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No Place Like Home

An expert’s tips to make your home office work for you

By Jennifer Walker

WORKING FROM HOME CAN BE A DREAM: no daily com­mute, no dressing to impress and more time with family. But, it’s not perfect for everyone. Barbara Green, president of Think Productive North America, a global productivity com­pany based in St. Mary’s, Ont., that consults with various industries, explains some common challenges and how to overcome them.

There are so many distractions at home, including ringing doorbells, calls on your landline, the lure of social media and family interruptions. “Plus, you see the dirty dishes, or the laundry and you are constantly aware of things you could be doing,” says Green.

“It’s key to get your brain into work mode,” says Green. She suggests planning your day using techniques, such as Most Important Thing (MIT): determine three important work tasks you want to achieve, and if you get even one done a day you’ll feel great. The other technique is to “Eat the Frog.” Green explains this is where you look at your to-do list and pick the big, ugly task you hate to do and “eat” that one first, then everything else will be a breeze.

Another strategy is the Pomodoro technique, which breaks the workday into 25-minute blocks called Pomodoros. The idea is to focus on a work task for one Pomodoro, then take a five-minute break where you do something else. After four Pomodoros, take an even longer break.

Green also stresses that you should never check your e-mail first thing in the morning. “It’s not your to-do list and it sucks you right in.”

A home office with a door is great, but not everyone has that option.

Make sure your kids and spouse know when you are off limits. If you have a door, make it a rule that when it is closed you are not to be disturbed. “If you work at the dining room table, place a designated object on it that tells your family you are in work mode or on a call and can’t be interrupted,” suggests Green. “You can even put up a sign that says Do Not Disturb.”

You miss the energy that a busy office provides.

Work from a coffee shop or the library, or put on a talk radio channel for the white noise. “Our company’s employees use the team-based app Slack to stay in touch with colleagues,” says Green. “It lets us chat about non-work related things, such as what happened on Game of Thrones.” Green also recommends apps such as Skype Instant Messaging, SharePoint and Trello.

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