Amanda Gay usually works in a corner of what she calls her quiet room in her Athens, Georgia, home.
“There’s nothing in there to distract,” she says, except Murphy, her 2-year-old miniature schnauzer. The dog usually lies by her feet while Amanda, 35, teaches conversational English online for Education First, an international language and travel school.
Amanda is one of an estimated 3.3 million U.S. workers holding remote jobs. Like others working from home, coffee shops and parks, she dodges some of the distractions that come with traditional workplaces — ringing phones, office gossips and other interruptions.
But trading a commute for the chance to work from home carries its own adjustments. Homes have plenty of opportunities for interruptions and distractions, too — from family members, visitors and pets to the call of chores or simply the ability to look out the window — all of which could interfere with getting a job done.
Amanda has put one potential distraction to work for her. Should Murphy unexpectedly have a need, like having to visit the backyard, he might just become part of a one-on-one conversation lesson for a student from Saudi Arabia, Brazil or Taiwan. People love to talk about pets, Amanda said.
For other things, she has a system: Amanda — in the five minutes before the next student session — is free to throw in a load of laundry, take care of another quick chore or even play with Murphy. Then she is back and focused.
“If I’m not paying attention, the student’s not having class,” said Amanda, a contract worker.
Her arrangement, so long as she sticks with her framework, leaves her free to work from just about anywhere.
“All I need is a headset, high-speed Ethernet connection, a notebook and a laptop,” she told Money Talks News from the home of a friend she was visiting in Washington, D.C., her former home, where there are plenty of the distractions she shuns while working.
In her previous job running two programs for a small Washington nonprofit foundation, Amanda said, she felt pulled in different directions not only between the programs but also by her staff and duties that included reviewing and editing marketing materials.
“It’s easy to stay engaged while talking to one student at a time,” Amanda said.
Tips for staying on track
Each work-from-home job or contract is a bit different, but there are some good rules of thumb for staying on task when there’s no one sitting in the next cubicle to keep an eye on you.
1. Get dressed each morning: Don’t stay in your pajamas, Amanda says. “Put on clothes, even if it’s just a pair of jeans and a top. It makes you feel more professional.”
2. Set up an office space: A home office is very helpful because it allows you to shut a door and get to work, says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a subscription-based online service connecting job seekers with remote and flexible opportunities. A specific space — a small desk in your living room, a space in the guest bedroom — from which you work regularly will set the tone for your workday and make it feel like work because you go to the same space each day.
“I work from an office above my garage, and this separated space helps keep me in work mode during the day and helps my family respect boundaries when I’m working,” she says.
3. Keep your space tidy: Avoid clutter, Dunja Lazic, media manager for Toggl, said in a FlexJobs blog aimed at new remote workers. Organize your files, books, gadgets and office supplies. “There’s no worse time killer than a lost pen,” she said.
4. Determine office requirements: Some companies require you to have a certain Internet speed or specific equipment to work from home, Sara said. Make sure you understand the rules and needs of your company when setting up your home office. Also, many companies with virtual teams have schedule requirements. “Be sure to ask whether there are specific hours you should work each day or week, or if your schedule is more flexible.”
5. Plan backup workspaces: “It happens to everyone who works from home: the power goes out, your Internet stops working, or your out-of-town visitors interrupt your work day,” Sara said. Libraries, coffee shops and co-working spaces make great makeshift office options.
6. Keep a schedule: Sara said she uses Google Calendar to schedule everything from meetings with her staff to after-school pickups at the bus stop with her boys, and regular nights out with friends. “Having a set time for each activity not only reminds me of what I need to be doing, when, but it also helps to shape each day by knowing what I need to prepare for and focus on, in order to be ready for those meetings or events.”
7. Pick the work environment right for you: A new website launched by Sara, Remote.co, focuses on companies with virtual teams and includes a section on remote worker setups and insights. “Sometimes I need a change of scenery, and I’ll work on my porch or head to a coffee shop,” a Batchbook worker posted. “I work on a treadmill desk. … I started with a standing desk a little over a year ago and eventually switched over,” a Go Fish Digital worker said.
After you are up and running, make it a practice to look back over your week, consider where you were derailed and what got in the way of productivity. Tweak your regime to avoid those pitfalls so that you can stay focused and on track.
Are you among the growing population working from home? Share your secrets to staying on track — or the things that distract you — in our comments section below or on our Facebook page.