Pro Tips: Get IT Done from Your Home Office
The June 15 Certification Watch includes a Page 2 item titled "CompTIA Stresses Importance of Staying Sharp when Working from Home."
The CW recap summarizes a CompTIA IT Careers News blog post by Natalie Hope McDonald labeled "Five Best Practices for Working from Home" that is well worth reading in its own right. McDonald presents five recommendation on this subject, and offers some explanation and information about each one.
I won't repeat that info, but I will repeat her headings, and add a few comments of my own, after which I'll add four additional suggestions that I've gleaned from 20-plus years spent working from a home office myself.
CompTIA's 5 Best Practices
1. Establish a consistent schedule and stick to it: Yes, it's still a job and you still have to show up to work so you can (eventually) get paid. A regular schedule lets colleagues and coworkers know when and how to find you. My standard line in dealing with customers is, "I'm usually at my desk from 7:30 AM until 5:30 PM Central time, with the odd hour off mid-day for lunch."
2. Create a functional, high-tech home office space: This is a good idea for all kinds of reasons, not least of which is a tax write-off for maintaining a home office. Tip: Don't depreciate your house for the tax deduction, because that makes things far too interesting later on when calculating real estate earnings on property. Take only the write-offs for utilities, services, expenses, and so forth. One vital investment is a good home office phone system with voicemail, call forwarding, and "follow-me" capability.
3. Take a break: It's not a good thing to sit sedentary at the desk all day long without moving around much. Take a walk or run an errand from time to time to get yourself up and moving, and to keep from ossifying in the typing position.
4. Dress to impress: Getting up, showering, and getting dressed is indeed part of any normal working day so don't slide down into laziness and lassitude. Just because you can work in PJs at home doesn't mean that you should.
5. Avoid distractions and set boundaries: If you're going to work, work; if not, get up and walk away from your desk and do something else. Getting into a habit of goofing off in your workspace is far too easy to establish, and far too hard to break. Trust me on this.
Ed Adds Four More
1. Keep the Phone Beasts at Bay: For me, caller ID has to be one of the greatest inventions of the late 20th century. I don't answer calls labeled "Out of Area," "Unavailable," or with locations instead of the names of calling parties. I may not answer a call from a named calling party I don't recognize, or don't want to talk to. I have also installed NoMoRoBo on my phone, where it cheerfully blocks solicitors, telemarketers, and other parties I don't want to spend time on fending off. Spend less wasted time on the phone, and more time working productively, and you can get up and walk away from your desk at a more reasonable hour.
Snapshot of my home office desk. The book at the lower left is my go-to reference for CSS markup. (Courtesy of Ed Tittel)
2. Set Up Formal Accounting and Use Separate Accounts: The best way to keep personal and business affairs and monies separate is to run them through separate accounts. You can pay yourself monthly from the business account into the personal account without too much hassle. This separation makes income and other tax reporting simpler and more straightforward and keeps you from having to remember if the USB stick you bought was for business documents or the latest hits from Rihanna. It's also a good idea to set up some kind of accounting for business stuff, such as FreshBooks or Xero, to keep track of and report on income, business expenses, and so forth.
3.Schedule (and Spend Time on) Marketing Yourself: Generating income means finding work, and finding work means maintaining and developing a customer base. This takes time and effort and that is best spent at regular intervals on a scheduled basis. This approach not only makes sure that you can keep the work coming in, it's also a valuable opportunity to talk to existing customers, to solicit their feedback and to find out what else you might be doing for them, while cultivating potential and new customers. Personally, I also operate a vanity website at www.edtittel.com, where I publish my current resume, list of publications, and a rate sheet for the work and services I offer, so that would-be customers can get general information easily, and decide if they want to pay what I prefer to charge for my work.
4. Cultivate Professional Contacts and Activities: You should establish a professional presence on LinkedIn, and create and grow your professional networks through that site, its professional groups, and other professional societies and associations relevant to your technical interests and/or target markets and industries. It's worth joining local organizations like Rotary Club or Toastmasters, too, because of opportunities for personal and professional that such organizations provide. If you attend meetings, you'll also get great opportunities to socialize and network with friends, colleagues and peers. It's important to maintain a source for personal and professional stimulation, and to take the time to expose yourself to other people and ideas. Otherwise, working in solitary splendor at home can get kind of lonely from time to time.
If you can remember that working at home just means doing your job in your own office instead of somebody else's, then you'll be well on your way to succeeding in this endeavor. Keep your eye on the ball — and the bottom line — and you should be able to thrive, not just survive. Enjoy!