Over the course of my working career, I have been moved to a work from home position on two different occasions. Both times were decisions made by my employer, not an option that I chose or requested. The first time this happened, I was ecstatic. It was 2007 and working from home was nearly unheard of, how awesome was my life.
At the time, I was newly married (as in, just in the past month), we had no kids, and my husband worked second shift. My job had strange hours of 10am-7pm. But it was from home, I could work in my pajamas! What’s not to love? Loneliness, isolation, boredom, distractions. It was awful. I completely and utterly hated it. I quit within a few months and declared that working from home was just not for me.
Fast forward four years and two kids and suddenly I was being moved to a work from home position again. I was terrified! I didn’t want to work from home. I wanted coworkers and a cute office. I wanted to wear fancy professional clothes. I wanted to escape my messy, toy-cluttered home to the peaceful oasis of a busy office. But I no longer had that option, my office was shutting down and my only choice was to continue my work from home. So, my husband built an office for me in our basement and I promised myself that this time would be different and I would make it work. I enjoyed my job and loved the work that I did. I didn’t want to lose the chance to do this work.
Now here we are four years later and I’m still plugging away each day in my basement. I work with a team of people who are all located in the same room, two and a half hours away from me. I have over a thousand co-workers, but sometimes go days without talking to any of them. It’s strange. It’s not perfect. But I have learned to love it.
Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to working from home. Since I have this full-time job and I also blog part-time on the side, I technically have two very different work from home type of jobs. I thought I would share my best tips and tricks for working from home successfully. Whether you are currently working from home or you dream of one day working from home, hopefully, these tips can help you manage the unique circumstances of the work from home employee life.
1. Have a Designated Office Space
It is lovely that you technically can work from anywhere, but the amount of actual work you are able to get done can be highly dependent on the environment around you. Plop yourself on your cozy couch with a comfy blanket and the TV remote within arm’s reach and you’ll soon find yourself binging on Netflix instead of actually working. Set yourself up in the midst of the playroom so you can keep an eye on the kids while you “knock out some projects” and you’ll spend more time breaking up fights and dodging Nerf Gun bullets than accomplishing anything productive.
Whether it’s a corner table in your bedroom or a fancy office with beautiful built-ins, you need to have a specific space to go to for work. Your brain will automatically begin to recognize the space and help you tune out distractions and get work done. You will also be able to set everything up that you might need, from office supplies to reference materials, and even motivational quotes and your office calendar. Give yourself a specific spot and go to that spot nearly every time you go to work. This will be a tremendous help for your family as well, so they can begin to recognize, when mom is in her office, she is working and can’t be bothered.
2. Don’t Try to Multi-task Work and Caring for Your Kids
For my regular job, I am on the phone the majority of the day. My kids go to school and daycare all day just as if I worked from an office. It would not be professional for my customers to hear my children in the background, so they are rarely at home when I am working. Many people are shocked to discover this, but having your kids home with you all day while you are working may not actually be the best idea for you or for them.
There are a number of careers and jobs where you can totally work from home while your children are present, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can be a great attentive mom and get your work done at the same exact time. Your work needs undivided attention and your kids need undivided attention. It is not fair to your kids to constantly have to fight your work for the attention they need. And you will produce much more high-quality work in shorter periods of time if you can find a way to focus on your work without your kids around distracting you.
You’ll need to work with your unique situation to determine what will work best for your family and your work. You may not need to send your kids to daycare, but you might want to consider hiring a neighborhood teenager to come supervise the kids for a couple hours in an afternoon, or you may need to limit your working hours to when your kids are sleeping and resting. If your kids are older, work with them to create some boundaries and expectations to allow you to get some work done while they are busy doing other things.
3. Make a Daily Schedule
Every day I create a to-do list, and if I stopped there I would spend my days doing all of the things on my to-do list that are easy or fun. I’d also find extra things to add to my to-do list throughout the day as I worked my way through my house. There is always something to be done in your home. Something to clean, something to organize, something to cook, someone who needs attention. It is very easy to spend your entire day being incredibly productive at all the wrong things.
I’ve learned now that after I create a to-do list, I also must take the time to create a schedule, or at least prioritize my to-do list in order of importance. I schedule in the most important tasks first and use the less important items to fill in any gaps when I need a break. This way I make sure that my work remains my top priority and that I complete all of my work tasks before I get distracted by the laundry and dishes and scrubbing the bathroom. Because let’s face it, no matter how much you love your job, there will be days when you would rather scrub a toilet than buckle down and work on that complicated work project you’ve been assigned to complete.
Create a Daily Routine and Daily Habits
Similar to having a schedule for your day, you also need to create some routines and habits. Your daily schedule might look different each day depending on the work that needs to be done, but there are some things that you will need to make sure you do each and every day. For me, this looks like waking up early, before my kids are up to start my day, I sit in quiet for a few minutes, read my Bible, pray, and get some blogging work done. Once the kids are up, I brush my teeth, wash my face, and put on my running clothes. Later, on my lunch hour, I go outside for a run and then take a shower.
You can work in your pajamas. You can skip your shower every day. You can become a recluse and never go out into the light of day, but I would highly recommend that you purposely do none of the above. Every day you must get dressed, you must practice good hygiene, and you must get outside. If you’ve never worked from home, you might laugh at the idea that these things would become negotiable, but trust me on this, your brain will tell you to skip these things at some point or another. Tell your brain to buzz off and go get a shower and some proper clothes.
