1. Get a room with a door
First thing to do, is get a space where you can work quietly when the time comes. It should have a door so you can close out the noise/distrations of your house. This is especially important if you have kids.
2. Make it nice
Don’t be afraid to put some effort into making your space pleasant to work in. I am easily distracted, so my office is designed very simply and minimally to keep me focused. Your space should fit your needs. But just because you are a gamer, don’t put gaming posters up if it’s going to distract you (unless you are a game designer and it’s inspirational). Keep it simple.
3. Work when you work best
This one was really hard for me at first. I felt compelled to sit at my desk from 9 to 5 everyday when I first started working for myself. It was not very productive for me. I work best in short spurts. Now, I will get up and work out, sit down at the computer for a few hours, feed the kids and get them ready for the day, then sit down for a bit and work, etc… I get a lot more done in the time I am working and I get to spend time with my kids and doing things I otherwise would miss if I had to go into an office all day.
It is important, however, to remember to keep your scheduled commitments if you make any. Don’t miss meetings, conference calls, or other things because you are “going with the flow.” The people who pay you want their work done, and they want to feel that you are working on it when they are.
4. But don’t work all day
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you work all day, you will burn out faster than a Chipotle burrito through your intestines. Sometimes you might bust out two 16-hour days, but take the next two off or at least take it really easy. Trust me on this one.
5. Pick one or two days a week to work with people
I’m sure you are a very self-sufficient person. Maybe you are even a massive introvert. But still, you are not as smart or as good as you think you are. Everyone can use some outside perspective and influence now and again. If you are an extrovert you need the personal contact to keep energized.
6. Learn to Twitter
This is kind of a stupid one I know, but what I mean by “learn” is to give it some time to grow on you. Twitter is a great way to get connected to the outside world without leaving your office. Why is that important? Because there are events and information being shared by your peers in your area that you should know about. And while it may seem like “life spam,” it really isn’t that intrusive. It’s also a great way to get answers to questions you may have throughout a day.
7. Decide what you are going to do before you sit down
This one is pretty important. I keep a calendar in my moleskine based on the GTD methodology, but you can use your own method. Just sit down and decide what you are going to do before you turn on your computer. Otherwise you will open up your RSS feeds and start down the long and disruptive path of surfing.
Figure out what you intend to accomplish and then do your best to do that.
8. Dump your RSS reader
Related to number 7: get rid of your digital distractions. Dump things that make it easier for you to spend time doing nothing of value. Bad information-consumption habits are the biggest time killer. If you dump the reader you will less likely read the 30 blogs on startups and gadgets not to mention your 1286 twitter friends’ blogs. You just won’t go to each one. Break the habit. Kill the reader.
9. Consolidate your email with Gmail and get Google Notifiers
Email sucks. Plain and simple it is the one biggest time waster for most people. No matter what your email situation is, I recommend Gmail and the online reader. It’s so simplified you just don’t have to spend an ass-load of time reading your email. You only have two reasonable options after you read something archive it or delete it. Try not to leave crap in your inbox, it’s distracting.
If you have a normal amount of email (meaning you are not Michael Arrington or Guy Kawasaki) use the google notifiers. I don’t subscribe to the check your email twice a day mantra that is touted by time management experts. It’s not realistic. But I do trust you to make good decisions based on limited information. Google notifiers give you just that. Enough info to decide if it is something you should care about now, or deal with later.
10. Set clear and specific expectations with the person that is paying you
This is the most important tip on this page. Even if you scoff at my previous 9 tips you cannot miss this one. If you don’t think this is important, you are stupid and you should stop using a computer and the internet because your stupidity is ruining it for the rest of us and/or someone could get hurt.
Whenever you work remotely you must set expectations that are clear and specific. Failure to do so will ensure your demise. Remember that “out of sight, out of mind” is not a good thing when your livelihood depends on someone else’s perception of your value. With clear expectations you can consistently show performance against those expectations. You will feel better about your contribution and your cash cow will not think you are sitting around your house drinking beer and playing Wii all day.
Good luck working from home!