As someone who has done the transition from working full time for someone else into working at home for myself, I know what it’s like to try and be productive while you’re sitting on the couch with the dog. Especially when your family is home, too.
Owning my own business means that I keep really non-traditional hours, so sometimes (okay, almost every day) I’ll be working at 8pm, or 730am, or whenever an idea strikes me or I have a pressing deadline.
Nobody else cares that my kids are running wild or the dog is throwing up – all they care about is that my work is in on time.
And because my income and my livelihood depend on that too, I’ve developed a system to ensure that I can do what I need to do, do it well, and not lose my shit while I do it.
Yeah, it can be a challenge to work from home, especially right now, when you might not be alone in the house.
Working at home is actually the best. You’re not under the watchful eye of anyone who’s watching what time you take your lunch and how many times you go pee. You can make a hot lunch, wander down to get a coffee, or take a spin class in the middle of the day.
Doing some of that stuff now isn’t possible, of course, but normally it is. It’s the very definition of work-life balance.
Of course, some of you might do better having the structure, check-ins, and collegial interaction that come with an office job. But since it looks like we’re going to be in this isolation situation for a long time, it’s time to get some work done.
Have a routine. And yes, that includes getting dressed.
Because working at home is otherwise unstructured, it helps to give yourself some firm guidelines. Get up at the same time every day, eat breakfast, get dressed, do work.
I never sit on the couch in pyjamas. It’s not Christmas morning, it’s a work day. If you stay in your sleep clothes, you’re gonna feel like, well, sleeping.
Acting like you’re going to work will get you into the mindset for productivity.
Turn off the TV.
Turn off the goddamn TV. I know you might think that you can work from home effectively with 90 day Fiancé in the background, but you can’t. Having the TV on makes it super tough for your brain to focus on the task at hand, because the movement on the screen and the compelling content (omg Angela and Michael…AGAIN?!) catches your eye and breaks your concentration. You’ll get work done, but it won’t be nearly as quality as if you gave it 100% of your brainpower.
Even if you choose to work on your couch in the TV room, keep the TV off.
Get out of the house.
Yes, you’re supposed to be working, but working efficiently and staying sane means taking breaks in – and out of – the house. Allowing yourself time to be in the fresh air, and really using that time to recharge, can help your work in the long-run. Go grab a coffee, or go for a run or a walk. When you work from home, getting out can restart your whole day, and it’s great for productivity. Some of my best ideas have come to me while I’ve been walking…including the actual idea/hook for my book.
In other words, forcing yourself to sit all day and work can really backfire. Don’t do it.
Eat regular meals.
When you’re working mere steps from your kitchen, it’s sometimes hard to stop yourself from eating all day long. This happens especially when you’re trying to do something that’s boring or that you don’t want to do – a reality in everyone’s job, except that when you’re in an office, it’s tougher to procrastinate by going to the fridge 100 times in an hour.
Eating regular meals away from where I’m doing my work is one way that I get away from the snack-all-day mentality. I also make sure that my meals are balanced – vegetables, protein, and carbs – to keep me satiated and satisfied for hours. My meal and snack times follow a schedule, too – so I can add some structure into my day and ensure that I get up from what I’m doing to take a break, and nourish myself at the same time.
Don’t do all your errands in one day.
I am so guilty of this, and maybe it’s not as applicable now as it is in normal times, but it’s a real productivity killer. This doesn’t apply as much during a pandemic, but if you’re a regular WFH-er, this is good advice!
I think I sometimes schedule a bunch of errands and appointments as a passive aggressive procrastination technique, but that’s just me. Anyhow, it’s important to realize that as much as I want you to get out, every time you hit the gym, or go to the grocery store, or do whatever, it’s probably going to be take longer than you think it will. If you schedule a bunch of stuff in the same day, you’ll probably find that the window you have for doing work will shrink to basically nothing. This is true especially if your kids are out of the house and you’re trying to work around their schedule. All of a sudden, it’s 4pm and you haven’t done anything work-related, and now it’s time to make dinner.
Take it from me: get out, get some stuff done, refresh your mind, but be reasonable.
Do what needs to be done first, first.
Prioritization is what makes the work-at-home world go around. Spending time on easier, more fun assignments is tempting, but it can leave you scrambling.
Do the most urgent stuff first, and get it out of the way, even if it’s the work you’re dreading the most.
Find a place where you work well.
It’s not necessarily a table and chair. I do a lot of my work on the couch or in my bed. Those places are more comfortable for me, and they have minimal distractions. I can sit in my bed for half the day and write without stopping (or napping). Yes, I know that you shouldn’t use your bed for work, but it works for me. I think that’s because I can close the door and sequester myself, an option I don’t have on our open-concept main floor. Find somewhere that works for you, and use it.
Take care of your mental health.
It can be really isolating to work from home, this can sometimes affect our mental health.
Part of taking care of your emotional wellbeing is realizing when you need help. Whether that help comes in the form of a day off, a chat with a friend, or an appointment with a therapist (even remotely!), it’s important to understand when things are starting to affect you, and to catch it before it snowballs.
Connecting with other people from your company or profession is also important. Not only can it can help with loneliness, but it can also give you positive reinforcement and support.
Make sure everyone knows that you’re working, and enforce that boundary.
This is honestly the hardest part for me: making sure my family respects my working time and understands that I can’t make them a snack/find their phone charger/play hockey in the driveway and on and on and on. I’ve explained to my kids a million times (and continue to do so) that although it’s 830pm, mommy has work to do.
While I try to not work outside of business hours, any one of you who owns your own business knows that it isn’t always possible to keep it 9-5.
My kids are 9 and 12, so it’s pretty easy to get them to understand that I work from home (although they don’t always give a crap). If your kids are younger, this is a great opportunity to teach kids about respecting boundaries. Same goes for partners: if your partner is always trying to lure you away from work to watch Netflix, and you have a deadline you’re trying to make, hold your boundary.
It’s important to note that you also need to set boundaries with yourself.
You also need to teach yourself when to stop working. That can be really hard!
Getting into the groove of working from home can be a process, and it’s a lot of trial and error.
Make sure you have support and a routine, and you’ll figure it out!