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Team Productivity

How to Create a Stress-Free Home Office in 6 Easy Steps

Daniel Threlfall
April 25, 2019
how to create a productive home office
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Working from home can produce heights of ecstasy and depths of agony. Anyone who has experienced the liberation of a pajama-clad workday can identify with those heights of ecstasy. And anyone who has succumbed to wallowing in a weak-willed Netflix binge-watch can relate to the depths of agony.

We love the concept of working from home, but the execution can be challenging. Here are the 3 biggest risks:

  1. Not getting anything done. Like nothing. At all.
  2. Getting upset with family members, or having them get upset with you.
  3. Becoming a de facto hermit with absolutely no social skills.

As a seasoned veteran of remote work, I’ve had my fair share of frustrations, including one or more of the ones mentioned above. I’ve also experimented with solutions. Some of these solutions have worked. Others have failed miserably.

I’m sharing the ones that have worked.

Here’s the thing, though. You’re never going to satisfactorily eliminate all the problems and risks of remote work. But if you use a few of these techniques, you may improve your productivity, cling to peace with your family, and remain socially functional.

1. Lay the boundaries between home and office.

This is the most important point of all.

In a recent article, I explained that finding a dedicated spot to work creates boundaries between home and work.

This idea of boundaries can sound provincial and petty, but it’s actually a smart move. When you allow your working space to be for work and your living space for living, you can effectively separate the two in your mind and in your daily practice.

The idea is rooted in human psychology, particularly the habit loop. According to habit researchers, we form habits in a cyclical way.

  • First, we are reminded.
  • Then, we engage in the routine—the habit itself.
  • Finally, we receive a reward.

Then the process starts all over again.

Here’s what it looks like:

Image Source

The habit loop works nefariously to our disadvantage when we crave, say, a Snickers bar every day at 3 pm. (Sorry if that triggered something.)

The habit loop also works advantageously as we build and strengthen a habit of running on the treadmill to counteract the damage of said Snickers bar.

In the context of a separate office, the habit loop works like this:

  • Reminder: It’s Monday morning, 9 am. Time to work!
  • Routine: You step into your office. It is a separate room of the house and has a desk, your computer, and a door that you can close. This is your daily routine.
  • Reward: You get stuff done. This feels good, and your brain celebrates by shooting some dopamine into the bloodstream, which is always nice.

Essentially, you’re creating a habit loop by having a separate place to work. The effectiveness of the habit loop is built on your presence in that office space that you have set apart.

There’s a much more practical advantage to having a separate office. You’re out of your family’s hair, and they’re out of yours. You can work, they can live, and the two are not in conflict.

I realize not everyone who works at home has the luxury of an extra room. Here are some ideas.

  • A detached office on your property
  • A rented office space
  • A coffee shop
  • Any room that has a door
  • A renovated basement or garage space
  • A corner of the family room, bedroom, etc.
  • The kitchen table—and a little routine for clearing it off and starting your work

A dedicated work space is ideal. But if this is impossible, try to at least create a morning routine that will signal to your brain that it’s time for action.

2. Set working hours.

Some people just don’t get the work-from-home thing.

When I first started working from home, a lot of my friends and acquaintances couldn’t quite wrap their minds around the concept.

Even if they did understand, they thought my schedule was flexible enough to accommodate their social whims.

Here’s how it worked in a not-so-hypothetical situation: It’s Tuesday morning, and friend Joe needs to move a piano. He could call Bob, but Bob works at the bank. He could call Tim, but Tim owns a lawn business. He can call. . .Daniel! Yeah, Daniel works from home! (i.e., “He must not work at all!”)

I obliged myself to the random coffee shop trips, drop-in visits, extended lunches, and piano-moving efforts, until I realized that I needed to set some boundaries.

My job is as real as anyone else’s, whether I’m working from home or from a cubicle farm.

My working hours are now actual, honest-to-goodness working hours. The burden is on me to set my schedule and protect it. I can’t expect others to understand and accommodate something that doesn’t totally make sense to them.

