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Having a Well-Defined Home Office Setup Lets Me Be Productive From the Comfort of My Own Home

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Tina Willis is an attorney who’s been working from home for 20 years. Over those years she’s developed some key methods for separating her office space from the rest of her home, figured out ways of using technology to address specific working-from-home needs, and established routines for staying active while cutting down on distractions and unnecessary errands. She told her story to Scott Morris.

I’m a personal injury attorney based in Orlando, Florida, and I’ve been working from home as much as possible for the last 20 years. The work I do from home includes the legal aspect of my job—speaking on the phone with clients and others involved in their cases, computer-based research, and case review and preparation—but I also do most of my own marketing work, so I do marketing writing from home, too. After spending two decades maximizing my ability to work out of my house, I have a lot of experience making my home work-friendly. Here’s what that looks like for me.

Keep Your Home Office Separate, and Put That Work Laptop Away

At this point I actually have two offices set up in my house—my primary home office and a second one that’s used by an assistant who helps me with administrative tasks. Both of these offices were originally bedrooms, and they’re equipped with the furniture and hardware you’d find in a non-home office: computer desks, file and storage cabinets, printers, computers, webcams, speakers, scanners, and shredders. We also have plenty of standard office supplies on hand, things like printer paper, file folders, labeling devices, and so on. Both of these offices have their own doors that separate them from the rest of the house, and it’s easy enough for me to close to the doors and disconnect from my home if I need some mental peace. It helps that I’ve really come to think of these rooms as dedicated office spaces, distinct from the homey, comfortable parts of my house. I do have a laptop that I use for work if I want to move around the house for a change of scenery, but when the work day is over I make a point of closing the laptop and leaving it in my office for the night. Once my laptop is put away and that door is closed, I try to forget about work. Of course, during times when I’m super busy with my cases work isn’t as easy to forget about, but those are times I’d honestly be obsessed with work whether at home or in a traditional office.

Allow Your Work From Home Setup to Evolve Over Time

Since I’ve been working from home for so many years, it feels like I’ve always had my home office setup dialed in. But thinking back, my work space definitely became more organized and efficient as time marched on. My setup started with a desk, a computer, and printer, and slowly evolved from there. I’d say it took several years to create an ideal space, mostly because I just didn’t have the money for the equipment I really wanted when I was starting out. Instead, I added things gradually. Different problems would arise over time and I’d add new equipment to address each one. And that really continues to this day. For example, right now I want to change my set up to include a standing desk for fighting the effects of sitting too long, as well as an area for recording video, so I’ll be adding those two soon.

Apps and The Cloud Are Your Home Office Friends

The biggest challenge I face when working from home—and this was true with my basic, day one setup all the way to the setup I have now—is how not to get distracted by the rest of my life. I really think that’s just a mind-set, though. Once you become truly determined to reach your goals, I don’t think the location you’re working from matters. The aspects of working from home that might seem distracting—the freedom to walk around, exercise, or eat something whenever I want to take a break—are actually perks when it comes to productivity. My computer and the internet can be a big distraction, but that’s no different if you’re at home or in a traditional office space. Still, it’s another problem I’m able to address directly with my office setup. I use an app called Cold Turkey that’s designed to help avoid online distractions, and it’s really made a huge difference. Cold Turkey lets you block websites and apps at specific times, and once those times come around there’s no easy way to undo the blocking. It’s become essential to my productivity at home, and it’s a good example of how there really is a tool to address any working-from-home problem that might come up. That app and my running shoes (which ensure that I go outside and get a mental break every day) are probably the two most essential pieces of my work-from-home setup right now.

Along with specific equipment and tools, the general state of online technology has played an important part in my home setup, too. I have a traditional office that I use for meeting with clients, but since I like to do so much of my work from home there used to be a lot of extra work involved in moving files (and myself) back and forth between locations. While I still have to move myself for face-to-face meetings, cloud-based storage solutions like Google Drive and Dropbox have made a huge difference in helping with that specific problem. Bringing home new case files from my offsite office and uploading them into our computer system is still time consuming, but cloud services make working from home as painless as it’s ever been. I’ve also had problems in the past hiring assistants. I don’t really want someone coming to my house unless I trust them, and while I do have one assistant who fits that bill, technology has allowed me to hire other assistants who work remotely. Again, this is where cloud services have been a game changer. Not having to rely on physical storage for case files and other information means someone who’s not on site can still access critical information, and being able to video chat with a click of a link allows me to communicate and check-in with assistants even if they’re not in my home. Of course there’s a bit of give and take to that arrangement—working with assistants remotely isn’t exactly the same as having an assistant physically on hand, but being able to continue working comfortably from my house makes it worth the trade offs.

Shop From Home When You Work From Home, and Spend Your Breaks Exercising Instead

When it comes to equipping your own work-from-home setup, I can’t recommend online shopping enough. I do most of my product research and shopping online (a quick Google search of whatever you need is usually enough to put you on the right path), and I try to avoid in-person shopping as much as humanly possible. Online shopping through outlets like Amazon cuts down on the need to leave the house and really adds up over time in terms of increased productivity.

I’d also highly recommend establishing a convenient, achievable exercise routine (something like running, or using weights or machines at your house). Exercise is an excellent way to take a break and help yourself stay focused when you’re working from home.

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