–those have worked very well for me.
I agree that very good chairs are essential for comfort and productivity. These days, one resource a freelancer should consider might be all the used office furniture stores–especially with the upheavals from the recession, there are some surprising deals to be had on outstanding chairs. As always, be sure to do your homework before heading out to shop for such an important part of your working life.
I also very much like stand-up desks coupled with a high quality stool for those times you want to sit. This combination is often much cheaper than adjustable desks–and a stool with a foot support gives more options for foot placement–which makes small but very important adjustments to the spine. Likewise, a small foot rest in front of a stand-up desk helps vary the posture when standing for the same reason.
Personally, when I am working at top levels of productivity the only music I can stand for long periods which also energizes me is baroque classical. That, too, I consider a fabulous part of my productive environment.
DavidApril 17th, 2011 at 1:58 am
Sorry–I forgot to add that today there are some extremely good power line wireless pieces that give up to 500 Mbps connectivity through your AC circuits. That can take unnecessary traffic off the wireless net without requiring any rewiring of the house.
April 17th, 2011 at 7:28 am
that’s a beautiful office space on the photo, I really miss not having a view in mine. I think it makes a huge difference in productivity and mindset.
It also reminds you there’s something else out there than work and clients (go for a walk!)
I still prefer my wired connection as I find it’s speedier and more reliable, but I’m not a network engineer so I guess it’s more a gut feeling. Also depends on the hardware I suppose (network card and modem, connection type)
FrontlineApril 18th, 2011 at 12:48 pm
I remember the days of working from home and how small things can distract you so much, Waking up eager then sitting at the computer then comes 9 oclock when you think “okay….Cup of tea”. It’s so easy to get distracted by your posessions, I once made the mona lisa with a parker pen and a mouse mat :)
April 19th, 2011 at 4:38 am
I’m a freelancer from home. But now I’ve decided to move to an actual office space. I was completely distracted at home – with so many family members around. I hope the new office space I’m renovating really helps me improve my productivity.
April 19th, 2011 at 5:18 pm
@Jeremy: I’m glad I’m not the only app-aholic! It’s really getting pitiful. The next time I have a break I’m going to do an “app purge”!
@Rhiannon: Getting my hubby and others to NOT interrupt me when I’m working is an on-going challenge. Hubby knocks then opens the door and then either says “This’ll be quick” or “I’ll ask you later”…either way my concentration is already broken. People (especially family members) who think that just because you work from home you can run errands, talk on the phone for non-emergencies, take them places, etc. are maddening.
I’ve often thought of getting an off-site office, but I just can’t justify it when it’s just me and I rarely meet clients in person. Even my contractors are non-local, as are most of my clients.
What to do, what to do!
May 9th, 2011 at 8:54 am
Yes when i was working from home, everything had to be turned off….I’m in a ‘proper’ office now and have to say that its totally different from working from home. Its nice to switch my mind off when i walk through my front door!
August 28th, 2011 at 6:56 pm
A key piece to tracking time and timesheets and invoices that I need to prepare for a variety of clients has definitely been using a simple Time Tracker. I choose to use OfficeTime for this because it’s easy and the reporting works exceptionally well for me. The new APP for iPhone and iPad ($7.99) focus on ease-of-use, recognizing that if time tracking is simple to do, users will be more likely to take the time to do it. http://officetime.net/ios/ – OfficeTime takes great care to minimize how many finger taps it takes to do something. It can preselect the most common task for a project, allow one tap entry of common notes, and let users edit anything they can see, even in a report, with a tap. Super easy, super effective. Because I USE it, and actually track my hours more effectively, I also increased billable hours by almost 10%.
Mary Agnes Antonopoulos
November 16th, 2011 at 2:34 am
Great tips! I can certainly use these because I have a bit of a problem when it comes to time management.
Thanks so much and cheers!
September 26th, 2012 at 5:41 pm
Having a dedicated office space is a must, according to me, to have a better office looking environment. I believe, this would make a big difference and provide better results. Moreover clients or employer would believe that you have a perfect setup to work from home or for freelancing.
KumarNovember 21st, 2012 at 12:45 pm
I believe, most of us are unsure of where exactly we spend most of our time. Many 5 minutes makes a bigger difference in a days time. So, when we can keep track of all our time related activities, we can understand and make sure we change our daily routine to make use of most of our useful time for useful stuffs. We use Replicon employee time tracking software for this purpose.
April 27th, 2013 at 10:34 pm
The bottom of all this tips.We have to discipline ourselves in order to be productive in our work.
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