Make sure your family and friends understand what it means for you to work from home. You’ll save yourself and them a lot of frustration and misunderstanding.

3. Wear headphones.

You might be surprised at the astonishing impact of noise-cancelling headphones.

A good headset costs less than a separate office but can have nearly the same positive impact.

Pro tip: Play music with no lyrics. In one Stanford study, researchers found that music helped the brain to “pay attention.” The music used in the study was from the 18th century English baroque composer William Boyce. Lyrics: none.

He’s definitely paying attention. (Image Source)

Music can also be a distraction, causing you to focus more on the music than you actually should. Even your personality type—the typical introvert and extrovert divide—affects the impact of music on behavior.

If music inhibits your work performance, you can still go ahead and buy those headphones. Put them on, but instead of cranking up some tunes, play some white noise. White noise actually improves one’s memory.

Put them on, turn on something, and you can snap into the zone of ultra-focused gettin’ stuff done!

4. Spend family time away from the house and among other people.

When you work from home, it can be easy to slip into a situation where you feel like you’re with your family, even though you’re not being present with them.

I alternate between working at a rented office space and working at home. When I’m at home, I have a self-deceived perception of “spending time” with my family when, in reality, I’m just doing the same thing I would be doing if I were at a corporate office away from home,.

That’s why it’s important to intentionally do things together as a family. Sometimes, the best way to do this is by getting out of the house.

Go to church, eat out, go to the store together, run around at a park—just do something that gets you out and about.

5. Get creative with your schedule.

The 40-hour workweek is an outmoded concept.

Why 40 hours? Why 8 hours a day?

Ever since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, project managers have been figuring out how to get a lot of people to get a lot of stuff done in an organized way.

The modern workweek with its 5 days and 40 hours is probably a hangover from good ol’ Henry Ford and his uber-industrial Model-T factories.

Image Source

Without exploring all the facets of its history, it’s helpful to realize that the traditional 9-to-5 with the proverbial 40-hour workweek is simply a construct—a theoretical imposition created by people who worked in factories long ago.

It’s served us pretty well over the past century or so.

But my, how times have changed.

Most work-from-homers have some autonomy over their working hours. If you do, then you’re free to create a schedule that works for you and your family.

Don’t allow the workweek tradition to force you to adopt a mold that doesn’t work for your family. There are so many life variables, and the 9-to-5 isn’t flexible enough to accommodate all of them. Do what you want to do with your schedule as a family.

6. Involve your family in your business.

Scary thought, huh?

At first glance, it's obviously difficult to involve the family in our work.

Your 5-year-old probably isn’t ready to create pivot tables in Excel or write a file in Node.js.

Much of my work involves SEO strategization, content creation, and creating marketing funnels. My 3-year-old son is capable of deleting apps from my iPhone, but he still doesn’t know how to run a report in Moz.

How does this work? With a bit of creativity.

Here’s an example from my recent past. I hired a designer to create 3 logos for a new business. I showed all the logo options to my kids and asked them to pick which one they preferred.

Yep, user testing and feedback from my 7-year-old, 6-year-old, and 3-year-old. (My 1-year-old was sleeping at the time.)

Every family’s work-from-home situation is different. You may have a teenager who loves coding. Your 6-year-old might be eligible for taking out your office trash. One child could be hired to shred paper. Perhaps you need envelopes licked or stamps stamped.

Even if the family’s involvement is small and occasional, it can still make a remarkable difference in the way that you appreciate and engage in your work activities.

Choose what works for you

I love working from home. I also love working from my remote office.

What works for you? Your family is unique, and things are always changing. Staying adaptive, keeping creative, and making your work-from-home situation work for you—that’s what it’s all about.

Get more done from anywhere with TeamGantt

Want to get to the finish line faster, no matter where you hang your (work) hat?

