Many paralegals work from home all or some of the time, and that situation is becoming the norm for more and more Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24% of employed people did some or all of their work from home in 2015.
However, just because almost one-quarter of Americans are working from home for some portion of their workday does not mean working from home is easy to do. In fact, it can be harder to be productive and stay on task with all of the distractions of being at home—and no co-workers looking over to see what you’re up to.
Whether working from home is a reality for you or a goal, whether you take extra work home or you want that to be your full-time arrangement, below are 6 tips that will help you be even more productive from a home office than a regular one.
Tip 1: Set office hours and stick to them
Start your day early, just like you would at the office. In fact, consider working the same hours as those in the office. Although you’re free to work the hours you choose, you will be more productive when people can reach you during the normal working hours—and you’ll be able to reach them. Sleeping in and doing your workout before you start your day might sound like a great plan, but if everyone else starts work at 8:00 and you’re not at your desk until 11:00, you’ll start your day behind as you catch up on the emails and phone calls that came in during that time.
Having set office hours also tricks your brain into switching gears from “I’m at home” mindset to “I’m at work” mindset. You’re not physically going to another location, so your brain needs something else to trigger the switch. Starting work at the same time each day can be that trigger.
As an added bonus, having set office hours will also help you to step away from the desk at the end of the day! If 5:00 is quittin’ time, that is when you close up shop for the day. Period.
Tip 2: Plan your day and stay on schedule
Any productive workday requires discipline, wherever you’re working, but working from home requires even more. Plan your day and stick to that schedule and you’ll ensure you’re productive. Write down your schedule or use a calendar app on your smartphone or laptop so you know what you are doing when and for how long. When you set aside two hours for a specific task, that means you’re more likely to get the task done in that time as opposed to only having a list of tasks. A time limit means you’ll stay focused until done rather than letting one task take too long.
Also plan for breaks throughout the day. Pencil in when you’ll step away to make a cup of tea, do some neck stretches, or take your lunch. Otherwise it’s too easy to stay at your desk all day and that’s not healthy or productive: Research shows that the most productive workers focus for 52 minutes, then disengage for 17 minutes.
Having everything scheduled can also help you balance work and home life in a more productive way. You might be working from home so you can be on top of dinners for your family, for example, so plan into your day that time when you’re going to step away to take the meat out of the freezer or preheat the oven. Or perhaps you need to make some personal phone calls during the day, say to set up a doctor’s appointment. Schedule that personal time into workday (perhaps during the 17 minutes after 52 minutes of working?), and you’ll be more likely to stay focused and on task while working.
Tip 3: Have a designated work area
We can’t stress enough the importance of a home office or at least home office area. As with having set office hours, having a set place to work also helps you to mentally get into work mode—and stay there. This could be an entire room if you have the space, or a corner with a table or a desk against a wall. It doesn’t matter how much space you have. What matters is using it for work alone. So don’t sit in bed to work or try to work at the kitchen counter. You won’t achieve the same degree of productivity.
Tip 4: Pretend you’re not home
Distractions are perhaps the biggest challenge for paralegals working from home. Speaking from experience, it takes a lot self-discipline to ignore the unmade beds, dirty dishes and piled up laundry. This is another reason for having set office hours and a designated home office area. You’re working. If you wouldn’t be washing dishes or folding laundry while at the office working, don’t do these tasks while at home working.
You can, however, plan these tasks into your day if you follow tip 2. It is possible to spend two hours transcribing then 10 minutes folding laundry so you’re getting more done in a day both professionally and personally. But it takes self-discipline and it takes planning.
You can also avoid these distractions by making sure your morning routine includes these household tasks. If you usually wash the breakfast dishes before physically leaving for work, for example, stick to that routine and wash those dishes before you head to your home office.
Tip 5: Eat, drink and be healthy
When you’re working from home, you usually can’t dash across the street to the deli for lunch like you can when working at the office. So plan accordingly. You need to eat during the day. Keep healthy snacks and lunch supplies handy so you eat well and you don’t resort to three bowls of cereal because that’s what’s easy and fast. Also keep up with your water intake. One way to break up your day is to work for an hour then step away from your desk for a drink of water then work for another hour. That gives you a chance to stretch your legs and it gives your mind a quick break while also ensuring you keep up with your water intake.
Tip 6: Stay in touch
Working from home offers so many wonderful advantages! But there is one big disadvantage: a sense of isolation. Strive to stay in communication with your co-workers throughout the day. It will help you keep on top of the activities at the office and prevent you from feeling cut off and isolated, which can lower your energy level and therefore productivity.
Working from home can help you be a more productive paralegal and help you with your work/life balance if you follow these tips and keep a mental separation between work and home if not a physical one. It’s not for everyone because it does require so much self-discipline, but when you master the balancing act of working from home, you will be rewarded with hours saved because you don’t have to commute or dress for work, and a bigger sense of accomplishment at the end of each day.