7 Steps to Good Work Habits Away From the Office

Your laptop was built for doing work away from the office. Making sure your self-discipline comes along for the trip is something else.

Many business owners and executives associate an office environment with the will to work. As a result, they fret that they — or their employees — may be less than diligent when working from home or a hotel room. But keeping up your self-discipline away from the office is just a matter of thoughtful planning. Here are seven strategies, culled from feedback from experts and my own experiences.

1. Know your work patterns. This philosophic tenet is particularly important to being disciplined away from an office environment. Consider what makes you more productive: being proactive well in advance or sweating things out under a tight deadline. Knowing what sets your wheels turning can help you establish work patterns and systems that bolster your discipline.”Are you motivated by feeling good or fear?” asks Jan Jasper, author of “Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information and Technology.” “Some people don’t need to plan ahead as much because their discipline comes from adrenaline.”

2. Keep a comprehensive to-do list. Whether you seek to stay ahead of the game or you spring into action at the last minute, keeping track of all you need to accomplish is particularly important outside of an office setting. You’re absent from anyone ready to remind you what’s going on. But knowing just what you need to do and when, in comprehensive detail, can keep you focused and motivated. No matter how you do it, be it with a PDA or day timer, be obsessive about planning out your activities.

3. Set up a comfortable workspace. Ads showing a businessperson sprawled on a hotel bed, cell phone in one hand and calculator in the other, belong in the netherworld of Madison Avenue. Discipline away from the office often derives from a setting that singularly represents work. No matter where you are, earmark a particular spot for work. Jasper suggests bringing along family pictures and favorite music to bolster your perception that this is where work is going to happen. “It’s important to arrange things so you can function,” she says.

4. Look at time in a different manner. One of the pitfalls to discipline away from the office is time — or, rather, the lack of a regular schedule of events, be they meetings or business lunches. That can lead to downtime and, conceivably, a lapse in productivity. Plan ahead to make the most of those few minutes here and there to keep your discipline sharp. Recognizing the importance of working when time permits, many airports offer workstations for businesspeople in between flights. By the same token, read a business article while your flight is tenth in line for takeoff. Lisa Kanarek, founder of HomeOfficeLife.com, suggests clipping articles of interest rather than hauling along entire magazines. It’s less weight and a more expedient way to focus on what’s of interest to you.

5. Keep the paper moving. Working away from the office often means limited space. That, in turn, makes paper management critical. File those documents with which you’re finished and recycle any and all papers you don’t need any more. As Jasper notes, nothing can be more discouraging and crippling to discipline than a snow bank of papers with little clue as to what’s important and what’s leftover from 1998. “Just clearing out every bit of paper that’s unnecessary can do wonders for your morale,” she says.

6. Keep in touch with the office, but thoughtfully. Communicating with the folks downtown (or in another state) is not only essential to the mechanics of a workday; talking with colleagues and others can also be a boon to discipline. Even if you can’t see them, talking with others in the company is a reminder of people down the line who are counting on you. But tailor your communication accordingly. While you may want to check in with some people on a regular basis, you may want to shy away from others who, for instance, may take an hour to explain a two-minute problem. “You have to determine the level of contact that’s most helpful to you,” Jasper says. “Communication problems are really magnified once you have to deal with them away from the office.”

7. Know the dangers of procrastination — and avoid them. Putting off necessary tasks melts discipline in any setting, but it’s particularly destructive when you’re away from the office. For one thing, there’s no one physically nearby to boot you back into gear. On top of that, a task that’s repeatedly put on the back burner until it becomes a bona fide headache can drain time from other responsibilities — a workload that fosters despair rather than constructive discipline.”Procrastination is terribly damaging,” Jasper says. “The more you procrastinate, the more you turn a routine chore into something that’s really painful.”

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