The Time Queen

Time management expert Robyn Pearce looks at how to get the most out of life.

Robyn Pearce: How to separate work and home when working from home

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Photo /Thinkstock
Photo /Thinkstock

These days more and more folks, even corporate people, work at home some or part of the time.

Two key issues need to be handled if we work without the immediate physical support of an office and the external motivation of 'going' to work. Mastery of them will dramatically increase your home-based productivity.

They are:

1. How not to be distracted by other events going on in your home environment
2. How to switch off and remember to 'have a life'.

In other words - how do you separate work and home activities, or - how to get started, and how to stop?

For many, this issue of separation is one of the major stumbling blocks in working from home, especially when the children are still there or you have other family members who need a lot of attention.

Today, let's look at some 'how to get started' strategies in a way many people don't consider.

What triggers will help you focus?

What conscious or unconscious anchor points (sometimes called contextual markers) guide your thinking and therefore your behaviour? What patterns do you apply to different tasks?

Let's take a lesson from the sports arena. Think about a swimmer about to dive, a bowler about to pitch, a football player about to kick a goal, a jumper about to leap. Have you ever watched their pattern, their routine as they prepare to move? They're marking or signalling 'full attention required' to their brain.

We can do the same in our work life, no matter where the activity happens.

So how can you make separations, or margins, between different parts of your life: between different duties and tasks? A contextual marker can be any stimulus. It could be smells, feelings, words, thoughts, actions or events as well as your physical environment.

To find what works for you, observe your behaviour. Notice the conditions that enable you to do your best work, the amount and type of noise or quietness you like, the light, the smells, music or no music, food, drink.

Once you've noticed, you can usually replicate your 'full attention required' conditions quite easily. Most people don't realise how much their productivity is impacted by such simple things, but once they do, the smart ones create the right patterns and environment for themselves wherever and whenever possible. And those who work from home have the greatest flexibility.

Some examples of 'I'm at work' triggers for home-based office workers:

• One woman moved her business from a CBD address to a purpose-built office 30 steps from the back door of her home. Every morning she picks up her handbag and keys and takes them into the office. She finds she can move between the office and the house during the day, but until she takes the bag and keys back into the house she stays work-focused.
• I've heard of others who walk out the door with their briefcase, and then walk back in again.
• What about the simple action of turning on the computer in the morning?
• Some dress as if for an office job first thing in the morning. The clothes are the marker.
• There's the lady who drives around the block, parks her car back in the garage she vacated five minutes before, and then walks straight into her home office to start the day's work.
• You could set an alarm clock to signal start time.
• Once in your office (if you've got a separate room), shut the door on yourself.

What are your favourite techniques?


Robyn Pearce (known as the Time Queen) runs an international time management and productivity business, based in New Zealand. Get your free report 'How To Master Time In Only 90 Seconds' and ongoing time tips at gettingagrip.com.

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