Home Office: 9 Smart Ways to Be More Productive

Last Updated Mar 21, 2011 11:49 AM EDT

Whether you're self-employed or telecommuting, an efficient home office is critical. At the very least, designate a room (or at least a specific section of a quiet room) in your home for work. Because if you're working in your bedroom, you'll be thinking about the next day's tasks while you're trying to sleep -- basically, an insomniac's nightmare. And if you're working in the kitchen, you'll be reviewing the contents of the refrigerator rather than what's on today's agenda.

For my own home office, I've invested in a good laptop (backed up with Backblaze), a solid all-in-one printer and a landline, so I never suffer with static and I can record interviews. Of course, your own priorities might be different.

I asked some self-employed folks for their finest tips, and these were nine of the best. Do you have any to add?

1. Take Advantage of Technology
"I have found that the use of cloud computing resources for my home office and business is helpful. The tools [I use most] are: Evernote for keeping track of information, Manymoon for project management (links with my Google apps), Google apps like Google Documents, Google Calendar, Google Voice, Nudgemail (to keep track of To Do items that need consistent follow up), Free CRM (the most malleable customer relationship management tool on the web) and Mailchimp (for newsletters and email blasts)."

-- E. Allen Knight, Ann Arbor, Mich., consultant, small business owner and professor

2. Block Out Distractions
"Buy some heavy blinds or drapes to block out sun, heat, cold and noise. If it's a nice day outside, you can close the blinds, and you'll be more likely to stay inside and work! Plus, it's a great way to block outside noise from neighbors, traffic and gardeners."

-- Melanie Rembrandt, owner of Rembrandt Communications in Redondo Beach, Calif.

3. Get Good Furniture
"The biggest mistake home office workers make is buying particle board furniture from the office supply store. Search out office furniture stores instead. Real office furniture is made for work. [That could mean] a keyboard tray that's wide enough for a keyboard and a mouse or an office chair meant for supporting you for eight or more hours, not the occasional hour or two on the weekend."

-- Kathryn Weber, freelance writer and publisher of the Red Lotus Letter E-Zine, Austin, Texas

4. Prepare Your Pets
"If you are planning an important phone interview or phone conference and you own a dog like I do, try to make arrangements to have the dog outside or in another room and shut your office door. An unexpected UPS or Fedex delivery can set the dog to barking and interrupt that call."

-- Christel K. Hall of ProWrite Public Relations, Minden, Nev.

5. Protect Your Privacy
"Keeping your business life separate from home life is not just sanity saving (a client won't walk in on you doing aerobics to Donna Summer), but a safety concern, especially if you work online. Make sure you use a business postal address, and be careful about where you post your personal information."

-- Sarah Clachar, Healthy Marketing Ideas, Rochester, N.H.

6. Invest in a Separate Office Phone
"One of the first thing I realized that I needed to do was get a separate number for my office so that my son, who was then 5 years old, did not pick up the phone when reporters called. I still keep my line in my office as I prefer to receive calls from clients and reporters on my business line rather than my cell phone. That way I can let it go directly to voice mail if it rings after hours or on weekends."

-- Julie Phillippi-Whitney, owner, Phillippi-Whitney Communications, Cincinnati, Ohio

7. Keep Regular Hours
"Set work hours and stick to them. Do nothing but work during that time, as you would with an office job. Then when the time is up, stay away from the computer!"

-- Margelit Hoffman, social media manager and strategist, Allentown, Pa.

8. Pack a Snack "I've learned to always keep snacks at my desk, usually healthy ones like nuts, a granola bar, or brown rice cakes (sometimes chocolate sneaks in, too!). It's easier for me to stay focused on work if I'm not wandering down into the main part of the house when I get hungry."

-- Susanne M. Alexander, president of Marriage Transformation LLC, Cleveland, Ohio

9. Focus on Feng Shui
"Make sure you can see the door from the place where you sit. If this is not possible, strategically position a mirror so that you can see behind you. Because we, as a species, like to feel "in the know" about our environments, this will make you feel safer and therefore more grounded, focused, and empowered."

-- Tess Whitehurst, feng shui consultant and author of Magical Housekeeping, Los Angeles, California

Got more tips for building a better home office? Please sign in below and share your thoughts. And for more career advice, follow @MWOnTheJob on Twitter.
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  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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