5 Ways To Work Smarter in Your Home Office

With the current economy, new grads setting up solo practices, BigLaw defectors going home to go to work, it’s time to revisit the rules of working from home. This  post is not, however, about how to comply with the specific issue of being a lawyer working from home but the emotional and physical challenges of working from home… period.

Working from home you need to figure out how to overcome certain unique issues which present themselves. This will certainly be easier for some, much harder for others based upon personality types. So, here we go!

1) Is Working From A Home Office The Right Choice for You?

Clearly, it is very attractive to eliminate the morning and afternoon commutes, childcare expenses, packing a lunch or the costs of eating out, not to mention having to get dressed up every morning when you know you don’t have court or client meetings and the dry cleaning bills which go along with the power suits .

However, if you need the physical socialization with peers and colleagues on a daily basis or you know you don’t have the discipline to work at home because instead you’ll shoot off to the supermarket or watch TV for a few hours after polishing off a quart of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, then maybe, as attractive as the savings can be, working from home may not be the right answer for you as you build your solo practice.

But if creating a home office is for you, here are some tips you may not have given much thought to and should:

2) Create the (Ergonomically) Ideal Office Layout

This is critical. Be ergonomic. Be streamlined. When you sit down at your desk facing your computer, you should:

  • Angle your pelvis so that it’s slightly open, at 100 to 110 degrees.
  • Elbows should be bent anywhere from 90 to 110 degrees. You want your hands to be resting comfortably on your desktop and your upper arms should be in line with your torso.
  • Feet should be placed flat on the floor.
  • Position your head above your hips and look straight ahead. You shouldn’t be straining your neck at all.
  • There should be no more than a space the size of an orange between the back of your knees and the seat of your chair.
  • Wrists should be kept straight when using the mouse of the keyboard.

Go ahead and try it right now. You’ll be surprised at how comfortable it feels!

3) Schedule Your Day

This has been my personal nemesis. Routine. Yet, creating a structured routine will actually help your body and mind get acclimated to your new working environment. Create a structured routine, “which will help your mind and body adapt to a new working environment,” says Alan Hedge, Ph.D, director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory at Cornell University. It doesn’t take more than 20 minutes for concentration to diminish. Here is a simple technique you can implement known as the 20-20-20 rule: Work for 20 minutes, break for 20 seconds, then while breaking, look 20 feet away to reset your focus and attention span.

But what if you’re a night owl workaholic and enjoy crawling out of bed at 10 or 11 a.m.? (Kind of hard if you have a trial calendar but let’s think about your non-court days). Did you know you can actually synchronize your body clock to help you stay alert during working hours by simply going outside for 15 to 20 minutes? Sunlight stimulates the pineal gland, which produces melatonin, a hormone which helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle.

The beginning of darkness stimulates the pineal gland into action which is why melatonin levels remain low during daylight hours. During the day, the melatonin levels are barely noticeable. As the night arrives, the pineal gland starts releasing more melatonin into the bloodstream. When more melatonin travels throughout the blood, our body will start to get more and more tired. When the blood pressure is slowing down, our body will start preparing to fall asleep. Melatonin levels will keep increasing until they peak which usually happens around 3 or 4 a.m. After that, as melatonin levels slowly begin to subside, the body prepares to be awakened.

Anything that interferes the normal release of melatonin can also potentially disturb sleep patterns. Our body will know that the presence of less melatonin means that it should be alert and awake and ready for the day.

4) Keep “Time Sucks” To a Minimum

‘Time Sucks’ come in many shapes and forms. But for the 21st century there is no bigger timesuck than social media. Never , in my opinion, has it been more critical to keep track of not how much time you are spending working in a day but how much work you are accomplishing in that day. There is a book called CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap! Strategies for Coping in a World Gone ADD which highlights the reality that those who work alone fritter away huge amounts of time and usually this is on the internet or the phone.

You can find countless studies touting the value of social media sites and their value to advertisers based upon how much time users clock each day on their site. Nielsen tracks average visitors accumulated time per day and back in June of last year they found this average visit was a whopping four hours and thirty three minutes….each day!!

While you can argue it’s for business purposes only, clearly that’s a crock. It’is critical you schedule time for social media, work-related emails and responding to phone calls. Many people use a polite auto-response letting people know they’ve received your e-mail and your schedule for returning the e-mail. You should also consider using any number of programs which can be programmed to shut down your browser for a certain period of time to force a break from your monitor for any number of reasons including just stretching!.

Another time suck, but one you thought would be a perk of working for yourself, is scheduling too many out of ‘home office’ lunches or other socializing events which can always last much longer than you intended. Then you start doing non-work-related errands because it just happens to be on the way home. Before you know it, this one hour lunch becomes four unexpected hours away from your office.

If you have to do chores during the week, pick one afternoon or morning each week for these obligations.

5) Now, Don’t Be A Shut In!

Huh? Becoming more productive by developing disciplined habits does not automatically mean you have to be anti-social or become a shut-in. If you are feeling lonely, you can’t possibly be at your most productive. And, let’s face it, if you are feeling disconnected from others it’s just plain depressing. Developing habits to be more productive has to also address the need to for physical connectivity. So, whether it’s a lunch with your spouse fresh from your own refrigerator, a quick run to your local coffee shop, a thirty-minute walk with your neighbor, or just fifteen minutes playing with your dog, be sure to schedule time for facetime with other people or any other living creature. If facetime doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, there is enough technology out there to chat with others. Schedule a Google hangout with a bunch of your friends at a designated time when you all take a break together and share a laugh or commiserate about your work.  It’s just not that hard today to connect in a meaningful way to alleviate some of the loneliness of a home office environment.

Having a home office should not prevent you from being as productive as possible.  Having a home office should not prevent you from healthy socializing just as if you were in a traditional work environment.  It takes knowing who you are, some time and a desire to succeed.

What habits have you developed to make your home office the best choice you ever made?  What challenges are you facing if you haven’t quite yet become as productive as you could be.

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One comment on “5 Ways To Work Smarter in Your Home Office

  • Good advices. Having all the time for your own is a very big responsibility and never we are trained on it when in the University. They all prepare employees. Thank you.

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