This is a video from a Udemy course I created a few years ago to help people maximize their efficiency while working from remotely or from home. Instead of selling it as a paid course, I’m sharing the content here, for free. I hope you find it helpful. -Ron Stauffer
As someone who’s self-employed, my time is money. Every minute I can save out of my day is worth money to me.
If you’re going to go rock climbing, you’re probably going to go shopping for rock climbing gear first. Right? That makes sense. That’s obvious nobody would make the mistake of trying to go rock climbing without the right gear. But people who work from home work from home without the right gear all the time.
If you can, create a shopping list of all of the things that you need in order to work successfully from your home workspace and go shopping for those items and keep them separate from your personal items. The most obvious example of this for me is with basic office supplies: tape, Post-It notes, kleenex, printer paper, scissors, and staplers — don’t rely on your family’s supply of these office items. Go out and buy your own stuff. It doesn’t cost that much, and it’s not that hard. It just takes one trip to an office supply store, and you can spend $50 to $75 and be totally equipped with reams of paper, your own set of scissors, your own stapler, and your own three-hole punch. Do what it takes so that you have all the office supplies you need in your office, so you can get work done without having to go borrow scissors from your kids.
Because, for example, I have gone to an office supply store and purchased all the kinds of office supplies that I need, I never need to go borrow from my kids or my wife’s stash of these things, but it’s also a two-way street by having my own supply, I don’t care whether the kids. Run out of paper or need more pencils. It doesn’t matter because dad has dad’s stash, and that is off-limits to the rest of the family.
By the way, here’s a little hint, the number one thing that kids borrow and ruin are dry erase markers. Make sure you have plenty of dry-erase markers to use on your whiteboard. They are super cheap. You can get a four-pack of dry-erase markers for less than $5. Keep a steady supply of dry-erase markers for your brainstorming sessions, using the whiteboard, which we’ll discuss later, and make sure your kids know these are totally off-limits.
All right, so there are basic office supplies, and then there are also some things that you should consider, which cost a little bit more money or sometimes a lot more money.
#1: Get a Big Office Chair
Okay. I said big. It doesn’t have to be big, but it should be sufficient for you to sit in all day, every day, five days a week comfortably. Don’t go to the office store and get the $84 special that they just happen to have by the front door. Do some research, take some time, and find an ergonomic chair… it’s probably going to cost a couple hundred dollars, maybe even up to a thousand dollars. Get whatever it is that works for you and that you feel comfortable in because you’re going to be spending hundreds of hours sitting down. And the chair that you sit in is really important. If you previously worked in an office, you probably had a nice chair because there was a person who was in charge of that. There was somebody who was thinking about things like ergonomics and de-stressing and making sure that you don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome because of the way you’re seated. When you’re working in your home environment, you’re the one who has to figure this out. Go shopping for a really nice chair. Talk to some people, and do some ergonomic research. Make sure that the chair that you have is one you can sit in all day, every day, without feeling any back pain. Trust me; this is more important than you even know. You don’t want to spend a year, or two working from home and then have to keep going to a chiropractor because your back is all jacked up because you’ve been sitting in a cheap, crappy chair. In my opinion, it’s worth the money to get a really good office chair.
#2: Get a Large Desk
One mistake that I see people make when they work from home. Especially if they’re not used to working from home is, they’ll borrow a desk from the basement or from their daughter’s bedroom or the extra one that was in the garage for a couple of years. Treat your desk as the primary place where you can spread out and get work done. The desk that you have is like your canvas in a sense; it’s where you can write things, it’s where you sort things, it’s where you can spread out and kind of see your business at a glance.
At home, I have a big L-shaped desk on one section of the desk, I have my laptop, my computer screen, my speakers, and I keep my iPad. On the other part of the desk, I keep it relatively clear so that I can set out paper and files and ledgers and microphones or camera lenses or whatever I’m working with. The one section is pretty static and remains the same with my keyboard and my mouse pad and things like that, which don’t change. The other one I tend to use for brainstorming sessions, where I put all the things out on the desk that I’m thinking about or discussing or working on at that moment in time; give yourself the biggest desk you can in the workspace that you have.
I’ll admit that I made a mistake. When I bought the desk that I use in my home office: I got one with a glass top. I recommend you don’t get one with a glass top. For two reasons, A) it’s cold. B) it gets smudgy. And that makes my brain frustrated and confused, and I see fingerprints and thumbprints all over it, and that’s distracting to me. So if I had it to do over, I would get a wooden desk, but I really like the L-shaped pattern because it allows me to shove it in a corner. And I have the two sections where in my chair, which swivels, I can sit and work on my computer or just turn to the right and then start to work on all the other things that I’ve spread out.
#3: Get Noise-Canceling Headphones
When I first started working from home, I was really distracted by the amount of noise that was in my house. If it wasn’t my kids, it was the neighbor’s dog barking, or it was the airplane flying overhead, or it was a TV playing in the background… whatever it was, there was just too much noise coming from a normal living, happy home. That was causing me to not be able to do my own best work.
So I went out and bought a set of noise-canceling headphones, which at the time were really expensive. It was about $350 to get a set of headphones that I could put on my ears and flip the switch, which then cancels out all the noise around me. And then I can focus on music or even nothing at all. I highly recommend that, if you can, get a set of noise-canceling headphones. They’re expensive, but they’re worth it.
Because if you think about it this way: if you’re sitting in front of your computer, trying to get lots of work done so you can make money, every minute or every hour that’s wasted is taking money out of your pocket. In my case, as someone who’s self-employed, time is money. And so every minute that I can save out of my day or every wasted minute that I can remove out of my day is worth money to me. So by spending $300 or $400 on a set of noise-canceling headphones, I have now eliminated a lot of distraction that would cause me to not be as efficient as I could. So if you have enough money and you can spend a couple hundred dollars on a set of noise-canceling headphones, I highly recommend you do. And I think that you’ll look back and say: “Wow! Why didn’t I do this before?” I know I did.
#4: Get a Webcam and a Microphone
Fortunately for me, and perhaps some of you, I have a Mac, which means that my laptop already has a built-in webcam and microphone. And it’s really good. Some of you might have a laptop with a built-in webcam and microphone, but they might not be very good ones. If that’s the case, please go out, spend a little bit of money, and get a good webcam and a good microphone. It’s hard to overstate just how important the quality is when you’re having a video conference with someone. It can feel like the difference between a really crappy phone call connection versus a face-to-face interaction. And as I’ve mentioned, when you’re working from home, whether it’s with your clients or your employer, it’s all about communication.
Feeling like you’re there, you’re in person or just one step removed, whatever it takes for you to have a great video and great audio option for your video conferencing, make sure that you have that.
#5: Get a Big Whiteboard
If there’s one tool more than any other that I think most people who work from home undervalue, it’s a big whiteboard. Most people have some sort of a whiteboard, whether it’s a tiny little tablet size or whether it’s a decent, maybe 24 by 36-inch whiteboard. But let me tell you if you can get in the habit of using a really big whiteboard on a regular basis. You will maximize your productivity.
Whiteboards are not that expensive. I have a huge whiteboard in my home office, and it costs me $55. That was money well spent. It’s worth the extra time and money that it takes to get a big whiteboard and mount it on your wall. Trust me, my overall point is it might cost a little bit of money, but make sure you have the right tools for the job.
They will make you more professional. They will make you more efficient, and they will make you money in the long run.
Ron Stauffer is a solopreneur and freelancer with over 14 years of experience running a small company. He’s extremely familiar with the loneliness, frustration, and challenges unique to freelance work and running a business of one. He started Free Soloing to help other people just like him.