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5 ways to be great at working from home.


5 ways to be great at working from home.

Graham Smith

One of the most common questions I am asked is: How can I be more effective when I'm working from home?

It might be that you have a great boss who recognises the importance of allowing flexibility and this includes all or an element of your work being conducted from home. Or simply that you have opted out of the corporate world to find your flexibility by running your own business and currently your home is also your place of work.

In 2015, the TUC published figures showing that 800,00 more people work from home on a permanent basis compared with ten years previously, with the figure then standing at 4.2 million. Work Wise UK,  a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns to make the UK one of the most progressive economies in the world promotes National Work from Home Day, which this year takes place on Friday 20th May 2016.

For so many people who have a lengthy commute or struggle to make workplace practices fit in with their lives, the idea of running their own business or doing their thing from home, seems ideal, a long-held dream. Of course there are a huge amount of advantages: that much sought after flexibility, no commuting costs, being able to fit family demands around the working day. In reality though it is so very easy to become distracted and caught up in all those things that need doing around the house. Let's face it, how many of us would rather sort the laundry than write that bid?

So here are the top five issues that affect home workers and can lead to procrastination - with potential solutions.

1. Isolation. Yep, loneliness can very easily lead to stalking the internet for companionship, notoriously through social media. I realise that many of us don't need to be lonely to be constantly checking updates, but the lack of that social contact that the workplace often brings can cause us to seek distraction elsewhere. The answer is to plan social time and avoid rushing to the corner shop to have a conversation with anyone, rather than keep asking the dog for her opinion. Put breakfast and lunch appointments in the diary, keep a handle on that important networking, but also leave time to do the work.

2. Prioritise. This can be a real challenge when you have pages of work demands as well as a full to-do list of family and personal stuff. It is also often assumed by other family members that 'as you are at home tomorrow' you can take on responsibility for the washing/ironing/bill payment/ car to the garage etc etc. For this reason, it is key to make sure you have a workspace set aside where you go to do your job. Preferably one with a door that you can shut (or even lock if necessary). The real killer then, if you are anything like me, is to take yourself in there at the start of your work day and shut the door on the mess that is the remainder of the house, until it is time to stop. When you worked in an office, is it likely that you would clean up the kitchen, tidy up bathroom and put on washing before leaving home? Okay, I know some people get up early enough to do all of that (and put an evening meal in the slow cooker), but some of us don't have that level of energy in the morning. You need to decide how many hours you are going to work that day, on what and then - just do it.

3. Work calling. The opposite end of that scale is that your desk is always behind that door calling out at all hours of the day and night. Separating work from home is a real challenge in itself, it is very easy to go and 'just finish off that report' and suddenly realise that everyone else has gone to bed and it is way past midnight. So just as that workspace is good for getting clarity on what you need to do during your working day, you also need to be clear with yourself on what your working hours are going to be and shut the door again - from the other side!

4. Get help. Knowing when and who to bring in to help you is critical, in particular when you are growing your business. For many, outsourcing book-keeping or accounts is usually the first start, but it is important to get your maths right. Running your own business usually means that you are the Jill of all Trades, including billing, marketing, project design, technology to name just a few. If you know your hourly worth, you are more likely to be able to make a sensible decision on what is best use of your time. If you can earn more doing your job than the hours you might have to spend getting your website 'just right' it make sense to bring in an expert.

5. Focus. Having cracked all of the above, you should now be in a better position to get on and focus on the stuff that brought you to working from home in the first place. To avoid being pulled into those many distractions, nothing beats the Pomodoro technique for me. (The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.)

The Pomodoro is a well-known productivity interval that has been shown to improve your output. It gives you a prescribed interval of 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. After 4 work intervals, there is a 15-minute break. It also helps manage those household distractions we spoke about earlier. I can load and unload the washing machine nicely in my 5-minute breaks and even grab the odd coffee. 15 minutes then seems a vast amount of time to get 'other things' done. Best of all, it really is great to actually get you to focus on tasks.

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Most of all, enjoy being your own boss and making work life balance a reality.