4. Get Out of the House Sometimes
I’m going to make this one a separate category all on its own, even though I just touched on it above. This is really important. The first time I worked from home, this was really hard for me. All my friends worked different hours, so it was hard to find time to get together with them. My husband and I are big “home-bodies”, so we were perfectly content to sit at home with each other and enjoy our newlywedded-ness all by ourselves. But this meant that I never got out of the house and never saw anyone but my husband, ever. This is not healthy.
You must find ways to get out of the house. Whether that means working at Starbucks once a week, scheduling a standing lunch date with a friend, or just going outside for a run each day like I do, you have to get out and see the light of day. You need to interact with people outside your home face to face on a regular basis.
5. Beware the Kitchen
Do you know how wonderful it is that you can wander to your freezer, grab a tub of ice cream and indulge yourself while replying to emails? Can you imagine how amazing it is to have your entire kitchen and pantry available to you at lunch time? You don’t have to struggle through a freezer burned frozen meal or choke down yet another soggy sandwich. You can make anything you want, any time of the day! It is incredible to work from home!
Until you gain 15 pounds. In the first week. Working from home can be terrible on your diet. If you are a snacker or if you are a “boredom eater”, you will struggle. You will need to stop buying unhealthy snacks and food and completely remove them from your home. You will want to plan ahead to be sure you have healthy snacks like chopped raw veggies and fruit waiting for you in your kitchen. Trust me, working from home and eating healthy can be a struggle if your kitchen is full of junk food.
On the other hand, it can be incredibly convenient to have your full kitchen available to you for lunch and midday work snacks. You don’t have to settle for vending machine crap or a mad dash through the drive-thru window. You can create and enjoy delicious, healthy home-cooked meals on your lunch hour! Think carefully as you go grocery shopping, be sure to set yourself up for success when it comes to your workday meals.
6. Learn to Ignore Distractions
At some point, someone will be home while you are supposed to be working. They will want to talk to you. Every time you walk into your kitchen you will cringe at the dirty dishes in the sink. You’ll walk past that overflowing laundry basket and think, “Oh, it will only take a few minutes to throw these in the washing machine.” You’ll pick up your phone and notice all the fun things people are posting on social media.
There is no boss looking over your shoulder. No one will know if you just spend a few minutes doing this or that. Until a few minutes becomes an hour and then two and then suddenly you wonder where the day went and why you didn’t get any work done.
Even if you lock yourself in your well-secluded office, at some point you’ll need to go to the restroom or refill your water cup and you will run into 1,001 distractions. Your only hope is to develop some serious self-control. Decide ahead of time what you can and can’t let distract you and when, and then commit to staying focused and following the schedule you’ve created for the day. If you see something that needs to be done, write it down and schedule it for another time.
7. Clock In and Clock Out
Do not let your work consume and take over your life. Just because you work from home does not mean that you should be working all the time you are at home. Give yourself and your family time off. Whether you work a traditional 8-5 schedule or you schedule a few hours a couple times a day, be sure to have a schedule for work and stick with it as often as possible.
Sure, there will be times when you need to handle something “after hours” or finish up a project late at night, but on a regular basis, you need to work specific hours and allow yourself the chance to play and enjoy life during the rest of the hours.
It might be helpful to keep a notebook nearby to jot down work-related notes and ideas that come to you during your “off” hours. It can be tempting to fire up your laptop and shoot off an email or begin working on a project the moment the idea comes to you, but give yourself the chance to enjoy your non-working hours and trust that your note will let you pick it up tomorrow.
8. Take a Break
Do not lock yourself in your office for 9 straight hours and plug away at your work. Your body needs to move, your mind needs to rest, and your soul needs to breathe. Get up and move regularly throughout your day.
You may want to set an online timer to allow you to work for a certain period of time and then take a short break. Play around with the amounts of time that you work and the amount of time you give yourself on a break to figure out what the most productive amounts are for you.
In an office you will have coworkers stopping by your office to chat, you might need to run over to the copy machine, or drop something off to the department down the hall. But when you work from home, none of these things happen. Everything is most likely done digitally which means you’re working only when you are tied to your desk. This can be incredibly beneficial. Because I don’t have coworkers distracting me all day long I can be tremendously more productive than many of my teammates, but I can also burn out really quickly. I have to take several short breaks away from my desk throughout the day in order to stay focused and productive.
9. Regularly Communicate with Your Colleagues
Working from home can be isolating, especially if you work in a position where some employees work in an office while others work from home. Good communication becomes vital when you move to a work at home situation. There are a variety of tools available to help you stay connected with your teams, such as email, instant messaging, video calls, and conference lines. Be sure to develop a communication strategy that works for your unique situation to keep you informed and involved.
Today’s Action Step
If you are currently working from home, choose one of the above tips to focus on in the coming days. If you are struggling to focus and be productive in your work, take things one step at a time to slowly make progress and create a successful environment for you to get all the work done that you need throughout your day.
Make Over Your Mornings E-Course – If you work from home and struggle with getting going in the morning, then you need to seriously consider taking this course. Crystal will walk you through how and why to setup a morning routine that works for your specific situation. This is such a huge part of successfully working from home.
Make Over Your Evenings E-Course – On the flip-side, if you find yourself starting your days unorganized and already behind, you might want to look at your evening routines to determine how you can set yourself up for success the night before.