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It takes discipline to stay motivated in a home office

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Confession time. I find it really hard to work from home.

Oh, I can do it occasionally, but it will never be something I can see myself doing full time - at least if my past behavior is any indication.

I have tons of colleagues, former coworkers, stay-at-home moms, etc. that have thrived at working from home. They do it full time, they run successful businesses and they generally rock at what they do. They have also shared with me their challenges: that feeling of isolation, second-guessing choices and missing out on all of the face-to-face communication of the office environment.

For me, I think it has a lot to do with my self-discipline. As soon as I walk through my front door, I lose all sense of self-control: My cat needs cuddles or my couch is too comfortable. If it’s a hard deadline that I’m working on, I usually can buckle down and plow through, but those soft deadlines can be the real challenge. "This story can wait until tomorrow."

Mostly, I work from home on an as-needed basis: inclement weather, half-day schedules or appointments that geographically make more sense to keep me close to home.

I wondered how many others shared my dilemma. I threw a question out to the CPBJ Women in Leadership Facebook Group recently to get their feedback on work-from-home advice. The feedback was authentic. I really don't have anyone to blame but myself if I can't stay motivated at home.

Here’s a sampling of what they shared:

Needing to pay the bills provides significant motivation! When I first started it was so hard. I dusted, I did laundry, but quickly figured out that I had better find some discipline … Leaving the house to exercise became a key to my mental well-being. Getting up and moving around is very important but you just have to limit what you do when you are up!
-Maura Donley

I worked from home for 11 years. The motivation was the work. The workflow, the deadlines. As long as they were being met, the occasional distraction (dogs constantly needing to be let in, and back out. Repeat 25 times) were manageable … The hardest part was getting OTHERS to respect the fact that I was indeed working ...
- Leslie Penkunas, (Penkunas is the editor of Central Penn Parent, one of CPBJ’s sister publications)

I like the balance of a day a week working from home. I feel more calm, equally productive and more energized to go to the office after a bit of a break from it. I am not sure I could do it every day.
- Debra Ollinger Miller

Distractions happen both inside and outside the office. No matter your work location, it’s how you manage them that determines whether they interfere with your productivity in a meaningful way ... I reserved working from home for designated projects that required intense focus or was really engaging. That way, I was less tempted by distractions that arose.
- Amanda Lavis

If I need to get motivated, I play some loud cheesy dance music from the 90s! Gets me in a work groove every time! If I need to focus on a project, I put in my headphones and play some mellow music. Sometimes, I feel silly listening to headphones when I’m the only human in the house, but it never fails to keep me on track. Most days, though, I find that I am consistently engaged with my colleagues through email, Skype and conference calls that my remote job feels a lot like working on-site. I am also really good at ignoring housework, which eliminates at least one distraction! 
-Kara Eberle

Being self-employed, I am faced with this challenge every day. When working on a project, I use the Pomodoro method: 25 minutes of work, and five-minute break, for five cycles (2 1/2 hours) then a 30-minute break. I use my cell phone timer with harp music to keep track so I don't distract myself by clock-watching. Another trick is to schedule 90 minutes for a project on your calendar, and again, using the timer, break it into two 40 minute sessions with a break in the middle.
-Lora Swindlehurst Lebo

Barley, a cute kitty, but a not-so-great co-worker.
Barley, a cute kitty, but a not-so-great co-worker. - ()

Thanks for the feedback ladies. As always, this group keeps the advice real and our online community in check.

As a side note, I’m fortunate to work for a company that provides a work-from-home option and the flexibility if I need it. It is a privilege that I know many working men and women do not have. 

Now I leave you with a gratuitous picture of me and my cat, Barley, in my family's home office. For the record, she provides zero help in keeping me on task at home.  

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Cathy Hirko

Cathy Hirko

Cathy Hirko is managing editor, news, for the Central Penn Business Journal. Email her at chirko@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @CathyHirko.

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