With TeamGantt, you can spend less time updating projects and more time knocking out tasks. Build project plans in minutes with our drag and drop simplicity, and track progress on tasks in real time—all while staying in close communication with your team.

Watch the video below to see how TeamGantt works, and try our free online project management software for free today!

Project management milestone examples

Milestones make it easier to keep projects on track by calling out major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables. Here are a few examples of project milestones you might include in your plan:

  • Start and end dates for project phases
  • Key deliveries
  • Client and stakeholder approvals
  • Important meetings and presentations
  • Key dates or outages that may impact your timeline

Let’s dig a little deeper and explore 3 specific examples of how using project milestones can benefit your projects.

Monitor deadlines

No plan is ever complete without a list of deadlines! The best way to make them noticeable is to use the project management milestones and deliverables technique. What does this mean? Make the deliverables project milestones!

Why do this? Well, it’s no secret that not everyone wants to pore over your beautiful project plan to find key dates. Most people—your teammates included—want a top-level view of key dates and events. Milestones are great for this purpose because they’re called out in a special way—usually with a diamond—in project plans.

While you should list the tasks and effort leading up to a project milestone, be sure to present the milestone at the end of those tasks to signify a delivery, or even a presentation of, the deliverable.

Here's an example of how Washington Hyperloop uses milestones to track an important deadline in their project.

Spotlight important dates

Are there days from now until the end of your project that could impact your project in some way? Maybe your team will need to be out of the office for a mandatory training. Maybe there’s a board meeting you’re expected to attend.

It’s important to keep all of these important events in mind when you’re planning a project because they could possibly impact your project schedule. So why not include them as project milestones so you can track them all in one place?

In this example, the team’s off-site strat-op meeting has been added to the project plan as a milestone so work can be scheduled around it.

date milestone in gantt chart

Identify potential project bottlenecks

Many projects rely on the work produced by external teams or partners to make forward progress. If you’re not tracking those external factors somewhere, there’s a great chance you’ll forget to follow-up on it.

That’s why it’s important to list these deliverables as project milestones if you’re working on a project that depends on someone or something outside of your project. Here’s an example of what that might look like for a client approval.

deliverable milestone in gantt chart

Want to hit major milestones on time more often?

We’ve got a free class to help you get everyone on board with your plan! Register for Plan Up: How to Create and Sell a Winning Project Plan to see why planning sets the stage for project success, and get a free Guide to Project Planning when you sign up.

How to create a project milestone

Creating milestones for your project plan can be simple, especially with TeamGantt. Once you’ve mapped out your overall process and plan with your team, you can easily add tasks, identify gantt chart milestones, and determine task owners. Adding a milestone (or converting a task to a milestone) is very easy in TeamGantt.

Once you’ve signed up for a TeamGantt account, here’s a quick video on how to create milestones:

Project milestones are easy to create and even easier to track because you’ve called out the most important points in your project.

How to share project milestones with clients and stakeholders

Want to give clients and stakeholders a high-level view of the project? Simply follow these steps to share a PDF of key project milestones in your gantt chart.

1. Filter your project by milestones.

From your gantt chart view, click the All Dates menu at the top of your gantt chart, and select Only Milestones from the drop-down.

filter gantt chart by project milestones

2. Export your filtered project to a PDF file.

Navigate to your project's Menu, and select Print/Export PDF from the drop-down.

export gantt chart with project milestones to PDF

Customize your PDF settings, then click View PDF to complete the export. From there, you can download and/or print your PDF to share with clients and stakeholders.

share PDF of gantt chart filtered by project milestones

Who would have thought such a critical step could be so easy?

Hit every project milestone with ease

TeamGantt makes it easy to create, track, and collaborate on all your project milestones so nothing slips through the cracks.

You’ll have all the features you need to ensure projects finish on time and under budget—from drag and drop simplicity and team collaboration to customizable views and workload management.

Best of all, it’s all wrapped up in a simple and intuitive interface your whole team will love. 😍

Give TeamGantt a free try today!

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